Monday, November 15, 2021

Grow Your Own Bean Sprouts!

Written by Robyn Reist, SHS Blog Editor

We've run a couple of excellent posts lately about indoor gardening - Karen Trimble's guide to growing microgreens and Brendalynn Ens's introduction to Aerogardening. If you've been intrigued by these hobbies but just aren't sure if you're ready to commit, may I humbly suggest a gateway activity that costs next to nothing and should give you an idea if going larger-scale on indoor food production is right for you!

Early in the pandemic when public health officials were recommending infrequent grocery shopping trips, I found myself really missing certain types of fresh produce. I love to cook several dishes that require mung bean sprouts but anyone who has ever bought bean sprouts from the grocery store will know that they are instant compost fodder within hours of opening the bag! Love bean sprouts but hate the waste, because my household of two cannot eat an entire bag in one sitting.

I decided to try growing them myself and found out that mung bean sprouts are perhaps the easiest indoor food production project out there!

All you need is:

  • Dry mung beans (you can try with regular store bought mung beans, available at Asian groceries or sometimes in the international foods aisle, but I prefer to use sprouting beans from Mumm's to ensure they will be high quality for sprouting)
  • A mason jar
  • Colander or mesh strainer

That's it! No special sprouting lids or trays required.

To grow your bean sprouts:

  1. Put a tbsp or two of dry beans into the mason jar.
  2. Cover with a few inches of water and soak for at least 4 hours. Up to 24 is fine - you want them to be fully hydrated and plumped up (I usually remember to start them in the afternoon and let them soak until the following morning).
  3. Drain the beans and put them back into the jar. Put the jar in a dark cupboard (this is very important - if you expose them to light they will be bitter and terrible. Ignore all gardening instincts to give growing plants sun!).
  4. Rinse and drain the beans at least twice a day. Four to five times is optimal. If you see the tail end of the sprout drying up or browning, you need to rinse them more often.
  5. When they have sprouted to your liking, rinse one more time and enjoy! This will take between 3-5 days, depending on the temperature of your cupboard and your personal preference. When some of the beans start turning a bit purple and growing leaves, they are ready.
  6. Optional - I am not a fan of the dark green husks so I usually spend some time removing them. Depending how many beans you have sprouted this can become somewhat time consuming, but I find it kind of meditative. Put all of the beans in a bowl with water - most of the husks will float to the top and can be pulled out easily, however about 1/4 of them will still be stuck to their beans so will need to be removed by hand. (If you can't be bothered with this, it is not a big deal to eat the husks; they are a good source of fibre and have no taste.)

Note: If you grow bean sprouts in a jar, they are unlikely to have long straight shoots like the kind you get from the grocery store. I have read that the best way to get them looking like grocery store sprouts is to grow them in a tray with something weighting down the beans as they grow. One time I overfilled a jar so the beans were quite packed in by the time they were ready and all of the additional pressure created longer, straighter sprouts on the beans. Whatever you can do to limit the amount of space they have to grow will give you longer and straighter sprouts. 

Other types of sprouting seeds will grow with a similar method, but for really tiny seeds like alfalfa you may want to either invest in a special sprouting lid or at very least use cheesecloth for straining after rinsing. The Mumm's website has a huge selection of seeds to choose from along with detailed instructions for how to successfully grow them. 

Store your dry beans/sprouting seeds in the freezer when you are not using them to prolong their life!

Do you have a favourite sprout to grow? Let us know!

Monday, November 1, 2021

The AeroGarden™: Tips for Success Using the Latest Winter Gardening Trend

This article by Brendalynn Ens was originally published in the SHS March 2020 newsletter. Brendalynn is a Master Gardener and member of the SHS Water Gardening Sub-Committee.

Last year, a newer trend in hobby hydroponic gardening really expanded.  AeroGrow International Inc. (the company who manufactures and distributes the AeroGarden™ gardening system kits) reported 224% increase in sales for its last two consecutive financial quarters. This increased interest may be due in part to so many of us at home more during the pandemic. For some of us, it’s a way to continue our water-gardening passion and also an easy mechanism to grow our own salad greens, tomatoes and herbs in the dead of winter! 

AeroGarden™ is a self-contained, in-home “kit” for hydroponic seed growing.  In essence, it's a water and liquid fertilizer mini hydroponic system with its own grow-light system.  The kits are available nearly everywhere and range in price from $120-$250 CDN depending on the size or sale.   Pre-sown pods can be purchased along with general supplies to grown your own seeds.  The system runs on an small internal pump.  How much does it cost to run? 

The standard 6-pod “kit” looks like this (see Figure 1).  Smaller and larger pod kits are also available.

Figure 1

I started my first kit in early fall and quickly got caught up in harvesting fresh herbs and lettuce.  By December 2020 I had purchased a 2nd unit and now they are both still in full operation. Despite the simplicity I appreciate the science and instructions that allow this kit to deliver fresh produce. I joined a Facebook AeroGarden Community group with nearly 20,000 users and found it to be a very valuable forum to trouble-shoot issues and receive support.  Many Facebook group members have 5+ units going year-round and have done so for years (Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand) so in comparison I am very much a neophyte and only beginning my journey.  

In case you are thinking about getting an AeroGarden or already on your way, I’ve compiled my Top 6 list of things that may be helpful.  Remember, I am no expert here, but I’m learning fast and it’s a great cold-weather distraction.

Top 6 Learnings – AeroGarden™

1.  Really read and follow all instructions.   The instructions are incredibly easy but don’t skip reading them carefully.  Pay particular attention to the precise measurement of liquid fertilizer (4-3-6) and keep ongoing notes to avoid missing top-up fertilizing over time.  Too much fertilizer can result in a hyper-rich nutrient environment and balance that quickly results in algae growth and mucky water. This hasn’t happened to me (so far!) but I’ve heard of others experiencing a green algae bloom mess in their system that required extensive cleaning and a full restart. 

2.  Check water levels weekly and don’t rely on automatic notifications.  Certain plants you may be growing (i.e. lettuce) can result in much more water being used more quickly than what the system automatically advises. Keep an eye on the clarity of the water also – if its getting murky, consider changing it. 

3.  The type of water makes a difference.  While the kit’s instructions recommend a 50/50 mix of distilled and tap water, I use Saskatoon tap water with no issues.  Online experts confirm that hard high-mineral and well water is never recommended and can result in calcium build-up in the internal pump system. 

4.  Synchronize the light timer to be off at night.  Unless you want your AeroGarden fully illuminating your entire kitchen or living room in the dead of night, it is best to set your AeroGarden system to be on with daylight hours.  Most kit lights are programmed to provide 10-12+ hours of growing support to plants.  To avoid having your AeroGarden become a “night-light” in your house, find a suitably sized lampshade or create a folded tinfoil “tent” to reflect the light back onto the plants when it is on.  Figure 2 shows my set-up that benefits other plants nearby as well. 

Figure 2

5.  Use or prune your plants AND their root growth.  The excitement of seeing your vegetables emerge from the pods and mature can be thrilling but similar to how lettuce can ‘bolt’ in the summer heat, the same can happen with this system. Overgrown plants may create unnecessary shade for other plants due to their proximity in the grow system.  Don’t let lanky and unattended plant leaves and stems endlessly grow.  This can happen fast! Pruning and/or use of your herbs and vegetables is no different than in our regular summer gardens. Here’s a video that may help hydroponic plant pruning. Don’t forget the root system also!  Healthy and rapidly growing plants  will have highly developed root systems with risk to get caught in the internal pump system. Figure 3 is a Thyme plant which I cut 1” off the bottom to ensure the roots don’t interfere with the circulation of the water pump system.  Here is more guidance on how to do that. Another option, of course, is to transplant your healthy hydroponic plants to other containers allowing you to start new ones! 

Figure 3

6.  Yes you can transplant the plants into other vessels or devices.  Many experts advocate for using the Kratky method to keep plants long-term. The Kratky method is a next-step hydroponic method that does not involve running or circulating water. If Kratky isn’t your thing, the pods can be also successfully transplanted to soil or soil-less medium. 


In conclusion, I’ve found the AeroGarden™ system to be an easy and successful new trend.  It’s not quite the same as summer water gardening but it has been a welcome distraction from the cold winter days and the stay-at-home orders.



Friday, October 15, 2021

Growing Microgreens

 This article by Karen Trimble originally appeared in the SHS March 2020 newsletter.


Microgreens have been growing in popularity, springing up in dishes at restaurants and on foodie social media posts.  With this growth in popularity, they are available at some local businesses in Saskatoon.  These bite-size greens are tasty, nutrient dense, and are a colourful addition to almost any meal.     

What are Microgreens?

Microgreens are seedlings of vegetables or herbs (sometimes grains, fruit, or flowers) that are harvested when their first set of true leaves appear (after the cotyledons) and when the plants are between two to three inches tall. 

The most common microgreens are fast-growing and harvested within 7-14 days of initial seeding.  Some of these include alfalfa, arugula, borage, broccoli, cabbage, clover, corn, cress, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, pak choy, peas, radish, tatsoi, and wheat grass.   Slower growing microgreens (harvested in 15-30 days) include: amaranth, anise, basil, beet, carrot, cilantro, dill, fennel, parsley, swiss chard, salad mixes, shiso, and sorrel.

Growing Microgreens at Home

Supplies Needed:

  • Trays with drainage holes
  • Soilless growing medium (potting soil)
  • Grow Lights are essential if growing year-round in Saskatchewan.
  • Seeds
  • Oscillating Fan (recommended)

In my setup I like to use one 1020 tray with holes inside another 1020 tray without holes (allows for bottom watering).  Because I like to grow several varieties a once I have 18 – 8cm (3”) black plastic pots that fit inside these trays.  However, any plastic container that is 1” tall and has drainage holes in the bottom to prevent waterlogging the roots can work.    


There are a variety of growing mediums you can use to grow microgreens including: a soilless medium, coconut coir, or even hydroponics.  My preferred growing method is using a sterile soilless growing medium like Sungrow Sunshine Mix.  It is light and airy which provides good aeration for the roots, but still retains moisture.  Because you are harvesting microgreens at such an early stage of development, rarely will you need to use any fertilizer.

Light Requirements – Microgreens require 15-16 hours of light per day.  Natural light from a south facing window will not be adequate most of the year.  There are several options for artificial light sources, the most common being fluorescent and LED grow lights.  There is a lot of information online about the best grow lights for microgreens and this could be an entire article!   In short, if you are in the market for new lights, I would recommend most T5 LED grow lights.

Steps to Growing:

1. Some seeds germinate better if they are soaked first.  These include beets (8-12 hours), peas (12-24 hours), sunflowers (4-8 hours), swiss chard (12-24 hours).

2. Fill pots to the top with moist but not wet soilless mix.  Firmly press down and add more mix until it is 1/4'’ (6mm) from the top.  It is important to have it close to the top so you can easily harvest your microgreens when they are ready.

3. Sprinkle seeds on top of the mix.  Microgreens require dense seeding, there should only be a small space around each seed.  Some larger seeds such as sunflowers touch but should not be on top of each other.  Press seeds down into the soil but do not cover.  Spray seeds with a water bottle one or twice a day to keep moist.     

Microgreen Seeding, Growing, and Harvest Information

Variety

Seeding Rate for an entire 1020 tray

Seeding Rate for 8cm (3”) pot

Germination

Time

Weighted /

Blackout

Harvest

Alfalfa

30 g

1.15 g

1-2 Days

3-4 Days

8-12 Days

Arugula

20 g

1 g

1-2 Days

4 Days

10 Days

Basil (Red)

20 g

1 g

3-5 Days

None, needs light to germinate

20-30 Days

Beets

40 g

2 g

3-4 Days

5-6 Days

10-16 Days

Broccoli

30 g

1 g

1-2 Days

2-3 Days

10-14 Days

Clover

30 g

1 g

1-2 Days

3-5 Days

7-12 Days

Mustard

30-36 g

2 g

1 Day

2-3 Days

7-12 Days

Peas (Yellow)

200-300 g

9 g

2-3 Days

3-5 Days

9-12 Days

Radish

40-60 g

3 g

2-3 Days

2-5 Days

6-11 Days

Sunflower (Black Oil)

100-150 g

6.75 g

2-3 Days

3-4 Days

9-12 Days

Swiss Chard

60 g

3 g

2-5 Days

4-7 Days

8-16 Days


4. Weighted blackout – Most microgreens need to have a weighted blackout period.  This allows the germinating seeds to have good contact with the soil so the roots can firmly become established.  To accomplish this, you can put another 1020 tray on top of your seeds, and then put a weight (approx. 3-5 lbs) on top of this.  Once the seeds have germinated and are pushing on the tray you can remove the weight, flip the tray over (so it’s upside down) and keep the seedlings in blackout until they are about 1” tall.  Taking the weight off will allow the microgreen stems to straighten out and the additional darkness will make the microgreens stretch taller.


Weighted blackout

Blackout

5. Check on microgreens twice daily.  Make sure to keep the soil moist but not saturated.  Bottom water as needed; bottom watering also ensures that your seeds will not get displaced. 


6. Once plants reach 1” tall they will look similar to the arugula below and they are now ready to go under your grow lights.   Grow lights should be adjusted to be 8-12” above the plants.

Arugula ready for the lights

7. To prevent mold or dampening off of seedlings, adequate airflow around plants is essential.  Several times a day I would recommend turning on an oscillating fan on its lowest setting from a distance to provide gently moving air.    

8. Harvesting!  You can harvest your microgreens when they are between 2-3 inches tall by simply cutting them above the soil line with a pair of scissors.  You cut them as you need them and let them continue to grow, or you can cut the entire tray and keep in the fridge for up to a week.  Most microgreens are done producing once you cut them, but wheatgrass can be cut up to three times before they start getting woody.  Also, peas can be harvested twice before they start getting bitter. 

Black oil sunflower

Swiss chard and beets

 Common Problems

  • Root Hairs – this is not in fact a problem but many people who are first time microgreen growers mistakenly think the root hairs growing on their seedlings are mold.  Root hairs are white and fuzzy and very noticeable on some microgreens like radish.  If you are uncertain if it is mold vs. root hairs you can lightly water the stems from above, if the white fuzzy look disappears it is root hairs.    
  • Mold – mold appears more like a stretched-out cotton ball or white spider web; it has long threads.  Prevention is the best strategy: make sure growing media is sterile, wash all pots and trays between use, try not to have your seeds too densely packed, do not overwater the plants, make sure trays have drainage holes, and have moving air around your plants. 
    • There are some seeds like sunflowers that should be sanitized prior to planting to prevent surface mold. To sanitize seed: use a 3% food grade hydrogen peroxide solution.  Use 5mL for every 25g of seed.  Before pre-soaking the seeds pour the peroxide solution right on the seed and stir.  Let soak for 5-10 minutes then pour room temperature water over seeds until they are covered an inch or so. Continue pre-soaking seed for 4-8 hours   
  • Dehulling – beet and swiss chard microgreens are beautiful and colourful but they have pesky seed husks (or hulls).  The hulls tend to stay on the leaves of the greens.  To minimize this, you can cover the seed with more dirt.  The extra layer of soil it must go through will loosen the seed hull.  You may still have to pick off a few hulls at harvest time but not as many.   
  • Poor germination of seeds is usually caused by seeds being too close together or the growing medium being too dry or wet.  Ideal temperature for germinating seeds is between 68-70° F.

Microgreens add an amazing finishing touch to soups, salads, sandwiches, pasta dishes, and even pizza.  They are versatile and an easy to grow.  If you are looking for something new to grow indoors that you can enjoy in a week or two try growing microgreens.  Happy growing!

*Note these are general growing guidelines that I have had success with.  You can find many different resources online with varying seeding rates, weighted blackout times, different light recommendation, etc. 



Thursday, September 2, 2021

Fall Bulb Planting

September- the days are shorter and nights are cooler. Now is the time to shop for and plant bulbs for spring colour in your garden. 

When shopping, look for bulbs that are plump and firm.  Avoid bulbs that appear soft, mushy or are moldy.  Plant the bulbs in a well-drained, full-sun (at least 6 hours of sunlight) location. This can be under a deciduous tree as bulbs will bloom before your tree develops leaves. Dig your holes 2-3 times deeper than the height of the bulb (or follow package directions). A 3-inch tall bulb should be planted 6-9 inches deep. Add compost to your holes to add nutrition for the bulbs. Plant the pointed end of the bulb facing upwards, or if you don’t see a pointed end, look for roots and place that end downwards. Cover with soil and water to remove air pockets and help the roots establish. Mulching with compost or wood chips will give some winter protection. The roots will form in the fall and then in the spring your bulbs will appear!

These are some of my favourites:

Scilla siberica (Squill) – a word of caution – these are vigorous self-seeders so deadhead after blooming!


Fritillaria meleagris  (Snake's Head Fritillary)


Tulipa tarda – a species of tulip that only grows 4 inches tall


Tulipa 'Don Quixote' with Dicentra (Bleeding Heart)

-Nancy Hanson, SHS President

Monday, August 16, 2021

Cultivating Resilience Video Series - Summer 2021

The Saskatoon Horticultural Society's Cultivating Resilience Video Series aired on Facebook and YouTube from August 3-13, 2021. All of the videos (as well as last summer's Virtual Passport Tour) will remain available on our YouTube page indefinitely, as a convenient playlist if you'd like to watch them all in order!

This series was made possible by funding from the Saskatoon Horticultural Society and a City of Saskatoon Environmental Grant. All videos were filmed and edited by Don Selby of DMS Photography.

If you'd like to view the videos as more of a list, or bookmark them, we've created this blog post for you. It also includes some links to the partners and participants who helped us out as well as a bit of behind-the-scenes info!

Day 1: Gardening for Beauty


We were pleased to kick off this year's video series by featuring Sharon's beautiful River Heights garden in Saskatoon. Sharon shares her expertise on peonies and other perennials and taking inspiration from international garden tours. Sharon is a longtime member of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society.

Day 2: Gardening for Future Generations


Gardening is a practice that can contribute to a healthy, beautiful community for us today as well as for future generations. In 2018, local spoken word poet and visual artist Kevin Wesaquate led a project in which 250 misaskwatomina plants (saskatoon berry) were planted in Riversdale. The key to building a healthier future is fostering mutual respect for the land. The misaskwatomina project is a symbol of reconciliation for generations to come. With this project, Wesaquate hopes to share the practice of misaskwatomina berry picking. In this video, Kevin explains the project and performs his spoken word poem called "Misaskwatomina".

You can read more about the misaskwatomina project here. If you'd like to visit the site, it is located along the riverbank between the Victoria Park Boat House and the water treatment plant. In the video, Kevin performed his poem at the Riversdale/King George Community Garden - we didn't plan for it but it turned out to be the perfect location!

Day 3: Gardening for Native Species


Our third video highlights how native species can be used right in your own yard. Chet Neufeld, executive director of the Native Plant Society of Saskatchewan, shares his garden with us and teaches us about specific native plants that grow in his yard, how he captures and uses rainwater, and ways to nurture pollinators and birds.

Chet also provided some additional photos and information about his yard in the comments on the original Facebook post.

The SHS sells bee hotels similar to the ones featured in the video - if you are interested in purchasing one for your yard, check out the Merchandise page on our website.

Day 4: Gardening for the Urban Landscape


Have you ever admired the flower pots in many of the public spaces in Saskatoon? Large flower pots can be seen downtown, on Broadway, in Sutherland and Riversdale, and on medians on major roads every year. Heather from the City of Saskatoon explains how they design, plant, and maintain all 750 of their flower pots.

This video was filmed on Broadway Ave. Visit saskatoon.ca/flowerpots for more information on this program!

Day 5: Gardening for Students


During the COVID-19 pandemic, university students who live on campus (many of whom are newcomers to Canada) have been largely unable to access typical student social supports. Kensi, coordinator of the McEown Park Community Garden at the University of Saskatchewan, describes how the garden fosters community and encourages students and newcomers to live sustainably.

Day 6: Gardening for Naturalization


Saskatoon is fortunate to have parks that have been designed with naturalization in mind. Moira, from the City of Saskatoon, describes the work that the City's parks department is doing to re-introduce native grasses and wildflowers back into our parks. She also introduces us to the demonstration garden at the Nutrien Wonderhub and describes her vision for this space.

Day 7: Gardening for Biodiversity Conservation


Did you know that Meewasin is the largest urban conservation zone in Canada? Beaver Creek, just south of Saskatoon, is a conservation area that Meewasin manages. Erica and Kelton describe the horticulture and resource management work that is done to encourage native species and manage invasive species, and highlight specific species that can be found at the Beaver Creek site.

Day 8: Gardening for Joy


This super-sized video is going to fill your heart with joy! Join the staff and Elders at Sherbrooke Community Centre, a long-term care facility in Saskatoon, as they discuss how gardening has been a bright light during the pandemic, providing fulfillment, inspiration, and purpose in the community. Sherbrooke is looking for help with some of their garden spaces - if you would like to volunteer, go to the "Get Involved" page of Sherbrooke's website to sign up.

Day 9: Gardening for Tradition


Wanuskewin Heritage Park is a living reminder of our sacred relationship with the land and the First Nations people. Some archaeological digs at Wanuskewin date back thousands of years making them older than the Egyptian pyramids; these sites provide clues to the daily existence of the early peoples. Honey takes us on a tour of the valley at Wanuskewin and tells us about the traditional uses of some of the plants found along the trails.

The information provided in this video is for informational purposes only. Please consult your health care provider before beginning any herbal treatments.

Day 10: Gardening for Mindfulness


For our final video of the Cultivating Resilience series, we invite you to come along with us on a mindfulness meditation walk at the Robin Smith Meditation Garden at Forestry Farm Park. This garden is maintained by volunteers from the Saskatchewan Perennial Society. Thank you for joining us for another great year of virtual garden tours in Saskatoon! The audio track for this video is available for download on the SHS website.