Harvesting English Pea Shoots
In early November I attended an introductory class to learn how to grow and harvest sprouts and their larger, older siblings known as shoots or microgreens. If shoots are allowed to grow to 2-4 inches tall, they are called baby greens.
Microgreens and baby greens are packed with nutrition — studies show they can be up to 40 times richer in vital nutrients than their mature counterparts — and they may be grown indoors year round. Many types of vegetables can be grown as microgreens including lettuces, kale, arugula, and peas.
I started with pea shoots since I had tasted them as garnishes and in salads at restaurants and loved the flavor — they taste like peas with a bit less sweetness. I opted for shoots instead of sprouts to begin since I have experience germinating seeds in sterile seed starting mix. The main difference from regular seed starting is that you can use much less germination medium since you are not worried about developing a strong root system.
If the little seedlings grow taller than 4 inches the stems toughen and bitter flavors can develop. In the class, I tasted some sunflower sprouts that were too mature and they were bitter, although there was also a distinct sunflower seed aftertaste.
Microgreens are generally ready to harvest in about 7 to 14 days after sowing, when they have produced cotyledons, and some true leaves if that is your preference. Baby greens are ready in about 20 days, when they have true leaves at 2″–4″ tall. Once cut, microgreens will not regrow. If some leaves are left intact on baby greens you may see regrowth. For my first experiment, I decided to harvest the pea shoots quite early when there were true leaves but before tendrils developed.
I soaked two tablespoons of English pea seeds overnight. I re-used some mushroom containers that had holes poked in the bottom for drainage and lids from some other purchase that I had saved. I dipped the containers in weak bleach solution and rinsed before placing 1/4 inch of sterile seed starting mix in the bottom. I then scattered the seeds and covered with another 1/4 inch of the mix. I covered and set the containers in indirect light on a shelf, checking and misting the soil so it would not dry out. Five days later, the seedlings emerged.
Sterilized seed containers with soaked seeds, seeds waiting to be covered with 1/4 inch of soil, planted containers with plastic covers to increase humidity.
I then set the containers in a sunny place and let them grow for three more days until they were developing true leaves and about 2 inches tall. My harvest from this small planting was pretty meager — only 7 ounces, but the shoots were delicious, tasting like peas with a bit less sweetness. Next time I will wait until tendrils develop as I read they are particularly sweet and flavorful.
Pea shoots are great additions to salads and as garnishes. They can be used like any leafy greens to add flavor, color, and texture. I consider the experiment a tasty success and will be planting a large flat in the near future.
Clockwise from top: seedlings emerge, shoots after 3 days in a sunny window, harvested and rinsed, the remnants for the compost pile.
More detailed information about growing microgreens can be found at the Botanical Interests Website: https://www.botanicalinterests.com/product/Microgreens-and-Baby-Greens-Sow-and-Grow-Guide. (Not sponsored — I have had good success with their products.)