Mustard and cress critters -This is a terrific activity for children and there is almost no limit to the things you can embellish with green ‘hair’ that you then can snip and add to your sandwiches and salads.
Go to your local nursery and buy a packet of mustard seeds or cress seeds. These will be tangy and tummy but if this is not to your taste, canola seeds, or even mung beans would be fine.
Or: Alfalfa, Canola (or rape seed), Chick peas, Sunflowers, Rye, Oats, Green Peas, Garbanzo beans, Orange Lentils, Sesame (natural and black), Wheat. All the sprouts from these can be eaten and you treat them the same way.
Take a tray and line it with tissue or paper towel. Top that with cotton wool and then another layer of paper towel. Wet the lot evenly. The tray MUST be clean.
Sprinkle seeds onto the surface of the tissue quite thickly. Stagger your sedds according to how you want them to grow. For instance, mustard seeds germinate faster by 4 days than cress, so plant these first. This is important if you are doing something artistic such as using the sprouts for ‘hair’.
Within a few hours they will have begun to germinate – plant in the morning, look at shoots by night time. By the next morning, the shoots will be quite even and pronounced.
Check water levels. Mist to keep it damp. Do not allow to dry out even for five minutes. But don’t flood or puddle it.
Check for mould. Cress seedlings sometimes go mouldy before they’re ready to pick. This means your tray is not in a warm light enough situation. Throw these out and start again.
After a week you can snip the stems to harvest the cress and eat straight away. Make more each day for an ongoing harvest.
For funny critters, you stuff and stretch a stocking tightly over some cotton wool and kitchen paper to make a face. Use a couple of star anise pressed in to make a scary couple of eyes.
Draw a mouth on with lippy or pin a birds-eye chili in place and a stubby habañero chili for a Mike Tyson nose.
Sprinkle the sprout seeds of your choice around the hairline and eyebrows and maybe the beard. Press them into the pantyhose fabric where they should stick. Stand it in a sauce of water. Spray each morning and night and da-dah! After a week you have a very scary man.
You can also draw a face on an empty egg-shell and fill it with kitchen paper and sprinkle the seeds on that. These are fun to have in egg cups along the window sill.
The end product can still be eaten or used as a garnish. Great in omelettes.
Watercress (slightly more serious growing! )
Oddly enough, it does not have to be grown in flowing water and all you need is moist soil or a bucket of water unless you are into hydroponics – a different story altogether. Most of the supermarket stuff is hydrophonic and the chemicals used are supposed to be safe, but it is a constant concern of mine as to what people blithely allow into their mouths! While its roots dangle and grow in the water,the plant grows above it.
Place seeds on a sodden paper towel and keep it moist, and 10 days later you will have little sprouts. These are edible but be patient! Leave some for after. You can sprinkle these sprouts in salads already.
Prick them out into individual tiny pots filled with peatmoss and a little sharp sand (not a lot of the latter) and in around a month they can be transplanted into the soil. This process should be in late Spring but check exactly on the seeds that you purchase. They do not tolerate frost.
The roots are very fragile. Plant approximately 15cm and keep the site is quite damp and in the shade.
Mature watercress plants propagate by runners from the mother plant, cut the older plants back to 10cm in Spring and they will begin to grow new leaves and you can pick as required though the best crop will happen 6 months later.
One of the easiest ways to grow watercress is to buy a bunch at the supermarket and put it in a glass of water changing it daily to avoid stagnation and setting it in full sun.
It is also possible to grow watercress in a pond, but the water must be very clean. No slime is tolerated.
To harvest watercress simply cut the leaves just above the ground, make sure you leave the roots so that they can sprout again. The best flavoured leaves are in spring and autumn and watercress is pretty tasteless in summer.
If you live in a flat with just a balcony, try growing the watercress in a black or green poly bag sold at nurseries for dealing with compost. Lightweight and the handles make it easy to pickup. Sit it on a tray though.
Other salad shoots:
You can plant lettuce, rocket, silver-beet, beetroot, kale, chard and all kinds of Japanese vege greens in your garden and harvest the little leaves after about 2 weeks following their first appearance above the ground. This will give you an ongoing and trendy salad and if you let some of them mature and run to see each season, you will also have an ongoing supply of new seeds to plant. Most of the commercial varieties are hydrophonic and grown in massive greenhouses. But you can avoid all that plus the huge per kilo cost and the waste inherent in buying such fragile luxury goods.