Your friendly, gourmet-minded Planet Natural blogger likes to keep up on cooking and restaurant trends when planning next year’s garden. Why else would we have tried growing radicchio not so many years ago? (Since then, it’s become a favorite, though it needs a little growing attention.)
This year, we’ve taken note of how many restaurant salads, especially at restaurants that feature organic, locally sourced foods, add pea tendrils to their salads. Those curling lengths of green add visual interest to a bowl of greens as well as adding something of a snap pea flavor to the cornucopia of tastes that come with mixed green and mesclun salads.
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Of course, you don’t have to wait until spring to grow pea shoots for your salads. You can do it indoors and within weeks have a bumper crop of curly, tasty tendrils to add to salads or use as plate decorations. Like growing sprouts, growing shoots indoors makes a wonderful family project, one in which your kids will probably be glad to take part.
Like microgreens, shoots of any type are grown in soil (between you and me, we tend to think of microgreens and shoots as the same thing). So the first thing you’ll need is a container — or several — to grow them in. We like flat seed-starting trays — they’re perfect for “bottom watering” (more about that later) — but almost any pot or container will do. You can grow them in house plant containers and they’ll actually make attractive green additions to your house plant collection. We’ve known people to grow them in buckets and in egg cartons, even in the egg shells themselves. But if you’re looking to grow a continuous supply, a seed flat or two is a good way to go.
If you’re growing in an old baking dish or roasting pan, lay some stones along the bottom to give water a place to drain.
Grow your shoots in good, clean, organic soil, the lighter (fluff factor) the better. You don’t need a lot. An inch or two will do. Once the shoots start growing, the roots will turn back on themselves, making something like a piece of carpet. As long as you keep them watered, they’ll be fine. And don’t be afraid to crowd seed in your flat. They don’t need the growing space as they will outdoors when they grow tall and blossom.
What peas to use? We’ve seen some reports that recommend only snap peas. Elizabeth Millard in her book Indoor Kitchen Gardening recommends dwarf grey sugar pod peas for their compactness and flavor. We’ve used almost any pea seed left over from the previous year’s planting and have always had good results. Our only standard: our pea shoot seed has to be organic.
Soak your pea seed overnight just as you would before planting in the garden (see our article Soak Seeds Before Planting to learn more). No need for inoculant.
Just a bit of soil to cover is fine, no deeper than the height of a pea seed. Or don’t put any soil on top, especially if you’ve soaked your peas long enough to sprout (24 hours or more). But cover the tray, pot or bucket with a cover to keep it dark and moist. Over watering at this point — or any point — isn’t good. Once your peas sprout, usually within three or four days, remove the lid and keep them moist. A mister is a big help, especially if your house is particularly dry during the winter months.
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The most even and consistent watering can come from bottom watering. Allow the containers to sit in a tray where they will draw water up from the bottom as the top dries out. Keep checking the water level in the bottom tray. It can disappear quickly when your furnace is running a lot.
Light is important for quick growth and a sunny windowsill will only give you the minimum. We think grow-lights are necessary for almost any crop you grow indoors and plan to eat.
You can harvest pea shoots when they’re three or four inches tall or taller, up to ten inches. It takes about three weeks to get pea shoots this size. We’ve found that they tend to get tough if allowed to grow longer. Clip them with scissors as needed or take the whole tray and store the extra in a refrigerated plastic bag. Make sure they’re dry before they go into that bag. Often you’ll be able to pull a second, smaller harvest from your trays.
We also recommend growing sunflower sprouts and (one that we haven’t tried) popcorn. I’ll bet your kids would like that though we’re told they can have a bit of a bitter finish as you chew them. Now get growing!