We’ve had some big good life news.
After nearly a decade in a small, dark little railroad-style apartment, we moved into a big new place with lots of light.
However, even though we gained an eating space, dishes are still stacked perpendicularity on the kitchen counter.
Mama didn’t gain much space there.
But the light in the living room, kitchen and bedroom is lovely – although a little startling.
Once the boxes were (mostly) unpacked, Jedd declared that he was going to grow herbs in every room in the apartment.
Sometimes the universe comes to you.
In this case, we were driving home from my parents and we heard an episode of The Splendid Table, talking about indoor gardening.
Namely, microgreens and shoots. He was so excited, I thought he’d have to pull the car over on I-89.
“You can do what, with popcorn kernels?!?”
He started sprouting these corn shoots on Wednesday night, planted them Thursday night, and we were eating them five days later.
Talk about nearly immediate gratification.
And the taste. Oh, the taste.
They taste like the freshest piece of corn you’ve ever eaten on a hot August day.
Normally when I say, “give this a shot,” it’s for a recipe.
In this case, it’s playing with a little dirt and popcorn kernels.
Oh, and the salad is pretty good too. I’m giving you the recipe for that, and Jedd is going to write up a little apartment primer on corn shoots.
Cold Asian Salad with Corn Sprouts
1/3 package of Japanese buckwheat noodles
Chicken or vegetable broth
Scallions (white and green parts) roughly chopped
Radishes, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon tamari
Several drops sesame oil
Several drops hot chili oil
Bring broth to a boil. Add noodles and cook for 4 minutes, or according to package directions.
Drain, rinse under cold water.
Toss with tamari, and sesame oil and chili oil, to taste.
Add the scallions, radishes and corn shoots.
How to Grow Corn Shoots in an Apartment
This technique works well with other shoots, too, so feel free to experiment with pea, sunflower and other seeds. Growing microgreens is actually basically the same process, too. The basic difference is that seeds for microgreens don’t need to be pre-soaked.
Popcorn kernels (preferably organic)
Compost or potting soil
Empty plastic vegetable/fruit containers, flower pots, etc.
Yes, organic popcorn is best, but you can use any popcorn really, as long as there are no salts or other additives/chemicals that might affect germination and growth. Soak a handful of popcorn kernels overnight in a glass of water. This will help jump start the sprouting process. Don’t over soak them, though – 8 to 24 hours should be plenty. You just want them to plump up a little bit.
The next day, mix 7 handfuls of compost or potting soil with 2-3 handfuls of vermiculite. Add a cup or more of water, mixing it together with your hand. You’ve added enough water when you squeeze a little bit of soil in your hand and only a few drops drip out.. If you add too much water, just add more soil. Fluff the mixture up a little bit to break up clumps. This part (mixing soil with vermiculite and wetting it down) is actually optional. You can just use regular potting soil and not wet it down, but the vermiculite helps with drainage and adding water up front helps boost germination.
Now, the question of what to grow your shoots in. You really only need an inch or two of soil to grow shoots and microgreens, so shallow containers waste less soil. That said, anything with holes in the bottom – flower pots, etc. – will work great. You can also improvise – there’s no rule saying you can’t drill some drainage holes in an old serving tray, baking pan, lunch box, guitar case, etc. If you’re going for a post-apocalyptic, “world without people” kind of look, there are lots of options. Just remember you’re growing food here, so clean it out and avoid using containers that once held chemicals or other nasties.
Holes in the bottom of your container are definitely a plus, too. Launie and I used old cherry tomato and strawberry containers that we rinsed out – not very “post-human” – but they have great drainage, they aren’t super-deep and they’re readily available. The clear lids are a great addition, too, helping with germination and early growth. When I needed another container, I also grabbed a big juice bottle from the recycling bin, sliced it in half, and cut some drainage holes in the bottom. (I wouldn’t recommend this, though, because that plastic is pretty damn thick in some spots and going at it with a box cutter felt “less than safe” – my blood might have added some more nutrients to the soil, but it just didn’t feel worth it.)
Okay, so now that you’ve got some kind of container, go ahead and fill that old shoe box or typewriter case up with some of that soil you so lovingly prepared. Do not pack the soil down. In fact, you want to fluff it up. Let some air get in there. Spread your popcorn kernels on top a generous, but single layer. Don’t be afraid of putting too many seeds in there. The shoots don’t need a lot of space and sowing the seeds pretty thick means you’ll get more “crop” per square inch.
Give the soil a very light watering and cover the whole thing with a dish towel or a plastic lid (or both). This helps keep the seeds and soil moist and warm while you wait for them to sprout. The towel also blocks light, which is good at this stage. Check the seeds every day to see how they’re doing. It might take a few days, but pretty soon, you’ll see some purple roots spreading out from the seeds, followed by small pale yellow-green shoots pointing straight up. (Note: If you’re afraid you see mold growing around any of those roots DON’T PANIC – take a closer look. Chances are good that it’s not mold. It’s probably tiny little root hairs spreading out to pick up nutrients. This is a good sign.)
At this point, remove the cover and set them in your sunniest window. Water them daily. The best way to water is from below. You can mist them or gently water from above, but putting your container into 1-2 inches of room temperature water for a few minutes everyday will give them the moisture they crave without crushing the tender, gorgeous shoots. If all is going well, you’ll see exponential growth in the first few days.
When they’re an inch or two tall, clip one off with scissors and have a taste. It’s kind of a surreal experience – so much sweet corn flavor packed into such a tiny package. At this point you can “harvest” at pretty much any time.
You can wait to harvest until you just start to see leaves opening up, but don’t let them go too long or they’ll start to lose their sweetness and take on a slightly grassy taste. We let ours go a day or two longer than we should have, but even so they were still great. And we’ll know better the next time.
Either just clip what you want to use or harvest it all at once. Store in a glass jar or plastic bag in the fridge.
There you have it! Growing corn in your own apartment.
(Photos by Launie and Jedd Kettler)