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June- Fresh Greens

Fresh Greens – for you and your feather friends!
Unless you live in one of the more balmy parts of the country, June is not the best month for sowing or transplanting in the tunnel house. Except if you choose to grow microgreens specially suited to the time of year. Cool season microgreens are a tasty selection of fast-growing leafy greens specially suited to the cooler months. And because they are designed to be harvested when just a few centimetres high, and to regrow, you will be able to access some fresh salad ingredients in just a few winter weeks. But fast-growing greens aren’t only for humans! In winter, your chickens are craving fresh treats, too, and it’s the very time of year when their pickings are slim. That’s why we recommend growing a specially designed mix of ‘chicken microgreens’ for your feathered friends. It will keep them healthy, and in the best possible condition for egg-laying.

Ground work
Microgreens are fast growing, but in winter, they have to work extra hard to germinate and put on leaf. That’s why ground preparation is so important. Some microgreen seed (such as beetroot) is large and robust. Other microgreen seed is tiny (think mizuna and mibuna).
When preparing tunnelhouse ground for your own microgreens, focus on how you can help the tiniest seeds to germinate, and work extra hard to get the soil as fine as possible. To do this, use a garden fork (or hand fork if the soil is already loose) to dig over the area you will be sowing into (seed is sown thickly so a space of even 50cm square may be ample). Further fine the soil by donning your gardening gloves and crumbling it between your fingers. Mix in any compost, blood and bone, and general vegetable fertilizer you plan to include (leave out the lime if you intend growing tomatoes and other heat-loving vegetables in the same space over summer). Water the prepared ground so that it is dampened to a depth of 3-4 cm (it’s very important, at this cool time of year, not to saturate the soil).
Chicken microgreens should be sown in several shallow (10-12cm deep) rigid containers (keep the containers small enough so that, when filled with soil, they are easy to lift and carry to the chicken pen once the greens are ready). Prepare the soil for them in the same way you did for your own microgreens, then place them in the tunnelhouse to warm up.

Sowing
The usual rule when sowing seed (unless instructions specifically stipulate the seed should not be covered), is to cover the it in twice its depth of soil. However, because mesclun and chicken green mixes comprise a variety of seeds, you have to hedge you bets. To do this, sow all the seed to no more than the depth of the largest seed in the packet.
The soil covering seed needs to be as fine and as loose as possible. If you are concerned your soil is lumpy, rub it through a sieve first. Don’t be tempted to press down on the soil after sowing, as this will only compact the ground and make it harder for the smallest seed to push through. The seeds will need to be watered a little after sowing but not in such a way that you risk washing off the soil covering them. The best way to water newly sown seed is with a watering can. Start the flow from the spout BEFORE you water the seed patch, and stop the flow only AFTER you’ve moved the spout away.

Maintenance
If you and your chickens are craving fresh salad leaves, imagine how delighted the slugs and snails will be to discover them. Visit the tunnelhouse at night, with a torch, to check for pests, and remove them from the scene! If you choose to use a slug and snail bait, it is most important not to scatter it on your microgreen patch or boxes. You (and your chickens) will be harvesting the greens when the leaves are just a few centimetres high, and you don’t want to risk bait contaminating them. Instead, place the bait in shallow containers 5-10cm away from the germinating seed. Before harvesting, always check carefully for any dead or dying insects that may have made their way into the leaves after eating bait, and remove them.

Tips:
Harvest your human microgreen leaves, starting from when they are 5-6cm high. Use clean scissors to snip them into a sieve, and rinse them well before enjoying them as ingredients in a small salad, a sandwich, or scattered over pizza.

Leave a third of the growth on your human microgreens when harvesting, and many of the seedlings will carry on growing to produce a second or third harvest.

Prick out a few seedlings from your human microgreen mix, and plant them, in their own spot in the tunnel house, to grow on into full-sized leafy vegetables once the days start to warm up.

Deliver your chicken microgreens to your hens in the box the greens were grown in. Remove the box from the pen while there is still some leaf showing, and return it to the tunnel house. where the seedlings can grow on, ready to deliver the chooks another feast.

Once the boxes of chicken greens have been devoured completely by the hens, simply sow more chicken microgreens into the same soil, and cover lightly as you did first time around.