Grit Blogs >

Narratives of Place

48-Hour Microgreens to Maintain Winter Health

Window-Grown Microgreens

When I moved to Tacoma, Washington, someone explained to me that here, the precipitation percentage is not a matter of probability, but rather an estimate of density. That is, if there’s any chance of rain, it’s going to rain—the only distinction between a 20% chance and a 90% chance is how hard that rain will be.

I bring this up, because January is here, the rain is driving, and I’m at least a month out from starting even the earliest spring seeds in my cold frame. At this moment, I’m actually grateful for the relief. I work as the Trades and Agriculture Interpreter at Fort Nisqually Living History Museum, and the rainy month of January provides a welcome opportunity to take apart garden shears for cleaning, oiling, and sharpening, to sketch out garden designs, organize saved seeds, and prepare for spring planting.

But even as gardeners enjoy the slower pace of winter, the short days leave us with an itch for that first opportunity to once again place our hands in the dirt and sprout seeds. Thankfully, there’s a perfect workaround for impatient planters eager to put seed stockpiles to use without waiting for soil temperatures to warm.

Window-grown microgreens can bridge the gap between seasons, give purpose to spare and nearly spent seeds, and improve physical health all at the same time.

While I’ve grown microgreens before, I’m far from an expert, in terms of nutrition or practice—but thankfully Frank Catalano, owner of Window Garden, is. In 2009, Frank was diagnosed with prostate cancer. After having his prostate removed, the cancer came back and doctors suggested a traditional path of radiation. Unwilling to accept the potentially harmful effects of the process without first exploring every option, Frank and his wife Lisa dove into the available medical research to try to understand the “why” behind the unhealthy cellular growth.

Cancer-Fighting Sulforaphane

A 2012 study by the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources demonstrating microgreens contain 4-40 times more nutrients than the same plants at maturity caught the Catalanos’ attention. The nutrient levels were so high that initially the researchers thought they had made a mistake, but the results were confirmed over and over. “We were really surprised,” said assistant professor Qin Wang. “Those nutrients are very important to us. Vitamin C is considered an antioxidant, as well as Vitamin E, so they’re very important for us to consume.”

For Frank and Lisa, the nutrient potential of the microgreens meant more than an energy boost; it was a possible alternative to radiation. They kept digging and came across the work of Dr. Michael Greger. “All the other articles boasted [the benefits of microgreens] and reinforced my decision, but it wasn’t until I found Dr. Greger’s posts that I was completely convinced,” says Catalano. “I have a very high opinion of Dr. Greger as he is solely science based and does not sell anything or provide personal opinions.”

Greger synthesizes research on the impact of sulforaphane, a phytonutrient found in broccoli sprouts that has been associated with a heightened targeting of breast cancer stem cells and a limitation of pathway growth of human prostate cells. Most importantly, Dr. Greger explains that the sulforaphane levels that yielded positive test results can be matched by consuming between 0.25-1.25 cups of broccoli sprouts each day—an incredibly achievable amount for the home gardener.

Using Microgreen Spouts

In the same way that microgreens concentrate other nutrients, broccoli sprouts have been shown to contain nearly seven times the sulforaphane as mature broccoli per 100 grams of dry weight and the bioavailability of the nutrients is dramatically higher in fresh sprouts when compared to broccoli supplements. In studies, broccoli sprouts also reached peak sulforaphane content in only 48 hours. That means in only two days’ time, home gardeners can reap study-level cancer-fighting benefits from their own windows for roughly $0.25/day. Not bad.

The research was enough to convince the Catalanos to transition to a fully plant-based diet (no small feat for two individuals from Italian families who recognize cheese and meat as part of their culinary heritage). 10 years later, Frank still consumes 1-2 cups of cruciferous, sulforaphane-rich microgreens every single day, ranging from tasty sunflower sprouts to wheatgrass shots. While the diet change was a challenge, Frank’s cancer growth has halted and documented health improvements.

One thing the University of Maryland professor noted in the 2012 study, was that production of the nutrient-rich microgreens was low and costs were high since the sprouts were really only being used in upscale restaurants. Needing to have access to a constant, low-cost supply throughout his cancer-fighting journey, Frank and Lisa developed microgreen window-ledges and started a new company, Window Garden, to support and promote the use of window-grown sprouts and starts. The past three years, they’ve seen consistently increasing interest from home gardeners, cancer-fighters, and anyone wanting to harness the nutritional power of microgreens.

The Catalano's Window Garden

Window Gardening Basics

After a decade of personal experience, Frank recommends individuals consume 1-2 cups of cruciferous sprouts each day, for both cancer combating and daily health maintenance.

As someone with limited light access in a basement apartment, I asked about the minimum light requirement for microgreen growth. “You can grow microgreens in most any window with filtered or direct sunlight,” Frank says. “[They are] very adaptable.” Though he does note that south, east, or west-facing windows are preferred.

In terms of temperature, the Catalanos live in 200-year-old farmhouse with single pane windows and have no problem starting sprouts all winter long. Translation: the rest of our windows should be just fine.

Lastly, when it comes to soil and moisture, the Catalanos recommend skipping the potting soil (too heavy) and growing mats (un-uniform growth) and opting for a fiber soil instead. Moisture maintenance depends on the growing environment, but it’s key that the seeds never dry out during germination. Check every day to keep moist with a spray bottle or kitchen sprayer and seeds should start without a problem.

One of my favorite aspects of all this is microgreen growing provides an excellent opportunity for home gardeners and homesteaders to put excess seeds to use throughout the slow winter months. I have hundreds of Raggedy Jack kale seeds that I don’t have room for in the garden that will make fantastic microgreens to top winter soups and sandwiches. Additionally, some summer seeds that my growing climate won’t be warm enough for many months—basil for instance—can find more immediate purpose on my winter window ledge.

The low-cost, low-effort and high-impact of winter, window-grown microgreens is hard to argue with. Give them a try and drop a note in the comments if you have questions along the way

Disclaimer: Then information provided above is presented purely for educational purposes only. Please, consult with your doctor to find the cancer treatment options that are best for you.

Wood Cook Stoves: 19th Century Tips and Tricks for the Modern Homestead

Joel JohnsonOvens of stone, brick, and clay are nearly as old as agriculture itself. Archaeological evidence of oven use in modern day Syria dates from the Neolithic Period—roughly 9,000 years ago. While little is known about what those ovens looked like, or how they were used, 5,000 years later the picture starts to clear up.

Chopping Vegetables

4,000 year-old wooden statuettes from Ancient Egypt clearly depict baking activities. One of the most notable images is a relief found in the 5th Dynasty tomb of Ti at Saqqara. Bake oven designs used by ancient Egyptians, Jews, and Romans often bear a surprising resemblance to modern recreations—a reminder that food is history, and vice versa.

portrait stove 

The wood cook stove as we know it requires a fast-forwarding of another four millennia. The earliest metal wood-burning stoves can be dated to the 16th-century in Europe where the cook stove’s modern evolution began. Benjamin Franklin’s improvement on the open-hearth fire (a three-sided box of iron aptly known as the Franklin Stove) in the 1740’s is credited with producing higher room temperatures while using only one-quarter of the wood required by an open fireplace.

Of course, it wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that iron stoves became more widely available and affordable. Even when they did, the transition took some time. In 1823 Robert Bailey Thomas, founder of The Old Farmer’s Almanac, noted that although wood stoves represented a major saving of fuel and labor, “many people are so prejudiced against them that they will scarcely look at one.” Innovation and practicality eventually won out over tradition and the wood cook stove became a staple in 19th (and many 20th) century kitchens.

Stove with wood 

At Fort Nisqually Living History Museum in Tacoma, WA, a reproduction kitchen boasts an original cast iron cook stove manufactured in Portland, Maine in 1854. Though treated with care, the stove gets a regular workout as interpreters and volunteers hone their heritage skills.

Stove lettering

Quin-Anne Hinrichs, a volunteer cook at the museum, was actually surprised at how easy it was to work with a cast iron stove after years of open-fire Dutch oven cooking. However, one of the challenges wood cook stoves present is the lack of precise information they provide. “Nowadays we’re used to being told to preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, or 380 degrees,” Hinrichs says. “Really you need a slow oven, a medium oven, or a quick oven.”

To determine temperature, Hinrichs employs a time-tested practice. “You stick your hand into the oven and you see how many seconds you can leave your hand in there,” she explains. “If you can leave your hand in there for five seconds that’s about 350-375°. That’s a moderate oven, which is pretty much what you cook almost everything on. If you can leave your hand in there for 10 seconds, that’s down near 325°. If you stick you hand in there and bring it back saying, “Wow, that’s really hot,” that’s probably up near 400°.

For cooks unwilling to put a hand in the fire, as a general rule, “If you can keep boiling water on top, it’s hot enough to cook with in the bottom,” Hinrichs offers.

Years of use and the damp conditions of the Puget Sound have made a visible impact on Nisqually’s stove. As the antique iron rusted, a red sheen was constantly visible on the cooktop. Last year, Lead Historical Interpreter Nancy Keller-Scholz was tasked with enhancing the museum staff and volunteers’ care of the stove.

She recommends a “thorough cleaning of [the] stove top after every use with a wire brush, then using unsalted lard to grease the cooking surfaces only, as well as using stove blacking about once [a] month on the entire stove.” This routine, Keller-Scholz explains, “keeps the rust off of the stove top, keeps the iron seasoned with the lard, and the other parts of the stove protected from moisture as well.” Combined with regular removal of ashes and cleaning of the stovepipe, the Fort Nisqually cook stove is conditioned for many more years of use and interpretation.

A century after Fort Nisqually suspended operations on the Puget Sound, the energy crisis of the 1970s led to a shortage of petroleum fuel throughout the country. Rising costs encouraged American consumers to consider alternative fuel options, sparking a resurgence of interest in wood cook stoves, not only in the kitchen, but also as a primary source of home heating. A New York Times article highlighted the extreme creativity of retired mining engineer Oscar Jarrell who gathered his wood free from the local dump.

While the reduction of petroleum dependency was applauded, the widespread use of wood fuel during this time also brought concerns of air pollution and public safety into the public eye. “Smoke from wood burning stoves and fireplaces can be a significant source of air pollution, negatively impacting public health and the environment,” The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) reports. In addition to the release of chemical compounds in wood smoke, the major concern surrounds fine particulate matter, which is easily inhaled deep into the lungs and can lead to serious respiratory damage.


The solution lies in minimizing the output of smoke. “Smoke from wood stoves is generated primarily by incomplete combustion,” explains the NHDES, “which can be caused by a number of different factors related to the wood stove’s efficiency.” More efficient stoves facilitate more complete combustion and therefore less air pollution. When properly operated with seasoned firewood, EPA-certified stoves reduce smoke emissions by up to 90 percent.

As concerns over fuel costs and air quality remain extremely relevant, modern, low-emission stoves seek to provide a balanced answer. “Wood cook stoves are making a powerful come back as customers are [once again] beginning to appreciate the value of renewable energy & independence,” comments Eugene Bryskine of GrillsNOvens LLC, a US retailer of Italian crafted wood cook stoves. Bryskine notes that “Even though most of our customers are living ON the grid, many would like to secure themselves against a possibility of a blackout by getting a stove that can heat, cook, and bake at the same time.”

While nearly everything else has changed, the wood cook stove remains the time-tested answer to home energy independence. Add in the 9,000 years of nostalgia that surround a crackling fire and a warm loaf of bread, and it’s no surprise we keep coming back to the iron hearthside.

wide shot stove

Live The Good Life with GRIT!

Grit JulAug 2016At GRIT, we have a tradition of respecting the land that sustains rural America. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing to GRIT through our automatic renewal savings plan. By paying now with a credit card, you save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of GRIT for only $16.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and send me one year of GRIT for just $22.95!

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters