From the outside it looks like a regular house. However, step inside and it’s like entering a miniature biodome. Luke Whitmore has turned his home in Appledore, North Devon, into a living, breathing greenhouse.
The walls are stacked with shelves upon shelves of tiny edible plants, quietly growing under a system of lamps and cooling fans.
These miniature greens, also known as ‘vegetable confetti’ or micro leaves are simply the seedlings of regular herbs and vegetables that would usually be grown to full size.
However, instead of allowing them to reach their normal proportions, Luke, 40, harvests the microgreens when they are just a few centimetres tall and less than three weeks old – the gardening equivalent of fast food. The microgreens can then be used in salads, soups, garnishes, sandwiches and even smoothies.
Luke, who also works as window cleaner, gets up at 5.30am to care for his seedlings. He says he’s always enjoyed gardening and has grown vegetables ever since he was a child.
However, in 2016, he began doing some research into microgreens and has been hooked ever since.
He says: “It’s a lot of hours, some nights I don’t get to bed until 11.30, but I enjoy it so much, that’s why I do it.
“It was a struggle finding equipment, so I invented much of it myself.”
A keen runner and cyclist, Luke says it was the health benefits that most attracted him to this niche area of gardening.
Despite their diminutive size, microgreens are highly nutritious, containing a powerhouse of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, such as iron, potassium, zinc, magnesium and copper and folic acid. Research suggests that these nutrient levels can be several times higher than the concentrations found in mature vegetables and may even help to reduce the risk of certain diseases.
For Luke, who has lost several members of his family to cancer, this is an important part of his mission.
“I’m passionate about fitness and nutrition. I love healthy food and I love the taste. Every morning, I’ll have some microgreens in a smoothie, it feels good and gets the morning off to a good start.”
Luke initially started growing microgreens for himself and his family. However, after doing some more research and experimenting with different growing techniques, he’s now set up his own business, Lively Leafy Greens, delivering microgreens to the local community.
The initiative has been steadily attracting interest and Luke is now in talks with restaurants and hopes to expand in the near future.
By sowing seeds successionally every few days, he is able to maintain a constant supply and ensure a continuous harvest.
Microgreens can be grown from many different types of seeds and the leaves vary in taste, from mild to spicy, slightly sour or even bitter, depending on the variety.
Luke currently grows a mixture of: broccoli, red cabbage, kale, basil, pea, coriander, sunflower, beet, rocket and mustard and is always expanding his collection. His personal favourites are the spicy ones like rocket and rocket.
However, he says many people still haven’t heard of microgreens and aren’t aware of the benefits. His goal is to encourage more people to give microgreens a go.
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