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If you’re looking for a way to exercise your green thumb this winter and add a healthy kick to your diet, consider growing wheatgrass for juicing.
Wheatgrass (Triticum aestivum) is the young sprouts of hard winter wheat plants. It’s easy to grow indoors on a bright window sill or under grow lights. Not only is juiced wheatgrass a healthy addition to the human diet, it’s a favorite winter treat for chickens, too.
If you’re interested in growing this nutritious plant for yourself or your flock, begin by purchasing organic wheatgrass seed from a reliable source. I get mine from either Seeds of Change or Botanical Interests Seeds. You’ll also need a medium-sized bowl, a bag of organic potting soil, and two plastic nursery flats or 9-by-13-inch metal cake pans. If you only have one pan or flat, have a few sheets of newspaper on hand instead.
Start by soaking the seeds. Rinse 2 cups of wheatgrass seeds under cool running water, and then place the seeds in the bowl with 5 to 6 cups of cool water. Cover the bowl, and let it sit on the counter overnight. In the morning, drain off the water, refill with fresh water and replace the cover. Before going to bed that night, drain and refill the bowl again. The next morning, do the same for a third time. By then, the seeds should be swollen and the seed coat should be starting to crack.
Eight to 10 hours after your third rinse, drain the seeds completely. Fill the bottom of one of the nursery flats or cake pans with 1½ to 2 inches of organic potting mix. Spread the wet seeds over the soil in a single layer. The seeds will be thickly sown, but don’t pile them on top of each other. It’s OK if they’re touching.
Mist the freshly sown seeds with water, and cover the tray or pan with an inverted tray or pan to keep light out. If you don’t have a second tray or pan, cover the seed tray with two or three sheets of wet newspaper.
Twice a day for the next three to four days, lift the lid or newspaper and mist the growing seedlings with more water. Once they’ve sprouted, remove the cover and put the tray of young wheatgrass seedlings in a bright room, keeping them out of direct sunlight.
Use a watering can to water the tray daily, but don’t overdo it, especially if your tray or pan doesn’t have drainage holes in the bottom. If the soil gets too soggy, mold may develop.
Harvest wheatgrass when each plant begins to grow a second leaf—this should be when it’s about 6 inches tall. It typically takes wheatgrass between eight and 10 days to reach a good size for harvest.
For human consumption, cut the wheatgrass plants off with a sharp scissors, just above the soil line. Rinse well, and then juice immediately. Cut wheatgrass can be stored in the fridge for a day or two, but for maximum nutrition, juice them as soon as you can.
Continue to water the cut plants and they’ll re-sprout, leading to a second harvest. It takes a lot of wheatgrass to get a single shot of juice, so you may want to have multiple trays growing at the same time. By staggering their sow dates by a few days, you’ll always have wheatgrass available for juicing.
Chickens & Wheatgrass
For chickens, there’s no need to cut the plants, if you don’t want to. You can take the whole tray out to the chicken yard, pull the “carpet” of plants out of the trays, and set them on the ground. Your chickens will go to town! If you want a second harvest from each tray of wheatgrass, you can also cut the first flush of growth and toss the cut wheatgrass into the chicken yard. Allow the plants to re-sprout for a second chicken feast.
Wheatgrass is easy to grow and nutritious for both humans and hens. You’ll both enjoy relishing these healthy greens during cold winter days.