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Four years ago, when she went with her sister to the "lovely" Blenheim farmers' market, Fionna Hill bought some microgreens and discovered a new way to eat vegetables.
"I loved them," she says.
Back home in Auckland, the floral designer started experimenting with growing microgreens and her enthusiasm led to several magazine articles and a book, How to Grow Microgreens, launched this week.
Ms Hill had taken an outline of another book to publishers David Bateman and "they chose not to go with that" but instead seized on the small part about microgreens and commissioned her to develop that idea.
Microgreens, she explains, are not sprouts. Unlike sprouts, they are grown in soil or a substitute such as pumice and need plenty of light and good air circulation. When harvesting microgreens, they are cut, leaving the roots behind. In short, says Ms Hill, it is the modern version of growing mustard and cress on cottonwool or moist kitchen paper.
When she agreed to write the book, she was asked: "Can you do 20 [varieties]?"
"I kinda gulped and said 'yes'."
Then she started growing "a whole lot that I'd never grown before", photographing them as she went with a borrowed camera.
The timing could scarcely have been worse, as she started in May, but could not wait until spring as the publishers wanted to take a pre-print dummy of the book to the prestigious Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2009.
"In Frankfurt, they got a lot of interest, then decided to expand to a bigger format with more pages," Ms Hill says.
She decided to try more varieties - "I was on a roll" - and ended with 25 microgreens for the book.
Most were extremely successful but a couple proved challenging.
"I found amaranth awfully hard to grow but I will try it again [although] I've started gravitating to things that are easier to grow."
Peas also had drawbacks, as birds saw them growing on her second-floor balcony and pulled them out just as they popped through the soil.
A favourite of Ms Hill's is rocket.
"It is a fabulous microgreen; it comes up as a gorgeous green pincushion."
How to Grow Microgreens is published by David Bateman Ltd; RRP, $29.99.
• Hear her
Fionna Hill will be in Dunedin for the rhododendron festival and will speak at the Dunedin Club, on Tuesday, October 19, at 12 noon. The cost is $15, which includes tea or coffee. For bookings, contact Sequel Events, phone (03) 477-1092 or email email@example.com
• Fionna Hill recommends buying seed sold especially for microgreens. Not only is it better value but some vegetable seeds are chemically treated - "those pink peas, for instance" - and may not be safe for microgreen use.
• If you want to grow a mix of microgreens together, buy a commercial blend where the varieties have been chosen to have similar rates of growth.
• Use wide, shallow dishes for planting to maximise the growing area without needing large amounts of potting material.
• Make sure containers have good drainage and do not over-water - or under-water - microgreens. They like damp roots but will die if saturated.
• Unlike the vegetable garden, more is better. Microgreen seeds should be sown thickly.
• Harvest microgreens when they are seven to 21 days old and up to 5cm tall.