January is a good time to test seed germination. Place 25 or so seeds on a damp paper towel, roll it up and keep it moist but not soaking. In a week to 10 days, check to see how many seeds germinated. If the percentage is low, order new seeds of that particular variety.

Here’s a possible twist on the germination test for some seeds: Use the test to grow microgreens.

A new book by Fionna Hill, “ Microgreens—how to grow nature’s own superfood,” (Firefly Books, 2010) is inspirational for such a venture.

Microgreens, explains Hill, are larger than sprouts but smaller than baby greens. They’re germinated seeds with, usually, their first two to four true leaves, the leaves that appear after the cotyledons (seed leaves).

The “superfood” part of the title refers to the high nutrient content of the product, not just minerals but health promoting compounds  such as sulforaphane in broccoli.

“It doesn’t take much space to grow microgreens,” says Hill. “They can be grown in the smallest of apartments, and in the densest of cities…. Most are ready in a week or so and you can grow them in winter.” She emphasizes the importance of buying seeds that have not been treated with a fungicide. She says to buy seed meant for sprouting, and to buy in bulk to save money. (So, your germination test will be just an introduction to growing microgreens.)

Hill grows her microgreens in a soil mix or soil substitute, her favorite for many seeds being pumice (ground-up volcanic rock). An inch and a half of substrate is enough for most seeds. She advises growing each variety in its own container, since different varieties germinate at different rates.

Generally, seeds are simply scattered on the surface of the substrate and gently pressed into it. Then, depending on the seed, they are covered with a fine layer of soil mix or a light, clean cotton or linen cloth (without looped pile) or paper towel. Hill keeps this setup moist by covering it with a shower cap or bowl cover.  Once seeds have sprouted, she removes the covering, keeps seedlings in bright light and keeps them moist.

All kinds of containers can be used to grow microgreens, as long as they have drainage holes in them. Hill has numerous beautiful photos of handsome, artistically arranged containers of microgreens, including bamboo steamer baskets.

Microgreens are cut with scissors at the base of the stem, leaving the roots behind, when they’re 3/4 to 2 inches tall, or seven to 21 days old, depending on the variety. They’re then rinsed, if necessary. Their flavors, generally stronger than those of sprouts, can enhance soups, salads, sandwiches and more; in fact, Hill ends her book with several recipes that use microgreens, including this tempting one: Strawberries with Basil Microgreens.

Hill lists crops that make good microgreens and talks about specific requirements for each. She also tells which plants not to grow for microgreens (tomatoes, for example). Among her suggestions to grow are amaranth, basil, beets, the cole crops — broccoli, cabbage, kale — cress, flax, mizuna and more.

Growing microgreens is a great winter, and year-round, project, and Hill’s book offers inspiration and enough detail to help you succeed.