Since microgreens first burst onto the scene, I have been fascinated by the concept. These tiny little greens added so much flavor to some of my favorite dishes. Not only that, but the supposed health benefits had me very eager to bring them into my own garden.
Unfortunately, my first attempt at growing microgreens at home didn’t go so well! My plants were covered in mold and didn’t have that same crisp taste as the microgreens I purchased at the store. So, I went back to the drawing board.
I knew that I had to address those problems if I wanted to take full advantage of what microgreens had to offer. After some research and experimentation, microgreens are a permanent staple in my home garden.
What Are Microgreens?
The term “microgreens” isn’t used to describe a specific plant variety or vegetable. Rather, it’s a word that represents the unique result of growing and harvesting young edible plants.
While greens are the most commonly used plants to cultivate microgreens, they can be harvested by pretty much any organic edible plant. Microgreens are nothing more than young plants that have been harvested before they can start growing to maturity.
Not to be confused with sprouts, microgreens are grown in soil and require sunlight just like any other plant. They take a bit longer to grow than soil. However, they are packed with just as many nutrients.
Sprouts vs Microgreens
While these two terms are often used interchangeably, they are completely different things. Sprouts are fully germinated seeds. Typically, they are grown in soilless environments and are consumed shortly after they have sprouted their hypocotyl. This is when the tiny root stem first starts to emerge. Sprouts are eaten seeds and all.
Microgreens are a bit different. However, they are still a part of the same basic growth cycle. Imagine putting those sprouts into some soil and allowing them to grow more.
The cotyledon would start to poke out through the soil. The cotyledon is a part of the embryo that’s responsible for giving plants that boost of energy they need to start developing leaves. With some sunlight, the embryo will use photosynthesis to sprout the plant’s first true leaves. These are the microgreens that we harvest and consume.
What Are the Benefits of Microgreens?
While microgreens have been around since the dawn of time, it wasn’t until the 1980s that they started being used in cuisine. Since then, microgreens have grown in popularity and spread throughout the world. It’s not hard to see why. Microgreens offer a ton of benefits that you just can’t experience with other plants.
Quick Growth Cycle
One of the biggest perks of growing microgreens is that they don’t take very long at all to reach the harvest stage. When you’re growing traditional vegetables outside in a garden, it’s a huge time investment. Depending on the plant, you’re looking at up to 120 days to grow from seed to harvest!
With microgreens, your time commitment is only a few weeks. Most microgreens only need between 1 and 3 weeks. The exact length of the growth cycle will depend on the types of seeds you’re planting. But either way, there’s no other plant out there that you can start enjoying that quickly.
Many seasoned gardeners will stagger their planting. This provides a constant supply of greens that you can have in your kitchen all year long.
Limited Space Requirements
Another huge advantage of growing microgreens is that you don’t need a ton of space. Remember, these plants are harvested when they only have their first set of true leaves. Thus, they don’t need the same breathing room as plants you’re going to grow to maturity.
Most gardeners will grow microgreens in small trays that are easy to manage. There are no strict spacing guidelines to worry about or overcrowding concerns. Microgreens offer an amazing crop yield ratio.
That’s not all. You don’t even have to grow microgreens outside in a lush garden. They can be grown and harvested right from your kitchen, living room, or garage! They’re a favorite among urban gardeners who don’t have a ton of room. In fact, they’ve sparked a whole new way to approach urban agriculture.
Can Be Grown with Simple Supplies
Not only do you not need a ton of space, but growing microgreens don’t even require a ton of complex supplies. We’ll get into the specifics of what you need to grow microgreens in a bit. But for now, all you need to know is that having a full garden is not necessary.
You’d be surprised at what you can accomplish with some growing trays, soil, and a light source.
Suitable for all Growing Environments
Because they can be grown indoors, climate and outside temperatures are not a factor you have to worry about. This is a huge advantage. With traditional gardening, you’re limited by USDA plant hardiness zones. Unless you live in a tropical area, you might be limited to growing plants during a few months out of the year.
With microgreens, you can garden anywhere at any point throughout the year.
Rich in Nutrients
Did you know that microgreens can have up to 40 times more nutrients than mature plants? That alone makes the time and effort it takes to grow microgreens well worth it.
The nutritional content of your microgreens will vary based on the seeds you’re using and how you care for them. However, all greens will be packed with essential vitamins and nutrients.
When you harvest microgreens, you’re harvesting plants at one of their most important growth stages. Those seedlings require tons of energy to become established. Thus, they are rich in vitamins and minerals.
Thanks to their nutritional content, microgreens have a lot to offer in terms of health. They are filled with essentials like iron, potassium, zinc, magnesium, and more.
Microgreens also contain polyphenols, which are a type of antioxidant that’s known to reduce your chances of suffering from heart disease. These tiny crops are also said to lower your risks of diabetes and several types of cancers.
What Are the Different Microgreens That You Can Grow?
There’s no shortage of options when it comes to what types of microgreens you want to grow. That’s one of the best parts of microgreens. These tiny crops are packed with unique flavors and textures.
As long as the plant is fully edible from root to fruit, you can use it to produce microgreens. Of course, some plant seeds are going to provide you with a better-tasting harvest than others.
The easiest way to choose what kind of seed you want to grow is to consider the plant family. You can use separate families to get a better idea of the general flavor you’re going to get. While microgreens do taste different than the final crop of a fully-grown plant, flavor profiles are similar.
Here are some popular options from each plant family.
What Supplies Do You Need?
As we mentioned earlier, you don’t need a ton of gardening equipment to get started with microgreens. It only takes some basic supplies. Here are some essentials that you will need.
The first thing you should purchase is growing trays. This is where your microgreens are going to sprout and grow from. We recommend using trays that are about an inch deep. Drainage holes are a must as well. The last thing you want to do is drown your plants.
It’s also a good idea to get opaque trays. Clear trays work well, too. However, opaque options will help you out during the “blackout” phase of germination.
You can find trays at any big-box store or gardening center. There are no size requirements, so choose trays that work for your particular needs.
Next, you need to pick some growing medium. You have a few different choices here. The easiest is simple soil. An inch or two of soil will do just fine to keep your microgreens hydrated.
If you’d rather not deal with the mess of soil, you can go with a soil-free alternative. Microgreens do well with mediums like coconut coir or vermiculite. They provide the same benefits as soil but are much easier to manage in the long run.
Finally, you can use a hydroponics system. These growing systems don’t use soil or traditional mediums. Instead, they usually have some kind of absorbent pad that will hold onto moisture during the germination process.
Next, you’ll need your seeds of choice. It’s important to go with certified organic seeds that are not chemically treated. Typically, microgreen growers will purchase seeds in bulk.
These are often catered towards commercial farmers, so they’ll have pesticides and fungicides applied to the seeds. Stick to organic options to ensure that you’re not ingesting any potentially dangerous chemicals.
Microgreens need, at the very least, four hours of sun a day to truly thrive. More exposure could benefit certain plants as well. If you don’t have access to a window with decent sun exposure, you’ll need a grow light to make up the difference.
You don’t have to get extra fancy with your grow light! A simple 30-watt LED strip is more than enough to simulate sunlight indoors.
A spray bottle is what you’re going to use to keep your microgreens hydrated as they grow. Stick with a bottle that has a fine mister. You don’t want to use anything that applies any unnecessary pressure to the seeds and soil. This will only displace your seeds and make it harder for your greens to grow.
Finally, it pays to have some kind of notebook for record-keeping. Growing microgreens can be a fun process because there’s a lot of experimentation involved. Different seeds germinate at different rates. Some plants take longer to produce true leaves than others.
Having a notebook to jot down some information every once in a while will prove to be useful in the future when you need a reference guide.
How to Plant Microgreens
Once you have all your supplies and the seeds you want to grow, you can get to planting! This process is very simple. However, there are some important steps that you must complete to enhance your yield and ensure that your crops are healthy.
Pre-Soak Your Seeds
Not all seeds need to be soaked. Typically, this is reserved for larger seeds or those that are noticeably firm. Soaking kick starts the germination cycle, getting your plants started much quicker.
Seeds can be soaked for a few hours. Though, overnight soaking works best. Just place the seeds in a bag or container with room temperature water. Put the seeds in a dark cool place and let them soak overnight.
Prepare Your Medium and Tray
While your seeds are soaking, you can prepare your tray. Simply cut your growing medium to size or apply an inch of soil to the bottom of the tray.
Before you start sowing, moisten the medium with your spray bottle. The growing medium should be damp and fully saturated. However, it should be soaked.
Sowing the Seeds
Sowing the seeds is very easy. You don’t need to worry about accurate spacing. Just sprinkle the seeds on top of your growing medium and use your finger to lightly spread them around. Then, apply some soil over the top of them. You can also use sifted compost to give your seeds a nice boost of nutrition.
Blacking Out Your Plants
Don’t expose your microgreens to light just yet! During the first few days, they will need to undergo a blackout period. Simple cover the trays with a moist towel or another tray. Some growers even stack their trays on top of one another to strengthen the greens.
This period helps to maintain humidity levels and creates the perfect environment for sprouting.
Providing Sun Exposure
After four to five days, your microgreens will be ready for sunlight. Provide between four and eight hours of light each day for optimal results.
How to Take Care of Microgreens
Your job is not over once you have your seeds in the soil. The entire growth process takes several weeks. How you care for the microgreens during this time will ultimately affect their final taste, texture, and nutritional content.
You should use your spray bottle to water your microgreens a couple of times throughout the day. Be conservative with your watering habits. Use your finger to gauge the moisture levels of the soil. You don’t want to waterlog your plants. Doing so can kill them off and expose them to mold issues.
Providing Adequate Sun Protection
Microgreens need the sun to thrive. However, too much of it could make them taste bitter. Keep your plants out of direct sunlight once they have started to develop leaves.
Keeping Temperatures Constant
Like all seedlings and baby plants, microgreens need relatively constant temperatures to stay healthy. A moderate 70 degrees Fahrenheit is best. Consider placing your plants near a radiator or on top of a refrigerator if ambient temperatures are lower than that. You can also invest in a seed warmer tray to provide some residual warmth from below.
How to Harvest and Store Microgreens
After several weeks of growth, your microgreens will finally be ready for harvest. You’ll know it’s time when you can see true leaves forming on the shoots.
Harvesting is a relatively easy process. Just cut the microgreen shots at the base. Get as close to the soil as possible. We recommend using some good sharp kitchen shears. Pulling your microgreens out by hand could damage them. Plus, it ruins their look!
Most microgreens will not regrow after cutting. Some plants, such as the pea shoots, may produce some more growth. However, most plants are finished after harvest. You can compost the roots and reuse the growing medium if possible.
Give your microgreens a light wash and they’re ready to eat!
Storing Your Microgreens
Microgreens are best when they are eaten immediately after harvest. The taste is at its best and the nutritional content is virtually intact.
That said, it is possible to store them for 5 to 8 days in the refrigerator. You’ll first need to get rid of any moisture. Excess moisture on the leaves will only cause mold and cause the microgreens to spoil faster. Try using a salad spinner and letting the greens dry out on a paper towel for a bit.
Then, just place them in a plastic bag or plastic container, seal them up, and pop them in the fridge. Go with a ventilated bag or container. Air circulation will limit mold growth and keep your greens in good shape.
What Are Some Microgreen Problems?
Growing microgreens is a simple enough process. However, that doesn’t mean that you won’t encounter some problems. Luckily, most of the following issues are very easy to solve.
If you have white mold growing between your shoots, you may be overwatering your plants. While moisture is important, so is air circulation and movement. Try putting your plants in an airy spot and pull back on watering for a bit. The mold issue should resolve itself.
Are your greens growing taller on one side of the tray? This means that you aren’t providing even sun exposure. Try repositioning your growing lamp. Alternatively, you can rotate the tray throughout the day.
Poor Germination Rates
Some seeds are more difficult to germinate than others. Usually, you can improve germination rates by pre-soaking the seeds for several hours before sowing.
Weak shoots are pretty common. They might look yellowish and white. This is a result of not getting enough sunlight. The photosynthesis process hasn’t started, which is why there is no green. Give your microgreens some light and they should perk right up.
Whether you have a seasoned green thumb or you’re a complete novice to the world of gardening, microgreens are a great alternative to traditional plants. They’re easy to grow and don’t take very long to see results. The first step to get started is to choose your seeds and buy some basic supplies.
After you sow your seeds, you can watch your microgreens grow right in front of your eyes! Before you know it, you’ll have some tasty greens that you can use to spice up any dish.