By Joanna Kapke, Master Gardener
Microgreens are easy to grow, quick to harvest, have year-round indoor growing potential, exceptional nutritional value, and seeds are available in many varieties for endless experimentation. There is nothing micro about microgreens – except their size!
A microgreen is a plant in between the sprout stage and the baby stage of development. When we eat microgreens, we are eating the cotyledon (the embryonic leaf or leaves inside the seed) and a few of the plant’s true leaves. There are many benefits to growing and eating microgreens. They go from sowing to harvest in one to three weeks with minimal opportunities for failure. They can be grown indoors year-round. According to research, they contain 4 to 40 times more nutrients than full-grown plants. There are many varieties of microgreens available to grow and they all provide a delicious and fresh addition to many meals even in the dead of winter.
When selecting your first microgreen variety to grow, something from the mustard family (Brassicaceae)—such as arugula, mustard or radish—is a good place to start as they germinate quickly and have a lot of flavor. Microgreen growing kits are growing in popularity and offer an effortless first foray into microgreen enjoyment. Many seed catalogue companies—”Johnny’s” and “High Mowing Seeds” to name two—have extensive microgreen seed selections complete with growing guides and they also have any supplies needed to start your growing operation.
Here is what you will need to grow microgreens at home:
1) Any clean container with drainage holes (existing or added): think mushroom containers, salad mix containers, bottom half of a milk jug or even an egg carton and a tray to set the container in;
2) Seed-starting mix;
3) Organic, non-GMO seed from a reliable seed source;
4) A spray bottle or misting pump-sprayer for watering the delicate seedlings; and
5) A window or grow light or combination of the two; enough to provide 16 hours of light per day and at least 6 hours of darkness.
More extensive microgreen growing can be done just as easily by the at-home gardener by upgrading to standard greenhouse growing trays called 1020 flats, high-output grow lights, a fan running on the plants to inhibit the growth of fungus and mold and liquid seaweed nutrients added to the water to boost nutrient values after seed germination.
When starting your microgreens, ensure your seed-starting mix is tamped down, moist (but not too wet) and about 1.5 inches in depth. Your seed source or packet should have variety-specific directions for how thickly to sow seeds in your container. Keeping the seeds moist and in contact with the growing medium until germination, is essential. A seed sprouting lid works well as do damp paper towels. When the seeds have fully germinated and there are visible roots coming through the drain holes in your container, you can start watering from the bottom to reduce the risk of fungal growth and damaging or flattening your plants during watering.
Microgreens are tender, delicate and best when eaten raw after minimal handling. Harvesting should occur when the plants are between 2 and 4 inches tall and have at least one true leaf. Cut the plants off just above the level of the soil, lightly wash and completely dry in a salad spinner and enjoy. Cut greens can be stored in a closed plastic container or bag in the fridge for up to three days and washed before enjoying. Alternately, washed greens can be stored after completely drying them using kitchen or paper towels. Enjoy your fresh and vibrant greens on almost anything; sandwiches, salads, pasta, pizza, stir fry or all on their own.
There is an abundance of reliable micro greens resources on the internet—here are a few: