Second only to sprouts, microgreens are the quickest food crop we urban gardeners can grow! If you have limited time, space or gardening skills let me introduce you to growing microgreens. Tasty, nutrient-dense ‘fast food’ in just a few easy steps.
What are Microgreens?
With sprouts, you eat the fully germinated seed. I think of sprouts as the ‘babies’ of the plant world. During seed germination, the cotyledon(s) or seed leave(s) emerge from the soil first. [A cotyledon is part of the embryo within the seed of the plant.] Through photosynthesis, the cotyledon(s) provide initial food to give the plants a burst of energy for the true leaves to develop.
Microgreens are the next stage in a plant’s development, kind of like the ‘toddlers’ of the plant world. Microgreens can be harvested when the germinated seeds have developed tiny roots and at least their first true leaves. They have similar health benefits to sprouts, but greater nutritional value.
Whereas sprouts are seeds that germinate by being soaked and rinsed in water, microgreens are grown in soil. So you can add minerals to boost the nutrient value and flavour. These young seedlings are harvested smaller than baby salad leaves.
“These tender baby-greens are biogenic food at its best; biogenic meaning ‘life generating’, food by the capacity of their life-force, to generate ‘life-force’ for us.” – Isabell Shipard, How Can I Grow & Use Sprouts as a Living Food?
Benefits of Growing Microgreens
- Quick to grow: from ‘seed to feed’ in just 1-3 weeks depending on which variety you choose.
- You can grow an incredible number of plants in a tiny area = high yield to space ratio.
- Minimal cost, time and effort required for a ‘fast food’ healthy harvest of organic greens.
- Perfect solution for urban families with no room or time for a garden.
- You just need access to good light (e.g. a well lit bench indoors), a tray/suitable shallow container and a growing medium.
- Produce fresh living greens for salads, sandwiches, soups and garnishes in the heat of summer or cold of winter. In our subtropical summer, microgreens are a solution to salad ingredients when lettuces, rocket/arugula and spinach crops tend to bolt to seed in the heat.
- A crop you can grow indoors on a sunny windowsill or kitchen bench, or outdoors on your balcony, covered porch or shade house with no need for a garden.
- Contain digestible vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that provide nutritional health benefits and are packed with flavour, colour, texture, living enzymes and nutrients.
According to a 2012 research study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry*, “In general, microgreens contain considerably higher concentrations of vitamins and carotenoids than their mature plant counterparts, although large variations were found among the 25 species tested. In comparison with nutritional concentrations in mature leaves, the microgreen cotyledon leaves possessed higher nutritional densities.”
- Ability to harvest your microgreens just before serving maximizes nutrients.
- Have a lightly crunchy texture and can be used as garnishes to add flavour and colour.
- Many varieties will regrow and produce several harvests – fantastic value!
Which Microgreens Seeds can you Grow?
Some common varieties include amaranth, basil, beets, broccoli, cabbage, celery, chard, chervil, coriander/cilantro, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard, parsley, peas, radish, rocket/arugula, spinach, and sorrel. However, you are certainly not limited to these!
Flavours range from mild to quite intense depending on the variety. They are a great way to add nutrients to your diet if you prefer young and tender shoots instead of mature vegies or herbs! I prefer to eat fresh microgreens raw because of their delicate nature and sensitive nutrients.
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How to Grow Microgreens – 4 Step Guide
Microgreens are grown quickly from seeds in good light with adequate moisture. They are usually sown in a soil medium or substitute and harvested before they reach full size. Each seed needs enough ‘personal space’ to grow. You simply snip the microgreens off at soil level after the first two ‘true’ leaves of the plant emerge from the cotyledon (the embryonic leaf/leaves inside the seed).
Materials: Tray/container; certified organic/fungicide free seeds; spray bottle; seaweed solution; potting mix (sieved)/seed raising mix growing medium; paper towel/chux cloth to line tray; plant label.
STEP 1. To help your seeds germinate quickly, pre-soak larger seeds (e.g. mung beans, wheat, peas) in warm water for a few hours or overnight.
STEP 2. If using a tray, lay some moistened paper towel or chux cloth on the bottom to stop the mix falling through. Fill your container about 3/4 full of moist growing medium about 2-3cm (1 in) deep.
I make my own home made seed raising mixes because they contain key ingredients to boost seed germination. Once seeds sprout, the ingredients I use in my own seed raising mix provides additional nutrition to grow healthy microgreen leaves and minerals to boost health. That way, I know I’m eating the most nutrient-dense food possible.
I share 5 easy organic seed raising mix recipes in my How to Make Potting Mix at Home Guide. Far cheaper to make than buy and you know what’s in it! No chemical ingredients.
You could also use a certified organic seed raising mix (look for a suitable logo).
Spread the seed raising mix out evenly. I use a paddle pop stick or ruler so there is a nice even surface.
STEP 3. Generously sprinkle your seeds over the mix and press in lightly.
Lightly water by misting with a spray bottle. This prevents you dislodging the seeds. Place on a drainage tray or saucer in a warm spot like your kitchen bench. Water regularly every day as needed. Check soil moisture first by touching with your fingers. The seeds should never dry out. Avoid overwatering though as you’ll drown your seeds!
To create a warm humid environment for the seeds to germinate, cover the seeds with the punnet lid. Or add a clear plastic bag over the top of the tray with holes snipped in the top for airflow.
STEP 4. Once germinated, the seeds have used up their internal store of food to grow. So at this point, I apply seaweed solution to feed the plants with trace elements. This improves flavour and boosts nutrition.
When the seedlings are 2.5-10cm (1-3 in) tall – depending on the variety you choose, your yummy microgreens are ready for harvesting! I use scissors to cut stems just above the soil when I’m about to put them on the plate.
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Tips for Gorgeous Greens
- Not interested in sharing your microgreens with the resident rodents or birds in your area? These creatures love seeds as a food source as much as you do. So try protecting them until they have germinated with a cover or upturned tray.
- Not sure if your old seeds are still viable? Sowing them as microgreens is a great solution to use them up quickly.
- Do you live in a warm climate? If you decide to grow your microgreens outside in a humid summer like here in the subtropics, you may need to prevent mould forming. These are my tips:
- Check soil moisture daily with a moisture meter to avoid overwatering.
- Increase air circulation by putting in a breezy area.
- Sow fewer seeds – about half what you would normally use/tray.
- To keep your greens growing lushly, add liquid seaweed solution to a tray or plate under your seed raiser every day or two. This enables the tiny plant roots to take up the extra nutrition as they need it.
- If sowing radish or beetroot seeds, you can use a deeper mix. So if you decide to harvest some as microgreens and leave the others to mature, you’ll quickly have root crops to enjoy.
- If you don’t get to eat all your microgreens or want to start seedlings to grow in pots or outdoors, transplant a few microgreens from your container. Gently lever them out with a skewer or fork, holding the leaves only NOT the stems or roots. Settle the baby seedlings into a pot with some liquid seaweed to prevent transplant shock. Acclimatize them gradually to the sun over a few days as they venture into the big wide world. Then let them grow into mature salad greens and vegetables. This is an easy way to raise seedlings from seed.
- Sow little and often. Regularly sowing seeds in punnets every week or two will provide a continuous supply of tasty nutritious food. Saving some for your garden will also enable you to expand your skills to grow outdoors as well with a sufficient supply you can manage and consume.
- When your microgreens have all been harvested, you can use the same mix to sow another 3-4 crops. As the plants have been grown so quickly, the seed raising mix will still be full of nutrients to help raise more crops. Then you will need fresh mix. Reuse your seed raising mix in your compost or another pot.
Delicious Recipe Ideas for Microgreens
- Garnish meals with microgreens. They are a tasty accompaniment to eggs, soups, main meals and great in juices and smoothies.
- Poached Eggs, Mushrooms & Microgreens
- Quinoa Spring Rolls
- Microgreens Salad with Garlic Mustard Vinaigrette from Cranking Kitchen
Microgreens Seed Suppliers & Resources
- Select seeds for sprouting or microgreens such as those from Green Harvest and High Mowing Organic Seeds.
- Check my list of seed suppliers for your location.
- When to start seeds indoors working from your last frost date.
- Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2012 research study.
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