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. You can learn how to grow 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. A seed that bursts open with the first root and shoot(s). Whereas sprouts are seeds that germinate by being soaked and rinsed in water, microgreens are grown in soil.
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.
So you can add minerals to the seed raising mix 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?
Introduction to Growing Microgreens
In this video, I give you a brief introduction to microgreens with a Tips Summary at the end. Dig in!
11 Benefits of Growing Microgreens
- 1. Quick to grow: from ‘seed to feed’ in just 1-3 weeks depending on which variety you choose.
- 2. You can grow an incredible number of plants in a tiny area = high yield to space ratio.
- 3. Minimal cost, time and effort required for a ‘fast food’ healthy harvest of organic greens.
- 4. Perfect solution for urban living and people with no room or time for a garden.
- 5. Simple requirements. You just need access to good light (e.g. a well lit bench indoors), a tray/suitable shallow container, water and a growing medium.
- 6. Suitable for all climates. 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.
- 7. Indoor edible garden. You can grow microgreens indoors on a sunny windowsill or kitchen bench. They are also suited to a mini greenhouse, or outdoors on your balcony, covered porch or shade house with no need for a garden.
- 8. Nutrient-dense food. Microgreens contain digestible vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that provide a wide variety of nutritional health benefits. They are packed with flavour, colour, texture, living enzymes and nutrients.
Health Benefits of Microgreens
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.”
- 9. No loss of nutrient value. When you harvest your microgreens just before serving, this maximizes nutrients.
- 10. Variety of flavours/textures. Microgreens have a delicate crunchy texture and can be used as garnishes to add flavour and colour.
- 11. Fantastic value. Many varieties will regrow and produce several harvests.
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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IMPORTANT! Not all seeds however are safe to use for microgreens. I only use certified organic or untreated seed. Commercial seeds are often chemically treated with fungicides and pesticides to prevent mould or insects and animals eating them during storage. You likely want to avoid eating any food grown from seed that contains harmful chemicals.
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).
- Certified organic/fungicide free seeds
- Spray bottle
- Seaweed solution
- Seed raising mix growing medium
- Paper towel/chux cloth to line tray
- Plant label or pen to mark date and variety
How to Grow Microgreens Instructions
STEP 1. Prepare your Seeds
For small seeds, you don’t need to bother with this step!
STEP 2. Prepare container and seed raising mix
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.
TIP: The seed raising mix in your tray should feel like a moist sponge – not too dry or wet!
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. Sow your seeds
Generously sprinkle your seeds over the mix and press in lightly. Optional: For small seeds you can also evenly spread a thin layer of seed raising mix or sieved compost (about 0.5 cm or 1/5 in) over the top so they are all covered.
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. Harvest your Shoots
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.
Learn more: 12 Valuable Tips to Grow Healthy Microgreens
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How to Eat Microgreens – Recipe Ideas
- FOR SALAD:
- 1 cup of mixed microgreens (e.g. beetroot, radish, basil, parsley, coriander/cilantro, sunflower, red cabbage, kale, broccoli or pea sprouts)
- 1 handful of rocket/arugula or baby spinach leaves (washed and dried)
- 1 medium cucumber, sliced thinly
- 12 cherry tomatoes
- 1 small carrot, grated
- 2 tblspns cold-pressed olive oil (ideally organic)
- 1 tblspn vinegar (apple cider or white) or freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1 tspn pure maple syrup or a few drops of liquid stevia (or sweetener of choice)
- 1 tspn sesame oil
- 1 tspn tamari (organic soy sauce) or salt to taste
- To harvest your microgreens, snip with scissors above the soil. Handle gently as they are very fragile. Rinse with water if needed and drain well in a colander or strainer. If you are buying your microgreens, harvest a variety of flavours and colours to give a real pop of flavour to your salad and maximise the phytonutrient health benefits.
- In a bowl, add grated carrot then top with rocket or spinach and mixed microgreens. Layer the cucumber and cherry tomatoes around the bowl.
- For your dressing, add all ingredients to a screw top jar and shake well. Pour over salad just before serving.
1. Substitute salad ingredients with your favourites e.g. shredded cabbage, lettuce, avocado and capsicum/peppers.
2. To turn this salad into a more substantial meal, add sunflower seeds, pepitas, walnuts (or your favourite nuts) or toasted croutons, etc.
3. If serving salad to children, get creative with your plating! Make a rainbow with the ingredients or a funny face. Fun food gets eaten!
4. Make up the dressing ahead of time so you just have to assemble the salad if you're in a rush.
5. This salad can also be put in a mason jar and kept in the fridge ready to take to work.
- 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.
- 12 Valuable Tips to Grow Healthy Microgreens
- 5 Mistakes to Avoid when Raising Seeds
- How to Prevent and Fix Leggy Seedlings
- Seed Starting Guide: Quick Tips for Starting Seeds Successfully
- Grow Sprouts on Your Benchtop
- Growing Your Own Food from Seed
- Micro Gardening in Small Spaces
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© Copyright Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener 2016. https://themicrogardener.com. All rights reserved.
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