Dr. Gary Bachman is an associate extension/research professor of horticulture. He is also the host of the popular video series Southern Gardening.

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Growing Microgreens
by Gary Bachman       #Edibles   #Seeds   #Vegetables

The bright colors of cilantro and ‘Ruby Red’ Swiss chard are beautiful.

Microgreens are a fun way to add variety to your daily meals. They are nutrient dense, colorful and have fresh flavors along with tender crunch. I have been growing microgreens about five years and they are easy for the home gardener to grow.

What are Microgreens?
Microgreens are young, immature densely grown seedlings of selected vegetables and herbs. At harvest, ranging 7 to 21 days after germination, microgreens are approximately 1-3 inches tall. At this stage, the harvested microgreens will consist of the stem, cotyledon and developing true leaves, depending on the species grown.

Microgreens versus Sprouts
There can be confusion when talking about the differences between microgreens and sprouts. Sprouts are seeds that are geminated in a high-humidity system and the entire plant (leaves, stems and roots) is harvested and consumed. Microgreens are seeds that are geminated in soilless media or on hydroponic mats and only the stems and leaves are harvested for consumption.

Growing microgreens in small containers allows the home gardener to grow a variety of colors and flavors in a relatively small area.

Uses for Microgreens
Microgreens have a variety of uses. They are used as vegetable confetti, adding flavor, texture and color to meals. They are added to salads (or can be the salad itself), sandwiches or used as a colorful garnish.

Nutrition Benefits of Microgreens
Microgreens are rich in phytonutrients. Research has shown that certain microgreen varieties have high concentrations of vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin and violaxanthins. The microgreen varieties red cabbage, cilantro, garnet amaranth and radish are especially nutritious when compared to the fully-grown vegetable.

Vitamin C is an essential nutrient as well as an important antioxidant. According to research, the content of this nutrient is six times higher in microgreens of red cabbage, 10 times more in garnet amaranth and greater than one and a half times in radish. These levels are higher than broccoli, which is recognized as an excellent source of vitamin C. The carotenoid beta-carotene, essential in protecting cell membranes, has been measured as three times and more than 260 times greater in microgreens of cilantro and red cabbage compared to levels found at maturity. Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids that impact the health of our eyes. Cilantro microgreens have five times higher concentrations than the mature plants. Vitamin E concentrations in red cabbage microgreens are 40 times higher than the mature plant.

Microgreens are easy to grow under fluorescent shop lights on moveable shelves.

Growing Microgreens
Microgreens grow quickly with minimal effort, either outdoors on the porch, in front of a window or inside under lights.

There are a couple of different methods for growing microgreens for home use. The first uses a hydroponic pad or mat that retains water. These can be in either troughs or trays without holes. The microgreen seeds are sprinkled onto the pad where they germinate. The roots grow into the pad to absorb water. Moisture in the grow pad needs to be monitored on a daily basis.

The second method is to grow the microgreens in a peat-based potting medium and is much easier for the homeowner to be successful. This is also the recommended method for gardeners with limited space.

The peat-based medium can be placed directly into any container that does not have holes. The peat-based medium also can go directly into a standard 10-by-20-inch bedding flat tray without holes. You can also use small pots and place in the tray without holes. Small plastic kitchen containers or reusing plastic clamshells will also work fine.

Whichever method you use, the microgreens will need to be watered. Bottom watering is effective, especially if growing on the kitchen windowsill. When using grow mats, care must be taken to not overwater or to dislodge the germinating seeds.

The microgreen seeds should be evenly sprinkled onto the moistened growing medium. The amount of seed varies by variety and the stage of growth you want to harvest. Many varieties are only grown to the cotyledon stage and are sown thickly. Others are grown to the first true leaf stage and need more room, so the seed are sown less densely. For example, the amount of red cabbage seed required for a 10-by-20-inch tray would be 2-3 teaspoons versus 2-3 tablespoons of radish seed.

After sowing the containers or trays, they should be covered with a clear dome or even a paper towel to retain humidity until the seeds germinate. The cover can be removed after a few days.

Because of the amount of seed needed, buying seed packets from the local garden center is impractical. Seeds for microgreen use are readily available in bulk. There is a listing of seed companies that supply microgreen seeds and supplies at the end of this article.

When growing microgreens, it’s more economical to purchase seed in bulk.


Microgreen Crop Species

Microgreens can be grouped by the rate of growth after sowing. There are well over 50 different varieties of microgreens available. Below are some varieties that I have grown and are good choices to start with.

7 to 10 days
Pea shoots – ‘Dwarf Gray Sugar’
Radish – ‘Hong Vit’, ‘Red Rambo’, ‘Daikon’

10 to 15 days
Mustard – ‘Red Giant’, Golden Frill’, ‘Ruby Streaks’
Kale – ‘Blue Curled’, ‘Red Russian’
Pac choi – ‘Green’, ‘Red Choi’
Cabbage – red, ‘Kogane’
Purple kohlrabi

16 to 25 days
Beets – ‘Early Wonder’, ‘Bull’s Blood’, yellow
Amaranth – ‘Red Garnet’
Scallions – ‘Evergreen Hardy White’
Swiss chard – ‘Bright Lights’, ‘Ruby Red’
Basil – ‘Dark Opal’, lemon, Thai


Sources for materials and seeds:
Johnny’s Selected Seeds, johnnyseeds.com
Living Whole foods, growingmicrogreens.com
Kitazawa Seed Company, kitazawaseed.com

Good quality, fresh seed is required to successfully grow microgreens at home because you want to have very even germination. But even with high quality seed, the germination times can be a little erratic. A technique called seed priming can be useful. Seed priming involves placing the seeds in an environment where the germination process is allowed to begin before planting.

For example, gray sugar peas will germinate in waves over the course of five or six days. These are big seeds and simply soaking the seeds overnight will even out their germination times.

For microgreen varieties that have small seeds, try this seed-priming technique. In a container with tight fitting lid, place ½ cup vermiculite, 2 tablespoons water and the seed. Place in a warm location, such as the top of the refrigerator, and leave for a couple of days. After the radicle begins to emerge, spread the vermiculite and seed mixture on the growing medium. This method works well for a 10-by-20-inch tray.

I have found the book Microgreens: A Guide to Growing Nutrient-Packed Greens by Eric Franks and Jasmine Richardson to be a great resource. The authors really go into depth to guide the homeowner who wants to grow their own microgreens.

Harvesting microgreens is usually a one-cut process, so knowing the rate of growth is important. Being able to succession plant will ensure a steady supply of microgreens for your family to enjoy.

Microgreens are fragile and using a sharp pair of scissors is the easiest method to harvest. Simply grab a bunch and cut 1-2 inches long. The microgreens can be stored in a plastic storage bag or container in the refrigerator. As with any fresh vegetable, always wash before consumption.


A version of this article appeared in a November/December 2014 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Cindy Graf and Gary Bachman.


Posted: 12/26/17   RSS | Print


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