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Growing Microgreens
by Carol Michel - posted 02/19/14


Photo by Danielle Scott

If you are looking for a winter crop that is easy to grow indoors and adds freshness and nutrition to many dishes, grow microgreens. Microgreens are the seedlings of many of the greens and other vegetables we commonly grow in the garden, harvested when the plants have grown just one set of true leaves.

Many chefs use them to add a little zip and freshness to salads and sandwiches or provide a bit of color as a garnish. In spite of their small size, microgreens are flavorful, so a little of some types can add a lot of flavor to a dish. Plus, they are nutrient rich. Researchers are just beginning to study the nutritional value of microgreens and are finding that the seed leaves of microgreens have a higher concentration of nutrients when compared to the mature leaves of the same varieties.

The Difference Between Sprouts and Microgreens

Are microgreens the same as sprouts? No. Sprouts are seedlings grown in water in special containers or glass jars rather than soil, and they require less light than microgreens. Sprouts can be ready to eat in as few as three to five days from starting them. We usually eat the entire sprout seedling, including roots, and do not wait until the seedlings develop the first set of true leaves to harvest them. If you decide to grow sprouts, buy seeds that are specifically labeled to be grown as sprouts and follow the package instructions for growing them safely. 

Seeds for Microgreens

Seeds for microgreens are generally sold in mixes. Depending on the varieties included in the mix, the microgreens can have a mild or spicy taste. Some seed companies also sell individual varieties of vegetables to grow as microgreens that can be used when a specific flavor, such as cilantro or basil, is desired. Choose seeds that are specifically packaged to grow as microgreens. This helps ensure you will be buying seeds that have not been treated with any fungicides, and you will only get seedlings that are edible. 

Some of the vegetables that are commonly included in microgreen mixes include beets, radishes, mustard, Swiss chard, cabbage, kohlrabi and arugula. Herbs such as cilantro and basil can also be easily started from seed and then harvested as microgreens when the first seed leaves appear.

How to Grow Microgreens

Microgreens have two basic requirements for growth. They need a bright light source and sufficient moisture to keep them from drying out while the seeds are germinating. The light can either be from a brightly lit window or from fluorescent lights, the same lights that many gardeners use for starting seeds indoors in the spring.

Microgreens are usually grown in a shallow container, such as a clay saucer or a plastic seed flat. Be sure the container has been cleaned if used previously and then fill it with a sterile potting mix or seed starting mix. A sterile soil mix should be used because like other seedlings, microgreens can be killed by damping off, a soil-borne disease that causes young seedlings to suddenly die off.

Wet down the soil mix before sowing the seeds. Many seed-starting mixes are peat-based so it takes some time for them to initially absorb water. 

Sow the seeds for the microgreens according to the directions on the seed packet and press them gently into the soil to ensure they make good contact. Then sprinkle a little bit of the soil mix over the seeds so they are barely covered and water them in with a mist or light spray. Cover the container with a plastic lid or plastic wrap to ensure the soil doesn’t dry out before the seeds germinate.

Once the seeds begin to germinate, remove the plastic cover and keep the seedlings in a well-lit location. In their shallow container, the seedlings can dry out quickly so check them daily and water as needed. Because the microgreens are harvested as seedlings, it is not necessary to fertilize them. The seeds contain enough nutrients to grow their seed leaves and a set of true leaves.


Microgreens at day one, day three and day five.

When to Harvest Microgreens

The microgreens will initially grow seed leaves, which are generally round looking. Within a week to 14 days, they will grow their first set of true leaves. At this point, they are ready to harvest.

Harvest the microgreens by cutting them off at soil level with scissors. Wash them thoroughly and pick off any seed hulls that may still be clinging to the seed leaves. Carefully dry the microgreens and then use them to add color and freshness to salads, sandwiches and other dishes. Microgreens are somewhat fragile so use them as soon as possible after harvesting. If you cannot use them right away, keep them refrigerated.

Microgreens that are ready to harvest and enjoy.

Grow Them Year Round

Microgreens are a great winter crop, but once you see how easy they are to grow and how many ways they can be used to enhance a variety of dishes, you may decide to grow them year round. If you have the space and the light, you can practice succession planting by sowing a new container of microgreens every few days. Then you will have fresh microgreens whenever you want them.

From Indiana Gardening Volume III Issue VI. Photos by Carol Micheal unless otherwise noted.

 


Carol Michel is a freelance writer with a degree in horticulture from Purdue University. She blogs about gardening regularly at maydreamsgardens.com.