How to grow microgreens at home: One week to your own homegrown superfoods

How to grow microgreens at home: One week to your own homegrown superfoods

Microgreens are everywhere—on fancy dishes at fancy restaurants, on fancy cooking shows, and now, you can learn how to grow microgreens for your own fancy kitchen.

Imagine elevating a winter dish with some micro basil you grew yourself, or being able to keep your family in colorful and nutritious salads no matter the weather outside.

Microgreens are cheap, fast, and easy to grow, even if you can’t grow anything else. They pack a powerful nutritious taste punch in a tiny packet. Microgreens are such a quick crop, you could possibly harvest your first superfoods this time next week.

In winter, when the garden outside is sad and shriveled and the days are short and cold, you can indulge your green thumb in the comfort of your own home, for pennies.

What are microgreens? Powerhouse superfoods direct from your windowsill

Microgreens are tiny baby plants grown for their nutritious and tasty leaves. Herbs, vegetables, and grains are all grown as microgreens.

Microgreens are older than sprouts. The plants have developed both their cotyledon leaves (the first embryonic set that sprouts from the seed) and their first true leaves (the leaves that develop after the cotyledon leaves). They aren’t quite as big as baby greens.

Why grow microgreens? The complete package

Microgreens are nutritious and tasty, even more nutritious than mature vegetables and herbs. By weight, microgreens contain far more antioxidants and vitamins than mature vegetables.

All of that concentrated goodness leads to better taste too. The intensified flavor of microgreens means that adding a mini-bunch of microgreens to a winter slaw or omelet adds taste notes you couldn’t get otherwise.

The best book on growing microgreens at home is Peter Burke’s Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening: How to Grow Nutrient-Dense, Soil-Sprouted Greens in Less Than 10 Days. Burke lays out exactly how he grows enough microgreens to feed his whole family fresh greens all through the winter, in minutes a day. It takes even less effort if you only want a bit of microgreens to add taste and nutrition.

You can grow microgreens in containers you have laying about the house, using seeds that would otherwise go to waste, or you can buy seeds and media specifically for growing microgreens.

Materials for growing microgreens indoors

Microgreen seeds: Use seeds for plants with edible leaves. Popular microgreens plants include radish, broccoli, sunflowers and peas.

First, I use organic seeds from my regular seed stash that I’m not going to plant outside, either because I have newer seeds to plant outside or because I ended up not liking that variety. Do not use conventional seeds that have been sprayed with fungicides and other chemicals.

Microgreens to grow at home. "Free" seeds from your own seed stash.
“Free” seeds from your own seed stash

I also like to save seeds from the garden for microgreens, such as from radishes that have gone to seed or from perennial French sorrel and culinary herbs. Try a small bit of anything you haven’t grown before, just to see how it grows as a microgreen.

microgreen seeds from the garden
Microgreens seed candidates from the garden (from top left: mint, fennel, oregano, Italian parsley, French sorrel. center: walking onions)

I also use organic seeds from my regular seed stash that I’m not going to plant outside, either because I have newer seeds to plant outside or because I ended up not liking that variety. Do not use conventional seeds that have been sprayed with fungicides and other chemicals.

You can buy bags of seeds specifically for microgreens online or at garden centers and even supermarkets. I use these too. Using new seeds will get you more even and consistent germination and a thicker stand of microgreens.

Containers: Any mid-sized or shallow container will do. You can use containers with drainage holes or without. Professional microgreens growers (yes there are a lot of these) use 10″x20’” nursery trays on racks. At home you can use old takeout containers, bread pans, seed trays, anything that is at least 2–3″ high and will fit on a windowsill or under a light.

Trays: To put under the containers if there are drainage holes.

Soil: Use potting soil without synthetic fertilizers or water-retaining crystals. A soil that contains organic fertilizer such as compost or worm castings is fine.

Optional: If your soil does not include organic fertilizer such as sea kelp or compost, have a small amount on hand for planting time.

Optional: Or, you can use a hydroponic grow mat media specific for microgreens.

Cover: To control the light and humidity while seeds are sprouting. This could be another tray put on top, paper towels, newspaper or napkins. I used a paper towel in this example.

Dark: A warm, dark place to incubate the seeds while they germinate. My laundry room is perfect for this.

Light: A sunny windowsill will do, even if it isn’t south-facing, or grow microgreens under lights. Regular lights will do, or you can buy grow lights. The closer you can get the growing greens to a light, the less leggy they will be.

Watering can: Pick one with a spout. Bonus if it’s pretty and counts as home décor.

Scissors: For harvesting.

Optional: Colander for washing your harvest.

How to grow microgreens in minutes per day

  • Soak the seeds for a few hours or overnight, but not for days.
  • Be sure your containers are clean.
  • Moisten the seedling mix or grow media until it is moist and easily crumbled but not soggy or muddy.
  • If you are using fertilizer, put a small amount in the bottom of the container.
  • Fill the container with soil to 1–1 1/2″ inches. Keep the soil loose, but ensure it is smooth and even by leveling with a piece of cardboard or your hand.
  • Unlike when planting outside, you don’t need or want to plant the seeds carefully or bury them in the soil. Sprinkle seeds evenly across the surface, so that they are touching but not overlapping. This doesn’t need to be perfect.
  • Cover the seeds with a moist paper towel or newspaper and put them in a warm, dark cupboard.
  • If everything is moist enough, you don’t need to do anything for four days. If you aren’t sure, spray the cover if you think more moisture is needed.
  • After the seeds have started to germinate and grow under the cover, remove the cover and move the container into the light.
  • Continue to keep the growing sprouts moist. Water the soil from a water can sprout rather than spraying or misting the leaves. Watering the soil directly avoids growing mold instead of microgreens.
  • Start a new batch every one or two days and you’ll have all the microgreens you could want.

When the seeds have grown their first true set of leaves and are 1–2 or more inches tall, they are ready to harvest. This might take 1 week for quick species such as radishes, or might take 2–3 weeks for slow growing species. Snip off the young plants with scissors and use as a garnish, or use as suggested below.

After harvest, be sure your microgreens are clean and free of soil, just like you would for mature greens.

Soaking microgreens seeds to grow microgreens at home
Day 0:  Soak microgreens seeds before planting
Sprinkle seeds in a single layer over the surface
Sprinkle seeds in a single layer over the surface. These are radish seeds

 

Cover microgreen seeds and keep moist in a warm, dark place
Cover and keep moist until the microgreens seeds germinate
Sprouted microgreens visible under the cover
Day 4: Time to take the cover off

Avoid microgreens problems

Even though growing microgreens is easy, there are a few common issues that you can avoid with some forethought.

Problem: Mold

The biggest problem you might encounter is mold. It’s normal for roots to have root hairs that pull up water and nutrients. It’s not normal for mold to start moving from one plant to another across the growing media.

If you do see mold, the whole tray will need to be discarded and cleaned before reuse. This is not the end of the world.

Solution:  Be sure your containers are clean.

Solution:  Use clean soil. If you take garden soil straight out of the garden you WILL get mold. You can either sterilize garden soil to use in a mix or use commercial seed starting or potting mixes.

Solution: Increase ventilation — if mold has been an issue, set up a fan to increase ventilation across the trays, or put them in a place that gets a breeze. If you have increased the ventilation, pay extra attention to watering.

Problem: Poor germination

Solution: Fresh seed, packaged for the current year. I like to use old seed packets for microgreens at home, but that comes with some uncertainty about germination rate. Mostly I don’t care and take poor germination as the cost of using old seeds. If you care and aren’t sure about your seeds, try doing a germination test with some wet paper towels first.

Solution: Moisture control—seeds like to be moist, not sopping and not dried out. Experience will allow you to tell how moist the seeds need to be.

Problem: Clumpy seeds

Solution: Spread them out—it’s hard to spread seeds evenly sometimes, especially if they are very small or mucilaginous after soaking. Mix small seeds with soil to spread them out, or make a paste of mucilaginous seeds and some soil.  Form the paste into a thin layer that fits your container.

Sprouting microgreens seeds with root hairs. This is not mold.
Sprouting microgreen seeds with root hairs. This is not mold.
How to grow microgreens at home: One week to your own homegrown superfoods
Day 6:  Reaching for the light, still germinating because there is a mix of radish varieties. Still shedding their seed husks. Start harvesting on Day 7.
Seed soup microgreens
Day 7: Mixed radish and walking onions.
Microgreens ready to harvest
Day 10: Radish microgreens more than ready to harvest.
Seed soup microgreens: radishes, walking onions, beets
Day 10: Seed soup microgreensradishes, walking onions, beets.

What microgreens can you grow? A world of taste and color

There are a few different kinds of popular microgreens that are easy to grow and tasty.

  • The most common microgreens that people grow at home are radishes (including daikon), brassicas (cabbage, kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts, mustards, turnips) and greens (arugula and cress).
  • Daikon radish sprouts are called kaiware daikon. I like to use the organic daikon radish seeds I keep for cover crops.
  • You can grow culinary herbs as microgreens to get a super concentrated taste. Try cilantro, basil, mint, chives, or fennel.
  • Grains make great microgreens, including wheat, amaranth, chia and buckwheat.
  • Eat your flowers — sunflowers, chrysanthemum, and nasturtiums all make tasty microgreens.

The list goes on. People grow microgreen beets, swiss chard, peas, hemp, lentils, kohlrabi, adzuki and mung beans, pumpkin, squash, onion, cucumber, tatsoi and custom sweet, spicy or colorful mixes of all of these.

Look for tips for whichever species you’ve chosen. For example, popcorn microgreens taste sweet if grown in the dark, but tastes bitter if grown in the light.

Once you get started, you’ll find that there are endless options. Try the common species, or experiment just to see what happens.

Now what? Microgreens recipes and tips

Now that you have a bunch of microgreens, what do you do with them? You can substitute microgreens in most recipes the same way you would use mature greens, or use them as a garnish or taste enhancement.

Most chefs like to use microgreens raw, to keep their fresh appearance and nutrition intact. But you can still use them in smoothies or pestos.

Include a bit of fat or oil in your recipe to help your body absorb the most nutrients. That’s why using a bit of salad dressing on your salad is even healthier than eating greens on their own.

Basic microgreens salad recipes: You can use any mix of microgreens for a salad, as long as it suits your tastes. Mixes that are sold to grow together include seeds with similar growing needs, such as a mix of brassicas, or seeds chosen for a particular taste profile (spicy or sweet) or color mix (purple or rainbow mix). Use a simple vinaigrette to enhance the flavor and nutrition, but not so much that you drown out the microgreen flavor. Some people include mature greens in their salads, while others make the whole salad from microgreens.

Microgreen sprinkles: Microgreens appear on avocado toast or on poached eggs, on top of fish and shellfish, on soup, or on top of omelets.

In a sandwich: Use microgreens instead of mature greens within a sandwich or hamburger.

Microgreen Pesto: If you have a lot of microgreens, make pesto. Making pesto is my number one favorite way to preserve strong tasting greens such as radishes or arugula. Whir up a batch with a nut or seed (almonds, sunflower seeds, walnuts), oil, parmesan cheese, garlic and salt. I like to freeze pesto in quarter cup portions, then defrost a little pesto-y puck for a quick flavor burst anytime.

Microgreen Butters: Blend your microgreens with butter in the same way you would make an herbed butter, and use that on your bread or steak.

Drink your vegetables: Opportunities for microgreens cocktails abound. Try using muddled micro-mint in your mojito, blend some chopped sorrel microgreens into sour cocktails, garnish your Bloody Mary with some spicy microgreens, or infuse vodka with microherbs.

Green smoothies: Or drink them the healthy way, and use microgreens in your smoothie the same way you would use any other green.

Wrap it up: Include microgreens in sushi or summer rolls.

Your new microgreens business? Growing microgreens for profit

If you really get into this, you could consider becoming a micro-gardener for profit. Because microgreens are a delicate specialty crop and don’t travel well, urban microgreen farmers are popping up everywhere to supply restaurants, local grocers and farmers markets.

This is one farming business that doesn’t take any land, just a place to put one or more racks of microgreen trays and a customer. Search for “growing microgreens for profit” to find a whole bunch of people who want to teach you how to do it.

Grow your way out of the winter blah

One of my favorite books, Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather, includes a passage where the daughter has to make sure the parsley plant is inside for the winter, just like her mother always did. The parsley on the windowsill adds freshness and color to the house during the long Quebec winter and cannot possibly be forgotten.

Imagine your winter microgreens garden adding freshness and color to your own winter home. Just like an outdoor garden, your microgreens garden will keep you growing and eating your own fresh food all through the winter.

The winter days will feel brighter, and your winter meals will be brighter too.

It doesn’t take much to get started. Do it, and one week from now you will harvest your own homegrown superfood microgreens for your own homegrown salads.

 

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