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How to grow microgreens

Microgreens are simply greens that are harvested when they are quite young—generally when they are approximately an inch tall. These little greens can pack a big nutritional and flavorful punch. You can add microgreens to salads, sandwiches, or stir-fries. Experiment with different mixes, adding the varieties you like best. If you have shopped for microgreens, then you know they are not cheap. The good news is it’s easy to grow microgreens, indoors or outside. They grow well in garden beds or containers. And they provide you with a quick harvest for not much work.

What Can You Grow as a Microgreen?

You can grow any salad green or herb as a microgreen. It’s easy to start with a pre-packaged seed mix, and there are even specific microgreen mixes.

Here are a few popular varieties to grow as microgreens:

  • Mustard
  • Kale
  • Endive
  • Arugula
  • Beet greens
  • Tatsoi
  • Radish greens
  • Watercress
  • Mizuna
  • Peas
  • Cabbage
  • Basil
  • Lettuce (any)

The Spruce / K. Dave

Planting

Microgreens are very easy to grow. You can grow them in the ground, in a raised garden bed, or in a container outdoors or inside on a sunny windowsill.

If you’re planting microgreens in a garden bed, loosen the soil and rake it smooth. Scatter your seed mix so that the seeds are about 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch apart. Remember, you’ll harvest them very young, so they don’t need a lot of room. Once the seeds are scattered over the area, cover them with about 1/8 inch of soil and water to evenly moisten the soil.

If you’re planting in a container, choose a pot that is at least 2 inches deep and as large in diameter as you want. Fill it with a good quality organic potting mix, and smooth the soil. Scatter the seeds so that they are about 1/8 to 1/4 inch apart, and cover with 1/8 inch of soil. Water to moisten the soil, and place your container in a spot where it will get at least four hours of sunlight. For indoor growth, a south-facing window is best, but an east- or west-facing one will do as well.

Maintenance

Don’t let the soil dry out. And remove any weeds that pop up, so the tiny greens don’t have to compete with them for water and nutrients. If you have rich soil in your garden bed, you won’t need to fertilize. For containers, mixing in a bit of granular organic fertilizer to the soil before you plant is ideal if your potting mix doesn’t already contain fertilizer.

Microgreens grow for such a short period that they are rarely bothered by pests and diseases. However, if you are growing brassicas in your mix (mustard, kale, etc.) and cabbage worms are a problem, consider adding a floating row cover to protect them.

Harvesting

The first leaves you'll see are seed leaves. They don't look anything like the actual leaves of the plant. The best time to harvest microgreens is when they've developed the first set of true leaves, which is generally about 10 days to two weeks after planting. To harvest, simply snip the microgreens just above the soil level.

You won't be able to get additional harvests from one planting of microgreens. Because the plants haven't had much time to develop—and you're snipping off everything except the very bottom of the stem—they have no way to generate new growth.

The good news is you can plant another crop after harvesting by simply scattering fresh seeds and covering them with soil. You don't even need to remove the old roots; they are good sources of organic matter.

Learn how to grow micro-greens on a windowsill for a tasty, nutritious harvest in as little as a week.

Published: Sunday, 12 May, 2019 at 9:45 am

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Micro-greens, or micro leaves, are simply the seedlings of leafy herbs and plants that we would usually allow to grow to full size before harvesting.

All micro-greens are grown in the same way, sown into compost and placed in the light. They are so tiny that they can be grown all year round, on a windowsill indoors. They can be grown in just about anything, from seed trays and old yoghurt pots to pieces of guttering, and should be ready to harvest just one or two weeks after sowing.

Ensure a constant micro-green supply by sowing successionally every week, so that new leaves should be ready to harvest just as the last batch is ending. Most are ready to pick just a few days after germinating and have all the flavour of the fully grown plants, bringing a concentrated, flavoursome burst of taste to your favourite dishes.

You Will Need

  • Leafy veg or herb seeds
  • Multi-purpose, peat-free compost
  • Guttering or seed tray
  • Watering can
  • Gaffer tape (if using guttering)

Step 1

Fill your guttering (tape up the ends with gaffer tape to stop the compost spilling out) or seed tray with compost. Firm it lightly with your hand. Use your finger to make a shallow drill in the compost, then sow a dense but evenly spaced line of seeds – thick clumps of seeds can lead to damping-off disease and crop failure. Water using a can fitted with a fine rose, taking care not to wash them away.

Step 2

Place on a windowsill and keep them lightly watered. Leaves should be ready to harvest after about a week, although they will take a few days longer in the winter than in summer. Pick when still tiny by either snipping them off at the base or pulling them up, roots and all.

Microgreens grow fast, all year around, and don't take up much space.

They're perfect for those without a garden, as they can grow on a balcony or a sunny windowsill.

Seeing piles of plastic waste prompted Ted Chang to start growing microgreens — the tiny plantlets you see scattered over salads and Buddha bowls at brunch.

"My chef friends were throwing out plastic punnets every day; so much waste, just to grow those small leaves," he remembers.

At 34 he'd just finished his PhD in ecology and was sick of being behind a computer, so was looking for something more hands-on.

"I saw an opportunity," he says.

Ted grows microgreens on his farm in Victoria's Macedon Ranges. He uses coconut-based punnets that can be composted when they wear out, instead of adding to the world's plastic waste.

Here are his tips for growing microgreens at home.

The basics

What are microgreens?

Size-wise, they sit between sprouted seeds and baby salad greens.

"Many people don't realise they're grown from normal seeds, just harvested early," says Ted.

Why they're good to grow

They're nutrient-dense mini plants with delicious flavour that can be grown indoors, so are less reliant on the weather. Also, they're colourful and cute.

What you can grow

All sorts of brassicas (beetroot, radish, broccoli, kale, cabbage, mustard); herbs (basil, parsley, coriander, fennel, dill, chervil); some grains, seeds and legumes.

For beginners, Ted recommends "easy" snow peas, "versatile" brassicas or wheatgrass: "It's quick and easy and usually comes back for a second cut."

While herbs are tasty, he warns they can be slower to germinate and are less tolerant of neglect. However, two of his favourites are chervil ("I really like the taste") and bronze fennel, which is both pretty and tasty.

Things to avoid:

  • Some vegetables have toxic leaves, including the nightshade family (tomatoes, capsicum, chillies), adzuki beans and parsnips.
  • Some commercial seeds have been treated with fungicide.
  • If plants get too big they become bitter and fibrous.
  • When starting out, don't mix seed types as they germinate at different rates. Grow each type in a separate container and mix them on the plate.

How to grow your own microgreens

What you'll need:

  • Organic seeds
  • Seed tray or recycled berry punnet with drainage holes (keep the lid if it has one)
  • Kitchen paper
  • Seed-raising mix. Ted prefers a coarser, organic mix: "If it's too fine sometimes it compacts down."
  • Blood and bone
  • Spray bottle
  • Seaweed solution

What to do:

  1. 1. Pre-soak larger seeds in warm water overnight, especially ones with tough seed coats, such as mung beans and sunflowers. You don't need to do this with small herb and brassica seeds.
  2. 2. Line your seed tray with kitchen paper then cover with 3-4cm of damp seed-raising mix. The paper helps keep it moist and stops it falling through the drainage holes.
  3. 3. Sprinkle blood and bone onto punnets and gently combine; Ted says this helps promote healthy plants.
  4. 4. Sow the seeds quite thickly (about 1/4 teaspoon for a 10cm x 10cm punnet) and push them gently into the mix. Cover with a thin layer of mix.
  5. 5. Water in gently with a misting spray, to avoid displacing the seeds.
  6. 6. Place on a tray or draining rack and cover with the lid; if you don't have a lid wrap them in a plastic bag with some holes in the top to allow airflow.
  7. 7. As soon as the seeds start to show some green, remove the lid (to avoid mildew forming) and move the tray to a sunny spot.
  8. 8. The seedlings need good light to grow well but can dry out quickly, so water them at least once a day; the soil should be moist, not soaked.
  9. 9. To keep the seeds growing strongly, it can help to water with a weak seaweed solution once a week; this helps them grow sweet and tasty, too. Undernourished seedlings can taste bitter and coarse.
  10. 10. Harvest any time after the first leaves appear (after 3-4 weeks, depending on the variety). After the second set of leaves appears, the stems become more fibrous. Snipping off with scissors is the easiest way to harvest, and avoids disturbing the roots of remaining seedlings.

Bonus tips:

If you have a balcony that's prone to cold winds, protect plants in a polystyrene box or plastic storage box, but check them daily and remove the lid as soon as seeds start germinating.

Seeds can go mouldy before germinating if covered for too long or if the mix is too wet — this is especially a problem with brassicas in winter.

"If they get powdery mildew, they're unlikely to recover," warns Ted.

Learn how to grow microgreens from seed, and you’ll have an unlimited supply of fresh, nutritious, and tender salad greens. Microgreens can be pulled from the soil and rinsed until all the soil particles have washed away. They can be enjoyed whole, roots and all. Or simply trim them with scissors and dispose of the used soil in your compost. Microgreens are intended to be harvested when the first leaf pair (the cotyledon, or seed leaf) opens fully and turns green. This is the point at which your microgreens will be richest in nutrients. However, you can also let the seedlings continue to grow and harvest them as needed.

General
Microgreens are baby salad greens, a little bit like sprouts, but grown in soil. While sprouting seeds need to germinate quickly so the seeds don’t rot, microgreens can be planted just like any other herb or vegetable seeds. That means that seeds with longer germination requirements can still be grown as microgreens. Think of basil, carrots, spinach, and any other edible greens. It’s useful to learn how to grow microgreens, because you can grow them indoors all winter for a nutritious source of fresh vegetables.

Difficulty
Easy

We Recommend: If we have to make one recommendation, it has to be Sunflower Microgreens (MG435) . They’re just so unusual, with a delicious flavour you would never expect without trying them. Unlike many other types of microgreens, these are large and substantial, and they work really well with any kind of dressing.

For Urban Gardeners: Microgreens are all about down-sizing, so they can be grown just about anywhere. Instead of recommending a specific seed, we recommend the Growlight Garden (ZHG289A) , which can be used to produce masses of microgreens on a continuous basis in only 2 x 3 feet!

Season & Zone
Microgreens can be grown at any time of the year as long as you can supply enough light.

Timing
Timing microgreens depends on the individual kinds of greens you will be growing. Cress grows really fast, and can be harvested a few days after sowing. Carrot seeds can take as long as 2 to 3 weeks to germinate, so you should expect to allow extra time.

Starting
Follow the planting instructions for each variety of seeds. For instance, some seeds prefer to be sown on the surface of the soil, while others need to be covered. We recommend using sterilized seed starting soil in shallow trays that have drainage holes at the bottom. You could try growing microgreens in 12-cell plug inserts that have been inserted into seedling germination trays. You can also grow microgreens in recycled plastic containers or clamshell packaging, as long as you poke some drainage holes in the bottom. Using a seedling warmer will increase the speed of germination, but it is not strictly necessary.

Spread the sterilized soil to a depth of only 2-3 inches. You’ll be harvesting the baby seedlings, so they don’t need a lot of room to grow roots.

Sow microgreen seeds fairly densely, a little less dense for large seeds like sunflowers or Swiss chard . Once your microgreen seeds have been planted, mist the whole area. You want to keep the soil moist like a wrung out sponge, but not sitting in water. Keep your mist sprayer handy, and spritz the soil regularly. The nice thing about using seedling germination trays is that you can take a second tray and invert it over the planted tray. This traps moisture inside, and prevents rapid evaporation.

Growing
As soon as the first sprout is visible above the soil, remove the tray from the seedling warmer (if using), and remove the cover (if using). Bright light is essential for growing microgreens. From late spring to early autumn, microgreens can be grown outdoors under daylight conditions. But indoors, you will need to provide some kind of supplemental light, particularly in the short, dim days of winter. The Growlight Garden is one of the best microgreen growing systems we have found. It even has a self-watering mechanism, which makes the whole process much easier. But any way you can provide light from T5 fluourescent tubes or other grow lights will work. Aim for full spectrum lights.

This bright light will help keep your microgreens short and stout. When light is insufficient, the sprouts will grow long and spindly.

Harvest
Microgreens can be pulled from the soil and rinsed until all the soil particles have washed away. They can be enjoyed whole, roots and all. Or simply trim them with scissors and dispose of the used soil in your compost.

Microgreens are intended to be harvested when the first leaf pair (the cotyledon, or seed leaf) opens fully and turns green. This is the point at which your microgreens will be richest in nutrients. However, you can also let the seedlings continue to grow and harvest them as needed. Be aware that the longer they are left to grow the more roots will also develop in the soil.

What are Microgreens? Simply put, microgreens are seeds grown like grass in trays on your countertop and harvested en masse at the seedling stage. These young plants are often pretty and contain a TON of flavor!

There is nothing biologically significant about “microgreens seeds”–they are just seeds grown using this particular method. Yes, there are seeds that are not considered “microgreens seeds”, but it is only due to that particular species’ plant structure being inedible, such as tomatoes. Of course, there are exceptions . but they will be noted on the individual seed pages.

All kinds of seeds can be grown as microgreens. Of course, there are popular plant families widely grown as microgreens, such as brassicas (cabbage, mustard, broccoli), but there are a vast number of diverse plant families and species suitable for microgreening. These can include cantaloupe melon seeds, nasturtium flower seeds, Chinese mahogany tree seeds, and more.

Unlike sprouting, microgreening requires a growing medium. This can be soil, a hydroponic grow pad or even terra cotta! A growing medium allows the sprout roots to take hold of something to begin their plant structure development. Without the growing medium, the plant structure won’t be able to develop. Soil is the best medium for beginners, but using hydroponic mediums isn’t a complicated process and can be a great clean way of growing microgreens. Growing mediums are made from several types of fiber, such as jute, coco coir, bamboo, and wood. Each type of mat may be better suited than the other, depending on what type of seeds you plan to grow. The growing medium is placed in the tray just like soil and maintained as such–often, hydroponic mediums require more frequent watering depending on the temperature of your grow space.

Microgreen gardening timing varies according to the seed and the variety you may be growing. Generally, microgreen crops range from one week to a month from seed to harvest. Microgreen seeds are grown to the cotyledon stage or to the true leaf stage, rarely ever beyond that. Cotyledons are the first set of baby leaves, and true leaves are the second set of leaves, which will take on the shape that the full-grown plant will begin producing. Growing on microgreens past the true leaf stage is considered either an herb or a babygreen. Or your microgreens may develop a bitter flavor.

All the best from the crew at True Leaf, LLC!

Soil Method Microgreens Grow Guide

Hydroponic Method Microgreens Grow Guide

There are lots of great reasons to grow your own microgreens. Some folks love the fact that they can have access to fresh, living, healthy produce all year long. Others find joy in indoor gardening during the fall and winter months when they can’t be outside working their own gardens. For some it is the excitement of something different and new to experiment with their cooking. The bottom line is growing microgreens is a fun hobby with the added benefit of healthy, delicious, living food for your family. Some of our customers have even started out as hobbyist growers and then began to offer microgreens to local stores and restaurants, turning their hobby into a full blown business.

Most microgreens are easy to grow once you know the technique. Some crops (like beets and cilantro) can be more challenging, which is part of why some people love growing micros as a hobby. It’s the right balance of easy and challenging to make it very interesting.

In terms of getting started we’d recommend two things:

  • Watch Our Video Tutorials – We have created a series of videos that discusses the various aspects of growing microgreens. These videos are thorough, and along with the detailed instructions in our microgreens starter kits, should be everything you need to know to get started.
  • Get one of our Microgreens Starter Kits – We have created complete microgreens starter kits that should be everything you need out of the box to start on this exciting new indoor gardening journey. We offer several distinct starter kits to fit your need:

No. There are some garden plants that, while they bear delicious fruit, have toxic leaves. For example, tomato and pepper plants have toxic leaves, as do the leaves of rhubarb (but not the stem). If you are unsure if a plant is suitable as a microgreen, don’t grow any micros unless they are listed in our microgreens seed category.