Growing Microgreens, A Starter Guide

Microgreens are easy and fun to grow. They are great for garnishing sandwiches and adding to salads. Most microgreens are fast growers that have a quick turnaround to harvest time. The majority of vegetable varieties grown as microgreens are ready for harvest in about 10 to 14 days.  Nutritional studies have found that microgreens pack a nutritional punch.  They are higher in vitamin C, E, and K than mature plants. However, if grown under incorrect conditions microgreens can be the source of foodborne bacterial infections.  So if you are interested in growing microgreens, our starter guide is helpful reading.

red cabbage microgreens

What Are Microgreens? Plants go through several developmental stages.  For our discussion let’s call these stages: sprout → microgreen → baby →  mature plant.  Spouts grow for about 3-5 days and usually, we eat the whole plant.  Sprouts require a high moisture environment with no soil or media.  Microgreens have grown for about 10-14 days and harvested by clipping just above the soil. These plants have cotyledons and may also have true leaves. As the name implies, baby plants, have further developed with 14 -30 days of growth and look more or less like the adult form. At this stage, plants have true leaves and there is more distance between each plant. A more detailed diagram listing the stages of seed germination is listed below.

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Stages in seed germination: A-seed coat, B- radicle, C- primary root, D- secondary root, E- cotyledon, F – plumule, G- leaf, H- taproot Source: WikiCommons, Aslyntodd.

Choice of Seeds: There are dozens of crops that can be grown as microgreens.  If you are just getting started to begin growing with the easiest varieties or with a professionally premixed selection of microgreens. As you gain confidence, then diversify your selection. It’s important to understand upfront that microgreens require more seeds than let’s say growing a row of garden vegetables. Additionally, seeds should be sanitized prior to use to reduce fungi and bacteria. When purchasing seeds, it is most economical to purchase in bulk. An excellent source for obtaining microgreen seeds is Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Below is our microgreens list.

EasiestIntermediateHardest
ArugulaAniseAmaranth
Bok Choy/Pak ChoiCelery LeafBasil
BroccoliCorianderBeets
BuckwheatDillChard
CabbageFennelChives
CauliflowerFenugreekCilantro
ChiaLeekCress
Chinese MustardPeas 
EndiveSpinach 
KaleSorrel 
Kohlrabi  
Lettuce  
Mustard  
Red Clover  
Tatsoi  
Sunflower  
Wheatgrass  

basic salad mix

How To Grow Microgreens: You will be needing some basic supplies, those being seeds, a growing tray, and growing medium.  To start seeds indoors, another obvious requirement is light which can be as simple as a bright window or a more controlled setting using a greenhouse and supplemental grow lights.  Heat mats may also be necessary to help with germination and temperature control. 

microgreen_5

Microgreens can be grown in soil or they can be grown hydroponically.  With soil-based systems, seeds are densely sown directly on the soil surface. Harvesting requires the microgreens to then be harvested by cutting. The microgreens will not regrow and the soil is not reusable and should be composted.  With their short crop cycles and minimum to no fertility requirements, microgreens are an excellent crop for hydroponic culture. Hydroponic based systems use fiber mats wet with water for the length of the growth cycle. Reusing mats also asks for root and seed diseases that can affect the next crop and should not be used again.

Are Microgreens Safe?  The short answer is it depends on several factors.  First is seed sanitization.  For maximum safety, it is recommended that you disinfect the outside of your seeds and your sprouting container prior to sprouting using 3% hydrogen peroxide.  If you see white fuze growing on roots, do not be alarmed these are naturally occurring root hairs.  If you observe or more importantly smell any sign of declining freshness, it is time to toss your microgreen lot; clean and disinfect your trays before starting a new crop.

Pros For Microgreens:

  • growing microgreens is fast and easy
  • some studies show higher nutritional value than mature plants
  • little setup costs

Cons For Microgreens:

  • a fragile product with high moisture content
  • eating raw microgreens may cause bacterial infections from E. coli and Salmonella among others
  • microgreens have a short shelf life

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