Now that winter is coming, you can still grow your greens, just indoors. Growing microgreens is a fun, cheap way to grow nutritious vegetable seedlings for sandwiches, wraps, soups, and salads. Microgreens are the shoots of edible plants, requiring very little space and minimal cost. Microgreens differ from sprouts. Microgreen seeds germinate in a growing medium and after one or two weeks, the “micro” stems and leaves are cut to the soil level and eaten. Sprouts are seeds grown in a moist container—no soil. After a few days, the root and seed are harvested and eaten.
There are different ways to grow them and many kits for sale. Basically, the seeds can be grown without soil (hydroponically) or with soil. If grown hydroponically, they may germinate in a moisten disposable mat or in a container with a mesh between the seeds and the basin full of water.
If grown with soil, only a few inches of soil are need but the container has to have drainage holes and a bottom tray to catch the water. There are plastic kits that can be washed and re-used with each sowing or you can create your own. Simply re-use plastic containers from the grocery store, such as clam shells for berries and baked goods.
Poke a few holes for drainage and fill with bagged, sterile, soilless growing medium. Do not use the soil mixes that have moisture beads or fertilizer (no need for fertilizer) and do no use soil from the garden. The mix specifically made for starting seeds works best. Fill the container with 1 to 2 inches of mix and water thoroughly.
Because seed germinate and grow at different rates, it is best to use one type per container. Cover the surface with seeds and press down with your fingers to put them in direct contact with the moisture. Place the container on top of a tray to catch the excess water. Cover with another container to increase the humidity level and warmth. Always label containers with the plants’ names and keep records so you learn how soon you can harvest and what you like to eat.
After the seeds germinate, remove the cover and provide light via grow lights, fluorescent tubes, or a south facing window. If you do not have a very sunny window, you may have to rotate the container for the stems to grow straight. If the top level of the soil dries out, water by either misting the top or putting the container in a pan of water so the water is absorbed via the bottom drainage holes.
The first set of “leaves” you will see will not be the true leaves — they are the cotyledons or the seed leaves within the embryonic seed. If the plant grew outside for the mature fruit or vegetable, these would eventually shrivel and disappear. For many microgreens, you can harvest at this stage because there is plenty of flavor in these “leaves” and stems. For example, you can harvest radishes at this stage because you will taste plenty of spice and the stems will be crisp.
With some plants, you wait until the second set of “leaves” appear, which will be the first set of true leaves. For example, you will want to harvest cilantro at this stage because you get more flavor in the true leaf. At this point, the seedling is probably 2 inches tall.
Harvest by cutting straight across with scissors a centimeter above soil line. You can cut what you need and wash or cut all of it, wash, dry, and refrigerate in a plastic bag for a few days.
The best seed for microgreens germinate quickly and produce tasty shoots and leaves. There is no such thing as a microgreen seed; microgreen is really a stage in which the plant is harvested. However, you may find seed packages sold as “microgreens” because the package is a mix with similar germination rates. Popular seed are kale, mizuna, mustard, radish, carrot, cress, arugula, basil, onion, chive, broccoli, fennel, sweet pea, celery, bok choy, and Asian greens. The only seeds that do not work well are lettuce and spinach. Microgreens are a great way to use up your old seed packets because you sow densely so if there is a reduced germination rate, you would not notice. Or purchase fresh seed from local independent garden centers or order online from any of these companies.
Growing microgreens is fun and easy. The more you determine the flavors you like the more you can set up a system where you are sowing seeds on a weekly basis to feed your family nutritious and colorful vegetables year round.