Not eating–or growing–microgreens yet? Then you’re missing out on a seriously easy way to increase your nutrient intake. Researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Maryland found that leaves from microgreens had more nutrients than the mature leaves of the same plants. Better yet? You can grow your own microgreens. Let’s take a look at what they are and how you can introduce them to your own garden…and diet.
What are microgreens?
Microgreens are the first true leaves produced from a seedling, often under 14 days. These greens are young and quite short, only reaching about 1-3 inches in height. Leave those alone and you’ll get a full-fledged leafy plant. You may even be more familiar with microgreens than you know: restaurants increasingly use them to decorate salads and soups. But you probably didn’t know they were so healthy!
But microgreens sound like sprouts, don’t they?
There are fundamental differences. Sprouts are seeds germinated in water long enough for them to form roots, a stem, and underdeveloped leaves. Microgreens require soil and sunlight. The time difference is also telling: sprouts take about 48 hours while microgreens take 7-14 days.
Nutritional benefits of Microgreens
Microgreens are perfect toppers to your meals and will add, but not replace, nutritional value. Nutrients vary by plant but most include large amounts of vitamins C and E and beta carotene. Researchers found that red cabbage contains the highest amount of vitamin C (forty times the amount in regular red cabbage!) and six times more vitamin C. Green daikon radish microgreens contain more vitamin E than any other microgreens. Cilantro microgreens contain three times more beta-carotene than mature cilantro.
Overall, the same nutritional rule applies to microgreens: the more colorful the crop, the more nutrients it contains.
What are some popular microgreens?
You might find packages of the following pricey produce in your local market:
- Radish greens
- Beet greens
How do I grow microgreens?
If your first thought was, “I’m not paying for that!” then we’re right there with you. You have two options: buy a kit or start from scratch. If you choose not to buy a kit, you can start your microgreens gardening experience indoors by using a reusable or disposable plastic food container. You can be creative: use a plastic juice carton, Styrofoam cup, or the plastic container strawberries are packaged in.
Create drainage holes and fill with seed-starting mix and your choice of seed. Sprinkle an additional layer of mix over the seeds (seed packets will indicate planting depth) and mist with a spray bottle. You’ll want to water whenever the soil looks dry (at least daily) and provide sunlight.
Microgreens can also be grown in your outdoor garden. Due to the size of the greens, a few extra considerations are necessary. Be sure your garden soil is loose and weed-free prior to planting. Water when the soil is dry, but do your best to create a gentle stream so as to not bury the seeds deeper in soil. Seeds should be planted ⅛ to ¼ of an inch apart, but in general, they don’t need much room since you will harvest early. No fertilizer needed.
Finally, microgreens can also be grown without soil, but because several seeds grow better in soil, we recommend that method.
When do I harvest microgreens?
Microgreens are meant to be harvested when small, about 1-3 inches tall. A general harvesting timeline follows leaf growth: you’ll want to harvest when you see a second set of leaves appear. Simply snip with scissors above the soil level, or you can pull up entire clumps of greens (you cannot harvest more than once).
Want to grow more? Leave the old roots in place and simply scatter additional seeds.
Common Questions and Answers About Microgreens
by Erin Marissa Russell
Are microgreens just baby plants?
Microgreens are juvenile plants. They are a bit older than sprouts but younger than mature greens. Microgreens are ready to harvest when they have grown roots and their first true leaves.
Can I freeze microgreens?
It is possible to freeze microgreens, but you will lose some of the nutrients microgreens are prized for. It’s better to refrigerate them folded between damp paper towels or leave them in the soil and harvest when ready to eat. If you still wish to freeze microgreens, consider freezing them in water and thawing the ice once you’re ready to consume them.
Can you grow microgreens without soil?
You can grow microgreens without soil using a hydroponic gardening system. For more information, refer to our Beginner’s Guide to Hydroponic Gardening.
Can you juice microgreens?
Yes, microgreens can be used as a nutrient-rich addition to juices. However, it will take a whole lot of microgreens to produce a substantial amount of juice, so they may best be used in juice blends.
Can you reuse soil for microgreens?
Yes, you can reuse the soil microgreens have grown in. Just make sure to remove the stems and roots of the previous round of microgreens before planting the next batch.
Can you use regular seeds for microgreens?
Yes, you can grow microgreens from seeds for the mature plant, just harvest the seeds when they are still microgreens. Microgreens are ready to eat when they have root systems and their first four true leaves.
Do microgreens need fertilizer?
Most microgreens will have their nutrient needs met by the soil mix they are grown in. If you are growing microgreens hydroponically, without soil, use a liquid fertilizer to give them nutrition.
Do microgreens need to be washed?
As with any produce you will consume, you should wash microgreens in clear, cool running water before eating them.
Do microgreens regrow after cutting?
It depends on the variety of microgreen, but many types of green will grow back after being cut as microgreens.
Do microgreen trays need holes?
All plants growing in containers with soil need drainage holes to thrive. The only time your microgreen trays do not need holes is if you are growing microgreens hydroponically, without soil.
Do you refrigerate microgreens?
If you harvest microgreens and do not plan to eat them immediately, you will need to refrigerate them to keep them fresh. Place them between moistened paper towels inside of a plastic Ziploc bag in the refrigerator until you’re ready to eat them.
How long do microgreens take to grow?
You can begin harvesting microgreens two to three weeks after planting the seeds. Harvest when each sprout has at least four leaves.
How many hours of light do microgreens need?
Microgreens need at least four hours of sunlight to grow healthy and strong. In winter, when sunlight is not as bright, they may need more than four hours per day to thrive.
What are the best microgreens to grow?
Some gardeners purchase mixes especially developed for growing microgreens or salad green mixes, but some choose to use one type of green to grow as microgreens. The easiest microgreens to grow include broccoli, buckwheat, cauliflower, cabbage, chia, mustard, or sunflower.
What kind of soil do microgreens like?
Microgreens grow happily in compost, most potting soil mixes, or a half-and-half combination of perlite and vermiculite.
Why are my microgreens falling over?
Microgreens fall over when they are not in ideal growing conditions. They may be falling over due to lack of water, high temperature, low humidity, low light that leads to leggy growth, lack of nutrients in their soil, or too many seeds in too small a planting area. They may also have been knocked over if watered from the top with too much water pressure.
Want to learn more about microgreens?
On Amazon, Microgreens: How to Grow Nature’s Own Superfood by Fionna Hill
Creative Commons Flickr photo courtesy of Nick Saltmarsh.