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What Are Microgreens, and How Do You Grow Them?

What Are Microgreens, and How Do You Grow Them?


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Microgreens are tiny, young greens grown from various lettuce or vegetable seeds. And they are beautiful for the sheer fact that they're small and delicate. What I love about them is that (a) they taste great, like a subtler version of the lettuce or veggie, (b) they make a stunning statement at the table, and (c) they are VERY easy to grow.

Whenever I'm hosting a dinner party and really want to turn up the charm, I start a week or two out and plant some seeds for this very purpose. You do not need a green thumb to do this (trust me, if I can do this, anyone can!), nor any super specialized equipment. And it can all happen indoors, any time of year, so long as you have a window that lets in some sunshine. Let me take you through the steps with three types of greens.

Equipment: The good news is you don't need much!

→ Seeds: I prefer to use certified organic seeds. More on how many to purchase below.→ Potting soil: Again, I like to go with organic here; you just want a rich, moist soil base.→ Tray: I purchased a couple of seed starter trays, about 10-inch square, with clear plastic lids; they didn't cost much, and I've used them over and over. But any shallow container will do: a casserole dish, an empty clamshell container (like what greens come in), or an inexpensive plastic storage container.→ Squirt bottle: The greens are so delicate that you'll want to water them this way, with a fine mist.

PEA SHOOTS

I love, love, love pea shoots. With their muted sweet pea flavor, they are amazing in salads, stir fries, and soups. I used Dwarf Gray Sugar Snap Pea seeds, and for the size container I was planting in (see above), four packs were perfect.Day 1: Soak the seeds overnight in a bowl or glass of water to speed up germination.

Day 2: Spread potting soil in the container about 1 to 2 inches thick. Moisten thoroughly so that soil is dark black and fairly wet and pat it down evenly. Sprinkle seeds evenly over surface of soil. It's ok that they're crowded, and you don't need to cover them with more soil—they can rest right on the surface. Cover with lid (if applicable) or loosely cover with plastic wrap to hold in moisture. Then, either move the tray to a dark space (like a cupboard or closet), or cover with a towel.

Day 3 (or 4): Check on the seeds after a day in the dark, and water well with a good misting from the spray bottle roughly every 12 hours. As soon as you see signs of growth (the seeds will sprout little tails), uncover the tray and put it in a sunny spot. Keep watering every 12 hours; I typically did 80 to 100 squirts at each watering.

Day 4: Green growth will start to appear! Just keep watering and make sure to provide plenty of sunlight.

Day 7: Look how much they've grown! Again, water with a good misting every 12 hours.

Day 13: These guys are now standing about 6 inches tall. I actually let them go another day or two to leaf out a bit more before cutting and using them; I cut 2-inch lengths and tossed into salads, and some went into stir-fries.

BEET AND BROCCOLI MICROGREENSThese don't take as many days as pea shoots—only about 7 days after germination.

For the beet seeds, follow the same procedure as with the pea shoots; start by soaking these larger, coarser seeds overnight. For a container about 10 inches square, use 4 seed packets.

For the broccoli seeds, which are much smaller, the dry seeds can go directly onto the moistened soil. For a container about 10 inches square, use 4 seed packets.

Cover and keep in a dark place, just like with the pea shoots, until you see signs of growth. Here brilliant magenta tails emerge from the beet seeds and pale-green tails sprout from the broccoli seeds:

And look where they are after one week. They've grown to about 2.5 to 3 inches height, and I snip them as close to soil level as I can...

… and then I make pretty things with them! I have also grown radish, sunflower, and arugula micro greens to great success.

Keep Reading:


How to Grow Microgreens Indoors: The Perfect Culinary Garden

Microgreens are easy, nutritious, and fun to grow. With minimal effort, you can produce fresh produce in your own home, and add a fancy dash of flavor and garnish to any dish.

Many herbs and vegetables that are traditionally difficult to grow indoors are a breeze when you are only growing them 2 to 3 inches tall. This makes them ideal for both beginners and year-round growers alike.

Read on to learn all you need to know about how to grow microgreens indoors!


What Are Microgreens, Exactly?

Microgreens aren't one specific plant rather, the term refers to a very young plant, similar to sprouts or baby greens, although the three are distinctly different because they're harvested at different stages of the plant's growth, per the North Carolina Cooperative Extension.

Sprouts are harvested first, making them the youngest. Next up is microgreens and lastly, baby greens.

Lettuces don't actually make for good microgreens, but foods like arugula, basil, dill and broccoli work well. Also, the greens of edible foods like beets and carrots make great microgreens.

The best part is that, once they're planted, you can start to enjoy your microgreens in less than two weeks!

Learn how to fill your plate with healthy, nutrient-dense foods by logging your meals on the MyPlate app. Download now to fine-tune your diet today!


What Kinds of Microgreens Are There?

With over 60 varieties of microgreens and microgreen blends available, there is no shortage of tasty and healthy choices when it comes to what to explore.

Some of the most popular varieties of microgreens include:

  • Beets
  • Chard
  • Quinoa
  • Spinach
  • Chives
  • Garlic
  • Leeks
  • Onions
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Dill
  • Fennel
  • Chicory
  • Endive
  • Lettuce
  • Radicchio
  • Arugula
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Radish
  • Watercress
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Herbs

Continued


7 Microgreens To Grow Indoors

Beet: Choose beet microgreens for their bite. Though these taste like spinach. Harvest within 18 days.

Swiss chard: Growing Swiss chard microgreens is a colorful proposition and just imagine how pretty they&rsquoll look in salads. Harvest in 12 to 14 days.

Broccoli: These low-maintenance microgreens pack flavor and grow rapidly. Harvest in as little as seven days.

Cress: These peppery-flavored microgreens bring bold flavor to almost any dish where used. Harvest in eight to 12 days.

Pea: Microgreens from peas can be harvested early or late for unique and different flavor profiles.

Radish: Add spice and kick to dishes with radish microgreens. Harvest in 10 to 12 days.

Sunflower: Tasty with a nutty-like flavor, sunflower microgreens can be harvested when leaves turn from yellow to green.


Things to Keep in Mind When Growing Microgreens

Microgreens are fairly easy to grow at home for a few reasons:

  • They don’t need much light and are perfect as a “windowsill crop.”
  • You don’t really need to fertilize them since you’ll be harvesting them when they’re really young. If you want to fertilize anyway, just toss in some of your leftover juice pulp!
  • Microgreens are grown for such a short period that you don’t really need to worry about pests and/or diseases.
  • You can mainly use materials you have at home.
  • Microgreens grow quite fast.

But still, there are a few things you should keep in mind when growing microgreens:


Method 1: Windowsill Gardens

Trays of microgreens are a lovely way to use a sunny windowsill space or indoor spot. You don’t need a special tray, you can grow them in anything that will hold dirt. In the photos below I just used a baking dish, but you can use cafeteria trays or plant trays. It doesn’t need any drainage.

To plant them, fill your tray with 1/2″ to 1 inch of soil, then sprinkle your seeds in a single, even layer across the top. It’s ok for them to be crowded and touching, but you don’t want them to be on top of each other. Sprinkle with a little more dirt to cover, and then water them well without soaking or over-saturating the dirt. Spray them every day or two with a spray bottle, or water them gently using anything with a sprout. When they are 5-7 inches tall, cut them and enjoy!

If you want to stop their growth, you can cut your greens and store them in the fridge, wrapped in a plastic bag or ziplock with a wet paper towel to keep them crisp.

If you’re short on windowsill space, I love the window garden company, they make an awesome tray that suctions onto your window! They also sell great microgreen kits with little magical dirt packs that expand with water, like those toy dinosaurs in capsules. I used their kits for the sprouts in the photos above, and I loved them so much I also brought them to school and let my elementary students plant a bunch for our classroom. My favorites are the sunflower sprouts and pea shoots.

Method 2: Hamama Sprouting Kits

If you’re not into dirt, there’s an AMAZING company called Hamama that makes growing your own trays of microgreens sooooo easy. Hamama is a subscription service that sends you seed quilts by mail at a frequency of your choice. All you have to do is put them in a tray of water, and then 7-10 days. No dirt. You don’t even have to water them. They send you everything you need. They even have beautiful bamboo trays if you want to feel even fancier.

Hamama sprouts don’t need any light, because the plants use the energy in the seed at the beginning of their growth. I’ve been known to grow mine in closets, on top of the fridge, and even in cupboards when counter or table space was tight. I also love that they are living food, so they can’t go bad in the fridge while you’re contemplating what to do with them.


A Permanent Place to Grow Microgreens

If you get into growing these greens (like I am) and want to house them in a permanent location in your home, this indoor growing shelf designed by Peter Burke is a great piece of furniture you can build to enjoy garden-fresh greens all year. It’s fairly easy to build and the gift of year-round nutrition is well worth the effort!


A bit about beets

Beets (Beta vulgaris) belong to the Amaranthaceae family of which amaranth, chard, and spinach belong. There are a few important cultivars, namely the sugar beet which is an important crop for producing sugar and the beetroot, or garden beet which is what we’ll focus on for growing microgreens.

Beetroot is a root vegetable that can be eaten raw or cooked. While much of the culinary world has focused on the fleshy root (which comes in red or purple), the leaves shouldn’t be forgotten.

Fresh organic beets.
Credit: Yay Images

The leaves of the plant (known as greens, or beet tops) are commonly boiled, or sautéed as vegetable side dishes. Use beet greens as a leafy alternative to spinach or Swiss chard.

A popular variety of beet microgreens is Bull’s Blood which is a variety with stems that turn an attractive, deep red color with a sprinkling of green leaves. What you’re growing with beet microgreens is essentially tiny beet tops.


Summary

Microgreens are a great way to begin growing some of your food. It’s a cheap alternative to buying fresh, full seasoning plants such as basil or parsley. Plus, they’re very easy to grow, whereas things like tomatoes are much trickier.

Other plants that grow until they’re mature have a much longer growing process, and there are many more steps along the way that can go wrong. You have to worry about pests, water levels, and you also need more space, typically, including an outdoor area, which isn’t available to everyone.

You can grow microgreens in pretty much every living situation. All you need is a place with some sunlight and water and space for containers. Besides that, all you have to buy additionally is soil and the seeds (and possibly a water mister to water the seeds with).

Whether you’re living in an apartment, a room, or a house, you’ll be able to grow microgreens. They also look beautiful, and adding some greenery to a room can liven it up. This is especially true when you grow them in glass jars.