How to Grow Microgreens: Ultimate Guide

by | Microgreens

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What Are Microgreens?

Whether you’ve heard the term “microgreens” before, or you’re just now learning about them, you’re in for a treat because there is a world of flavor that can come from these little plants. Essentially, microgreens are the seedlings of highly nutritious plants. Some, you may already be familiar with, like beets and radishes. Others, you may not have thought about eating as a sprouted plant, such as sunflower.  

Microgreens have gained popularity in recent years, especially as people began exploring gardening indoors in late 2020. These tiny, delicate greens pack a powerful punch when it comes to taste, texture, and nutritional value. Despite their small size, they are bursting with concentrated flavors, ranging from mild to intense, depending on the variety. They offer a delightful combination of familiar and unexpected tastes, making them an exciting addition to any dish.

Benefits of Microgreens

One of the key benefits of microgreens is their exceptional nutrient density. Studies have shown that these young seedlings can contain higher levels of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants compared to their mature counterparts. For example, red cabbage microgreens have been found to contain up to six times more vitamin C than the mature cabbage. These concentrated nutrients make microgreens an excellent choice for those looking to boost their nutritional intake.

It’s important to note, however, that when these statements are made broadly, they typically only account for that nutrient. The mature plant will have nutritional content in different concentrations, and you’ll want to take a look at the differences between the mature and microgreen plant to ensure you get a well-rounded nutritional balance.

In addition to their nutritional value, microgreens also offer a unique and visually appealing element to culinary creations. Their vibrant colors and delicate shapes make them a popular choice for garnishing and adding a pop of freshness to dishes. Chefs and home cooks alike appreciate the beauty and versatility of microgreens, using them to enhance the visual appeal of salads, soups, sandwiches, and even desserts.

Are Microgreens Easy to Grow?

Yes, even if you’re new to gardening, you’ll find that microgreens are easy to grow with a bit of space and sunlight. They can be cultivated indoors using containers or trays, and they require minimal care.

One of the best things about microgreens is that they don’t require a lot of space. You can grow them in a small container on your windowsill, balcony, or even your kitchen countertop. Since they grow quickly, you can enjoy fresh greens in just a few days for most beginner-friendly varieties.

One reason why microgreens are so easy to grow is that they don’t have many requirements. Unlike some other plants that need a specific type of soil, fertilizer, or watering schedule, microgreens can thrive in a variety of conditions because they are harvested before they require nutrients from the soil to continue growing.

In other words, as long as you provide them with enough light and water, they’ll happily grow and produce fresh, healthy greens.

For individuals that don’t like eating vegetables or can’t access fresh healthy vegetables every day, microgreens are an incredible step forward in making a nutritious diet more accessible. (1) With just a few weeks of patience, you can harvest a bountiful supply of these flavorful greens right in your own home. This accessibility has led to a rise in urban gardening and the increased availability of microgreens in farmers’ markets and grocery stores.

Is It Worth It to Grow Your Own Microgreens?

Yes, it’s absolutely worth it to grow your own microgreens. These little plants are packed with nutrients and are a great source of vitamins and minerals.

Not only are microgreens a culinary delight, but they also hold promise for sustainable and local food production. Their short growth cycle and small space requirements make them an ideal option for urban farming and vertical gardening. By growing microgreens, individuals and communities can contribute to reducing food miles, promoting food security, and minimizing their environmental footprint.

By growing microgreens, you will have access to a fresh and healthy supply of greens that you can add to your meals. This can be especially beneficial if you’re looking to incorporate more fresh produce into your diet or if you’re trying to eat more healthily.

Even if you aren’t in it for the nutritional content, growing your own microgreens can be a fun and rewarding hobby. It’s important to understand that with any microgreens equipment, it can be done as inexpensively as you’d like for personal use. If you are looking to grow microgreens to sell, or need to harvest more at a time, however, it pays to purchase the proper equipment to make growing and harvesting easier.

What Do You Need to Grow Microgreens?

To grow microgreens, you’ll need just a few basic supplies. You’ll be happy you saved yourself the expense of the ‘all-in-one microgreens kit’.

You can be as low-tech or high-tech as you want to be, which is part of the beauty of growing microgreens for at-home use. The high-tech starts to become more important when you begin growing microgreens for sale or commercial use.

Here’s a list of everything you’ll need to get started:

Seeds: High-quality seeds are key to growing healthy and flavorful microgreens. Look for seeds specifically labeled for microgreen production, as these are safe to eat without chemical treatments and selected for their flavor and fast germination.

Many common vegetables and herbs can be grown as microgreens, including radishes, beets, sunflowers, kale, and basil. Each variety has different nutritional content and flavors. Most people typically start with radish.

Growing medium: Microgreens can be grown in soil or other growing mediums such as coconut coir. The growing medium should be lightweight, sterile, and have good drainage.

Containers: You can grow microgreens in a variety of containers, such as plastic trays, seed trays, or even recycled containers like egg cartons. The containers should have drainage holes to allow excess water to escape. Microgreens trays are the most popular choice for microgreens growers, which we’ll cover more in-depth below.

Water: Watering your microgreens is important to ensure they have the moisture they need to grow. Use a gooseneck watering can to gently pour water between 1020 flats, or spray bottle to gently water your microgreens over the top of the soil. While there is no particular need for purchasing water with specialty filtration methods, you should have your water source tested to understand its chemical composition.

Light: Microgreens need plenty of light to grow. A sunny windowsill or a spot near a window will work great. You can also use grow lights if you don’t have a sunny spot available, or you’re growing a larger number of microgreens.

Cutting Tool: You’ll need scissors or a sharp knife to harvest your microgreens when they’re ready.

If you aren’t sure what equipment you should get, don’t worry! Scroll down to the ‘Additional Resources’ section and you’ll find a whole list of helpful aids after the “Harvesting and Storing” section.

Introduction: How to Grow Microgreens

Before you begin, you’ll need to purchase trays to grow your microgreens in. 1020 trays (also called flats) are the most common microgreens trays.

These trays are made from durable, food-grade plastic materials, and the shallow depth of 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm) accommodates microgreens with short roots, while drainage holes ensure proper water drainage. These trays are versatile and compatible with various growing mediums, including soil, coco coir, and hydroponic systems. 1020 trays are stackable, allowing efficient use of vertical space, and can be obtained from online retailers like Bootstrap Farmer.

You’ll also want to consider what type of growing medium you will be using. Microgreens can be grown in a variety of growing mediums, giving you flexibility in choosing the one that suits your preferences and resources. Soil is a popular choice for growing microgreens that require a longer growth time due to its accessibility and nutrient-rich properties.

When using soil, it’s essential to ensure that it is loose, well-draining, and enriched with organic matter. This creates an ideal environment for the seeds to establish roots and absorb nutrients. If you are using a beginner-friendly variety of seeds that requires a week or less of growing time, you can opt for other soil types like coconut coir.

Coconut coir provides an ideal environment for the germination and growth of microgreens. It offers a clean and sterile medium that is free from pests and diseases commonly associated with soil. The fibrous texture of coconut coir also provides excellent support for the delicate microgreen roots, promoting healthy development.

The water retention, drainage capabilities, pH neutrality, and nutrient absorption properties of coco coir contribute to the successful cultivation of vibrant and flavorful microgreens with no fuss for beginner growers or those who prefer an easier growing experience.

Step 1: Cleaning Trays

First, set your trays out and ensure there is no debris or residue from previous uses to prevent the risk of pathogens or contamination. Even if they are freshly purchased, it’s a good idea to sanitize them with food-grade hydrogen peroxide and water. This type of cleanser won’t harm the microgreens or the end user, but it’s still a good idea to rinse the trays afterwards. The ratio is roughly 500 ml of water to a teaspoon (5 ml rounded) of 3% peroxide.

Step 2: Seeding

Level the surface of the growing medium in the trays by gently patting it down with your hand or using a small board, pressing down just firmly enough to level the surface, but not enough to compact the soil. This step ensures an even and uniform planting surface for the seeds.

Hold a small amount of seeds between your thumb and fingertips, positioning your hand close to the soil surface. Begin sprinkling the seeds lightly and evenly across the soil, using a gentle sweeping motion. Start from one side of the tray and work your way towards the other, covering the entire surface. If you have smaller seeds, you can add these to a seasoning shaker or cup for faster distribution.

The seed density should be dense, since these plants are not going to be grown to full maturity. They should also be sparse enough that the seeds can grow mostly without competition from others – in other words, they shouldn’t be clustered together and touching, but should cover most of the tray evenly.

Once the seeds are evenly spread, gently press the seeds into the growing medium. This helps improve seed-to-soil contact for successful germination. Place a moistened, brown paper towel over the seeds to keep them moist during germination.

Step 3: Blackout, If Needed

When growing microgreens, you may come across some varieties that require a stage called “blackout”. This refers to a period during the growth cycle when the trays are covered to block out all light. This happens before seeding while waiting for the plants to sprout. This practice is crucial for certain varieties of microgreens to promote healthy and strong stem growth as it simulates the weight and light conditions of soil.

When these varieties of microgreens are exposed to light during their early growth stages, they tend to prioritize leaf development over stem elongation which can result in short, stubby growth that may not be visually appealing or have the desired texture.

By subjecting the microgreens to a period of darkness, the plants perceive low light conditions and respond by stretching their stems to reach for light. This elongation process, known as etiolation, helps microgreens develop a more desirable appearance, including longer stems and a more delicate structure.

The length of the blackout period can vary depending on the specific variety of microgreens and the desired outcome. In general, blackout periods typically range from one to four days.

Weights play a crucial role during the blackout phase. Placing a weight, such as another tray or a clean, heavy object, on top of the covered microgreens helps promote even and vertical growth.

You should closely monitor the progress of the microgreens during blackout to ensure they don’t become overly elongated. You’ll be surprised at just how much weight several hundred healthy seedlings can lift, too.

It’s worth mentioning that not all microgreens require blackout. Varieties that naturally exhibit elongated growth or have thin stems, such as sunflower or pea shoots may not benefit from a blackout period. Additionally, some growers prefer not to implement blackout for certain varieties if they prefer shorter, more compact growth.

Step 4: Growing the ‘Greens

Lighting

Just like your everyday garden plants, microgreens thrive in warm and well-lit environments. Microgreens need ample light to fuel photosynthesis for healthy growth. Placing the trays in a location that receives direct sunlight is ideal as sunlight provides the full spectrum of light that microgreens require. If you use natural lighting, you will need to rotate the tray every day or two, ensuring the microgreens grow straighter without collapsing to one side.  

If natural sunlight is insufficient or unavailable, consider using grow lights specifically designed for indoor gardening. 6500K bulbs provide the necessary light intensity and spectrum to support healthy growth, which is often available in garden stores or aquatic pet stores. These lights are designed to mimic sunlight and should be positioned evenly above your trays. Depending on the height of the microgreens and whether or not you will need a humidity dome, you can adjust the height of the lights. Between 10 and 15 inches above the soil is typical for a standard microgreens set up.

If you are growing with lights that are further away, you may need more intense lighting. More or stronger lighting can help mitigate any light loss. You can tell if your lighting needs improvement if your microgreens are becoming “leggy” or stretched too thin when growing so they fall over.

Temperature

Maintaining a temperature range of 60-75°F (15-24°C) is optimal for germination and steady growth of microgreens. This range provides the optimal conditions for the seeds to sprout and for the microgreens to develop healthy leaves and stems.

You can use a thermometer to monitor the temperature in the growing area. If necessary, adjust the temperature by placing the trays near a heat source during cooler periods or using fans or air conditioning to cool down the area during hot weather.

Consistency is key when it comes to temperature. For best results, maintain a stable and uniform environment for your microgreens throughout their growth cycle.

Watering

Proper watering the successful development of microgreens, which means you will need to water the trays gently to avoid dislodging or burying the seeds. Using a fine mist sprayer or a bottom watering method can help prevent disturbance. The goal is to keep the growing medium consistently moist but not waterlogged, as excessive moisture can lead to mold or rot.

A fine-mist spray over the top of germinating seeds may be beneficial in the beginning, but the plants will soon require bottom-watering to ensure they develop strong and healthy roots. Bottom watering is a gentle and effective way to provide water to microgreens, promoting healthy root growth and minimizing the risk of overwatering or fungal issues.

Watering this way can be done by regularly placing trays in a shallow basin of water until the soil medium has absorbed enough moisture. If you are using 1020 microgreens trays, it’s best to purchase one with holes and one without. The tray without holes will go on bottom, giving each tray an easy reservoir of water that you can pour directly into. The top tray, filled with soil and seeds, will absorb the water underneath.

Airflow

Ensure good airflow between the plants as they grow to prevent fungal diseases. Microgreens are susceptible to fungal diseases, such as damping-off, which can hinder their growth or even cause seedling death. Adequate airflow around the trays helps to minimize excess moisture and ensures a continuous supply of fresh air. Fresh air facilitates efficient gas exchange during photosynthesis and promotes healthy growth.

A small fan can help disperse any additional moisture and can help strengthen the stems. When exposed to airflow, the plants develop thicker and sturdier stems, creating stronger and thicker seedlings.

It is important to balance airflow with maintaining proper soil moisture and humidity as well, as too dry is just as detrimental to the plants.

Humidity

During the initial stages of germination, microgreens require a moderately high humidity level to facilitate the sprouting process. Adequate moisture in the air helps soften the seed coat, allowing the embryonic plant to emerge. It also prevents the drying out of the growing medium and promotes the absorption of water by the seeds. Maintaining a higher humidity environment during this phase improves the chances of successful germination and promotes uniform seedling development.

As microgreens grow, they monitor the environmental conditions and grow according to what they need. The right level of humidity ensures proper germination, growth, and overall health of the plants. Most microgreens thrive in a humidity range of 50-70%.

With a hygrometer, you can regularly monitor the moisture levels in the trays and adjust watering accordingly. If the air is already humid, reduce the frequency or amount of watering to avoid oversaturation of the growing medium. On the other hand, if the air is too dry, you can increase humidity by misting the air around the plants or placing a tray of water nearby.

For microgreens that require more humidity than you can provide with ambient air, you can purchase a humidity dome that won’t interfere with the plants’ ability to photosynthesize. For larger commercial growers of microgreens, it’s common to use dehumidifiers or humidifiers to regulate the moisture in the air.

Step 5: Harvesting and Storing

Timing

The optimal time to harvest microgreens varies depending on the specific variety and desired maturity. Generally, microgreens are harvested when they have reached a height of 1-3 inches (2.5-7.5 cm) just before they display their first true leaves. At this stage, they are still tender and offer a balance of flavor and nutritional value. Any microgreens that display their true leaves, or any yellowing or wilting should not be harvested.

Technique

To harvest microgreens, gently hold the stems near the soil surface and cut with your tool of choice. Clean scissors and sharp knives are popular choices. Scissors offer convenience and precision, allowing you to snip the microgreens just above the soil level. Knives, on the other hand, are useful for cutting larger batches of microgreens or those with thicker stems. Regardless of the tool you choose, it’s essential to ensure they are clean and sharp to achieve clean cuts without crushing and damaging the plants.

Take care to avoid disturbing the neighboring microgreens as you harvest and avoid cutting so low that you get any growing medium in your harvested greens. Work systematically across the tray, harvesting the desired amount with clean, precise cuts.

Proper Storage

After harvesting, it’s crucial to handle microgreens with care and store them properly to maintain their quality and prolong their shelf life. Start by gently rinsing the harvested microgreens under cold water to remove any soil particles. Allow them to dry thoroughly in a cool environment before packaging them.

Choose breathable containers for storing microgreens such as shallow food storage containers or specially designed microgreen storage containers. Avoid using airtight containers or sealing the microgreens in plastic bags, as this can lead to moisture buildup and spoilage.

Microgreens are highly perishable, and their shelf life can vary depending on the variety. In general, microgreens are best consumed within a few days of harvest to enjoy their peak flavor and nutritional benefits. However, some varieties may stay fresh for up to a week when stored properly in the refrigerator.

How Varieties Grow Differently

Not all microgreens seeds are created equal. Some varieties have different growing requirements. For example:

Radish Microgreens: Radish microgreens, such as Daikon or Rambo radishes, are known for their quick growth and robust flavor. They typically reach harvestable size within 8-12 days. Radish microgreens prefer cooler temperatures, around 60-70°F (15-21°C), for optimal growth. They thrive in moderate light conditions and do not require blackout. Radish microgreens can be harvested when they develop their first true leaves and have a height of around 1-2 inches (2.5-5 cm).

Sunflower Microgreens: Sunflower microgreens are popular for their delicate, nutty flavor. They require a longer growth period compared to some other microgreens, typically around 10-14 days. Sunflower microgreens appreciate warm temperatures ranging from 70-80°F (21-27°C) for proper germination and growth. They benefit from ample sunlight or intense grow lights to develop strong stems. Sunflower microgreens do not require blackout and can be harvested when they reach a height of 1-2 inches (2.5-5 cm) and display their first true leaves.

Pea Shoots: Pea shoots are characterized by their vibrant green color and delicate tendrils. They have a slightly sweet and fresh taste. Pea shoots grow relatively tall compared to other microgreens, reaching heights of 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) or even more. They prefer cooler temperatures around 60-70°F (15-21°C) and do well in moderate light conditions. Pea shoots do not require blackout, but they benefit from being kept moist during the growth process. Harvesting can be done when the shoots have fully developed and reached the desired height.

Microgreens FAQs:

Do Microgreens Need Special Soil?

Microgreens don’t necessarily need special soil, but it’s important to choose a growing medium that provides good drainage, aeration, and nutrition for your microgreens. I recommend coconut coir for most microgreens as it’s a sustainable alternative to chemical-treated potting soil mixes that often include peat moss.

What is the Best Thing to Grow Microgreens In?

Plastic 1020 trays are a popular option for growing microgreens. They’re lightweight, inexpensive, and have built-in drainage holes to allow excess water to escape. You’ll want to also grab a set of trays without holes to hold a reservoir of water underneath.

What Are the Easiest Microgreens to Start With?

Most microgreens growers will agree that radish microgreens are the easiest microgreens to start out with, requiring minimal equipment or expertise. Other popular but easy microgreens include mustard, sunflower, and arugula.

What Are the Healthiest Microgreens to Grow?

Microgreens are a great source of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, making them a healthy addition to any diet. Some of the healthiest microgreens you can grow are radish, peas, broccoli, kale, arugula, and sunflower.

What is the Quickest Microgreen to Grow?

The quickest microgreen to grow is probably the radish microgreen. Radish microgreens can germinate in as little as 2-3 days, and can be ready for harvest in just 5-7 days after planting.

Other microgreens that are relatively quick to grow include broccoli, basil, and spinach. These microgreens typically take around 7-10 days to grow.

Do Microgreens Regrow After Cutting?

Unlike mature plants that can continue to grow new leaves after being harvested, microgreens do not have the ability to regrow. When you harvest your microgreens, you’re harvesting the entire plant, including the stem and first set of leaves.

References
References
  1. Renna M, Paradiso VM. Ongoing Research on Microgreens: Nutritional Properties, Shelf-Life, Sustainable Production, Innovative Growing and Processing Approaches. Foods. 2020 Jun 24;9(6):826. doi: 10.3390/foods9060826. PMID: 32599782; PMCID: PMC7353615.

 

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About Destynnie K. Berard
I am a lifelong naturalist who believes a good sense of humor is essential to staying happy. ★ After traveling for years, I settled in New England, falling in love with the diverse landscape the Northeast has to offer, and began pursuing conservation in earnest. ★ My career background is in enterprise marketing and communications, which provides me with a unique perspective of ecological relationships.

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