In this tip of the month, you’ll learn how to grow microgreens to boost the nutrition in your food, make gorgeous plated dishes, and use up extra seeds you’ve been storing!
Despite only having a 1/3 acre garden, my wife and I have saved, bought, and been gifted enough seeds over the years to probably have a 100 acre farm. We didn’t intend to be seed hoarders, it just sort of happened.
While many seed varieties can last for years or even decades properly stored indoors, we’ve come to realize that it might not be feasible to devote an entire room of our house to our personal seed library. What to do with all those extra seeds?
We’re in the process of developing a small on-site organic farm for a new restaurant in our city (Oak Hill Cafe, coming summer 2018). We’ll certainly be putting a lot of our stashed seeds to work there over the years ahead.
However, the restaurant’s chef, David Porras, asked us if we could have some “microgreens” available for him in time for a planned pop-up dinner intended to help spread the word about the restaurant. Chef David is the most talented chef we’ve ever met, having trained at Basque Culinary Center in San Sebastian, Spain before developing a following as a chef in his home country of Costa Rica.
There was only about two weeks before the event, which gave us just enough time to have microgreens ready per his request.
What are Microgreens?
Once a seed germinates, it’s called a sprout. “Microgreen” is the term used to describe the growth stage in a plant’s life cycle AFTER sprouts but BEFORE baby greens. Generally, depending on the plant species, microgreens are harvested about 7-10 days after the seed has germinated.
Not all plants can be grown for sprouts or microgreens. For instance, tomato plants aren’t going to produce a green you’d want to eat. However, a huge number of other herbs and veggies make killer microgreens, including:
- pretty much any green you eat as a mature plant, including anything in the Brassica family (broccoli, radishes, kale, mustards, etc);
- herbs such as basil, cilantro, dill, parsley, shiso, and others;
- “grain” plants such as corn, amaranth, and quinoa;
Health and Culinary Benefits of Microgreens
There are lots of reasons to grow microgreens. Yes, those include “I have tons of extra seeds that I can’t possibly grow to maturity in my garden within my lifetime.”
The primary reasons that people grow microgreens are for health and culinary reasons.
Health Benefits of Microgreens
Two research studies (one by the USDA and one by University of Maryland) have found that young sprouts and microgreens pack far more nutrition per gram than mature plants. For instance, broccoli sprouts and broccoli microgreens pack the highest concentration of sulforaphane of any known plant in the world, and as much as 20x higher than mature broccoli plants. (About 600+ studies have identified sulforaphane as a potent anti-cancer compound.)
Culinary Benefits of Microgreens
- Beauty – Have you ever gone to a nice restaurant and been served an ugly plate of food? Probably not. There’s a reason for that: the way a meal is plated has a dramatic impact on how you perceive the quality of the food you’re eating. Garnishing a dish with microgreens can turn it from visually ordinary to visually extraordinary, adding sublime color, nuance, and texture.
- Flavor – Microgreens pack a surprising amount of taste for their small size, adding layers of complexity to each bite.
How To Grow Microgreens
Good news! Microgreens are very easy to grow. Just follow these basic steps and you can harvest your own microgreens in 7-14 days (depending on how fast the seeds germinate and what variety of plant you’re growing).
1. Start with clean/sterilized trays or clamshell containers.
If you want to grow a bunch of one variety of microgreen, use seed starting trays. If you want to just grow a small amount, reused an old plastic clamshell container like the ones we used for this article. Either way, give them a good scrub in hot, soapy water before using.
2. Add 2″ of damp organic potting soil or seed starting starting mix.
Microgreens will start taking in nutrition from the soil they’re grown in, so make sure they’re getting nutrition from biologically active, healthy soil. Put 2″ of organic seed starting mix or potting soil in the bottom of your container. *Don’t use garden soil or soil from your yard as it will likely be too heavy. (Here’s the seed starting mix we recommend if you’re doing a small batch or the potting soil we recommend if you’re planning to do larger batches.)
3. Densely sow seeds.
You’re not growing microgreens like you would regular garden plants, so completely ignore standard spacing instructions. When growing microgreens, put the seeds in densely, but not piled on top of each other.
4. Proper sowing depth.
Once the seeds are in, you do want to take note of the “sowing depth” instructions for the specific seed type. Some seeds may need to be buried 1/2″ deep and some might prefer to be surface sown. For seeds that need to be buried, put a layer of seed starting mix over the top of them to the appropriate depth.
5. Cover with vermiculite and lid. – Vermiculite is a common garden product made from silicate. It’s typically used to help soil hold onto nutrition and water (very helpful in potted plants and sandy soils). Since it helps hold water, it’s very helpful for seed starting as well.
Put a thin layer of vermiculite over your microgreen seeds to help maintain seed moisture – this will speed up germination. It will also help keep your microgreens cleaner as they grow. (You can order vermiculite here.) Also, to help keep the seeds damp prior to germination, put a lid or cover over your containers.
6. Mist, air circulation, and patience.
Place your unsprouted seeds in a temperature-controlled environment with good air circulation to prevent molding. Note that each different type of seed has differing: a) ideal germination temperatures, and b) days to germination. Don’t freak out when your radishes sprout within 24 hours but your basil and corn hasn’t shown any signs of life after three days. In fact, if you plan to start seeds regularly for your garden or for microgreens, you might want to get a heating mat for your warm weather varieties (amaranth, corn, basil, etc). Mist the soil surface once per day to maintain even moisture necessary for seed germination.
7. Germination: uncover and provide adequate light and water.
Woohoo! Your seeds have sprouted. Uncover them to allow for better air flow which will prevent fungal diseases like damping off. Your seeds will require light soon after germination. If you don’t have a DIY indoor grow light setup like we recommend, a really sunny south-facing window will suffice. Or if outdoor temperatures are in the range that’s ideal for the type of microgreen you’re growing, you can also grow them outdoors under the sun.
The more mature plants are, the more water they require, so soon after germination you’ll want to switch from a mister to something that can provide more water. A great DIY trick here is to punch or drill small holes in the lid of a water or soda bottle.
8. Harvest, rinse, serve.
Once your microgreens are ready to harvest (usually starting anywhere from 7-10+ days after germination), use scissors to cut them slightly above the soil surface. Put them in a colander and immediately give them a good rinse in cold water. Now they’re ready to eat!
Not going to eat your microgreens right away? Wrap them in lightly dampened paper towels inside a zip lock bag in the veggie drawer of your fridge for long-term storage, and they’ll last for over a week.
We hope this tip of the month will help you make good use of some of your extra seeds and take your homemade meals to the next level!