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Learn how to grow microgreens to boost the nutrition in your food, make gorgeous plated dishes, and use up all those extra seeds you’ve been storing!

Last updated: May 1, 2019

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?

Radish microgreens we grew atop one of Chef David Porras's unknown but incredibly delicious concoctions.

Radish microgreens we grew atop one of Chef David Porras’s unknown but incredibly delicious concoctions.

What are Microgreens?

Once a seed germinates, it’s called a sprout. “Microgreens” 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. 

For a good visual, here are the edible stages of broccoli below: 

An example of edible stages of broccoli. The plant offers different colors, textures, flavors, and nutritional profiles at each stage.

An example of edible stages of broccoli, including the microgreen stage. The plant offers different colors, textures, flavors, and nutritional profiles at each stage. (*Note: days to maturity will vary depending on variety.)

Which plants produce edible microgreens? 

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 amazing 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, one such reason is: “I have tons of extra seeds that I can’t possibly grow to maturity in my garden within my lifetime.”

However, the primary reasons that people grow microgreens are for health and culinary reasons. That is to say, microgreens are both incredibly nutritious and they can add stunning beauty to a meal presentation. 

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. Interestingly, at the sprout and microgreen stages, the plant packs as much as 20x higher concentrations of sulforaphane than mature broccoli plants.

Why does this matter? About 600+ studies have identified sulforaphane as a potent anti-cancer compound.

Culinary Benefits of Microgreens

It's pretty exciting to see an amazing chef make one of his creations pop with microgreens you grew. Amaranth and beet microgreens on one of Chef David Porras's appetizers.

It’s pretty exciting to see an amazing chef make one of his creations pop with microgreens you grew. Amaranth and beet microgreens on one of Chef David Porras’s appetizers.

  • 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

How to grow microgreens by GrowJourney

Good news! Microgreens are very easy to grow.

Just follow these basic steps below and you can harvest your own microgreens in as little as 7-14 days, depending on how fast the seeds germinate and which varieties you grow.

Steps 1-6 below. We used old clamshell containers from the grocery store to grow this round of microgreens. Each container held a different seed variety that we labeled on the lid.

Steps 1-6 below. We used old clamshell containers from the grocery store to grow this round of microgreens. Each container held a different seed variety that we labeled on the lid.

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 or lots of different varieties, use old plastic clamshell container like the ones pictured in this article.

Either way, give the containers 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, sprinkle the seeds closely together on the soil surface, but not piled on top of each other.

4. Use proper seed sowing depth.

Once the seeds are sprinkled on the soil surface, 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 an additional layer of seed starting mix or potting soil over the top of them to the appropriate depth. For smaller seeds, we definitely recommend using the finer seed starting mix rather than potting soil (potting soil has larger pieces in it that could stung germinating seeds). 

5. Cover with lid. Vermiculite optional.  

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 any surface-sown 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.) Vermiculite is optional for more deeply sown seeds. 

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 un-sprouted seeds in a temperature-controlled environment with good air circulation to prevent molding.

Note that each different type of seed you’re growing into microgreens may have different ideal germination temperatures, and 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. Once germinated, uncover and provide adequate light and water.

Germination! Time to uncover them and get them into the light. Since the open lids on the clamshell containers made them difficult to fit under our grow lights, we cut them off and stuck them underneath the corresponding variety so we could remember what each variety was.

Germination! Time to uncover your microgreen containers and get them into the light. Since the open lids on the clamshell containers made them difficult to fit under our grow lights, we cut the lids off and stuck them underneath the corresponding variety so we could remember what each variety was. You can also use paint tape or seed markers to write down the seed variety so you don’t forget.

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.

Microgreens at various stages in their growth cycle. We grew radishes, sprouting broccoli, broccoli raab, corn, two different beet varieties, amaranth, and two different basil varieties. By far the fastest to grow were the radishes. We moved the basil and corn on to a heat mat to get faster germination.

Microgreens at various stages in their growth cycle. Here, we’re growing radishes, sprouting broccoli, broccoli raab, corn, two different beet varieties, amaranth, and two different basil varieties. By far the fastest to grow were the radishes. We moved the basil and corn on to a heat mat to get faster germination.

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!

9. Store.

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 article will help you make good use of some of your extra seeds and take your homemade meals to the next level!

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