What are they?
Microgreens are tiny plants. They are between sprouts and baby greens. Microgreens are not grown in water, like sprouts, but are actually grown in soil. They are loaded with flavor, nutrients, protein and vitamins. According to a 2012 research study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, “In general, microgreens contain considerably higher concentrations of vitamins and carotenoids than their mature plant counterparts…” I took a class on microgreens from our local Master Gardener group. We were told that they are 4-40 times more nutritious than their mature plants. Microgreens are easy and fast to grow, do not need a lot of space, and can be used in many ways.
How to use them
Microgreens can be added to salads, sprinkled on pizzas, used as a garnish, tossed into smoothies and even juiced. They are best (and most nutritious) when cut fresh right before using. The easiest way to harvest them is to grab a handful and cut them right above the soil level. Keep the soil in your tray of microgreens moist (not soggy) and keep them in a sunny spot. Sprouts have a very short shelf life once they are harvested (2-3 days). Microgreens, however, last several days or even weeks in the soil.
Best types of Microgreens
The best seeds to use for microgreens are: lettuce, arugula, radishes, beets, carrots, turnips, broccoli, cabbage, kale, peas, onions, lentils, mung beans and sunflower seeds. Do not use the seeds of fruiting crops such as squash, cucumbers or okra. Also do not use seeds from the nightshade family, including all peppers, tomatoes, white potatoes and eggplant. Whatever seeds you use, be sure that they are organic. You can buy small seed packets at Wal-Mart or the grocery store, or look online for larger quantity seed packets. Any seeds advertised as “sprouting seeds” should be suitable for microgreens. Seeds can be kept in the refrigerator or freezer to prolong their life. Also, if your seeds come in paper envelopes, be sure and transfer them to a jar with a tight fitting lid to keep any air out.
How to grow Microgreens
What kind of container?
Growing microgreens is easy, fast and fun. First find a container. I like to use the disposable metal pans with clear plastic lids that you can get at your grocery store. Whatever container you use, you will need to poke some drain holes in it. The disposable metal pans are great, because once you poke holes in the metal pan you can set the pan in the clear lid. This keeps water that drains out from getting on your counter. Once all the microgreens have been used, toss the soil (hopefully in your compost), wash the container and you can reuse it again.
How to plant
Next, you will fill the pan with ½ – 1 inch of organic soil.
Gently press the soil down and moisten it. I prefer to use filtered water, especially if your drinking water is fluoridated or chlorinated. Sprinkle your seeds across the soil, fairly densely, but not overlapping.
If you are using a larger seed, like beet, pea, or mung bean, you may want to soak the seeds over night in water before sowing to speed up germination. It takes about 1/4 cup of seeds to cover a 9″ x 9″ square pan. Next, you will want to cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil and place a moist paper towel over them. Continue to keep the paper towel moist and do not disturb them for 2 days (no peeking!). After two days, remove the paper towel and place the microgreens in a sunny, south facing window or under a grow light. I use a shop light that is hooked up to an automatic timer that stays on for 16 hours a day. You do NOT want to place your microgreens outside in direct sunlight as the leaves will burn.
Ready to harvest
Microgreens are ready to be harvested when they are about 2 inches tall. They will have cotyledons (the first set of leaves) and may have small, first true leaves. Harvested microgreens can be stored in the fridge for 2-3 days but will wilt quickly and are really better fresh. Once my microgreens are about 2 inches tall, I remove them from the grow light and keep them on my kitchen counter. I like to use a generous handful at a time, which is about one-fourth of a 9” x 9” square disposable metal pan. Talk about fresh! There’s nothing fresher than snipping off some tasty greens minutes before eating.
I hope you will give microgreens a try. If you’re not ready to take on growing them yourself, stop by the Plum Fabulous! Foods booth at the La Grange Farmers Market on Saturday mornings between 8 a.m. and noon to try some of ours.