Hop on the couture train by growing fresh microgreens at home. You want to get the nutritious content of Brussel sprouts without pulling a face. Most of the Brassica family can be grown as microgreens, with all the nutrients you need as the best garnish or salad addition.
Some of the first things to pop into your head will be the following, so let’s quickly answer them before we start planting.
- What are microgreens?
Microgreens have no legal definition, but most purveyors will acknowledge young seedlings grown in a medium, with light, for 7-28 days as microgreens. These microgreens will have at least one set of leaves with the shoot and leaf seen as edible.
- Is there a difference between microgreens and sprouts?
Sprouts consist of a germinated seed that only requires water and no light (unlike microgreens which have started to photosynthesise). The entire root, seed and shoot are considered edible. Sprouts have a shorter harvesting time and do not contain leaves.
- How nutritious are microgreens?
A 2012 publication examined the nutritional content of 25 commercial microgreens in comparison to USDA National Nutrient Database averages for mature leaves. It showed that the microgreens had higher nutritional content than the mature leaves (1).
- Are there any risks to growing microgreens?
Vendors have noted that Salmonella and Listeria contamination can be a problem, especially if stored inappropriately. It is best used fresh.
Growing microgreens at home
Microgreens are the ideal starters for beginner gardeners. It is an easy way to get the hang of seed-starting an edible crop. Most beginners will struggle to get seedlings hardened off for planting outside, so microgreens offer a foolproof way.
Here's what you will need to get started:
- Seedling mix, Coco coir or a hydroponic wicking medium. Pre-moisten soil before you pack it into the tray.
- Water. Mist after sowing and enclose the container.
- Fertiliser. It is often not required, but light fertilisation of 80 ppm nitrogen can be applied by bottom soaking but is not necessary unless the medium is inert e.g. coco coir or rock wool.
- Seeds of your prefered crops. See the section below for crops that can be grown as microgreens.
- A waste container with air holes or a propagation dome.
Make sure to leave a 2 cm gap between the growing medium and the top of the container so as not to get soil on the greens when harvesting. Pack them down by placing a container onto of the soil and lightly pressing down. Do not stress about the density, you can sow them as densely and haphazardly as you like. It is kid-proof so rope them into it!
Sprouts differ from microgreens as they do not require light or even a growing medium.
Seeds for microgreens
It might seem like an odd question, but I often get asked which seeds make for good microgreens. I start by asking what you will use it for. A chef would want a microgreen with colour and unique taste. If you are growing it for yourself, then you dictate what you grow. Any edible crop seed will work including leftover lentils or lettuce seed.
My advice is to experiment with vegetables you would not normally eat. Maybe Brassicas like Brussel sprouts, cabbage, radish, kale or wasabi to start with. These vegetables contain varying degrees of macro- and microelements that will keep your family healthy (without pulling a face).
Some crops to use:
Some seeds will germinate quicker if they have some pressure (place a tray onto the soil) while others will require you to soak them for 4-8 hours before planting.
A quick guideline for some of the commonly used varieties:
- Seeds that require soaking:
Wheatgrass and Sunflower
- Longer germination times:
Chives, Sunflowers, Micro-carrots, Dill and Celery.
- Higher carotenoid and glucosinolate (antimicrobial) concentrations
- Brassicas e.g. Radishes, Broccoli, Brussel sprouts.
Most microgreens can be grown hydroponically, but the easiest way to do this at home is to grow in a seedling mix or coco coir. Remember that if you stagger your sowings (seed trays 3 -7 days apart), you will have a harvest over a longer period.
Harvest and storage
Microgreens are ready to harvest as soon as the first leaves have established. It is not necessary to harvest all at once as harvested greens deteriorate very fast.
Tip | Harvest what you need and keep the rest in their trays till you need them.
The average time to harvest can be as short as seven days or as long as 28 days. Some of the fastest growers are wheatgrass, but no matter the time, it is advised that microgreens are used as soon as possible. Due to their delicate nature, they do not store for long periods. So always stagger your plantings so you will have a harvest every few days.