Microgreens are one of the hottest trends in the culinary world today. They look fantastic, taste amazing and add a super nutritious boost to your diet. Growing your own is a very simple process. Follow these basic instructions for growing microgreens indoors, and in a matter of days you can have fresh, nutritious and tasty additions to your salads, sandwiches, smoothies, stir-frys and more!
Step1: Gather Your Supplies
There are only 6 absolutely-must-have items to grow microgreens – and 3 of them are water, air and daylight! There are also a few optional items you may want to consider in order to give yourself the absolute highest chances for success. These 6 items are
- a container
- soil or growing mat (if growing hydroponically)
Step 2: Prepare Your Container(s)
If you are using a recycled container of any kind, you are going to want to clean it thoroughly before using it to plant your new batch of microgreens. Whether it is an actual seed tray that you have grown some other kind of plant in before, or an empty salad container that you are keeping out of the landfill, a thorough cleaning will ensure that you are giving your little plant babies the best start in life without any risk of fungus or other disease causing organisms.
Once your container is clean, it is time to add the growing medium. If you are growing microgreens in soil (or coco-peat or similar material) it is recommended to pre-moisten the soil or growing medium first before putting in container. We’re not making mud here; we just want it so that the soil and seeds don’t get washed away when we apply our first watering.
If you are planning to grow your microgreens hydroponically, you will be adding water directly to your container and then inserting your growing mat. The amount of water will vary according to the size of the container and the type of growing mat, of course. If your growing mat came with instructions, defer to those. If not, then you want to put enough water so that the growing mat, once inserted, soaks up most of it. One method is to add enough water to the container that when you stick your fingertip into the water, it comes to the top of your nail bed.
Step 3: Plant Your Seeds
Now it’s time to actually sow your seeds! Yay!
[First, however, a word of caution. Just about any garden vegetable or herb for which it is safe to eat the leaves can be grown as microgreens. There are some garden vegetables though, that have toxic leaves (such as potatoes, peppers and rhubarb.) DO NOT ATTEMPT TO GROW THESE TYPES OF PLANTS AS MICROGREENS! If you are not sure if the seeds you have are safe to eat as seedlings, do not proceed until you are sure.]
A handful of seed types do best if they are pre-soaked for a few hours. (This is typically the case with very large seeds such as peas, sunflowers or buckwheat.) For most seeds, this is not necessary. Spread the seed heavily on top of your pre-moistened soil or hydroponic growing mat within your container or seed tray. If you have ever started other vegetables from seed, but not harvested them as microgreens, you may be surprised at just how heavily you want to sow them. Avoid having them bunch up, but aim for at least 50% of the soil or mat to be covered.
Step 4: Water The Seeds
Once they are sown, water the seeds thoroughly by misting them with a spray bottle or gently drizzling them with water from a watering can or even a recycled water bottle with holes poked in the lid. Be sure to be gentle so that you do not wash your seeds away with too forceful a stream of water.
The final task in plating your seeds is to cover them. Plants grow in light, but seeds germinate (best) in darkness. You can cover your seeds with a light layer of additional soil (if you are using soil.) If you are using seed trays, you can cover one tray with one or more others nested right on top of each other. You can also over your seeds with paper towels (or lightweight cloth towels if you avoid disposable paper products.)
An optional task some people like to do at this stage is to label your trays or containers. If you are only growing one type of seed this may not be necessary; but if you are growing multiple batches of microgreens, it might be a step to consider. Microgreens are harvested when the plants are very young, and at this stage many of them look similar. If you don’t want to worry about remembering which seeds you planted in which tray, labeling is the answer.
Step 5: Check, Mist & Wait
Germination (the sprouting of a seed) times vary amongst different types of plants, from a few days to more than a week. Room temperature is a factor. Seeds will germinate faster in a warm room than in a cold room. The package in which your seeds came should have an estimated number of days for germination printed on the label. Check your seeds daily and mist them (as needed) to keep them moist. Once the seeds have sprouted (i.e. their root tails have emerged,) then move on to the next step.
Step 6: Uncover Your Now-Sprouted Seeds
Your seeds have successfully germinated and they are ready to grow. Now is when they need daylight (or its equivalent.)
Uncover your containers and place them on stable, flat surfaces in a location where they will get plenty of daylight, for example, a wide windowsill or shelf in front of a sunny window. If you do not have a sunny window available, you can alternatively grow your microgreens with grow lights.
Step 7: Keep Checking Daily
Water as needed to keep the soil or growing mat moist, but not water-logged. [A comparison of top-down versus bottom-up watering methods will be covered in a future article.] Check your plants daily to make sure that mold or other fungus is not developing. If you have a small fan available to keep the air well-circulating, this can help with this problem.
Microgreens grow very fast, and their flavor profile changes each day as they reach maturity. Once your microgreens have established their roots and put out their first set of “leaves” (these are not true leaves, but rather are known as cotyledons,) you can begin tasting them to find the stage of maturity that you like best. Some people like to harvest at this stage, while others prefer the taste that develops after the “true leaves” emerge.
Step 8: Harvest
Carefully harvest your microgreens using either scissors or a sharp knife, cutting the stems just above the root line. If grown in soil, make sure that no soil is stuck to the bottoms of the stems in order to avoid food contamination. The “root mat” that is left behind with the soil can be composted or fed to chickens. Some varieties can even be stuck back in the sunny window to grow a (usually smaller) second harvest! If you have grown your microgreens hydroponically, your growing mat may or may not be compostable or reusable, depending on the brand and type. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
If properly stored, microgreens can last for as long as a week (or in some cases even two) in your refrigerator; but they are at their peak, both nutritionally and culinarily, when they are freshly harvested. That is one of the top advantages to growing your own microgreens – they are as fresh as you can possibly get! What are you waiting for?
***Have I left anything out? If you have experience growing microgreens, or even starting seedlings indoors for later transplant, please share the steps you use that have given you success in the Comments section below!***