Versatile and nutritious, microgreens are some of the easiest vegetables to grow.
Microgreens, those tiny, nutrient-packed seedlings, have gained popularity in recent years, and no wonder. With their intense flavors, vibrant colors and impressive nutritional profiles, microgreens pack a healthy punch while adding excitement to meals.
What are microgreens?
Young and edible, microgreens fall somewhere between sprouts and baby greens in the plant growth cycle. Typically harvested when the first true leaves emerge, microgreens have a concentrated flavor that adds a burst of freshness to dishes. Depending on the plant variety, they may be anywhere from two to four inches long once harvested.
While they may be small in size, microgreens are nutrient-dense, with levels of vitamins and minerals that often surpass mature plants. But their recent surge in popularity isn’t just down to the health benefits. Versatile and beautiful, microgreens are some of the easiest vegetables to grow. And you can cultivate them year-round: no need to wait for early spring for a balanced addition to your diet.
How to get started growing microgreens at home
Choose a variety
Each type of microgreen comes with its own flavor and nutritional benefits. Understanding the characteristics of different varieties will help you choose what aligns with your tastebuds and growing goals.
- Broccoli: Broccoli microgreens are a great choice for beginners. Easy to grow and ready in 7 to 14 days, they have a mild flavor, making them perfect for various dishes. They also contain high levels of vitamins and minerals.
- Radish: Radish microgreens add a bold, spicy kick to dishes. They grow quickly (5 to 7 days) and are suitable for those who enjoy a more assertive flavor. They’re also easy to cultivate, but attention to watering is crucial to avoid bitterness in the leaves.
- Sunflower: People love sunflower microgreens for their nutty flavor and crunchy texture. They’re fairly quick to grow (7 to 14 days) and are an excellent source of nutrients. To avoid mushy plants, ensure proper spacing during sowing to allow robust stems to develop.
- Pea shoots: One of our favorites here at Eartheasy! Pea shoots offer a sweet, delicate flavor reminiscent of fresh peas. They are easy to grow and require minimal attention, though they take slightly longer than some microgreen varieties (10 to 14 days).
- Cilantro: Looking for that fresh cilantro taste? Cilantro microgreens bring the citrusy flavor of cilantro in a compact form. They take a bit longer to grow (14 to 21 days) but are worth the wait. Pay attention to proper spacing and provide ample light for optimal growth.
- Kale: Kale microgreens offer a robust flavor. They require more attention during cultivation than some varieties discussed above, especially regarding light and moisture levels, but we think they’re worth it. Ready in 8 to 12 days, kale microgreens are an excellent choice for anyone seeking a hearty taste in salads and sandwiches.
Gather equipment and supplies
While you can toss a few seeds in a plant pot and hope for the best, you’re more likely to succeed if you consider the following factors:
- Growing trays: Choose trays with good drainage to prevent waterlogging. Consider options with lids to create a mini-greenhouse effect during germination.
- Growing medium: Which growing medium you choose depends on your preferences and available resources. Soil-based mixes are traditional and widely used, and we recommend this option if you’re just getting started. Choose a well-draining, sterile potting mix or create a custom blend with peat moss, vermiculite and perlite. Consider adding sterile organic matter or concentrated compost for added nutrients.
- Seeds: Buy high-quality, organic seeds from reputable suppliers. Ensure the seeds are grown for microgreens cultivation if possible, as they have unique requirements for optimal germination and may cost less than seeds marketed for mature harvest.
- Light source: Adequate light is key for healthy microgreens. If you’re growing indoors, invest in growing lights for year-round success. LED grow lights are energy-efficient and provide the necessary spectrum for robust growth. We recommend a grow light bar for even, adjustable exposure.
- Watering tools: Reliable watering tools, such as a spray bottle, watering can, or hose with a fine spray, are essential for maintaining proper moisture levels. Avoid overwatering, since this can lead to mold and poor germination.
Plant your seeds
Seed spacing is important when growing microgreens, especially if you’re growing indoors and want to prevent mold from developing. Check the requirements for your chosen varieties before planting. Scatter seeds evenly over the growing medium and press gently to ensure good contact and aid germination.
For very tiny seeds, consider using a repurposed salt shaker. Or mix your seeds with sand to make spreading easier. Mist the surface lightly to settle seeds into the growing medium and set them on their way.
Care and maintenance
Establish a consistent watering schedule to keep the growing medium consistently moist but not waterlogged. Water early in the day to allow excess moisture to evaporate, reducing the risk of fungal issues. Use a fine mist or a gentle watering can to avoid disturbing delicate seedlings.
Monitor moisture levels by checking the top layer of the growing medium. Water when it feels slightly dry.
Daily light requirements
Provide 12-16 hours of light per day for optimal growth. Don’t keep your lights on all the time. Instead, mimic natural day-night cycles to encourage healthy development. Where possible, use timers for consistent light exposure, especially in indoor setups.
Ensure proper light intensity by adjusting the distance between the light source and the microgreens. Observe seedlings for signs of stretching (leggy growth).
If stems appear long and weak, your light is likely too far away or not providing enough intensity for your seedlings. Adjust light height accordingly or choose a bulb meant for growing plants indoors. If your plants turn yellow, white, or appear crisp, your light may be too close.
Temperature and humidity
Maintain temperatures between 60-75°F (15-24°C) for most microgreens. Ensure good air circulation to prevent issues like damping off and mold.
If a problem develops, use fans to promote air circulation. During germination, consider a humidity dome, gradually removing it as seedlings emerge.
Troubleshooting common issues
While relatively easy to grow, microgreens are not immune to issues that can impact their development. Recognizing these challenges early is crucial for maintaining a healthy crop.
The bane of gardeners everywhere: damping off can affect any seedling, and appears as a shriveled, shrunken stem, usually at the base of the plant, that causes seedlings to fall over and die. Often accompanied by mold, it is caused by fungi and water mold species that thrive in excessive moisture and poor air circulation.
To prevent mold and damping off, ensure proper spacing between seeds during planting. Use sterile, well-draining soil or growing medium, and maintain good air circulation in your growing area. Additionally, avoid overwatering. If a problem develops, place a fan on low nearby to improve airflow.
To catch them before they do harm, inspect your microgreens regularly, especially on the undersides of leaves. Preventative measures, such as keeping your growing area clean and avoiding overwatering can help reduce the risk of pest infestations.
As noted above, leggy growth, characterized by elongated and weak stems, occurs when seedlings don’t receive enough light or when the light is too far away. To prevent leggy growth, ensure that your microgreens receive the recommended amount of light.
If using artificial lights, adjust their height to maintain proper intensity. Regularly rotate trays to promote even light exposure. Addressing leggy growth promptly is crucial, as it not only affects the aesthetics of the microgreens but can also impact their overall nutritional value.
Harvesting your greens
Seedling stage vs. true leaf stage
Microgreens are ready to harvest at the seedling stage, typically 7 to 14 days after planting, when the first true leaves emerge. Some varieties may be harvested slightly earlier for a more delicate flavor, while others benefit from waiting until the true leaves develop more fully for a stronger taste.
How to harvest
Using clean, sharp scissors, cut just above the soil or growing medium, leaving the roots intact. This allows for the possibility of regrowth for certain varieties. Be gentle to avoid disturbing adjacent microgreens if you aren’t harvesting the whole tray at once. Trim evenly across the harvest area, maintaining a consistent height.
Refrigerating your microgreens
Immediately after harvest, refrigerate your microgreens in airtight containers or silicone bags to maintain freshness. Most microgreens can be stored for up to a week in the refrigerator, although some varieties with higher water content, like pea shoots, may have a shorter shelf life.
To extend their lifespan and help maintain moisture, place a damp cloth in the container.
Using your microgreens
Microgreens add a burst of flavor, texture, and nutrition to salads and sandwiches. Toss a handful into your favorite salad mix or layer them in sandwiches to add texture and crunch.
You can also boost the nutritional content of your smoothies and juices by incorporating microgreens. Popular choices include kale, spinach, or broccoli microgreens, which seamlessly blend into your favorite beverage.
To enhance dishes with microgreen flavors, pair peppery arugula with creamy cheeses, or add cilantro microgreens to Mexican-inspired dishes. Beyond traditional uses, top pizzas with a handful of fresh microgreens after baking, or garnish soups and omelets just before serving. Microgreens also make visually appealing garnishes for a variety of dishes, adding both flavor and aesthetic appeal. Experiment with different combinations to elevate the overall taste of your favorite recipes.
Do you enjoy microgreens? Let us know how in the comments below!