So seeing as I am all about jumping on bandwagons lately (previously it was the Bullet Journal bandwagon). I decided to delve into the (apparently) wonderful world of micro greens. From what I gather you dump in a sh*t ton of seeds and then end their lives before they have a change to become plants and give you veggies? Apparently this is a thing, and it is supposed to be good for you? So I started out with this little kit, and set about to see what all the fuss was about.
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Given my limited space for growing things, the more I can successfully grow inside and year-round the better! As I have mentioned before, I love living in Canada, but let’s be real. We do not have a very long growing season. So from a suburban homestead perspective micro greens fit the bill perfectly!
What are microgreens?
Microgreens are pretty much the seedlings of edible (safety first people) vegetables and herbs, and they are super popular at the moment. They are harvested right after the cotyledon leaves have emerged. If you are wondering what microgreens taste like, well they pretty much taste like an intense version of the plants they become. They also have the added benefit of being packed with nutrients, making them small but mighty!
So what exactly is all the fuss about? What exactly are the health benefits of microgreens? Well, compared to mature plants, microgreens are super heroes, as they can pack between 3-40 times the nutritional content. So you can see there is quite a range on the power they pack. But even 3 times more nutritional content is worth it in my books. That’s pretty crazy when you think about it!
They are packed full of antioxidants, and who doesn’t like those? There are all sorts of claims out on the internet about how microgreens can help fight heart disease and Alzheimer’s (because of their polyphenol content). Diabetes and cancer get a mention too because of the high concentration of antioxidants in these little guys. But in reality anything that gets more veggies into your belly is going to improve your health!
Microgreen vs Sprouts, what’s the diff?
While they are both small and not “real” plants there are still quite a few differences between microgreens and sprouts. So let’s take a look at the differences….
- Typically germinated in water
- They must be rinsed twice per day
- You eat the whole thing
- Very little light to nutrition needed
- Full of fibre, nutrients and protein
- Can be prone to bacterial growth
- Harvested within 4-6 days
- Common types: mung bean, radish, sunflower, pumpkin, chickpea
- Can be grown in soil or water
- Just the stem and leaves are eaten
- They need light and ventilation
- Can have more nutritional value than the full grown versions
- Harvested after 1-3 weeks, once first “true leaves” appear
- Common types: Kale, arugula, radishes, cilantro, basil, watercress, beets, boy choy, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, mustard, chia, sunflower or buckwheat
What do you need to get started?
Microgreens are perfect for beginners, especially if you pick up a little kit. I found mine on amazon, its not fancy or big but I like it, as an added bonus its made in Canada. Pretty cool eh? Seeing as I am just trying this for the first time, I liked this one as it has four varieties of seeds. So I can try them out and see if I am partial to any of them. Though I am pretty sure I will be testing out some cilantro and basil as they are my fave!
Some of you may be wondering if you can grow microgreens with regular seeds, and the answer is yes. Microgreen do not come from magical seeds, they are just regular seeds that you harvest super early. So if you have some seeds at home already you can totally use them up!
While it is possible to grow microgreens outside, for me the convenience is in growing them inside where I can keep an eye on them. I also like that I can pop them under the lights of my aerogarden to give them their best shot at greatness. But even a stand alone grow light would do them a world of good. They aren’t going to thrive under normal kitchen lights and they may get spindly. Whatever your light source, grow light or sunlight, just try and make sure they get enough. These little guys are going to need about 12-16 hours of light per day.
If you are planning to jump into microgreens hardcore then you may want to look into a growing rack. These babies can hold a sh*t ton of microgreens, and that’s not what I need but if its good for you then go for it!
I was curious if microgreens needed fertilizer and for me the jury is still out. They are not growing for very long and it will also depend on the type of plant and growing medium. Mine are doing fine so far on their grow mat without any, in future I may try adding a bit of the plant food that I use in my aerogarden. Nothing I love more than a hands on experiment.
If you are wondering what are the best microgreens to grow, it really is up to you. But if you really aren’t sure then a great starting point is a microgreens rainbow mix. It is a combination of a bunch of seeds which have a variety of colours. It can include such things as Kohlrabi Purple Vienna, Beet Bull’s Blood, Mustard Mizuna, Radish China Rose and Herb Pepper Cress.
If you are really gungho and want jump right in, you may want to consider getting some microgreen bulk seeds. There are loads of places to get them on the internet. I have been looking at Dam seeds, Veseys and Johnny’s Select Seeds. There are many other places I am sure, but these are just companies I have dealt with in the past and I liked them.
Soil or no soil?
So there are basically three main ways to grow microgreens.
- Soil-less medium
Each method has its own pros and cons, and even certain microgreens tend to do better in one versus the other. But ultimately it is about what works best for you. My method of choice was to grow my microgreens hydroponically, not in my aerogarden but in little trays. But let’s take a second to take a look at all three of the options.
Growing microgreens in soil
Soil based is definitely an option, and probably the most ‘normal’ from a traditional growing perspective. That said that doesn’t mean it is the best option. If you are going to use soil then make sure it is a quality planting mix. Make sure that it has good drainage, is loose and doesn’t have any big clumps in it. The soil will provide some nutrients that you don’t get with a soil-less medium so that is a definitely plus.
Make sure that you keep the top of the soil damp, but not wet. You don’t want your microgreens drowning. Another thing so be careful of is mold…yup mold. Gross I know, and not really healthy either, unless you start growing penicillin but chances of that are not high. So keep an eye out for any little nasties growing on top of the soil amongst your precious microgreens.
Growing microgreens hydroponically
So as I mentioned above this was my method of choice. Mostly because my little starter kit came with some coconut coir mats, which are cool because they are compostable after you done with them. Which is perfect as I will be putting mine into my compost tumbler so there is no waste!
This is probably one of the easiest methods for beginners as it is very easy, simple and clean. Basically all you need is a tray and a growing pad. Its is the pad that will suck up the water and act as a base for your seeds. Helping to keep them moist and give them something to root into. This method also allows you to harvest right down to the growing surface. As an added bonus the single use growing mats are considered amount the most sanitary ways to grow microgreens.
One negative to this method is that it isn’t ideal for larger seeds. This is because they typically need something covering their seed coat, to allow it to shed off and let the leaves emerge. That said, my kit did come with some pea shoots and it will try them next to see how they do.
Growing microgreens without soil
A good option between soil and growing hydroponically is using a soil-less medium. Basically this can be something like coco coir, vermiculite or peat. They provide a nice clean surface which is important, so you tend to avoid the mold issue that can crop up using soil.
Basically you will have to re-hydrate the medium as they tend to come in “bricks”. You can soak them in water and then add them to your growing tray and that is pretty much it!
So once you have your container, your growing medium and your desired seeds its time to get this show on the road!
Set out tray and fill it with the amount of water for your kit. Mine called for 1/3 cup for all the seed mixes, except for peas as they needed 1/2 cup. Leave it for a sec to soak up some water and then get your seeds out.
I decided to start with the “sweet greens” as they sounded mellow…lol and I mean who doesn’t like a little mini kale and broccoli?? Here is a closeup of the little buggers before they get their grow on.
Set the seeds aside in a dark room or cupboard for about 5 days. There is no need to water it during this time, just let them do their thing. One thing I will mention is don’t freak out if on day 2 or 3 you see what looks like white mold on the teeny tiny shoots. These are most likely just root hairs, I mention it as I was devastated when I saw them. But after a quick look on the internet I discovered all was actually well! Crisis averted.
You may be wondering how long you need to wait until you can harvest the wee beasties. Not to worry it won’t take long at all! It varies depending on the type of seed you have decided to grow, but on average you should be dining on Microgreens within 2-3 weeks! The key is to wait until the first set of “true leaves” make an appearance. After that its harvest time! Make sure you don’t let them get too tall, they should be harvested by the time they are 3″ tall.
If you are wondering why your microgreens are falling over, there could be multiple reasons. It is most likely due to some kind of unfavorable growing conditions. It could be low humidity, lack of light or temperatures that are too high for the little guys. Or maybe you just need to water them. I’m not going to lie, mine did fall victim to this the first time round. If you are growing them on coir mats with just water you have to make sure you don’t let it dry out (oops)…if you catch them soon enough they should bounce back.
Another issue you could encounter is the dreaded “damping off” which is typically caused by a fungal disease. It strikes after you have started your little babies, waiting patiently for them to grow into their nutritional packed selves. Only to helplessly watch them fail to sprout or turn into mush, crushing your micro farmer dreams.
You want to keep an eye out for any mold, especially if you are using soil as your growing medium. If you see something that looks like a spiderweb crawling across the surface of your growing medium, I hate to say it but you have mold. It tends to start in one spot and then spread everywhere, which is seriously bad news. Make sure that you don’t confuse mold with root hairs. They are white as well but they tend to be clustered around eat root, and these are just fine and nothing to worry about.
Are there microgreen health risks?
Microgreens are generally considered safe to eat, but as with anything, common sense is a must. Let’s take a quick look at some of the health risks that CAN be associated with growing microgreens. Though I should point out that in general, microgreens are considered safer that sprouts. This is due primarily to the fact that they require less warmth and humidity, and that only the leaf and stem are eaten rather than the seed and root.
But like with anything you plan to put into your body, make sure that you are getting your seeds from a reliable source. Also make sure that your growing mediums are sterile and free from any contaminants…pretty much make sure you know what’s in them. You don’t want any nasties like salmonella or e coli getting into your microgreens.
So if you still aren’t sure what I’m getting at, let me be clear eating microgreens can make you sick if you are careless. Nobody wants to get food poisoning from something that was supposed to make them healthier.
This is one of the main reasons for using a soil-less medium, or growing them hydroponically. Both dramatically reduces the risk of any salmonella or E. coli making their way in as they are inherently sterile as compared with using soil.
And don’t forget to wash your hands and your greens…
How to use them
Ok so you grew them, they survived and now you have no idea what to do with them. Not to worry, microgreens are very versatile. First up, make sure you give them a good wash and dry them off. Depending on how many you have you can either use a paper towel or a salad spinner.
I like to only harvest what I am going to use, this helps keep them at the tip top of freshness. I have heard that you can store any cut microgreens in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, but I haven’t tried it myself. If you do I’d love to hear how it works out for you.
Once you have them all washed up then you can easily add them to a sandwich or wrap for a burst of flavour. They can go into your morning smoothie, on top of your omelet or even on a pizza (I’m picturing a nice wood fired margarita pizza). My usage of choice is on top of your favourite soup, I love to put them on top of my roasted red pepper and sweet potato soup.
It is possible to cook with, dry and freeze microgreens, but it’s not something I would bother with. For me the benefit is in having them crispy and fresh, packing the most powerful punch they can. But if that’s your thing, then power to you.
So that’s it….everything I know about microgreens! I hope it helps and I would love to know how you grow your microgreens. Do you have a favourite growing medium or type of microgreens to grow?