It’s January, and all you garden lovers are probably wishing you could plant and thinking of your spring garden in a few months. Today let’s discuss winter gardening by growing microgreens, a popular addition to salads and dishes. They are sold at a premium price at trendy supermarkets. They are considered nutrient dense powerhouses with up for 40 times more nutrients than when the same seeds are allowed to grow to maturity. I’ve been buying them in the supermarket but would like to grow them. I thought you might like to know what I learned in my research.
What are microgreens?
Microgreens were first developed in the late 1980’s in California. They are not sprouts or even baby greens. Sprouts are germinated seeds without true leaves and are eaten whole. Sprouts are heavily regulated due to the high risk of microbial contamination. Baby Greens are 3″ to 4″ tall while microgreens are about 2″ tall. There is no legal definition of microgreens or baby greens. There are dozens of microgreens you can choose from offering a variety of flavors and colors to add to your dishes.
Relatively easy to grow and bursting with nutrients, microgreens can be a fun growing project in the winter. Most seeds require less sunlight than growing produce to maturity. If you have a bright windowsill or room for a grow light, then you can grow microgreens in your home this winter. Get the kids involved for fun family gardening.
There are dozens of seeds to choose from for growing microgreens as 80–100 different crop varieties have been reportedly used. You won’t typically find lettuces used for microgreens though, as they are a bit too delicate and wilt easily. The crops can be divided in to 2 basic categories: fast growing and slow growing.
Most microgreens are ready in 7 to 14 days. You’ll know they are ready when the first true leaves begin to grow. The information below was provided by University of Florida’s IFAS, (Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences):
Fast Growing Microgreens
- Red cabbage
- Chinese cabbage (Kogane)
- collards (Champion)
- cress (Cressida and Persian)
- hon tsai tai
- kale (Red Russion and Tuscano)
- mustards (except Red Giant)
- pac choi (Rosie)
Slow Growing Microgreens
- anise hyssop
- amaranth (Garnet Red)
- cutting celery
- lemon balm
- magent spreen
- marigold (Gem)
- mustard (Red Giant)
- orach (Ruby Red)
- pac choi (Red Pac)
- purslane (Red Gruner)
- salad burnet
- scallion (Evergreen Hardy White)
- shiso (Britton)
Some seeds benefit from soaking before planting: beets (24 hours), cilantro (2 hours), buckwheat (12 hours – rinse and drain seeds twice daily for 2 days), peas (8–12 hours), sunflower (8 hours), nasturtium (8 hours), popcorn (8 hours), winter wheat (8 hours).
How To Grow Microgreens
Microgreens require an optimal temperature of 65°-75° F, which is typically the temperature inside most homes. They need a decent amount of sunlight or you can use grow lights. Use a container that is 2 to 3 ½ inches deep, food grade, and sterile. If you grow your microgreens in small trays, you’ll need to harvest with scissors. They should be grown in standard, sterile, loose, soilless, germinating media. Ideal media for germinating your seeds includes peat moss, coconut fibers, shredded sphagnum (all three hold water well), vermiculite (which holds water and is lightweight), perlite (which is light with great air flower and drainage) or a combination of any of the above. The growing container should have holes to drain the water and a tray underneath to catch the water. The container is topped with a clear plastic lid to maintain heat and humidity. There are microgreen growing kits with medium and trays; some even have seeds.
- Fill the container with moistened medium (preferably organic) to a depth of 1 to 1 1/2 inch. Smooth and flatten the soil down with a piece of cardboard so the soil bed is flat and even, but not compacted.
- Sprinkle a generous amount of seed on top of the soil bed. A general rule of thumb for growing microgreens is to plant 10–12 seeds per square inch if seeds are small and 6–8 seeds per square inch for large seeds. Be sure to pre-soak any seeds that require it.
- Some seeds benefit from being covered lightly with media or fine vermiculite; this optional step is more important for larger seeds. Gently press the seeds onto the surface of the media.
- Mist with water and then cover them. Seeds may need some warmth to germinate; the temperature needs vary between seeds.
- Seeds that do not need a cover are broccoli, cabbage, lemon balm, mint, oregano, and thyme. Light cover works best for amaranth, arugula, basil, beets, chervil, dill, fennel, kale, mustard, pea, sage, shiso, sorrel, tatsoi, and wasabi. Cover is best for carrots, celery, Swiss chard, chive, cilantro, parsley, radish, sunflower, and watercress.
- Keep your trays covered and in a dark place for 4–5 days (or until seeds germinate). During this time, remove the cover and mist the seeds twice a day. The day after leaves emerge, remove the cover and move the tray to the sunniest location you can find in your home (the more sunlight, the better). Place your seeds in a south-facing window for best light and turn your container 180 degrees each day so that the entire tray gets sunlight.
- Watch your babies grow while you keep the soil moist and watered. Your microgreens will be ready in 7 to 14 days.
- Harvest by cutting them with scissors or an electric knife, about an inch below the leaves.The best time to harvest is at night or in the morning.
- They can be washed and used fresh or stored in the refrigerator in a plastic container; they generally keep for 5–6 days in the fridge. For best storage results, store microgreens in a container that has air holes.
How to Use Microgreens
Add microgreens to your salads or wraps for some extra crunch. They’re great blended into smoothies and juices as well. Wheatgrass and broccoli microgreens are especially popular for juicing, and they’re a healthy way to start off your day. You can sprinkle some as a garnish in almost any dish.
Try them on top of pizzas, soups, curries, omelets, stir fries, pasta, and other hot dishes.
I hope I’ve inspired you to use microgreens in your recipes and maybe even to try a small container of seeds on your windowsill. Here’s to your tasty, healthy meals!
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