Growing microgreens is a very profitable venture, whether it is for your own consumption or if you plan on selling them. Microgreens are plants that are harvested young and can be eaten whole from leaves to stems.
They are easy to grow and not demanding in terms of effort, space, and capital. It’s a fulfilling task that can give a sense of pride and accomplishment, as well as a practical endeavor that produces amazingly healthy foods.
Microgreens, in a nutshell, are young edible plants that are harvested when they are around 1-2 weeks old. They are rich in vitamins, minerals, and special phytonutrients that can reduce the risk of certain diseases and cancers.
While both sprouts and microgreens are edible, the two are very different in terms of the plant’s growth stages. Sprouts are fully germinated seeds, meaning the seeds have sprouted roots and shoots. During this stage, only the cotyledons have shown and there are no true leaves yet. Sprouting can be done just by soaking seeds in water and waiting for 1-2 days.
Microgreens are at the plants’ next stage of development. This is the part when the plant has both roots and its first set of true leaves. After soaking, you allow the seeds to actually grow on a medium such as soil and hydroponics. When the leaves appear and your plants have grown around 1-3 inches, your sprouts are now called microgreens.
Different Types of Microgreens
Microgreens come from different types of seeds. They are generally classified according to the plant family where they came from:
- Amaryllis – This is a group of bulbous plants that includes garlic, leek, and onion
- Apiaceae – Aromatic flowering plants such as celery, carrot, and dill belong to this group.
- Amaranthaceae – Spinach, quinoa, amaranths, and their numerous varieties belong in this category.
- Asteraceae – Vegetables such as lettuce, chicory, and endive belong in this group which is also known as the Daisy family.
- Brassicaceae – Also known as the cabbage family, these include broccoli, cauliflower, and radish.
- Cucurbitaceae – This is the gourd family which includes melon, squash, and cucumber.
Health Benefits of Microgreens
Microgreens are usually dubbed as “superfoods” because of their amazing health benefits. Here are their effects on our bodies:
Microgreens reduce the risks of cancers. They are rich with nutrients that help in destroying and flushing toxins in the body. If just allowed to accumulate, these toxins can cause cancers.
They help improve the health of your body organs in and out. With vitamins and anti-inflammatory properties combined, microgreens help improve the condition of your organs. They reduce the stress on your kidneys and liver in cleansing the body. They also help you in gaining a clear and glowing skin.
Microgreens are good for bowel movement. They are rich sources of dietary fiber. Besides sweeping your digestive system, they help promote regular bowel movement and prevent the feeling of being bloated.
The vitamins in microgreens make you feel happy and energetic. There’s a long list of vitamins present in microgreens but their richness in Vitamin B-complex is worth mentioning first. These vitamins are essential for metabolism, which can raise your energy levels and help you sustain it for longer.
They reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease. Microgreens have zero cholesterol. The mineral content of microgreens can help regulate and maintain healthy blood pressure to reduce the risk of stroke.
They help in maintaining or losing weight. Eating microgreens regularly is recommended for people who are trying to lose weight. They have very low carbohydrate content and it takes some time for the stomach to digest them, making you feel full for longer periods.
How to Grow Your Own Microgreens
Microgreen gardening is friendly for beginners. Perhaps some people won’t get it right the first time, but not a lot of resources and time would be lost in the remote case of failure. Trial and error are encouraged until you find your footing and improve your yield.
You can grow microgreen plants that are not native/endemic to your place. The good thing with this type of gardening is you work in small, controlled spaces. You create your micro-climate that is suitable for the seeds to grow, so the outside climate does not matter too much.
What Seeds Can You Grow as a Microgreen?
Testing a few plant varieties is encouraged before you double down on the number of seeds you’re buying. Here’s a list of seeds that are the easiest to grow, including some notes on their nutrient content and how to grow them:
Bok Choy – Also known as Pak Choi, this Chinese cabbage can satisfy 20-30% of your daily Vitamin A, B, and C needs. It is the second-best vegetable in terms of nutrient density, second only to watercress. It grows well on a hydroponic setup, germinates in 1-2 days, and can be harvested in 8-12 days.
Broccoli – This green plant from the cabbage family is a super-food in terms of fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. These do not need pre-soaking and they grow well on a hydroponic setup. They germinate in just 3 days and are ready to harvest after 8-12 days.
Brussel Sprouts – A member of the Gemmifera cabbage family, these leafy vegetable has really good protein and Vitamin C content. They don’t need pre-soaking and they grow very fast on a hydroponic setup. Seeds germinate in 2 days can be harvested after 8-10 days
Kale – Also a member of the cabbage family, Kale can provide as much as 200% of your daily Vitamin A needs. It also has Omega-3, a healthy fatty acid that’s good for the heart. It grows well on hydroponic like Bok Choy, germinates in 2-3 days, and can be harvested after 8-12.
Lettuce and its many varieties – Lettuce is densely packed with calcium, magnesium, potassium, and Vitamins C and K. They are also simple to grow on a hydroponic tray. There’s no need to pre-soak. Just let them germinate for 2-3 days and they can be harvested after 10 days.
Sunflowers – This microgreen is rich in selenium and Vitamin E, which are excellent antioxidants to deal with free radicals. These need an initial soaking of 8-12 hours. Afterward, they will be transferred to a colander to drain and mist 3 times a day until all of the shoots have sprouted. Germination time is 3 days and they will be good for harvesting after 8-12 days. They grow best on soil.
Wheatgrass – Another super-food, wheatgrass contains Vitamins A, B-complex, C, E, and K among 17 amino acids. The seeds should be pre-soaked no more than 8 hours, and they grow best on soil or hydroponic setups. They germinate in 2 days and can be harvested after 8-10 days.
That’s just to name a few plants that can be grown as microgreens. There are dozens more that can be grown similarly such as amaranth, basil, cilantro, celery, cauliflower, leek, peas, sorrel, mustard, and red clover among others.
The rule of thumb is smaller seeds usually require less pre-soaking time. There are also small seeds, particularly those in the cabbage family, that can be directly planted to the growing medium without pre-soaking. Small seeds grow well on hydroponic trays while bigger ones may require soil-based or soil-less media.
Steps in Growing Microgreens
Here’s a list of the materials that you need for starting up:
- Plant container / flat-bed tray
- Spray bottle for misting the plants
- Plant seeds
- Seed-raising mix or media for planting (soil-based, soil-less, or hydroponic)
- Humidity domes which are optional but recommended
- Markers for labeling plant types and dates
Meanwhile, here’s the summary of steps which will be discussed in more detail afterward:
- Prepare the space and environment for your growing trays.
- Prepare your growing medium.
- Pre-soak the seeds overnight.
- Prepare the container and add your growing medium.
- Sprinkle and gently press the seeds on top of your medium.
- Keep the trays in the dark and cover them with humidity domes.
- Mist the seeds as needed with slightly acidic water.
- Bring to light and expose to naturally circulating air when the seeds sprout.
Here are the steps again, with details and additional information that can help you when doing them:
Prepare the Space and Environment for your Growing Trays
You do not really need a garden to grow your micros. You can just clear an area in your house and you will most probably be good to go. Microgreens can grow indoors and outdoors, on a kitchen bench, on a windowsill, or on your balcony. The key here is to create a semi-controlled environment to achieve the best growing conditions for your greens. The primary factors to consider are temperature and lighting.
The seeds do not require direct sunlight at the sprouting stage but their most essential need is warmth. Warmth encourages the seeds to shed their coats and to germinate. Keeping the temperature between 50 and 85 degrees would be enough.
The plants will start needing sunlight after they are sprouted. Otherwise, their growth may be hindered and they may become pale.
Indirect sunlight works if you store your trays outdoors. If you plan to keep them indoors, you can use fluorescent or LED lamps to provide lighting once the leaves show up. Do not use incandescent bulbs since they consume much electricity and they can bake the microgreens.
Prepare your Growing Medium
Growing media is the general term for mixtures or surfaces where you will plant the seeds and let them germinate. Some of these are also known as seed-raising mixes which are available in most gardening stores. You can also prepare a mix on your own and have full control over selecting the ingredients.
There are generally three classifications of growing media. These are according to the primary components used in the mix:
- Soil-based mixes. This is the easiest type of medium to prepare because the ingredients are easily accessible. You need soil that has a good texture that drains well and does not compact easily. It should also be free of clumps and pebbles. Organic matter can also be added to the mix.
- Soil-less media. As the name suggests, these mixes do not use soils. Coco coir or coconut fiber is a common ingredient for this. Porous minerals such as bits of perlite and vermiculite are usually added to the mix as well since they are really good at moisture retention. Soil-less media is a good alternative for soil-based ones because the surface is much cleaner.
- Hydroponic. This is the easiest to prepare and the most beginner-friendly since you’ll use ready-made growing pads. The pads are usually made of organic wood fiber and are good at retaining moisture. The pads can be bought in bulk as well, so you’ll have one within reach after harvesting and you can immediately prepare your next batch.
So, which is the best medium to use for microgreens? There is no simple one-size-fits-all answer to this question since it mostly depends on the plant species you are growing.
For example, soil-based mixes can easily be prepared and are suitable for a lot of seeds. However, it is not ideal for species that grow with really short stems such as basil. They grow really close to the soil so harvesting can be difficult and dirt can get into the micros.
Hydroponic, on the other hand, is a really clean and easy-to-use growing medium. However, it is not suitable for bigger seeds since their surfaces require constant contact with soil in order to shed the seed coats. Soil-based mixes may be more appropriate for this scenario.
Pre-soak Seeds in Water Overnight
Soaking will accelerate germination and soften the seed coat, but this is not required for smaller seeds and most medium-sized seeds. The seeds that commonly need pre-soaking include peas, wheat, sunflowers, and mung beans.
Prepare the Container
Line the bottom of the tray with a moist Chux cloth to prevent the seed-raising mix from filtering through. You can also use moist paper towels instead of cloth. Then, put your choice of seed-raising mix on top of moist tray lining. Fill the tray evenly with 1-inch of growing medium
Sprinkle and Gently Press the Seeds
Generously but evenly spread the seeds on top of the seed raising mix. Press them down gently into the medium. This is to ensure there’s a good amount of contact between the seeds and the growing medium.
Keep the Trays in the Dark and Cover them with Humidity Domes
While not completely required, humidity domes are recommended for covering your microgreen trays over the germination period. Humidity domes are often made of clear plastic or acrylic, and using them to cover your seeds can help trap air moisture underneath its cover. Alternatively, you can stack the trays together to simulate a “moisture dome” effect.
The primary benefits of using humidity domes are accelerating the germination stage and cutting down of wasted seeds. Note that not all of the seeds will sprout among the hundreds that you sowed. Keeping a warm temperature and high humidity can significantly boost germination rates.
Another benefit of domes is that they provide physical protection for your microgreens. They seal the edges of your trays to keep pests such as bugs or mice away from your beloved seeds. In case you need to move your microgreens, like when selling it to a customer, humidity domes can protect them during transport.
Mist the Seeds as Needed with Slightly Acidic Water
Make sure to mist the seeds with a water spray bottle at least once a day. The key is to keep the seeds and surface of the growth medium moist but not wet. After the seeds have sprouted, you can continue spraying on them once or twice a day.
Water is used both in pre-soaking the seeds and misting them on the growing tray. Making water slightly acidic makes it conducive for seed germination and growth. That means the power of hydrogen (pH) should be between 5.5 and 6.5.
The neutral pH of water is 7.0, and a higher number means the presence of alkaline. This is not good for microgreens so the pH should be adjusted until it is around 6.0.
You can determine the current pH of your water by using litmus paper or one of those affordable testing kits from gardening or aquaculture shops. Add a few droplets of lemon juice and test incrementally until the desired pH is reached.
Bring to Light and Expose to Naturally Circulating Air
After sprouting and the first leaves have shown up, it is important to immediately expose them to light and proper air circulation. Doing this is essential, because bringing the sprouts to light too late may slow their growth and cause them to be leggy.
As mentioned earlier, indirect sunlight works for an outdoor setup. Trays that are kept indoors should be provided with fluorescent or LED lighting.
Now your hard work and patience have paid off. Most varieties should be ready for harvesting and consumption after 10-14 days from planting. At this point, they should have grown by a few inches tall depending on the species. You should usually harvest no later than the second week, since letting some microgreen types grow older will make their stems woody and inedible.
Use scissors to cleanly cut the stems above the soil and gently rinse the microgreens. For plants grown on a hydroponic setup, you can either cut them from the growing pads or just pull them out, then use a sharp blade to get rid of the roots.
Nutritional Contents of Microgreens
This page will not be enough to enumerate and discuss all the health benefits that microgreens can offer. To summarize, these superfoods contain a variety of nutrients, vitamins, and organic compounds that work together to make us healthier and more resilient to diseases. The nutritional value we get from them can be categorized into the following groups:
Also known as phytochemicals, these refer to the family of chemicals produced by plants. They have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, which helps prevent cancers and relieve pain respectively.
Our bodies have a natural line of defense against the buildup of free-radicals, such as the kidneys and liver that filters and expels toxins. However, these organs need to be helped to ensure that they flush the waste out more effectively. Microgreens are exemplary sources of phytonutrients that can help them out.
There is laboratory evidence that microgreens are rich sources of antioxidants. These are natural chemicals from foods that can help get rid of bodily wastes called free radicals. Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, and cauliflowers among microgreens are known to have higher antioxidant content.
Free radicals are waste molecules that our bodies release naturally at a cellular level. We also get free radicals from the environment, such as the food that we eat and from pollution. When they accumulate, they can cause damage to the cells and eventually develop cancers.
These are organic molecules that aid a wide range of body functions. Vitamins A, B-complex, C, and K among others can be found in microgreens in healthy doses. Vitamin protects the eyes for the age-related decline and promotes healthy skin among other benefits. On the other hand, Vitamin C boosts the immune system.
Microgreens are particularly rich with Vitamin B. B-complex vitamins refer to a family of organic compounds and amino acids that boost metabolism, promote cell growth and regeneration, and support neurological function. Amino acids that belong to this group also has antioxidant effects.
Lastly, Vitamin K helps the body create proteins for promoting bone health. It is also essential for healing wounds because of its ability to help blood clotting.
Dietary minerals are abundant in microgreens. These include calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Such minerals are essential for regulating blood pressure and for taking care of your internal organs such as the kidneys.
Microgreens are also superb sources of digestive enzymes. These are natural chemicals that aid metabolism by breaking down food and making them easily absorbable by the body. This means you can eat less and maintain weight, while your body becomes more efficient with converting food to energy.
US nutritionists have discovered that microgreens have a whopping 40-100 times the enzyme content when compared to their full-grown counterparts.
How to Include Microgreens in Your Diet
Microgreens are tasty and versatile ingredients that can be added to your daily diet. Most species offer unique flavors and aroma, making them perfect ingredients for main courses with sauces, or soups. To give you some idea:
- Salads – You are free to mix and match different microgreens and pour your favorite sauces. For example, you can mix sunflower, basil, amaranth, radish, and arugula microgreens. Then, whisk maple syrup and yellow mustard for your dressing.
- Juices – Among microgreens, wheatgrass and broccoli are the most popular ones for juicing. You can mix them with other vegetables or fruit extracts to create thick and healthy beverages.
- Sandwiches – You can add some crunch and character to your sandwiches by adding microgreens to them. Instead of putting full-grown lettuces to your turkey or lean meat sandwich, you can go for the microgreen version for a unique texture.
- Pasta – Aromatic microgreens such as basil are perfect for pasta. A recipe you can try would be zucchini noodles cooked in chicken broth, and then mixed garlic, butter, lemon juice, and arugula microgreens.
IMPORTANT! Some veggies should not be eaten as microgreens.
There’s indeed a wide variety of plants that can be grown and eaten as microgreens. However, there are few species that you should never eat in sprout or microgreen form.
Do not eat microgreens of eggplants, tomatoes, potatoes, and pepper. The stems of these nightshade plants may contain natural toxins, and they can make you really sick if you ingest them.
Being self-sufficient in growing healthy foods is no longer just a dream. Growing microgreens, either for your own consumption or for profit, is a low-capital venture that can be done on your backyard, balcony, or even indoors.
The rewards for harvesting, besides a sense of pride and accomplishment, are superfoods rich in vitamins and antioxidants. The health benefits include reduced risks of cancers and heart diseases. Growing microgreens stands as a truly productive and meaningful endeavor, especially in this modern world where we need to take greater care of our physical and mental wellness.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can microgreens be grown outside?
Yes, they can be grown outdoors year-round in places with milder climates. It can be difficult to grow them outdoors during winter, particularly in colder areas.
When should I water the microgreens?
Microgreens should be monitored everyday and should be misted 1-2 times every 24 hours. Use a spray bottle and do not pour water directly. The soil or growing medium should be moist but not wet or soggy.
Will Microgreens Regrow?
While not all microgreen species regrow after harvesting, many do and can be cut for a few times. Examples of those are beans, peas, and kale. It is recommended to cut just above the lowest leaf to increase the chances that they grow again.
This continues happening as long as there are nutrients left in the growing medium. If you plan on re-harvesting microgreens, you can consider planting them on larger containers such as pots.