Do you wish you could grow veggie plants in a tiny fraction of the space a normal garden takes? Then grow microgreens at home! It’s easy, and it doesn’t take much space.
Microgreens are growing increasingly popular in the world of fine dining, and for a good reason. Growers love them because they’re a year-round crop. This tiny micro wizardry of herbs and plants, not to be confused with sprouts, packs all the flavor of each fully-grown vegetable, and they can contain many times the nutrients. A true superfood!
Plus, they’re quick and easy to grow in just a few weeks’ time—perfect for any foodie or nutrition-minded plant lover to grow indoors and add extra texture and flavor to their cooking. No gardening experience necessary! Let’s dive into how to grow microgreens.
What Can You Grow As A Microgreen?
- Quick and easy to grow varieties for beginners: Radishes, broccoli family, pea shoots, chia seeds
- For spicy flavor: mustard flowers, arugula, radish, watercress
- For color: rainbow chard, red cabbage, beets, red mizuna, purple basil, purple kohlrabi
- Gourmet flavor Herb & Garnishes: herbs like parsley, basil, lemon basil, cilantro, celery
- Legumes (high in vitamin D): lentils, mung beans, chickpeas
- For health nuts: Spinach, kale, cauliflower
- For Juicing: wheatgrass, broccoli, kale
- Cheapest: Salad greens and are usually on the cheaper side.
- Mild flavor: Peas, lettuce, mache, sesame, spinach, kohlrabi
- Buckwheat, sunflowers, or other edible flowers
What Are Microgreens?
“Microgreens” are small vegetables harvested right when their true leaves begin to take shape. The most commonly grown microgreens include vegetables & herbs, edible flowers, and root vegetables, but the possibilities are endless! Microgreens have become a popular garnish for fancy dishes at restaurants since they add both visual appeal and a burst of flavor. They are also well known for their nutritional value and possible health benefits since they are packed with nutrients and antioxidants.
Have you ever considered the miracle of a seed? All the potential energy and nutrients for a full life of a mature plant are somehow stored inside a tiny seed. Like sprouts, microgreens make use of produce plants at their peak nutritional density, but there are a few differences.
Not many grocery stores have microgreens, and if you do find them, there will probably be just a few limited varieties. Leafy vegetables and other power greens are perhaps the most commonly seen, but there are all kinds of options for types of seeds to grow microgreens. But the good news is growing microgreens in your own home is more fun than buying them at the grocery store anyway!
What's The Difference Between Microgreens And Sprouts?
In a nutshell, sprouts are younger—they are only 2-5 days old when harvested. In addition, sprouts can have a greater chance of bacterial contamination due to their damp growing climate and reduced exposure to air.
Microgreens take between 7-20 days to grow depending on the type of crop. Sprouts do not need light or soil, versus microgreens which fair better and grow faster with grow lights (or sunlight) and some kind of a growing medium to help support a strong root system. All of these roots will be left behind when you cut and harvest your microgreens.
Many feel microgreens have more flavor than sprouts, making them a fun addition to sandwiches or other recipes. Indeed, if you’ve never had a taste of them before, you might be surprised how much flavor they have!
What types of microgreens are not safe to eat?
Tomato, eggplant, and peppers are not good for microgreens. If you’re uncertain, try searching “are ___ leaves edible.” Squash and pumpkin microgreens are said to have a somewhat bitter flavor.
Nutrition & Health Benefits: Which Microgreens Are Good For You?
Everyone knows that vitamins and minerals are essential for a healthy body, but it’s not easy to get as many as you need each day. Microgreens make it much easier since they pack so many antioxidants and vitamins into such tiny greens! One ounce of broccoli microgreens can have much of the same health value as about 20 ounces of ordinary broccoli.
It’s possible that freshness is one of the reasons for the increased nutrient density since the plants are still living just moments before you harvest and eat them. For most microgreens, the peak nutrient value is around day 6-12. One study found that microgreen lettuce had up to 9 times the mineral content of the mature plant.
Red cabbage microgreens are one of the most nutrient-dense choices for your diet and are said to have up to 40 times as much vitamin E and six times as much vitamin C compared to mature cabbage plants. Microgreens in general are an amazing source of antioxidants, which are said to help prevent cancer.
How To Use Microgreens
As some say, microgreens are like “vegetable confetti.” They’re an easy way to add extra color and flavor to almost any culinary dish, salads, sandwiches, or as a garnish—how about micro-basil on your morning avocado toast? Or a microgreen salad with some flower seeds!
Radishes and arugula are known to be a bit spicy in flavor as microgreens, so they’d be great on tacos or wraps. Even little melon or cucumber microgreens are said to have a hint of those flavors.
With microgreens, cooking isn’t necessary. It’s best to eat microgreens raw or as a garnish adding surprising and exotic flavors to anything from salads to soups or stir-fries.
Add a hint of sophisticated flavor. Microgreen herbs and other aromatics like celery and onions provide a milder, more delicate taste of their mature plant counterparts.
This page has some fun and unique recipes to spark your creativity!
Supplies You Need To Get Started
Microgreen supplies may seem intimidating at first, but chances are you already have some of the necessary tools around the house.
- Spray bottle or mister—A watering can will disrupt germination too much.
- Kitchen scissors to harvest your microgreens.
- Growing trays, shallow containers or microgreen trays
- Soil, substrate, or growing medium
- Garden seeds
- Grow lights or a bright windowsill
- A heating pad or warming mat (Optional)
The heating pad isn’t necessary for most microgreen seedlings. Some growers place one under the container trays to speed up the growth of the germinated seedlings. Home temperatures between 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit should be fine.
Sourcing Seeds From Seed Companies To Grow Microgreens
Microgreen seeds are no different from any ordinary type of organic seeds—any plant that has edible leaves will do. Because you will have to plant the seeds densely using many microgreens seeds, it’s best to buy in bulk to save money! As you can imagine, regularly sized gardening packets will not get you very far.
The heirloom lettuce and leafy greens pack from NatureZedge is a great bulk option for microgreens since it contains more than 3500 seeds. You can also grow microgreen herbs or sunflower seeds if you like a little more flavor and unique textures!
Choose A Substrate Or Growing Medium
There are several types of substrate (growing media) you can use for growing microgreens at home. Whatever you choose, try to make sure it’s sterile to avoid mold or fungal growth.
Some people choose to use ordinary soil or potting soil since it is the cheapest. If you use potting soil, sift it through some fine mesh to ensure there are no large chunks or wood chips. You should also try to ensure it is sterilized by baking it, heating it, or leaving it in the hot sun under clear plastic wrap. Water as often as needed typically every day and check the soil moisture.
Coconut coir is a cheap and sterile choice, but it doesn’t have the nutrients that soil does. This is easily fixed by adding diluted fertilizer or hydroponic nutrients when you water your microgreens. Like soil, though, it can be messy if you’re not careful. You can buy coco coir online in lightweight dehydrated blocks that can ship to your home. Vermiculite is another granulated substrate some growers use.
A microgreen grow mat makes the neatest and cleanest harvesting experience. This method is considered hydroponic and may require a small number of fertilizers for best growth. Grow mats are commonly made from hemp or coconut fiber, and seeds are sown on the surface of the mat. Hemp tends to hold water more than coconut fiber, so it is a good choice to keep seeds moist in lower humidity areas.
However, coconut fiber provides better drainage if you are looking to prevent mold and fungal growth. Unfortunately, hydroponic grow mats cannot be reused for microgreens due to possible mold problems, but they can be added to your compost.
You can find a more in-depth analysis of all the different growing media here: Best Growing Medium For Microgreens – GroCycle
Shallow growing trays work best to grow microgreens—only 1-2 inches deep is fine. Some tray containers have drainage holes in the bottom; some do not. If your growing tray or saucer does not have drainage holes, just make sure the soil or substrate doesn’t stay too soggy.
As long as you sterilize your container before planting, you can even get creative and grow microgreens in a clean takeout box or another upcycled shallow container like I did!
Natural Light vs. Grow Light For Microgreens
If you want your microgreens to sprout and grow healthy and strong, it’s important to give them plenty of light to boost seed germination. It’s possible to grow in a sunny windowsill without a grow light, but the seedlings will be more likely to grow a couple of inches tall, too skinny, and flop over instead of forming a nice, dense carpet. A South facing window is generally the optimal amount of sunlight you will need—an east or west-facing window is the second-best option for growing microgreens.
When growing microgreens under a grow light, most growers recommend 12-16 hours of light in a 24 hour period. Fluorescent tube shop lights or LED lights work fine. Place the light fixture just about as close to the top of the seedlings as possible without burning them or making them too warm.
How To Grow Microgreens At Home
Step-By-Step Instructions To Growing Your Own Microgreens
It only takes a few steps to start a micro garden, some seeds, and a short amount of time to get from germination to harvest!
1) Sterilize & Prepare Materials
Before you begin, sterilize your potting mix or growing medium as well as your growing trays or saucers to help keep your baby greens healthy and clean. Soil, for example, can be baked for a while or heated in the sun under a plastic cover for several days. For a mat or other growing mediums, if they’re not sterile already, I’d suggest soaking or spritzing hydrogen peroxide or water with a tiny amount of bleach. Another alternative is to boil or use a pressure cooker for sanitizing, assuming your materials can handle the heat!
If using potting soil or coco coir, get it wet, and spread and press it by hand into the bottom of the growing trays so that it is smooth and flat with as few indentations as possible. Ideally, the soil line should be a bit below the edge of the tray for harvesting microgreens more easily.
2) Preparing Your Seeds
Microgreen seeds are often sown on the surface of the soil or substrate rather than below. Because of this, one of the tricky things about growing microgreens is making sure that the seeds stay damp enough to sprout especially if you have large seeds such as sunflowers.
Before planting, large seeds (like peas, sunflower, or nasturtium) must be soaked for approximately 6-12 hours to improve germination. Hard seeds like wheatgrass or other grains sometimes need to soak even longer. This soaking allows them to absorb the water they will need. Tiny seeds like lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, and kale should not need to be pre-soaked unless you have trouble with germination. Medium-sized seeds like beets, spinach, and chard would do better with some soaking time also.
Carefully scatter seeds evenly-spaced across the soil surface. Both larger seeds and smaller seeds should be sown approximately ⅛”–¼” apart. Exact spacing depends on the size of the crops you are growing. You want them to be pretty dense but in a single thin layer with enough space for the tiny plants to not overcrowd each other.
Once you are satisfied with the planting density, gently press or pat the seeds into the top of the soil and mist them well with your spray bottle. Remember, seeds do not need light until after sprouting. It’s not necessary to cover with soil, although with larger seeds, it may help. Make sure to mist the soil and seeds with water with your spray bottle as needed to keep them moist.
A dark and damp environment encourages germination, so it’s helpful to cover the seeds with wet paper towels, another tray, or a piece of foil or cardboard pressed lightly against the top of the soil surface. In addition to keeping in moisture, this slight pressure or weight also helps encourage strong roots. Once the germinated seeds growing, the cover will start to lift slightly, and lids can be removed to allow light to reach the baby greens. You can keep the plants in the dark for a couple more days to help the stems grow longer and make them easier to harvest later on.
If your dry environment is an issue, you can use a clear container to make a mini-greenhouse, but as the microgreens mature, airflow is important also. Many growers use a light fan to improve stem strength.
Tip: If you keep your house temperatures below 60 degrees, you may need to use a heating pad under the germination trays before they sprout.
3) Water daily
Aside from light and minimal watering, you won’t need to spend too much time and maintenance to grow microgreens. Once your seeds have sprouted and started to grow upwards (a handful of days after germination), you should set them in a sunny window or turn on their light.
Before removing the lid, check that the roots have grown down into the soil or substrate. It’s normal for newly sprouted greens to be pale or yellow at first due to lack of light. You may also see tiny white root hairs—this is normal, not mold.
If needed, gently brush off hulls as the little plants start to lift their tiny heads. To keep stems healthy, many growers switch from using a mister to watering from below the greens. Some grow trays have holes so that you can place them in a matching saucer tray full of water to soak up needed moisture, then be drained. If the tray does not have holes, add water at the corners. Roots and substrate should be damp but not overly saturated or soaked.
If using a mat or another of the hydroponic type methods, add some diluted fertilizer to the water. You will need to add water at least one time per day, and you may have to increase the amount of water as the plants grow and get closer to maturity.
How To Harvest Microgreens
With your growing tray on a steady surface, gently grasp a clump of microgreens with one hand and snip the stems (above the soil line) with clean, sharp kitchen scissors. Try not to get dirt on your microgreens while harvesting because cleaning them can be very tedious!
Washing microgreens is not usually necessary, and it’s best to avoid it if possible to prolong the shelf life of harvested greens. If you must rinse them, you can use a salad spinner to remove excess moisture before you store them in a plastic bag or container in the fridge. Place a piece of paper towel in the bag or container to absorb excess moisture.
For peak flavor and freshness, though, it’s best to eat your microgreens right after you’re ready to harvest them since they have a limited shelf life.
Now that you’ve got a taste of gardening with your micro vegetables at home, why not try expanding your indoor garden project? How To Start An Indoor Vegetable And Herb Garden
When To Harvest Microgreens
The best time for harvesting microgreens really depends on the particular varieties of microgreen crops and is partly up to your choice. The typical rule of thumb is that microgreens are ready to harvest at 1-3 inches tall once the seed leaves (cotyledons) have matured and the first set of real leaves begin to develop. Another crop, like peas, might need to grow a bit longer. Most importantly, harvest when the plants are still tender and are the size that you prefer.
If you’re not ready to eat them all, you don’t have to cut microgreens and store them. Once they reach maturity, they usually won’t mind if you store them in the fridge for a bit while still living.
Common Questions About Growing Microgreens
Microgreen Mixes-Is It Okay To Mix Different Microgreens In One Tray To Get A Unique Variety Of Flavor?
Sure! But try to use veggies that are within the same general family or seed size and have the same germination and growth rate so that they don’t end up competing with each other. For a fun look, you can use a cookie cutter when you scatter seeds to separate different colors of plants and create a colorful shape in your growing trays.
Do Microgreens Regrow After Cutting?
Most microgreens do not regrow after harvest because the growing tip is cut off. Wheatgrass is one of the few that can regrow if you don’t cut it down too low—just like the grass in your lawn can regrow. You can experiment and try to trim the greens above the central growing point and see if they might regrow for you. But if you cut the stem closer to the soil level below the base of the first set of true leaves, chances are, they will not regrow.
Help, I Have A Mold Problem! Here's How To Fix Mold Issues With Microgreens
If you have a problem with mold or seedlings turning brown and dying, try the following adjustments:
- Use less water
- Use a fan to provide a gentle breeze for your greens.
- Use better quality soil or growing medium and sterilize it better.
- If necessary, spot treat with a spray of hydrogen peroxide or diluted grapefruit seed extract.
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