The following 101, on growing microgreens, comes from Kathryn Donovan of High Mowing Organic Seeds, a HOMEGROWN member in excellent standing. Check out High Mowing’s website for more on the farm-based seed company located in Wolcott, Vermont. Thanks, High Mowing, and please keep the good ideas germinating!
As soon as the temperature starts to rise, the thought on everyone’s mind here at High Mowing is: Spring! Spring! Spring! I find it awfully easy to get caught up in garden planning, and balmy temperatures in the 50s can make it all seem so close! But Mother Nature seems to get us with that trick every year, so I have to remind folks that, if they live anywhere like Vermont, it’s going to still be a couple of months, not weeks, before we eat anything out of the field. Go ahead and groan. I just did. But rest assured, I would never broach the subject if I didn’t have a solution to suggest: microgreens!
So, you wonder, what are microgreens? Aren’t they just sprouts? The main difference is that microgreens, unlike sprouts, are grown in soil, and they are allowed to mature to the point of having their first “true” leaf. If you harvest them at the ideal time, you’ll end up with a pile of cute, delicious, mini plants that you can eat in a sandwich, use to garnish your soup or crudités, or just pile in a bowl and toss with a light dressing!
In short, I get crazy about microgreens. I mean, how can you not? They’re delicious, packed with nutrients, and cute as a button. Depending on where you decide to grow them and what seeds you choose, microgreens are typically ready to harvest in one to two weeks. That’s plenty of time to give them a try while your outdoor greens are still a twinkle in your eye.
HOW TO GROW MICROGREENS
We’ll start with organic Cherry Belle radish seeds because they’re big, fast-growing, and tend to have a high yield. That said, you can grow all kinds of varieties of microgreens; more on that below. I recommend growing three or more varieties (in separate trays since they grow at different rates), which you can then harvest and mix together. In my opinion, microgreens lend themselves to mixing!
» Seed-starting station (Check out the Seed Starting 101)
» Open flat with drainage (or something else to plant in; HOMEGROWN member Mary recycles plastic berry containers like the one pictured at right)
» Open flat without drainage (or something else to use as a saucer that’s large enough to set your planting container in)
» Propagation dome (if you go Mary’s route, this could be the other half of the plastic clamshell)
» Potting mix
» Organic microgreen seeds
» Heat mat (optional)
» A sharp pair of scissors
WHAT TO DO
Spread enough moist potting mix in an open flat with drainage (or another container) to fill it about 1 inch full. With your hands or a board, press down gently but firmly until you have a smooth surface.
For Cherry Belle radish seed*, measure 2 to 2 1/2 Tbsp of seed and, using a fluid motion, shake it gently to cover the soil surface uniformly. Gently and evenly press down once again to embed your seeds in the soil.
Take paper towels and cover the surface of your flat with a single layer, making sure to tuck the towels into the corners. This acts as soil would but has the added benefit of keeping the plants much cleaner and easier to maintain. Put the seeded flat into the open flat without drainage (or whatever you’re using as your saucer). Water well and then cap with a propagation dome (or other clear lid), and put the nascent microgreens in your seed starting station, preferably on a heat mat.
Monitor your trays closely. When the paper towels start to get dry spots, it’s time to water again. Your microgreens should germinate in a few days. When they do, remove them from the heat mat, if you’re using one.
Once the seeds have started to push the paper towel up off the surface, and when the towel is moist but not wet, gently check to see if you can pull the towel off without pulling the plants with it. If they start to come up too, it isn’t quite. Just tuck them back into the flat and leave them for one more day. Once you remove the towel, watch your microgreens grow!
Keep the soil moist and ensure that the microgreens are getting enough light; they can get leggy if they aren’t. When the microgreens have their first true leaf, it’s time to harvest them. (If you just can’t wait, you can harvest them when they only have their cotyledons.
*Keep in mind that the amount of seed needed can vary significantly. For most brassicas, I would suggest 1 Tbsp of seed per flat to start. You want the flats flush with greens, but overseeding can cause uneven growth and stunted microgreens. You’ll get a better sense of the amounts you need after you’ve grown a couple flats.
HOW TO HARVEST MICROGREENS
I like to harvest when the soil is moist but the plants are no longer wet, which makes it easier to keep a hold of your greens as you cut them. To harvest, take your sharp scissors, gently grasp a handful of microgreens in one corner of the flat, and snip toward the base of the plant but high enough so that you don’t accidentally get soil on the tip of your scissors. If the greens are leggy, you’ll want cut a little higher up.
Cut all varieties of greens that you want to mix together and toss your handfuls into a salad spinner. Fill with water, swish, and spin dry! Enjoy!
EXPAND YOUR MICRO REPERTOIRE
If your first attempt leaves you intrigued, check out High Mowing's microgreens page for more types to grow. Or, for a good five-variety starter mix, seed one tray each of:
» Cherry Belle radish: Provides high yields and is a good base to for any micro mix
» Tat Soi: Dark green with tiny round leaves
» Red Giant mustard: Adds some color and rounds out the flavor nicely
» Red Russian kale: Adds a nice light purple—plus it’s fun to find quarter-inch kale leaves in your salad!
And I love mixing together any of the following microgreens, which offer different colors, weights, textures, and tastes: kale, kohlrabi, broccoli, purple and green cabbage, Napa cabbage, arugula, mizuna, Asian greens, mustards, radishes, and turnips. Don’t be afraid to experiment!
MORE FROM HOMEGROWN
• For more on watering microgreens and how much is too much (or too little), check out this past HOMEGROWN discussion.
• HOMEGROWN member Christy, an earth mama and former professional chef from Montana, is the proud tender of those microgreens pictured up at the very top and at left. “We grow them year-round in our house, on a south-facing wall,” she writes. “We put them in everything, from sandwiches to soups to smoothies. Microgreens have about 50 percent more nutritional value in them, because of how small they are and how many you get in one serving. Bonus is that my weeder-in-training loves them, too.”
• Thanks to HOMEGROWN member Mary for her fabulous step-by-step photos included in this 101. “After 6 to 10 days, I'll snip the microgreens and add them to salad,” Mary writes. “They would also be great on homemade pizza!” Find more growing tips from Mary, as well as info on ordering heirloom seeds, in her blog, Back to the Basics.
• Keep growing! Read up on Growing Garlic 101 (also from High Mowing!), Growing Radishes 101 and Growing Broccoli 101 (both from Mary!), and Growing Lettuce 101 (courtesy of HOMEGROWN member Lucy).
Got a question on microgreens? Or a tip to share with your fellow growers? Post your comments below and keep the conversation rolling. You might also check out 101s on selecting seeds and container gardening, and you might be interested in joining the Growing Indoors group. You can always find more things to plant, grow, make, craft, cook, preserve, and water in the HOMEGROWN 101 library.