Microgreens are a lot of fun. They’re absolutely bursting with nutrients and despite their tiny size pack a real punch of flavour. This is a great project for when it’s grey and gloomy outside, because they grow exceptionally well under the steady light and warmth of indoor grow lights. If you’re itching to get sowing something – anything! – this winter, then growing microgreens is definitely for you.
What are Microgreens?
Microgreens are ordinary vegetables harvested at little more than seedling stage, soon after the first adult leaves have developed when they’re about one to three inches (3-8cm) tall. This makes them very speedy crops indeed because they are ready just five to 25 days after sowing – great news for impatient gardeners!
Microgreens are exceptionally high in nutrients such as polyphenols, making them popular with anyone looking to enjoy a healthier diet, while their flavour and good looks ensure a huge following among chefs and fine diners.
Despite their dainty appearance microgreens are very easy to grow, but to grow them indoors you will need some grow lights to guarantee good results.
Most herbs, salads and brassicas such as radish and turnip may be grown as microgreens. This is a great way of using up old seed that’s reaching its sow-by date. You can, of course, buy seeds specifically for sowing as microgreens, with bulk packs working out a lot cheaper. Get smart too. Sunflower seeds, for example, can be bought as bird food, with a handful for sowing costing mere pennies.
Larger seeds or seeds with a thick coat germinate quicker when soaked for four to 12 hours.
Microgreen Growing Equipment
The only specialist piece of equipment you need are some grow lights, though you can grow also microgreens outside once temperatures and light levels improve. Grow lights using fluorescent lamps work well, but if you’re looking to buy a new set it's worth considering the more energy efficient LED grow lights.
You’ll also need some seed flats or trays, your seeds and, of course, some growing medium, which needs to be of a fine grain to give even growth across the tray. Try using a general-purpose potting mix, with about a third by volume of coconut fibre or coir added to help open it up a little.
How to Sow Microgreens
Fill the trays with your growing medium, stopping about half an inch or a centimetre from the rim. Tamp it all down with something flat-bottomed such as a block of wood. Once you’ve tamped it all down you may need to add just a little more growing medium, then lightly tamp it down again.
Now the best bit – sowing! There’s no secret to this. Just aim for an even spread of seeds, crisscrossing back and forth while trying to avoid any clumps. Obviously you wouldn’t sow this thickly normally, but because the seedlings are harvested so young this is absolutely fine. Once you’re done, tamp the seeds down so they are in good contact with the growing medium.
And now it’s time to water them. It’s best to use a spray bottle or mister so as not to dislodge the seeds. Mist the seeds several times until the top of the growing medium is nicely moist.
Move the trays to somewhere warm to speed up germination. Stack the trays two or three deep then place an empty tray on top and weight it down. Applying gentle pressure like this encourages thicker stems and stronger growth from the off.
Once the seeds have germinated and are starting to develop their first shoots, you can move them over to your grow lights.
Growing Your Microgreens
Grow lights should be left on for between 12 and 16 hours a day. Put the lights on a timer or, like me, switch it on when you get up and off as you head to bed.
Check the moisture of the growing medium every day and, if necessary, spray with fresh water to keep the seedlings happy and hydrated. Don’t over water though, as this can lead to mould growths.
One trick with microgreens that have a seed coat, such as sunflowers, is to gently run your hand over the top of the seedlings to help flake the seed coats off. This also helps to thicken up the stems.
Your microgreens are ready whenever they’ve reached the size you’re looking for. Harvesting them couldn’t be simpler. Use scissors to snip them off close to the bottom, but high enough not to flick up any of the potting mix. Cut like this, they shouldn’t need washing.
Enjoy your microgreens as soon as possible for optimal nutrition, or bag them up and pop them into the salad compartment of your fridge for up to five days. Serve them in salads or as a very special homegrown garnish to all manner of gourmet dishes.
Who said you had to wait til spring to start sowing. Satisfy those itchy fingers with a selection of tasty microgreens!