All kinds of dishes come with a pretty tangle of teeny-tiny microgreens on top nowadays. That lush finishing touch is a lot more than just a crunchy addition to soup or a pop of green on a boring sandwich. And it turns out that growing them yourself is surprisingly simple. With a batch on your windowsill, you’ll have an impressive (and healthy) garnish always within reach. Read on to learn how to grow microgreens, why they’re so good to eat and what to make with them. Once you start, you’ll want to throw them on everything.
How to Grow Microgreens at Home
What Are Microgreens?
Microgreens are seedlings of full-grown vegetables, herbs and flowers we know and love. It’s the growth stage between sprouts and baby greens. They’re picked one to three weeks after germinating, around when the first real leaf appears. They may be small (only up to three inches long, in fact), but this premature picking gives them four to 40 times more nutrients by weight than if they grew to full size.
Microgreens vary in both taste and appearance. They typically have a strong, aromatic flavor, whether it’s spicy, sour, bitter or somewhere in between. They can be bought ready to eat from farmers markets or specialty grocery stores (like Whole Foods), or harvested from a gardening store or greenhouse. You can also buy the seeds and grow them at home yourself. If you choose the latter, you’ll know the microgreens are safe from pesticides and you’ll save at the supermarket (they can cost $20 for an eight-ounce container). Plus, once you see how easy it is, you won’t want to buy someone else’s. You might even think it’s *gasp* fun.
What Microgreens Can I Grow At Home?
Microgreens aren’t finicky about where they’re grown, so a place like your kitchen windowsill is just as great a spot as the backyard or flower bed. If you’re not sure what to grow, start with what you love:
- Greens: Broccoli, arugula, kale, spinach and cabbage are a cinch to cultivate.
- Herbs: Hello, fresh dill, basil, parsley and cilantro that won’t be left to rot in the fridge.
- Alliums: Onions, leeks and garlic are all fair game.
- Root vegetables: Like radishes, carrots and beets.
- Legumes, grasses and cereals: Like chickpeas, rice and barley, respectively.
Microgreens are harvested on a large scale about seven to 21 days after the first leaves show. Smaller DIY batches will likely be ready to harvest way before the three-week mark. Some microgreens, like peas, kale and fava beans, can regrow after being harvested as long as the shoot is left in the soil, so you can get many crops from a single packet of seeds if you play your cards right. Just know they could take longer to sprout the second time around.
What You Need To Grow Microgreens
You can purchase these separately or buy a kit specifically for growing microgreens. There are also some appliances that don’t require soil and control the light, water and humidity of the plants. Here’s what you should have on hand:
- A growing tray. Use one that’s sterile and only about two to three inches deep, ideally with drain holes. You can also repurpose clam-shell plastic containers (try one used for strawberries since it already has draining holes).
- Potting/seedling soil. The soil method is arguably the easiest for beginners, so our instructions are soil-specific. (Baby steps!) It should be a germination mix, though some prefer to use a soilless growing medium, like peat moss, coconut coir, perlite and or vermiculite. Once you're a pro, you can try growing microgreens hydroponically (meaning in water) with hydroponic growing pads instead of soil. It'll keep dirt out of the house, but your results may vary based on method and seed choice.
- Water in a spray bottle.
- Seeds—one type or a mix.
- A light source. You could use a special lamp or bulb, but the sun is always the best (and cheapest) bet. Microgreens should get light for four to eight hours a day, so it won’t hurt to have a backup for gray weather.
How To Grow Microgreens
1. Fill the growing tray with soil. Make it level all the way across with your hand. Give it a spritz of water.
2. Sprinkle the seeds on the soil evenly and press them in gently. Some seeds, like beets, buckwheat and sunflowers, grow better if they’re soaked first, so follow the package instructions for your specific seeds before planting.
3. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil.
4. Mist the seeds and cover the whole tray with an opaque lid or second growing tray. Keep in a dark place that’s temperature-controlled with good air circulation to prevent mold.
5. Mist daily until the seeds germinate. The time it takes varies based on the seed. Keep a tray of water beneath the seedlings to keep them moist. Once the sprouts have taken root, take the cover off and move the tray into the light.
6. Water once a day until the sprouts grow into microgreens. Snip the greens at the soil line with scissors after the first leaves appear, likely in about seven to ten days. Cut just above the lowest leaf to up your chances of regrowth if you used a seed that can regrow.
The Benefits Of Eating Microgreens
Microgreens are more than just a garnish; they’re loaded with nutrients (iron! zinc! magnesium! potassium!) and antioxidants. And they’re a breeze to work into your diet, since you can often incorporate a handful into what you’re already eating, like a green smoothie or Caesar salad.
Lots of the vitamins and minerals found in microgreens are linked to good heart health, low cholesterol and diabetes prevention. They are also rich in polyphenols, a type of antioxidant that’s been linked to lowering the risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s and certain types of cancer.
How To Store Microgreens
Microgreens should be refrigerated ASAP after being cut. They’ll keep from ten days to two weeks. First, you’ll have to dry them. Wet greens rot fast, and extra wetness will make them soggy at best and moldy at worst. Lightly dry the microgreens between two paper towels. Once they’re ready to be put away, place them in an airtight container in the fridge. You can also store them loose in the fridge between damp paper towels or in the crisper drawer. Just avoid extreme temperatures and humidity.
As for leftover seeds, store them in a plastic or metal container somewhere far from the ground to prevent rodents and bugs from getting to them. Make sure there’s no moisture or light wherever they’re kept.
What to Do with Leftover Soil
Growing containers and trays are usually reusable once they’re cleaned. Growing pads typically aren’t, so note the instructions if you decide to go sans-soil. If you do use dirt, you may be wondering what to do with it after harvesting. It turns out that you can plant new seeds on reused soil; the old roots are great sources of organic nutrition for the second batch. Flip the soil upside down and grow new microgreens on the backside while the remains from the first batch break down below.
Once your microgreens have grown (and regrown), your leftover soil and roots are ready for their new life. Use it as compost for your outdoor plant babies. Your garden will thank you.