What Are Microgreens & How to Grow Your Own at Home in 1 Week!
We’ve all heard the saying, “Good things come in small packages.” That’s certainly the case with microgreens, which have been gaining popularity in recent years. Nowadays, we see tons of restaurants, chefs, and farmer’s markets offering these miniature plant powerhouses. And it’s no wonder—they provide a winning combination of flavor, visual appeal and, most importantly, a concentrated dose of health-boosting nutrients.
On the other hand, they can be pricey when purchased from the store, and they have a notoriously short shelf life. In some areas of the United States, they also can be difficult or impossible to find. But the good news is, you can grow your own with minimal fuss. And the ability to take your microgreens straight from seed to table (in as little as 1 week!) ensures optimal freshness and nutrient retention.
If you don’t have a green thumb, don’t worry. We’ll cover the basics you need to know to quickly and easily start your own microgreens garden at home.
What Are Microgreens?
Microgreens are just what they sound like: vegetables in their young forms, before they grow into the full-size versions. They’re slightly older than sprouts, which are picked at the stage before any leaves grow. Microgreens do have leaves, although they’re tiny ones—and it’s these leaves that are prized for their flavor and nutrients.
Microgreens varieties, just like their full-size counterparts, run the gamut. You’re likely already familiar with some common types, such as kale, parsley, arugula, cress or watercress, beet, and basil. Others are a bit lesser-known, such as chervil, lemon balm, sorrel, mizuna, daikon, and purslane. And these are only a few options—the world of microgreens is rich, with dozens of varieties available. Do some research and try different kinds to find your own favorites.
The Benefits of Microgreens
Before we delve into the growing process, let’s break down why microgreens are such a wonderful addition to your diet. Yes, they offer concentrated flavor and a lot of versatility, but the most exciting aspect of these small wonders is their nutritional content. Research has shown that microgreens generally have higher concentrations of vitamins than the same plants grown to maturity.
These findings were published more than a decade ago in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, after a study was conducted to evaluate the concentrations of ascorbic acid, carotenoids, phylloquinone, and tocopherols in 25 commercially available microgreens. Researchers established that red cabbage, cilantro, garnet amaranth, and green daikon radish contained the highest concentrations of ascorbic acids, carotenoids, phylloquinone, and tocopherols, respectively. And, when compared with the nutritional stats of these plants’ mature leaves (according to the USDA National Nutrient Database), the microgreens’ leaves contained higher nutritional densities.
A comprehensive review of microgreens research, published in 2023 in the scientific journal Molecules, concluded that microgreens are highly sought after for their intense flavors, scents, and textures, as well as their abundance of vitamins, minerals, and other bioactive compounds. In addition to the contents listed above, they contain folate, tocotrienols, anthocyanins, and glucosinolates. Researchers have noted that the nutrient profiles of microgreens point to the potential for preventing malnutrition, inflammation, and other chronic ailments. This includes diseases that thrive due to modern sedentary lifestyles, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and obesity. For these reasons, microgreens have been hailed as “the next generation of superfoods or functional foods.”
Like their full-grown counterparts, they’re low in calories. But their younger form makes them easier to digest than traditional greens. Experts have also pointed to their potential for improving everything from gut health and vision to cognitive function. As researchers continue to study these tiny nutritional powerhouses, their list of benefits will likely continue to grow.
How to Grow Microgreens
Want to start reaping the benefits of these mighty miniatures? Good news—they’re generally easy to grow yourself. And, due to their small size, they don’t need much space. Home gardeners can nurture their microgreens on windowsills, outdoor patios, or in greenhouses.
Gathering & Planting Microgreen Seeds
Seeds are now even available in prepackaged mixes, with some major retailers selling easy-to-use starter kits.
Alternatively, you also can plant seeds of greens that are not specifically dedicated to growing as microgreens. But, if you choose this route, here’s one important tip before you begin: According to the College of Agricultural Sciences at Pennsylvania State University (PSU), it’s especially important to plant organic or non-treated seeds. Because microgreens can still carry the seed coating on the plant, this selection process is crucial to prevent ingesting any pesticides.
PSU notes that growing microgreens is a relatively simple task in many ways. For example, the plants can be ready to harvest as quickly as 7 to 21 days after seeding. They prefer air temperatures in the 60- to 70-degree range, so they’re great for keeping inside the home, and they can grow even in low lighting.
Planting & Harvesting Microgreens
However, the planting and harvesting stages require slightly more care. Specifically, it’s best to sow the seeds in thicker concentrations in the soil, so that they grow in lush bunches. PSU suggests planting 10 to 15 grams of seed for each standard-size (12 inches by 20 inches) 10-row seeding tray. Or, for each square inch of space, plant 6 to 8 large seeds or 10 to 12 small seeds. Generally, it’s best to select one type of microgreen for each tray, since each variety grows at different speeds. You don’t need fertilizer, and when they’re grown, you can simply cut the stems from the roots with sharp scissors or a knife.
Finally, keep in mind that microgreens have a fairly short shelf life after they’re harvested. This makes them an ideal choice for growing at home—you can simply clip them as needed for dishes, rather than risking waste or spending money on maintaining a constant supply. Harvest them just before using, if possible, or store them in the fridge if needed to prolong their life. You can rinse them just before using to wash off any soil residue.
Using Microgreens at Home
If you’re growing a variety of microgreens, you can mix and match them to create different effects and nutrient profiles for your dishes. For example, you might want to combine a few different colors, flavors, and textures. They can be a great addition to salads and soups, or as attractive and nutrient-packed garnishes on just about any dish. You can use them in smoothies or desserts, too—don’t be afraid to get creative with your recipes.
And, because home growing allows you to cut microgreens straight from the plant and eat them raw, they’re simple to add and incorporate into your favorite meals. We’ve all heard of the farm-to-table movement, but this is even better—from your own kitchen to table. Staying close to the process helps get the most out of all those key nutrients, as produce that travels lengthy distances inevitably loses micronutrients along the journey.
Microgreens for Better Health
With relatively simple growing methods, a dense nutrient profile, and impressive versatility, microgreens are the perfect additions to your kitchen. Their speedy growth means you can easily experiment with different combinations of flavors in a matter of days. Discover which ones you and your family love best and start enjoying the many benefits of these small wonders in all your meals.
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