Over the years I’ve lived in several houses with backyards that afforded enough space for a vegetable garden. There I would amuse myself planting herbs, vegetables and berry bushes. Despite watering and weeding my babies diligently, however, the results were always a bit disappointing — either because my produce usually turned out pretty puny (and sometimes rotted on the vine! too much watering?), or because the deer and rabbits got to it before I did.
Four years ago I moved into a garden-less apartment, two years later my two youngest children moved to college, and I felt more than a little bereft at having nothing and no one to nurture. That’s when I discovered microgreens!
My eldest son — a graduate student who cultivates anything and everything in his tiny studio — got me started by giving me a bag of potting soil and a little bag of sprouting seeds for my 52nd birthday. He even fashioned a miniature “watering can” for me out of an empty salad dressing bottle with a metal lid into which he punched 6 holes (allowing me to gently sprinkle my seeds with water without pushing soil or the seeds around.)
The only other piece of equipment I needed was a food storage container. Thankfully this does not need drainage holes. Ideal depth: 2″ to 3″. A lid is not required. You can use cereal bowls, food containers, aluminum loaf pans (frankly, just rinse a take-out container and you’re good to go!). (Don’t let anyone talk you into buying a $160 indoor microgreen growing kit; al you need is dirt, seeds, water and daylight; my start-up investment (for around 10-12 batches of microgreens) totaled about $30, including seeds, soil and container.)
Why grow microgreens?
So why do I go to the trouble of growing miniature broccoli, you ask?
Well, for one there’s my love of nurturing living things — preferably away from greedy deer and rabbits. Also, microgreen-gardening is ridiculously quick and easy — it takes a mere 6-7 days from the time you sow your seeds to the moment you get to sprinkle them onto your omelet.
On top of that, microgreens — also known as micro herbs or vegetable confetti — are jam-packed with nutrients — and I love me some good nutrients! Sure, you could buy them a the store, but they’re not nearly as fresh, green and tasty (not to mention that they cost a multiple of their homegrown counterparts).
According to this Healthline article on microgreens, “most varieties tend to be rich in potassium, iron, zinc, magnesium and copper. Microgreens are also a great source of beneficial plant compounds like antioxidants. What’s more, their nutrient content is concentrated, which means that they often contain higher vitamin, mineral and antioxidant levels than the same quantity of mature greens. In fact, research comparing microgreens to more mature greens reports that nutrient levels in microgreens can be up to nine times higher than those found in mature greens.”
“Research also indicates that microgreens contain a wider variety of polyphenols and other antioxidants than their mature counterparts. One study measured vitamin and antioxidant concentrations in 25 commercially available microgreens. These levels were then compared to levels recorded in the USDA National Nutrient Database for mature leaves. Although vitamin and antioxidant levels varied, levels measured in microgreens were up to 40 times higher than those recorded for more mature leaves.”
How to use microgreens?
There are many ways to include microgreens in your diet:
- As a pretty topping sprinkled over sandwiches
- A spicy addition to wraps (e.g., chicken, tuna or egg salad)
- As a splash or color and crunch added to salads
- Blended into smoothies or vegetable juice
- As garnishes on pizzas, soups, omelets, curries and other dishes
Eating microgreens is generally considered safe, but there may be a risk of food poisoning, esp. for people with weak immune systems (e.g., young children, people undergoing cancer treatment, folks taking immunosuppressant medications, etc.).
According to Healthine, “the potential for bacterial growth is smaller in microgreens than in sprouts. That’s because microgreens require slightly less warm and humid conditions than sprouts do, and only the leaf and stem, rather than the root and seed, are consumed. That said, if you’re planning on growing microgreens at home, it’s important to buy seeds from a reputable company and choose growing mediums that are free of contamination with harmful bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli. The most common growing mediums are peat, perlite and vermiculite. Single-use growing mats produced specifically for growing microgreens are considered very sanitary.”
So there you have it. If you like instant gratification, growing stuff, nutrients, flavor and savings, you might really enjoy microgreen gardening. Let me know how you get on!
- Place the soil in the container, level the surface. Water until soaked throughout. It may take a few minutes for the water to be fully absorbed by the soil; be patient. (You could stir it together to mix it all up, but that can get messy...)
- Sprinkle the seeds evenly across the surface and press onto the wet soil with fingertips.
- Cover tightly with aluminum foil (covering the surface and sides of the container). Store in a dark place for 3 days (I put it in a cupboard I rarely use.)
- On day 4 or 5, take a peek; if you can see small, yellow leaves and white, “hairy” stems about ½ inch high, you can remove the aluminum foil and place the container on a well-lit windowsill.
- Water lightly every 2-3 days -- touch soil to check it’s moist. (When you forget to water, the greens start to hang their leafy little heads; don't panic -- they'll recover quickly once you water them.)
- The greens are ready to be harvested once the leaves are bright green and the stems are about 1-1½ inches tall -- about a week after planting. To harvest, grab a bunch of sprouts and snip them off with kitchen scissors -- it feels a bit like cutting hair! 🙂 Once harvested, consume immediately to avoid nutrient loss.