Ever since they were first served up by experimental chefs in the trendy restaurants of San Francisco during the 1980s, microgreens have become a staple of gastronomy, commercial food production, and more recently, home growers.
Ready to eat in as little as a week, these tiny plants pack a real punch, bringing an explosion of colour, interesting textures, and intense flavours to your plate. Even better, microgreens are incredibly nutrient-dense, so they’re a great way to help you and your family follow a healthy diet.
If you’d like to get involved with the tastiest new trend, we’ve put together the ultimate guide to planting, growing, and harvesting your own super-productive microgreens at home!
So What Are Microgreens?
Microgreens are young food crops that are harvested as soon as they’ve dropped their cotyledon leaves and have developed their very first set of ‘true‘ leaves.
Fresh microgreens are usually eaten straight after harvest and are used to add flavour, texture, visual interest, and most of all, nutrition to meals. They’re often confused with vegetable sprouts, but sprouts are smaller and are eaten before the seedlings have developed their first true leaves.
There’s no fancy science involved in microgreens. They’re often grown simply from standard food crop seeds and harvested before they’ve had a chance to mature into full-sized vegetables, although specialist microgreen seed mixes are also available.
Until recently, most of the microgreens that hit our plates were found only in restaurants, having been cultivated by commercial growers who were able to take advantage of the high productivity, low-maintenance, and fast yields that can be achieved by growing microgreens, even in a tiny space.
Of course, these are also great characteristics for home growing, so it’s no surprise many of us are now taking up the hobby of growing microgreens to harvest and eat at home!
What Are The Benefits of Growing Your Own Microgreens at Home?
Growing microgreens at home is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to introduce home-grown veggies to your family and help keep a healthy diet. They’re also a great starting point for people who are interested in growing their own food but don’t have the space, time, money, or experience needed to nurture a full-blown veg garden.
Microgreens are a great way for urban gardeners and people without much space to enjoy gardening and harvesting on a small scale. You can grow microgreens pretty much anywhere: in the garden, in a window box, on a balcony, or on a sunny windowsill. Because they take up so little space, they’re more productive per square inch than a standard vegetable patch.
And if you’re growing microgreens indoors, you’re not constrained by any particular growing season or weather conditions and can continue to cultivate your microgreens all year round!
Microgreens are accessible too! Standard seed packets are relatively cheap to buy, they need barely any equipment or complicated setups, and they’re effortlessly easy to maintain. This means kids and novice gardeners can really get involved in the growing, harvesting, and of course, eating!
Microgreens are harvested as soon as the first true leaves appear, so they’re often ready to eat in just a couple of weeks, much faster than their mature counterparts, so microgreens are the perfect plants for the impatient gardener!
What Are The Benefits of Eating Microgreens?
Microgreens are classed as a superfood by many because they pack so many beneficial nutrients, vitamins, and minerals into such tiny packages! Unlike standard veggies which usually need to be cooked before eating, microgreens can be eaten raw straight after harvesting.
This means they don’t lose any of their precious nutritional value in the cooking process. Pound-for-pound, they usually have a higher nutritional value than mature vegetables, sometimes being up to six times more nutrient-dense!
And with all these nutrients come a whole range of health benefits. Microgreens are rich in essential minerals like potassium, iron, zinc, magnesium and copper, as well as vitamins C, E, and K, which are all vital for maintaining healthy bodies.
Microgreens are packed full of antioxidants too, which can help protect against heart disease, high cholesterol, dementia, and even some types of cancer!
Health benefits aside, microgreens really pack a tasty punch too! They have a more intense flavour and aroma than their regular-sized counterparts, so they’re great for seasoning meals as an alternative to dried herbs. It’s no surprise that so many people are now choosing to grow microgreens in their own homes!
How Can I Use Microgreens in my Food?
There’s a reason that microgreens are used so much in cooking. They’re incredibly versatile and can be adapted to suit almost every type of meal and cooking style.
Because of their tiny size, microgreens are frequently used as garnishes to add colour, texture, and interest to dishes. It’s no surprise that they’re often called ‘vegetable confetti’ since they really do brighten up your plate!
They can be easily blended up to add to smoothies or soup for an extra blast of nutritional goodness, or simply incorporated as a topping for salads, stir fries, or sandwiches.
Because of their punchy flavours and aromas, microgreens like radish, mustard, or herbs make perfect seasonings for pretty much any dish!
What Plants Can Be Grown as Microgreens?
One of the best things about microgreens is that they offer huge diversity and choice in what you can grow. Microgreens can be pretty much any root or leafy vegetables, herbs, leafy greens, edible grasses, or even legumes!
Some of the most common plant groups grown as microgreens include:
- The Amaranthaceae family – which includes chard, beets, and spinach.
- The Amaryllidaceae family – which includes alliums like garlic, leek, and onion.
- The Asteraceae family – which includes lettuce, artichoke, and even edible flowers like sunflowers!
- The Brassicaceae family – including cauliflower, broccoli, radish, cabbage, and watercress.
- The Cucurbitaceae family – including squash, melon, and cucumber.
- Cereals – including corn, wheat, and barley
- Legumes – including beans, pea shoots, lentils, and chickpeas.
What Are The Best Microgreens to Grow?
With microgreens, the possibilities are almost endless! To help you get started with growing your own microgreens, we thought we’d share a few of our favourite, tasty, and easy microgreens to grow at home!
Basil is the perfect plant for growing microgreens at home if you want to add plenty of fresh flavour to your meals. Basil microgreens have a more intense flavour than their full-sized salad greens counterparts, plus they germinate really quickly, so are often ready to eat within a week.
Beetroot microgreens will bring an explosion of colour and flavour to your table with their tiny dark green leaves and bright fuchsia stems. Like their full-sized versions, they’re fairly slow-growing, but their whimsical colours and unmistakable earthy flavour are well worth the wait!
Broccoli is the classic microgreen veggie. They’re one of the easiest microgreens to grow, tasty to eat, and absolutely packed full of goodness. Full-sized broccolis are already classed as a superfood, so imagine just how healthy these intensified miniature versions are! Unlike their full-sized counterparts, though, micro broccolis are tastiest when raw!
Buckwheat is a great option if you’d like to try growing micro grains. They offer plenty of protein, are ready to harvest in as little as ten days, and have a subtly tangy taste which gives meals a real kick!
Carrots are some of the slowest-growing veggies, and that’s the case for their mini microgreen versions too. They can take up to a month to develop their true leaves, but your patience will be handsomely rewarded with their intensely sweet flavour.
Fennel microgreens are ideal for foodies who love to incorporate aromatic flavours into their cooking. They’re slightly sweeter than full-sized fennel, so you can get really creative with these microgreens, adding them to both sweet and savoury dishes!
Lentils are full of protein and are really easy to grow as microgreens. They’re also a great source of healthy carbohydrates, so health-conscious cooks should consider growing these micro legumes!
Mustard seeds are the perfect microgreens for any culinary fanatics who love to bring plenty of punchy flavours to their meals. Offering the intense spicy flavours of mustard, and with a pretty quick germination rate, mustard is one aromatic microgreen not to be sniffed at!
Peas are a super healthy microgreen to have a go at growing. Pound-for-pound they’re some of the most nutritious microgreens, just behind broccoli. They’re rich in vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, develop their true leaves quickly and are delicious to eat.
Radish microgreens are a really popular choice for growers. Not only do they germinate quick as a flash, but they’re also full to bursting with the rich, peppery flavour of classic radish that we know and love. Use your radish microgreens to season soups, salads, and meat dishes,
Red cabbage is a great microgreen for anyone who loves to serve up a burst of colour on their plates. Featuring characteristic maroon stems and contrasting green leaves, red cabbage microgreens make an excellent garnish to jazz up any dish.
Sunflowers are best known for their statuesque height and larger-than-life blooms, so it might surprise you to learn that sunflower seeds make great microgreens too! They’re packed full of beneficial minerals like zinc and folate, and vitamins E and C.
How to Grow Microgreens at Home
It really is easy-peasy to grow microgreens at home! Most people choose to grow microgreens indoors, but you can try growing them outside too if you have the space. The principles remain the same whether they’re grown inside or outside, although outdoors microgreens will be limited to summer growing.
Equipment you’ll need:
- Growing trays – A purpose-made seed tray is ideal for growing microgreens but if you don’t have one, any shallow container or shallow tray will do, so long as it has a few drainage holes.
- Spray bottle – You’ll need a spray bottle and water to mist your microgreens daily.
- Growing medium – This is the potting soil or substrate that your microgreens seeds will grow in.
- Scissors – For harvesting!
- Microgreens seeds – These can be pretty much any vegetable, herb, or legume.
- A small sunny space – This can be a windowsill, balcony, or sheltered outdoor space.
What kind of potting mix is best for growing microgreens?
Ideally, your microgreens potting soil should be made up of nutrient-rich organic matter to help your microgreens grow fast and develop plenty of flavours. Many growers shun actual soil altogether and instead create their own special growing medium.
Coconut coir is a popular choice for microgreen growers because it allows moisture to drain freely and air to circulate around the seeds, although it’s pretty nutrient-poor. Adding materials like sphagnum moss or peat moss will enrich the coconut coir.
You could also add additional ingredients like perlite or vermiculite to help with drainage, although you’ll need to keep the seeds moist so the potting mix shouldn’t be too free draining.
Do I Need to Pre-Soak My Microgreen Seeds Before Sowing Them?
Whether or not a seed needs to be soaked to encourage germination depends on the size of the seed. As a general rule, large seeds should be soaked for between six and twelve hours before planting to prepare the seed. Small seeds will form a sticky gel if they come into contact with water, so it’s best to sow them dry.
How To Grow Your Own Microgreens: Step by Step
- Select a warm, sunny position for your microgreens seed tray. If you’re opting to grow microgreens indoors, a kitchen windowsill is perfect for easy access when cooking. Conservatories and glasshouses are great places to grow microgreens indoors too. If you’re going to grow yours outside, use a small container in a sunny but sheltered position.
- Prepare your growing medium and fill up your tray. The soil level should be about flush with the top of the microgreens tray.
- Depending on the type of seed you use, you may need to soak your seeds for a few hours before sowing them.
- Give the growing medium a quick mist with the spray bottle before sowing your seeds to create some soil moisture, which will help the seeds to germinate.
- Scatter your seeds evenly and thinly across the soil surface. They won’t need as much space as is recommended on the seed packet for their mature counterparts, but they’ll need at least five millimetres of room per seed. Larger seeds will need to be scattered over the potting soil more thinly than small seeds.
- Cover the microgreen seeds with a thin layer of potting soil to keep the moisture in, and give them a light spray of water.
- Once the seeds sprout, continue to mist your microgreen seeds daily, aiming to keep the potting soil moist but not wet! Too much moisture will rot the microgreen seeds before you have a chance to eat them.
- Ignore the very first set of tiny leaves that emerge. These are the cotyledon leaves, not the true leaves. As soon as your microgreens have shed their cotyledon leaves and developed their first true leaves, they’ll be ready to harvest!
How To Harvest Microgreens
If you thought growing microgreens was easy, harvesting microgreens is even easier! Harvesting should be done as soon as they develop their first true leaves for the best flavour.
It can take anywhere between five and twenty-five days for the first true leaves to appear, depending on the type of microgreen you’re growing. Most microgreens are ready to harvest when they reach about an inch or two tall.
There’s no need for cumbersome tools or backbreaking digging to harvest your microgreens. Simply use a sharp pair of scissors to snip off whatever you need just above the soil line!
Washing microgreens straight after harvest will remove any traces of dirt left over from the growing medium. Just dry them off with a paper towel or a salad spinner before you eat them.
How Should I Store My Microgreens?
Any chef will tell you that microgreens are the tastiest right after you pick them, so they’re best eaten straight away! Of course, that isn’t always possible especially if you have a particularly productive microgreens setup, so if you’re growing more than you can eat, you’ll need to store them.
Place the washed and dried microgreens in a container or plastic wrap and store them in the fridge. They’ll stay fresh for around ten to twelve days.
If you’d like to store your microgreens even longer, they can be kept in the freezer for up to three months, but bear in mind that the freezing and thawing process can change the texture, so frozen microgreens are best eaten blended into smoothies or soups.
Where can I buy microgreen seeds?
As microgreens have risen in popularity, so has their availability. Many companies now offer specially created microgreens growing kits or seed mixes designed just for growing microgreens.
These kits and mixes come with easy instructions for how to grow microgreens, but they tend to come at a premium, so if you want to save money you can simply use standard veggie seeds. Any normal vegetable seeds purchased from a nursery or garden centre will do the job!
Are there any seeds which can’t be grown as microgreens?
Plants from the nightshade family which includes potatoes and tomato plants aren’t recommended for growing microgreens. This is because they contain a toxic alkaloid known as solanine.
Although solanine is present in mature plants that we eat, it’s found in a much higher concentration in microgreens. It can harm our digestive system or nervous system if ingested in these high concentrations. So it’s best to stay well clear of any seeds in the nightshade family when growing your own microgreens!
What’s the difference between microgreens and sprouts?
Vegetable sprouts are given less time to develop than microgreens. They are usually harvested before their true leaves have fully developed, and the seeds and roots of sprouts are eaten too, whilst just the stem and leaves of microgreens are eaten.
How long do microgreens take to grow?
This all depends on the variety of seed you have chosen to grow. Germinated seeds with young sprouts may be seen in just a couple of days if you’re growing a really fast variety of microgreens.
As a general rule, slow-growing full-sized vegetables will also be slow-growing microgreens, whilst fast-growing vegetables will make for a fast-growing microgreens harvest.
Will my microgreens regrow after I harvest them?
It’s very rare for microgreens to grow again once harvested. The baby greens will have used up all of their energy producing their cotyledon leaves. The great thing about microgreens is that you can simply continue to sow new seeds to replace any that you’ve harvested.
Ready, Steady, Microgrow!
Whether you’re a novice gardener or a seasoned grower, an adventurous home cook or health conscious foodie, microgreens are guaranteed to deliver a productive yield, a delightful dose of flavour, and an incredible array of health benefits!
We really hope our microgreen masterclass has inspired you to grow your own microgreens at home!