An Introduction to Microgreen Gardening and How to Get Started

Introduction Microgreen Gardening How to Get Started

If you are a gardener, late fall to early spring can seem like the longest time of the year. It is impossible to grow crops outdoors unless you live more in the south. Yes, you preserved as much as you could from the summer garden, but you miss the taste of fresh vegetables. This is when growing microgreens can come to the rescue. 

Thankfully, microgreens can be grown in both warm summer weather and also in the cooler months with the help of indoor growing tools. With a small number of garden supplies, you can grow enough microgreens indoors to enjoy with dinner every day. 

What Are Microgreens? 

Microgreens are bigger than a sprout but smaller than baby greens. When you eat sprouts, you eat all parts of the plant, including the root. Microgreens are harvested when the plant has the seed leaves, called cotyledons, plus one or two true leaves. They are cut at soil level and the root is left behind. 

Depending on what seeds you plant, your greens, root vegetables or herb microgreens could be ready for harvest in as little as two weeks after planting. You can make an entire salad from microgreens or add them to your regular salad for a bite of fresh flavor in the middle of winter. 

Many gardeners use microgreens on their sandwiches or in their wraps instead of store-bought lettuce. You can grow herb microgreens like cilantro or basil and use them in dishes as you would the mature leaves. These microgreens will give a punch of fresh zesty flavor to your sauces as well.

aerial view multiple microgreens

That’s not the only benefit, microgreens pack a lot of vitamins into their small size. Research has shown that microgreens can have up to 40 times more nutrients than the full-grown plant!

You can shop for a variety of seeds for microgreens. Remember that microgreens are sown very densely so you will need more than if you were starting plant seeds. 

Microgreens are available at the grocery store, but homegrown is always better.  There isn’t the wasteful packaging which usually includes plastics, plus shipping costs, etc.

What You Will Need to Grow Microgreens 

Growing microgreens will be a learning experience when you start. You will have to see what works and what doesn’t in your specific environment and with the materials and techniques you use. Maybe you will find you should have sown the seed more densely, or you needed to water more frequently. Maybe the growing location is too cold or too warm. Microgreens grow best in temperatures from 65 to 70 degrees. 

Your technique and your success will improve with each batch of microgreens. You also will learn which varieties your family likes the most. If you use up the basil microgreens really fast, you know you have to plant more at a time or more frequently next time. 

That will be another thing that experience will teach you — how to time your planting so that you have a continuous supply of microgreens throughout the winter. Keep good records of when you planted and when you harvest each variety so you can time your next planting appropriately. To prepare to grow microgreens, you will need to get some indoor gardening supplies to be set up for success, including:

indoor gardening supplies

  • Decide on Your Seeds Most seed companies will provide seed mixes, like our Rainbow Microgreens Seed Mix, as well as the individual seed types. They will do all the work of making sure the seeds will grow well together and will be ready for harvest at the same time. You can keep each variety separate or you could make your own mix of seeds. Just choose seeds that will germinate and mature at about the same time. 
  • Pick Your Container There are certainly commercial trays you can buy specifically for growing microgreens.  For the DIY gardeners, instead, you can start out with any shallow container like a disposable pie pan or a cookie sheet with sides. Just don’t forget to provide drainage holes in whatever container you use.
  • Choose Your Soil — Microgreens will grow in just about any soil, but ideally you want your containers to be filled with a soilless peat-based mix (either coco peat or peat moss) with vermiculite and perlite. Regular commercial garden soil varieties are not the best medium for microgreens because they can be too compact and don't allow the roots to penetrate and grow.
  • Identify Your Light Source To grow microgreens, there needs to be a good source of light. If you have a south facing window, that will likely work. Remember to turn the container frequently to prevent the seedlings from leaning toward the light and becoming leggy. If your indoor gardening supplies include a light for starting seeds to plant in the garden, get it out and set it up to grow your microgreens. 
  • Get a Watering Spray Bottle You won’t be using a watering can like you would in your garden or pots for microgreens. You will need a spray bottle to water them and to keep the soil optimized for healthy growth. 
  • Get or Make a Germination Dome If you have a dome to go over your container that you are planting in, you will need that during the germination stage. If you don’t have a dome, paper towels can be used as a substitute.
  • Prevent ‘Damping Off’ Disease Damping off disease can occur between when a seed is planted and when it matures. It is caused by a fungus or mold that thrive in cool, wet conditions. There are several techniques to avoid this disease, but a small fan is likely more than enough while your microgreen seeds are germinating.
Microgreens Right with Seed Starter Kits

Steps to Growing Microgreens

Now that you have prepared your materials and location for growing your microgreens, you are ready to get them planted using the following steps: steps to growing microgreens

  1. Moisten the Peat Mix Add a little water at a time and mix into the peat with your hands or a trowel. The peat mix should be moist enough to hold its shape when you squeeze a handful. It will be too wet if water drips out when you squeeze it and it will be too dry if it won’t hold its shape.
  2. Fill Your Containers Fill your shallow containers with about a two-inch-deep layer of soil that has been tamped down into the container. Keep the soil as level as possible as you want all the seeds to have equal contact with the soil.
  3. Sow the Seeds Purchase organic seeds for your microgreens. The seeds need to be sown much more densely than normal. If the seeds are small, aim for about 10 to 12 seeds per square inch. If the seeds are larger like beet seeds, try for six to eight seeds per square inch. Gently press the seeds into the soil.
  4. Gently Water the Seeds Use a mister or spray bottle to water the seeds so as not to disturb them. You do not want to use a watering can for microgreen watering.
watering microgreens with spray bottle

  1. Cover the Seeds At this point, you could just put the germination dome on the container and be done. If you aren’t comfortable with that, you can cover the seeds with a light layer of soil. Another technique is to lay a paper towel directly on the seeds and water the paper towel with your mister or spray bottle. If you use the paper towel method, you must keep the towel moist all day until the seeds germinate. The plants do not need light during this time.
  2. Place Tray Under the Lights If you’re using an indoor growing kit, watch for your seeds to germinate. This usually takes three to five days. Remove the dome or the paper towel as soon as germination begins and place the trays under the grow lights included in your supplies. Again, if you have a southern facing window, you can try to put your microgreens there instead.
  3. Water as Needed The peat moss should be kept moist but not soaked. Continue to use the mister or you can switch to bottom watering. Place your tray of seedlings into a second tray with about a quarter inch of water. The drainage holes in the tray of microgreens will allow the peat to wick up the water.
  4. Turn the Fan to Low Many indoor growing kits have a fan that helps regulate the temperature for seedlings. Make sure the fan is turned to a lower setting, as this will help to prevent damping off disease. This fungal disease can cause the plant stem to be damaged right at soil level. The tiny plant will break at the soil level and will end up lying on the soil instead of growing upright. If you find your plant in this condition, it cannot be revived and you will need to start over.

Harvesting Your Microgreens

harvesting microgreens on a counter

Once your greens have produced their first true leaves, it is time to harvest. Use sharp scissors and cut the microgreens just above the soil. Eat immediately or store in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to three or four days. 

After the microgreens have been cut, the root will die. The plant is not able to send up a new stem and so it is time to replant. You can plant more seeds in the same soil, but it is preferable to remove the peat to be composted and then replace with fresh peat in your container.

These small plants will lose their nutritional value and flavor after cutting, so it is always better to eat the microgreens right after picking. If there is some soil on your microgreens or sometimes the seed hulls will still be on the top of the greens, rinse in cool water or submerge the greens in cool water to release the seed hulls.

Get Your Indoor Growing Supplies Today

Choosing Which Microgreens to Grow

There are many different types of microgreens and other greens to choose from. Your choices will likely be based on the taste flavors you prefer, but can also be based on how easy or hard they are to grow.  Here are a few to get you started, including:

  • Arugula This plant is both fast and easy to grow and will do better in cooler temperatures.
  • Amaranth This plant does well in a dry, warm house making it great for the gardener who sometimes forgets to water.
  • Basil This plant doesn’t like the cold so a heating pad may help to keep it healthy and warm.
  • Beets These plants come from larger seeds and will germinate faster if you soak the seeds overnight before planting. (It’s important to note as well that beets grow from their leaves, not the beat root.)
  • Broccoli Always easy to grow and, along with Brussels sprouts, is one of the most nutritious microgreens to eat.
  • Cabbage This plant is in the same family as broccoli so it is very easy to grow and very tasty.
  • Celery Add this microgreen to your soup or anywhere you want a celery flavor.
incorporating microgreens

  • Cilantro This herb is a great microgreen to add to your tacos or burritos.
  • Fennel The flavor of fennel is just as strong as the mature plant.
  • Kale This plant is easy to grow and tastes like the mature plant, but is more tender and not as strong in flavor.
  • Mustard These plants have a sharp spicy flavor that can give your salad a little zing.
  • Peas It is best to soak these seeds overnight like beets. Cut them after there are a couple of true leaves. The flavor is sweet and delicious and is great in a stir fry or just eat it fresh for a real treat.
  • Radish — This plant is the fastest grower in the garden or as a microgreen.

Microgreens can be added to almost any dish as a garnish, a flavoring or even as a main ingredient. Don’t forget to add microgreens to your smoothies, too. Here are some great recipes that incorporate microgreens for you to try!  

With a small amount of preparation and a little bit of work, you too can soon be growing and eating these fresh vegetables even in the heart of winter.

Image Credits
Paperly Studio/Shutterstock.com
Cookie Studio/Shutterstock.com
Joshua Resnick/Shutterstock.com
almaje/Shutterstock.com
Da Antipina/Shutterstock.com
Sashko/Shutterstock.com
New Africa/Shutterstock.com