Eating healthy can be boring, and not all of us can commit to a traditional outdoor garden. Nonetheless, we all can enjoy healthy, flavorful, homegrown foods year-round with microgreens.
Microgreens are edible plants that grow well indoors in small spaces. Ready for harvest at about two-inches tall, they must be used promptly. Commonly called “vegetable confetti,” microgreens can have many different colors, flavors or textures, depending on which crops are used. These small greens add intense visual interest and surprisingly powerful flavors to meat and vegetable dishes, and can be served as a salad or a new salad ingredient.
Microgreens are different from sprouts because they are older when harvested and are harvested at the soil line instead of whole. Because microgreens are harvested young and must be used shortly after harvest, they take little time and space to grow and store.
Planting: To grow microgreens at home, select crops that germinate easily and grow quickly. Microgreens taste like their adult counterparts and are eaten soon after planting, so grow crops that taste good to you and use pesticide-free seed. To save money, buy seed in bulk instead of purchasing seed packets. Commonly grown microgreen crops include arugula, basil, beets, broccoli, cabbage, celery, cilantro, cress, fennel, golden pea shoots, kale, mustard, parsley, radish, spinach and Swiss chard.
Microgreens do not need any special equipment to grow. Place about an inch of sterile growing media– like peat, vermiculite, perlite or coconut fiber— in a shallow tray. Sow seeds densely. Enjoy mixes of microgreens by inter-planting seeds of different crops with similar growth rates to harvest a custom blend, or grow various greens individually and mix and match them after harvest.
Growing: Place your microgreens where they will get plenty of light. Mist the seeds from above with a spray bottle until they germinate, then water from below to protect thick plant canopies from excess moisture. The soil should be moist, not wet. If your tray does not have drainage holes, be careful not to overwater. To conserve water, you can place a clear plastic cover over the tray. But be careful; the cover can trap enough heat to kill your greens. The seeds provide nutrients for microgreens to grow, so fertilization is not necessary.
Harvesting: The first leaves that seeds sprout are generic leaves; they are called ‘seed’ leaves or cotyledons and they look the same on all plants. Then, ‘true’ leaves grow. These leaves have distinct characteristics that hint to which plant they come from. Depending on the plant, ‘true’ leaves will appear in seven to 21 days, and when they do, it is time to harvest! Using clean, sterile scissors cut the greens at the soil line. After harvest, gently rinse microgreens in tepid water and enjoy them raw within two to five days.
Eating: As you are munching on your microgreens, know that you are doing something good for your body. The USDA recommends that adults fill half of their plates with fresh fruits and vegetables. Studies published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture and the Journal of the National Cancer Institute indicate that fruits and vegetables can help prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Science also indicates that microgreens are even denser in nutrients than their mature vegetable counterparts. The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry recently published research from the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ Department of Nutrition and Food Science stating that plants of microgreen age contain four to 40 times more nutrients– such as Vitamin C, E, K and beta carotene—than those plants do when they are mature. And they taste good, too. For example, homegrown radish microgreens provide a spicy, flavorful crunch for a guilt-free snack year-round.