What are microgreens?
Microgreens are green leafy vegetables planted and harvested just after the full development of cotyledons and were the first set of true leaves that have emerged. The cotyledons are the first two leaves or sometimes called the seed’s leaves because they are part of the plant seed or specifically the embryo. While true leaves are defined as the leaves with the same appearance and function as all the future leaves the plant will develop. You can easily distinguish between the two kinds of leaves because of the dramatic difference in their appearance.
Several people mistakenly distinguish microgreens as sprouts, but they are a little older than the latter. Sprouts are harvested just when the plants’ shoots and cotyledons have emerged and in the absence of true-leaves.
Why Care About Microgreens
Everyone has realized that the pandemic is not going to end drastically and thus affect the food supply chain in most ways. One way to help reduce the worries of shutting down the food supply chain is to produce your food in your home’s comfort.
Microgreens have lots of notable benefits not only from their high nutritional value but for contributing to a better quality of life in terms of cost-savings, variety of available vegetable greens and flavoring to food, and less cost and maintenance of growing your own food.
Benefits of Microgreens
Health and Nutrition
Microgreens are nutritionally dense food. They are potentially high in Potassium, Iron, Zinc, Magnesium, and Copper. They are potentially strong in flavor, taste, and aroma but the content varies greatly depending on the kinds of plants and varieties.
Researches have shown that they are also a more terrific source of full packed vitamins and antioxidants than other mature vegetables that are grown normally. According to the published Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, among the 25 microgreens assayed, cilantro, garnet amaranth, red cabbage, and green daikon radish had the highest concentrations of ascorbic acids, carotenoids, phylloquinone, and tocopherols, respectively. With their comparison on mature leaves’ nutritional concentrations (USDA National Nutrient Database), the microgreen cotyledon leaves possessed higher nutritional densities. The data generated in this study served as a basis for evaluating the nutritional value of microgreens.
Microgreens bring you to a table of all sorts of flavor profiles – from sweet and crisp to sweet-hot, spicy, nutty, lemony, and more. And the list of nutrients available in these little wonders is fully packed.
Today’s food poses a threat to our health if we don’t know how it is being produced. One of the threats is the harmful chemicals from pesticides used that bring danger and long-term health complications such as incidences of chemical residues that sit in the product, especially when pre-harvest intervals are not strictly followed.
Time Frame and Beginner-Friendly
There are ways to produce microgreens, and one is through sowing them to trays with different planting media such as coco choir, peat, soil with organic matter; and through hydroponics. Planting in seed trays using solid planting media will make you harvest in a week or three, depending on the length of the plant you want it to be picked. In comparison, hydroponics allows you less than a week or two to produce harvestable greens. Hence, the length of time to make it emerge and harvestable depends on the kind of plants and varieties.
You don’t have to own an acre of land to produce your microgreens. All you need is a space where you can set up your seed trays undisturbed and accessible to sunlight and artificial lighting required for its growth. Most of the microgreens need at least four to six hours of indirect sunlight or artificial light exposure during the day to make them vibrant green and non-leggy.
Simple and Healthy Food with Microgreens
There are a lot of ways to prepare microgreens for food. Culinary experts approved its versatility and perfect blending to salads, sandwiches, stir-fry’s, taco’s, garnishes, soups, and other incredibly amazing and delicious recipes.
Growing microgreens for food consumption is also one of the trends of some minimalist experts and well-disciplined in budgeting and wise in acquiring food sources. You can now save more by reducing the cost of food allocated for some vegetables. However, growing microgreens does not mean you will no longer buy other hard vegetables. It will perfectly complement other food to make it more palatable, healthy, and flavorful.
Easy to Grow and Prepare
Microgreens, as the name itself, denotes green, young, and tender vegetables that you can grow in your garden or even indoor whole year-round but harvest very young from an inch to six inches tall, regardless of what season you may be in. You can just simply set up trays and racks as for growing.
Tips in Growing Microgreens
In selecting the best growing medium for microgreens, the availability of planting medium materials is the number one consideration upon growing them.
Microgreens do not require additional nutrients for growth. The growing media will only serve as a support to hold them upright while growing. They do not require massive fertilization at all. They get their energy from seeds and first photosynthesis. Since they are harvested at a very early stage of their life cycle, they don’t need supplemental nutrition. Many microgreen growers opted to use soil for growing because that way, they can produce the best product, higher yield, and tend to be the easiest to work with. Other considerations include coconut coir, vermiculite, hydroponics, rice hulls, sawdust, and other locally available growing mediums depending on your specific situation and location.
Several microgreen enthusiasts have kept on experimenting with other means of growing them. Others tried to grow their plants in paper towels, sand and pebbles, water (through hydroponic concept), etc. If you are a beginner, start using a simple tray of any kind (new or recycled) and a growing medium available in your area.
Soil Mix Medium
This is the right choice if you are not hesitant to get a little messy during the preparation and plus, you get an inherent extra readily available nutrient bomb that won’t hurt your microgreens growth.
A fine soil mixed with a little organic matter is already a perfect combo. Others are also using soil with the following mixes of peats either coco or moss. What matters most is that the resulting medium is of higher moisture retention capacity.
This is a bit expensive, and I don’t know if they are readily available worldwide. These are usually made from Hemps, coconut fibers, textiles, and wood. Again, if you opt to use this, consider the mat that holds moisture longer.
If you want to grow microgreens without messy soil, then growing them hydroponically is your best option. To start with, you just need a few basic supplies like trays, growing medium, lighting, seeds, and nutrient solution (optional).
In this method, you are growing your microgreens in an aquatic-based environment. Oxygen and nutritional requirements can be given through the water instead of getting it from the soil. Supplemental nutrients are being added to the water to create a nutrient-rich medium for the microgreens to thrive healthily. However, the microgreens don’t need to have them in the first place. In hydroponics, you will have the option to use other substrates to act as support for your microgreens to grow upright and sturdy and as a suitable anchor for the plant’s roots. The typical support substrates used include coconut coir, hemp mats, clay pebbles, vermiculite, and Rockwool. Although some hydroponic systems don’t require a growing medium at all especially in the case of growing microgreens!
Qualification of Vegetables to be grown as Microgreens
There is no limit as to what plants can be grown as microgreens as they can be grown from almost any kind of vegetable or herb seed. Even some grains and grasses can make great microgreens that you may even think not possible. The common varieties to be grown include amaranth, basil, beets, broccoli, cabbage, celery, chard, chervil, cilantro, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard, parsley, peas, radish, arugula, spinach, and sorrel. To give you an idea of what to know about their growing conditions preference and nutritional requirement, it is best that you know as well the family of plants where they are being rooted.
There are lots of plants that can be grown as microgreens that are not mentioned above, so this is certainly the reason why you don’t limit your exploration to these. May this help you get rid of the days where you have that limited choice when it comes to packing a nutrient punch into your diet. Microgreens offer a wide choice of sprouts and shoots that you can even grow in the comfort of your home.
Care and Maintenance
Microgreens are not labor-intensive when it comes to daily care and maintenance to get them to harvest. However, there are few important things to look out for during the growing stages to ensure the seeds grow vibrantly healthy and delicious greens. Since you get started on this, make sure you manage them well to ensure a beautiful harvest.
To ensure high seed germination, plant the seeds on the trays with potting mixes of your choice then cover them lightly with the soil or medium you use to burry them about an inch depth. Then water enough but not overly soaking the entire content of the tray. Cover it with plastic or any dark covers. There are three main factors required to ensure high germination rates, these are water, light/darkness, and oxygen.
For about 3-4 days from emergence, do not remove the cover. During this stage, the seeds are going to be very moist and ideally in a warm spot. If you find it hard to look for a warmer spot, try in the kitchen, where usually there is high relative humidity. The optimal germination in most seeds is at room temperature level. During these days, while waiting for the seeds to emerge, apply water misting to the seeds twice or thrice a day. Do not over water, just enough to make it moist inside. Why exposed it to darkness? It’s because they usually struggle and tend to grow fast in the absence of light as they try to look for the light.
When the seeds have sprouted from darkness, take them out and expose them to sunlight or artificial light. This will make your microgreens literally vibrant green and extremely distinguishable as “microgreens” and not just “sprouts” which are pale shoots and leggy as they are going to grow and develop fast their cotyledons (the “seed leaves” of the plant). In this stage, put your growing trays in an area where there is good air circulation, supplement a fan if there is none. This will avoid them to develop fungal diseases acquired from poor air circulation. Apart from good air circulation, do not forget to continue misting your trays a few times a day to make sure they are keeping enough moisture. Do not dehydrate your highly sensitive babies as they easily wilt and desiccate when you forget to water them. Use clean tap water for misting. Inspect them daily for any signs of molds and fungus.
Microgreens are usually ready to harvest two to three weeks after planting. Harvest them when you see the first set of real leaves. Once leaves appear, cut the microgreens just above the soil line. It is also easier to harvest and clean them by running your hand across the top of your microgreens, pull them and then brush off all of the seed shells. Serve them fresh for the best flavor you could ever have.
While not all microgreens regrow after harvesting, many do and actually can be cut several times like peas, beans, and kales. To harvest these kinds of plants that regrow after cutting, do not pull them out of the soil because that will disturb all the plant roots. Instead, use sharp scissors to cut the greens at soil level. For those that do not regrow after harvest, you can uproot the plants and replant microgreen seeds or even dump the tray and start over again. Remember, microgreens might also be more likely to regrow if they’ve been planted in a larger type of pot like a window box.
Keep microgreens between slightly damp paper towels and stay covered in a resealable bag or container. This simple method of preservation will make them last in the fridge for about a week. Make sure to keep greens covered right up until they are consumed, this will ensure that they don’t wilt or desiccate out during service.
Lester, Gene & Xiao, Zhenlei & Luo, Yaguang & Wang, Qin. (2013). Microgreens: Assessment of Nutrient Concentrations.