For gardeners, January and February can be long months with few opportunities for practical gardening activities if we exclude tasks such as ordering seeds and supplies or planning the upcoming gardening season.
One option for an indoor activity in the winter is to grow microgreens, the small delicate vegetables that add color, texture and flavor to a variety of foods. If you have ordered a salad, sandwich or even certain soups in a “white tablecloth” restaurant recently, you have probably come across any number of microgreens on top of your meal as an ingredient or garnish.
Microgreens are sometimes confused with sprouts, which are sprouted seeds that are eaten as a complete plant – seeds, roots and leaves. Microgreens, however, are edible, unripe vegetables that are harvested shortly after germination when the plants are only 1-2 inches tall.
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Like ripe vegetables, micro-vegetables are nutrient-dense and full of unique flavors and textures. Microgreens are available at local grocery stores and can be relatively expensive, but are easy to grow at home with supplies you may already have on hand.
Which seeds work best for growing microgreens indoors?
Many different vegetables, leafy vegetables, herbs, edible flowers and even some seeds can be grown as microgreens.
For starters, some of the easiest crops to grow include microgreens, brassica like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, as well as mustard, chia, sunflower and buckwheat. Legumes like peas, beans, alfalfa, lentils and chickpeas are also excellent microgreens. One of my favorite seeds to grow as a micro green is beetroot, for their unique color, flavor and texture.
You can choose to grow more than one type of seed as a micro-green together in the same container, or grow different types of seeds in different containers and mix the micro-green after harvest. Micro-green seed mixtures, which contain a variety of seeds with similar growth rates, can be purchased online.
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Some common vegetable crops such as tomato, pepper, eggplant and potato are not edible at the seedling stage and are not suitable for producing microgreens because they contain toxic alkaloids.
Get started growing microgreens
Once you have decided which crops to grow as a micro green and obtain the desired seeds, there are a few simple supplies you will need, including plant trays, a dew bottle and growth medium such as peat-based seed mix or coconut.
Because microgreens do not need a large amount of growth medium, flat seed trays are better than deeper pots. Plastic food containers are perfect for growing micro-greens, but be sure to poke several holes in the bottom of these containers for drainage.
Once you have filled the containers with plant medium, place the containers in a pot of water to moisten the medium from the bottom. When the medium is thoroughly moist, remove it from the water and let the excess moisture drip off.
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Unlike planting seeds underground in a traditional kitchen garden, seeds for micro-vegetable production should be placed on top of the plant medium and not covered with plant medium. Larger seeds such as peas and those with hard shells, such as sunflower, should be soaked in water overnight before seeds to improve germination.
Warm, sunny window sills are perfect places to grow micro-greens, especially if the window faces south. Microgreens also grow well under growth light elsewhere in the house.
Handling and harvesting of micro-green
After sowing, apply a little water occasionally using a spray bottle just to keep the seeds moist during the germination process (growth of shoots). To facilitate germination and maintain a good moisture level, the seed trays are stored in a dark environment for a few days. This can be easily achieved by covering the hills with something that can block sunlight.
Most seeds will germinate in 3 to 7 days and will be ready for harvest in 2 to 3 weeks.
After germination, keep the medium moist by watering from the bottom by again placing the container in a pot of water.
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Microgreens should be harvested with scissors or a sharp knife immediately before you plan to use them, as microgreens have a short shelf life after harvest.
When you first grow your first micro greens, you will probably be hooked and ready to try growing different types of crops like micro greens.
Mike Hogan is an associate professor at Ohio State University and teaches at OSU Extension.