What are microgreens?

Suppose you live in an urban apartment, or are disabled, or have no vegetable-growing skills whatsoever? What can you do to have fresh, nutritious food at your fingertips? Microgreens are power-packed, tiny little plantlets that require little more than an empty take-out container, a sunny window and a handful of soil. You can even grow them on a bright spot on your office desk to liven up your lunch.

Microgreens are the darlings of the 5-Star chefs and foodies everywhere. They sit atop salads, sandwiches, omelets, sushi, wraps, soups and a whole host of other edibles. While many people think these are simply garnish like the obligatory parsley or kale leaf, they are actually packed with so many vitamins and nutrients that it would be hard to list them all. They are easy to grow and the variety available is terrific.

microgreens on top of salad

Most people are unfamiliar with the term, microgreens. Microgreens are tiny plantlets of many vegetables or herbs that are harvested just as the first true leaves begin to show. They are usually grown tightly packed in shallow containers and can be grown using soil, or soil-less mediums like vermiculite. They take between one and three weeks to mature to the harvesting stage and many people keep a succession of plantings so that fresh greens are available at all times. Due to their tiny stature, the microgreens are quite fragile and do not ship or store well, so should be used within a few days of harvesting and if you purchase them in the supermarket, a small packet can set you back several dollars. The good thing is, if you grow your own, you can harvest just what you need at the time and leave the rest to grow for a few days. These are not sprouts (which are also quite nutritious and easy to grow) Sprouts are harvested when the root germinates and before the leaves appear, microgreens are the upper portion of the plant and do not include the roots.

tiny microgreens plant in a hand

Microgreens nutrition

So many ask why these seemingly insignificant little plants are so popular and important to health-conscious folks. The answer is simply because these tiny things contain all of the nutrients (and often more) than their full-sized counterparts. That's right, a tiny broccoli or kale sprout is more nutritious than a whole broccoli or kale plant. Some studies indicate as much as nine times more, others say even forty times more. They are supposed to be consumed raw to receive the biggest nutritional benefit, which makes them a perfect addition to smoothies and sandwich toppers. Some even sprinkle them on soups and roasted vegetables for a flavor kick. It is easy to get kids involved in the process as well and they'll be more apt to try them if they have watched them grow.

Growing and using microgreens

Growing microgreens is easy, just make sure you have organic or untreated seed from a source specializing in them. There are several good places to get them, however I ordered mine from this company. I used a couple of take-out containers that I had from rotisserie chickens and poked a few holes in the bottom for drainage. After that, I put about an inch of slightly damp, organic seed starting soil in the bottom, since I already had some left over from when I started my peppers and tomatoes. I lightly tamped it flat and sprinkled about a tablespoon of the mixed microgreens seeds. This mixture had several different radishes, broccoli, spicy mustards and kale. After pressing the little seeds into the soil, I took a spray bottle and misted them well. I placed them in a warm spot and they sprouted after a couple of days. Since I had my tomatoes and peppers under lights, I just slipped the microgreens containers under them as well, however, a bright window or a desk lamp should work too. I misted the seedlings every day to keep the soil damp and they popped up and grew quite quickly. What you see in the images are two weeks worth of growth. The cotyledons, or seed leaves come first and you can start harvesting them then, however when the little nubs of the first true leaves start to emerge, that's when they are the most nutritious. Just clip the little plants close to the soil and swish in a bowl of water to remove any soil and use immediately. After harvest, they will keep two or three days on damp paper towels in the refrigerator, however if you harvest them yourself, you can just clip what you need.

microgreens growing in a container

Microgreens are a economical way to grow fresh food. The amount of water, energy and work involved is so much less than growing a full-sized plant to harvest and often, a good portion of the full-sized plant is discarded and never used. Microgreens fill a fresh food void that many people should take advantage of and are so easy anyone can grow them.