In the middle of winter, there isn't much lush and green around my house. The garden is covered in a few inches of snow. I haven't started seeds for the coming growing season yet. And the only houseplants I have (and can keep alive) are a few succulents and cacti on my bedroom window sill. We have citrus and olive plants in our lean-to greenhouse, a curry and kaffir lime plant by the kitchen table, along with a hibiscus and some geraniums. Maybe that's a lot for some people, but I'm used to my backyard being filled with a hundred tomato plants, and a bit of everything else you can imagine, from red peas to white peppers.
What do I do to get my garden fix when it's cold and blustery outside? For starters, I go through A LOT of seed catalogues (find my top tips for choosing the best seeds for your garden here). I also grow microgreens.
Microgreens. They're exactly what they sound like: baby plants allowed to grow to a few inches high before harvesting them. They're not only beautiful—they’re delicious and nutritious too.
The seeds are planted on top of a growing medium, where there is light and air movement. That makes conditions less suitable for bacterial growth than with sprouts, which are usually grown in warm, moist conditions in a closed container.
Start with Seeds!
First, you need seeds. And you have a lot of types to choose from! There are larger-seeded microgreens like sunflower (one of my favourites!), pea, and lentil.
Smaller seeded microgreen crops include many plants in the cabbage family, like kale and broccoli. Radish microgreens are also great, and there are many different varieties available with different colours and spiciness.
Herbs like basil, dill, and cilantro are also popular, and so are greens like mustard, endive, and spinach. There are a TON of other ones too... sesame, red clover, beet, and so many more!
There are also some great mixes , like a spicy microgreen mix. Here are some of my favourites:
Very tender and have a great sweet, nutty flavour. Fast growing, and one of my favourites!
They taste just like peas (maybe a bit less sweet)! Very crunchy, fast growing, and a great choice for growing microgreens with kids becuase the large seed size is easier for them to hold onto.
They taste pea-like with a slight bitterness and are very crunchy and fast growing too!
Stunning! Vibrant pink stems with dark purple leaves. They grow quite fast. And they pack quite a punch!
China Rose Radish
Beautiful bright pink stems with light green leaves! Spicy and fast growing.
Gorgeous purple stems and vibrant green leaves! Tastes like many ther brassicas, with a mild and sweet cabbage flavour.
Where to Get Seeds
Seeds for microgreens are available at many different places. If you’re trying a crop for the first time, you might want to start with a seed packet to try it out. Once you like something, I recommend buying in larger quantities, because you'll go through quite a bit of seed. I like to get the Mild Micro Mix and Spicy Micro Mix from Johnny's Selected Seeds, and the rest of my seeds are from Mumm's Sprouting Seeds (note that sprouting seeds and microgreens seeds are the same and interchangeable). There are a lot of other great sources out there too!
Is it Worth it?
Many people ask me whether microgreens are worth it because you use a lot of seeds and you don't even let them get very big. Yes, it is worth it! It’s an easy winter harvest. Where I live it gets cold and I miss gardening a lot over the winter. Microgreens are a great chance to get my hands in the dirt!
Microgreens are super easy to grow (more on that below!), and super fast too. I can plant them in a couple minutes, and with a bit of watering, I can harvest them in 1-2 weeks. The output from that minimal amount of work is fresh, delicious greens when there is a foot of snow outside. You can often find microgreens for sale at health food stores, but they're often quite expensive, much more so than growing your own.
What to Plant in
The growing medium is simply an anchor for the microgreens. The seeds already have what they need to grow to harvesting size. You don't need to worry about fertilizing them-- they have that covered. The growing medium will hold water and is what the roots attach to. I use a good quality soilless potting mix for my microgreens, the same one that I use to start any other seedlings. It is great at retaining moisture, meaning I don't have to worry about it drying out really fast. It's always best to go with a good-quality potting mix so there is less chance of it containing diseases that can affect your tender little plants.
Another option is using microgreen mats. They are made from the fibres of things like hemp, bamboo, and wood. They are great at holding water and for plants to anchor their roots. And, you don't have to worry about any disease on them that may affect your microgreens.
If you're growing your microgreens in potting mix, you have lots of different options for containers to use! You only need to have about 1 inch of potting mix for them to grow, so any shallow container will work. I'm talking about everything from your standard 1020 tray to a pie plate to an empty egg carton to an old shoe. If it can hold soil, you can grow microgreens in it! One thing to note is that the smaller the container, the faster it will dry out and the more you will have to water. I did an experiment last year where I tried to grow microgreens in old mason jar lids (because I thought it would look pretty cool). It worked, but it didn't work well because they couldn't hold much soil, and therefore dried out super quickly.
If you're using microgreen mats, you can put them in a 1020 tray, or you can cut them into different pieces if you don't need a whole tray of microgreens at once. You can also cut them to fit the size of decorative pots if you want to display them in your kitchen, or any other container. Yes, they can also go into that old teapot you don't like very much!
Once you have your seeds and your growing medium (potting mix or microgreen mat), you're ready to get planting!
It's often recommended to pre-soak larger seeds, like sunflower or pea. I soak mine for 4-8 hours before planting.
Add your growing medium (microgreen mat or potting soil) to your container of choice. For microgreen mats, you should put them in a container with water and let them absorb before planting. With potting mix, I like to wet the mix with a spray bottle before planting.
Once your growing medium is ready, sprinkle your seeds evenly across the surface. The seeds should be pretty close together, almost touching. It's not an exact science. After doing it a few times you'll just know what looks right. You do not cover the seeds with potting mix.
I like to wet my potting mix with a watering can once the seeds are sown. You want it to be moist, but if your seeds are floating, you've gone too far.
To help get the best germination possible, I like to make sure the seeds are pressed down against the potting mix. For example, if I'm growing in a 1020 try I like to put another tray on top and weigh it down with whatever heavy objects I have around... books, paint cans, bricks. The seeds are strong, don't worry about that. It just helps with seed to soil contact, meaning better germination. You should take off these weights after a couple days.
Once the seeds are on the growing medium and have been watered, all you need to do is wait. That's arguably the hardest part. While they're growing, you can brush the top of them with your hand to help remove the seed hulls. Wait until the microgreens are about 3 inches tall, and harvest with a sharp knife or scissors. Once you're done with harvesting, you can actually let the microgreens regrow once more. The first harvest is always going to be the best, but if you keep them well watered, you will get another delicious crop out of them!
Every once in a while I'll get a bit of mould on my microgreen soil. Why? Well, I think that has to do with my overwatering tendencies. Help prevent it by keeping the potting mix moist but not wet, have good ventilation, and not planting too densely.
You can remedy it with a hydrogen peroxide and water solution sprayed on your plants. Also, it's important to clean your containers before you use them again to prevent this. Use a hydrogen peroxide or bleach solution between uses.
When your microgreens are done producing, you can compost whatever remains.
And... That's it!!!
That's how you can grow your own fresh, delicious, nutritious, and easy microgreens at home. Happy growing!
Click here to see my most recent microgreen post on Instagram.