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How to grow microgreens indoors: what you need to know

Microgreens are truly a wonderful thing to start growing right now, this very minute, at home. Now, you probably wonder how to grow microgreens indoors. Read ahead to understand more about the micro world and how to be the most successful with your first batches of babies.

Microgreens is a great word. The grouping of plants that it describes could have been called tinyplants, or littleveg, but microgreens has a much better ring to it. These small but mighty plants are attractive and take only one to three weeks to go from seed to being ready to eat. They are also packed with nutritional value (and are delicious). Rightfully so, they have become popular in recent years. From farms, to grocery stores, to restaurants, they have made their little selves a big star in the vegetable world. And the best part is : it’s easy grow microgreens at home.

Red cabbage and broccoli microgreens growing indoor in a plate
Photo by Heimgart

What exactly are microgreens?

The word microgreens doesn’t describe a specific group of plants, like lettuces or tomatoes. It instead describes the seedling stage of edible vegetables, herbs, and flowers.

It is the same concept as sprouts, microgreens is the stage after sprouts in the growth process. Sprouts are plants that are at the stage of being a fully germinated seed. You may have eaten broccoli sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, or pea sprouts before. This is the same concept as microgreens, but microgreens are simply the next size up. Maybe think of sprouts as newborns and microgreens as babies who are a little further along.

There are copious amounts of plants that you can eat at this stage, and there are many benefits to both eating and growing them.

 

Big flavor, big nutrition

Don’t be deceived by the size of microgreens. While they are small, they possess big flavor and nutrition.

Many microgreen varieties have higher nutritional densities than the full grown versions of themselves. This is partly because younger plants have to produce an abundance of compounds to protect themselves while they grow. These compounds are great for the human body.

Microgreens possess high levels of things like minerals (calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, etc.), polyphenols (organic compounds found only in plants that contain high levels of antioxidants), and vitamins (red cabbage microgreens were found to have 6 times more vitamin C than full grown red cabbage!). Their antioxidants also degrade quickly after harvesting, which is another great reason to grow microgreens at home.

Microgreens on pumpernickel with guacamole
Photo by Heimgart

Choosing your varieties

It is usually best when growing something new to keep it as simple as possible. In this case that means choosing one or two varieties, learning the process, and then adding more from there.

It would also be wise to choose a less finicky variety, allowing you to get some rewarding practice in before moving onto more challenging ones. Some of the simplest to grow include radish, sunflower, broccoli, cabbage, buckwheat, and arugula (rocket). Radish seems to be universally agreed upon as the easiest to grow, and it is delicious, so it wouldn’t be a bad place to start.   

Then there are the more difficult varieties to grow, although they are all doable and may just take a little more planning and attention. For example, peas are more picky with the amount of water they require. Carrots take a longer time to grow (about five weeks to harvest), and basil needs warmer temperatures than most. 

It is important to note that you don’t need to buy special microgreen seeds, however you want to choose seeds that are not treated with any chemicals.

If you have leftover or even expired seeds from the outdoor growing season, this is a great opportunity to use them up. At The Green Conspiracy headquarters, we did it with a big bag of expired pea seeds, and the results were great!

There are also seed mixes you can buy so that you get a variety of greens within one growing container. For a delicious microgreen salad, you could buy a mesclun mix, which offers a variety of spicy greens in one pack. Whatever you choose, take your time to learn about what will make that variety grow best.

 

Rambo radish and kohlrabi microgreens growing indoors
photo by Heimgart

Easy to grow, easy to love

Because they are such an early stage of growth, microgreens can be harvested extremely quickly. The only thing that is faster to harvest is sprouts, because of the whole just-being-a-germinated-seed thing.

Depending on the variety, most microgreens will take one to three weeks to get to eating size. As soon as their first true leaves emerge, they are ready to be gobbled up. This quick timing means that you can easily have a constant supply of greens. In addition, you can have this constant supply throughout the winter or in any climate. Because of their size, microgreens are the perfect crop to grow indoors, so you don’t have to worry about seasons or unruly weather, pests, etc.

They are also simple to care for, especially once you get the hang of it, and to top it all off, they are beautiful. All you need is a space that gets some light and some good decision making skills about what varieties you want to grow. 

Red amaranth microgreens growing indoor
Photo by Devi Puspita Amartha Yahya

The micro-maintenance set up

Now, I hear you say how to grow microgreens indoors? They are actually quite easy to grow!

You can grow microgreens at home with or without soil (hydroponically). Advantages to not using soil include tidiness and saving on using precious soil if you’re looking to grow a lot. However, from our research, better growth results from using soil. Because, while plants can germinate just from the power of their seed, they prefer a boost after that, and that comes from the soil.

If hydroponics are calling your name, you can replace this boost by buying a nutrient solution to spray on like water. You will also need to get a growing medium like coconut choir, hemp, or vermiculite. This gives the seed something to latch onto to keep it steady as it grows. Some people prefer this process, so you can find plenty of information if interested. But to us, soil seems simpler and to produce good results, so we will stick with that here.

Certain seeds possess a tough outer coat, they will germinate much more easily if they are soaked in water first. Some of the most popular ones that grow better after a soak are beetroot, peas, swiss chard, nasturtium, sunflower, and sweetcorn. For these, simply pour the seeds in a jar or bowl filled with room temperature water, cover with a lid, paper towel, etc. and keep in a warm area for around 8-12 hours. 

How to grow microgreens indoors : easy step-by-step

Once you are set up, the next step for all seeds is to plan out your space.

  1.  Find a sunny location on a windowsill or anywhere else that receives abundant rays.
  2.  Find a container in which to grow your greens. A wide and shallow container works best, wide so that you can grow a good amount, and shallow so that you don’t waste soil filling up a pot when the baby roots only go so deep.
    It doesn’t have to be fancy; disposable pie plates and takeout containers work great, just poke some holes in the bottom for drainage.
  3.  Add one to two inches (2.5 – 5 cm) of potting soil, or a mix of potting soil with compost or other soil. Scatter your seeds over the surface. Using a piece of cardboard or other material (your hand will work too), press the seeds slightly into the soil. Cover the seeds with a little more soil, and then dampen with a spray bottle.

That’s it! Just like this, you learnt how to grow microgreens indoors.

From then until they’re ready to harvest, spray the soil once or twice a day, aiming to keep the soil damp but soaked.

Harvest once the first two true leaves emerge, using scissors to snip clumps at soil-level. The harvest time will vary depending on the plant, anywhere from three days to three or more weeks. The soil can then simply be flipped over and replanted with your next batch of seeds.

Greens should be consumed within a few days for optimal taste, crunch, and benefits. Use them on salads, sandwiches, or to garnish any dish you put in front of you. There are also many recipes you can find with a quick search!

tools to grow microgreens indoors

In conclusion

Now you know how to grow microgreens indoors, I hope you feel inspired to enter the microgreen world. While different from growing full size vegetables, it is just as rewarding and allows you the chance to witness the growth of seedlings. This is a stage that can often be missed while thinking about the longer term process of vegetable growing, and when plants are growing outside. Knowing that these will only be growing for a few weeks and having them right on our windowsill, our attention can be fine-tuned and we can witness the first stages of growth. As is true with all gardening, growing microgreens at home is a beautiful process of learning what works best for the plants and for you, what tastes good and makes you smile, and what you want to grow next.

Happy micro-gardening! 

 

Read on:

Microgreen nutrition, food safety, and shelf life: A review

Nutrition, Sensory, Quality and Safety Evaluation of A New Specialty Produce: Microgreens

Are Microgreens Sustainable? The Truth About Growing Microgreens

Complete List of Main Types of Microgreens You Can Grow

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