November 27, 2011
When we grow our vegetables during their season we tend to follow “rules.” Sow the seeds, let them grow a few inches, thin them out, let them grow a little more, pick and eat. With microgreens you need to forget all the “rules” and discover a whole new way to grow your greens all year around.
Microgreens are defined as plants harvested at the cotyledon growth stage, when the seed splits and sprouts with the first two leaves. The difference between microgreens and sprouts is that sprouts are grown in water and microgreens in soil. Harvesting is usually done when the plants reach 2-3 inches tall, but that can depend on your plant choice. These little gems are a sought after treat for chefs around the country. Some microgreens can fetch up to $50 a pound in some areas. They are used by chefs and cooks as a “finish” to add flavor and appearance. They add another layer of flavor to your dish. These little treats pack quite a punch.
They have been around in the U.S. since the 1990’s, but only in the last couple of years have they hit the market with a bang.
The first microgreen in popularity was wheatgrass, grown for its health benefits, mainly used in smoothies and other health drinks. While the category of microgreens has gone through several phases, in the beginning chefs used them in salads and to garnish a plate. Now they are used more for their original intended purpose, an herb flavoring to enhance the flavor of food.
For the price of a container, a bag of soil and a package of seeds you can grow these greens on a kitchen table, windowsill or countertop. These basic articles make it an easy and inexpensive hobby. Keep it simple to start and as you hit your stride you can experiment with other choices and techniques.
Microgreens have an intense flavor no matter what plant you select. My experience so far has been growing radish, arugula, beets, spinach, kale, broccoli, basil, sage and cabbage. Make your selections based on what you like in the adult version and you will love the mini version.
Container: A pint size recycled deli tray with a lid is ideal for your container. There are actual microgreen kits available now. Oakland Nursery at U.S. 36/Ohio 37 and Kilbourne Road has them in stock. They come with the containers, soil and instructions. It’s a great beginning.
Soil: Use a seedling mix or light potting soil. Don’t use garden soil, it’s too heavy and could contain pests and diseases. Fill the container to about a half an inch from the rim with your growing media, lightly press it down. Moisten the soil slightly and you are ready to plant.
Lighting: Microgreens require some light to be successful. If you have a sunny windowsill, or a table that sits in front of a well lit window, then you are good to go. A grow light can be an asset and allows them to grow at a much greater rate. Small tabletop models are available online, add that to your holiday wish list.
Seeds: Organic seeds are preferable but not necessary. Seed packets do not need to be marked specially for microgreens, any will work. Lay the seeds on the soil surface close together but not touching. Press them firmly into the soil, but do not cover the seeds with soil.
Water: You need to keep the soil moist, but not wet. Spray the seeds with a light mister so as not to move the seeds around. Place a lid on the container, with breathing holes or a paper towel laid on top. The holes are there for ventilation, which assures against mold. Be very gentle about pouring in water. If you go too quickly you can wash the seeds away and disturb the roots. Fertilizing your crop is optional. If you choose to add that to your greens, use a diluted organic product, such as fish emulsion. Once the seeds start to sprout, remove the lid or paper towel.
Harvesting: All that is needed is a pair of sharp clean scissors. Simply cut below the leaves and above the soil line. What I like most about these little gems, is I walk across the kitchen, cut my greens and eat for dinner. It’s just doesn’t get any more local than that. Some can be grown in as little as one week, but others take longer, up to 21 days. Plant a new crop every four to seven days to have a continuous selection of fresh greens.
Diseases are very few if any. Since they are planted in fresh soilless mix, new seeds and fresh water are used, you shouldn’t have any problems. They grow rapidly and are harvested young.
Now that you’ve grown them, what can you do with them? Add to a sandwich, garnish soups, top hors d’oeuvres, mix with pasta or rice. A fun way to present them is to place them on your table and let all your guests cut their own and add to their dinner, an edible centerpiece. Two books on the market now explain these in great detail and have plenty of recipes to keep you busy; Microgreens by Franks/Richardson and Microgreens by Fiona Hill. Add these books to your holiday wish list.
Enjoy your winter greens close to home, and best of all experience the health benefits of microgreens.
Susan Liechty is an OSU Extension Master Gardner volunteer.