Growing microgreens indoors offers anyone the opportunity to quickly and easily grow some of their own food. In this article, I’ll explain what microgreens are and how anyone can grow microgreens indoors for a constant supply of healthy homegrown veggies.
We started growing microgreens in 2011 when we supplied our southern cooking restaurant with locally grown produce. We served them as a garnish on many of our dishes as well as in salads.
Microgreens are quite easy to grow, and they grow quickly – most often harvested within one to two weeks of starting them. They don’t require any special equipment, so seriously anyone can grow these in their home.
What are microgreens?
Microgreens are really just baby plants. Many of the veggies you already know and eat can be used to grow microgreens. If you harvest & consume the leaves of the plant, it can be grown and eaten as a microgreen.
Microgreens vs sprouts
Sprouts are germinated seeds. Often, the sprouts are harvested and consumed seed, stem, cotyledons, and all. Because the seeds are consumed with sprouts, they are more likely to have bacterial contamination. Care should be taken when growing and eating sprouts.
Microgreens are a few days older than sprouts growing to about 2 inches tall. Microgreens will have erect stems and either one or 2 sets of leaves. They are either cut off at ground level or they are pulled up by their roots.
Microgreens vs baby greens and shoots
Baby greens and shoots are harvested from plants that are a little older than microgreens. There will be more than one set of true leaves and the plants are 3 inches or larger in size.
While both baby greens and shoots are harvested at the same stage of growth, baby greens are usually harvested for the leaves whereas shoots are harvested with the leaves and stem.
Compared to baby greens, microgreens will be smaller and more immature.
Please note that there is no “official” definition of these terms. I’m just explaining them as I see them used most often. But you may see them used in different ways or interchangeably.
There are some studies1 which demonstrate that the nutrient density of microgreens is substantially higher than the adult plant. This is really exciting because it is scientific proof that you can grow healthier food in your house than you can buy in the grocery store!
Plus, microgreens are ready to harvest in 1-2 weeks so you can have a continuous supply of healthy ingredients simply by starting a new tray of microgreens on your kitchen counter every couple of weeks.
You’ll need a few supplies to start growing microgreens indoors, but you can use some things you may already have at home:
- Shallow container – microgreens don’t need a lot of soil. 1-2 inches deep is plenty. The length and width of your container are totally up to you. If you don’t want to purchase trays, you can use anything from takeout containers to pie tins or baking dishes for this.
- Lid or cover for your container – You’ll keep the seeds covered for the first few days. You need something to trap heat and moisture, but you also want them to be in the dark for a few days. If you don’t have a lid, try loosely covering with plastic wrap. To block light, you can use a cardboard box.
- Growing medium – Soil or compost, coconut coir, vermiculite, perlite, or hydroponic pad
- Seeds – you can choose from many different types of seeds. Use what you already have or try a mixture of different types of seeds. If you’re using seed packs, you will need 100 or more seeds. Microgreens seeds are usually sold in ounces or pounds.
- Sprayer – you won’t be watering your microgreen seedlings, you’ll be misting them with a spray bottle.
- Water – tap water CAN be the source of problems growing microgreens. This will be exaggerated if you’re using hydroponic setup. Chlorine in treated water can affect the taste and growth of your microgreens.
- Light – You can place your greens anywhere that gets several hours of indirect sunlight…like a bright window. Even though microgreens don’t need to be grown under grow lights, they’ll certainly do better with them.
There is no difference between regular seeds and microgreens seeds, but you will need more than the usual amount of seeds to grow microgreens. Shoot for an ounce or more.
Choosing which plants to use to grow microgreens is totally up to what you like to eat. Pretty much any edible plant can be used to grow microgreens, but here are 26 of the most common microgreens. The asterisk the indicates easiest microgreens to grow.
- Bok/Pak Choi*
- Mustard greens*
How to grow microgreens
Once you have everything you need, the steps to growing microgreens are very simple.
Step 1: fill your container with moist potting soil, hydro mat, or soilless mixture. You don’t want your growing medium to be wet or soggy, you just want slightly moist.
Step 2: Spread your seeds in a thin layer over the top of your soil or soilless mixture. Try to cover the surface as thickly and evenly as possible. You’ll want them planted quite densely. Press gently to seat them in the soil, then mist them with water and cover with a thin layer of soil or vermiculite.
Step 3: Cover your tray with a light blocking lid. In the first few days, you want to keep the seeds moist and dark. The darkness encourages stretching so you get nice long stems for eating. Keep covered except to mist twice daily with water for the first 3-5 days.
Step 4: Remove cover when all the seeds have sprouted. They’ll be pale and yellow, but their color will improve once they get some light. Move to a location that gets light. This can be a window sill, your kitchen counter, or under a grow light if you choose.
Step 5: Mist or water daily.
Step 6: Harvest your microgreens. Taste test often so you get an idea of the flavor, and when it tastes the best to you. Most people decide to take them when they have developed their first set of true leaves – usually 7-14 days.
Troubleshooting microgreens problems
For the most part, growing microgreens indoors is very simple, but there are a few problems you may encounter.
- Stems are too long – not enough light or it’s too hot
- Mold/rot – can be caused by too much water, too thick seeds, pH of water is too high
- Not sprouting or slowly growing – can be caused by too wet or too dry, too cold (stone countertops), pH of water is too high
- Wilting – seedlings are too dry or too hot
- Yellow leaves – can indicate that the pH of your water is too high, they’re not getting enough light, or they are lacking nutrients
Water plays a very important role in the growth and flavor of your microgreens. Chlorinated water can lead to microgreens that taste like a swimming pool. If you find that’s the case, try filtering your water through a charcoal filter before watering microgreens.
Most drinking water has a neutral pH of 7. But most veggies like a slightly more acidic environment. If you’re using soil or compost to grow microgreens, then you probably won’t have to worry too much about the pH of your water. But if you’re growing on a hydroponic grow matt, then the pH of your water has a much bigger impact on the growth of microgreens.
To find out if your pH is causing you problems, simply dip a litmus strip in a cup of water to measure the pH. If you find that the pH is too high, you’ll need to add an acidifying agent to get the pH down to 6.
Try a half teaspoon of lemon juice in one gallon of water and retest. Keep adding until you get the pH down. Make note of how much lemon juice you had to add so you don’t have to retest every time you need more water.
When to harvest microgreens
Microgreens are usually harvested when they are 2-3 inches tall and have two sets of leaves. But since you’re growing microgreens indoors, you should taste one or two every couple of days to see if you like the better at a certain stage.
To cut your microgreens, use clean sharp scissors and clip the stems as close to the soil/pad as possible. If you want to pull them out by the roots, you can but you’ll have to rinse off any soil. Remove seed husks if still present. Rinsing microgreens other than as needed to remove dirt is not recommended.
If you are not going to use your microgreens right away, you can store them in your refrigerator for a few days to a week. Keep them in a damp paper towel wrapped with a layer plastic wrap. Don’t seal the ends of the plastic wrap. You want it to trap moisture but make sure the microgreens still get oxygen.
How to eat microgreens
Microgreens are best eaten fresh and used as a garnish. They add a fresh crunch of flavor that will mimic the flavor of the mature plant. It’s super convenient to have them growing in your kitchen so you can harvest as you plate your food.
Basil microgreens make a great addition to pasta salads, lettuce microgreens are great with fish. Try to think of how the mature plant would taste with your recipe, the microgreens will add a similar flavor with a fresh crunch.
Microgreens are very delicate and do not do well when heated. You should not try to cook the microgreens, rather just sprinkle them like food confetti on your completed dishes.
Have you ever tried growing microgreens indoors?
Tell me about your experience in the comments!