What Are Microgreens? Here's What You Need to Know
Microgreens are vegetables and herbs grown from the seeds and harvested at the seedling stage—when they have only their seed leaves and before their true leaves develop.
Microgreens are a popular culinary trend because of their intense flavor, their extraordinary high vitamin content (a USDA study found microgreens have five times more nutrients than a mature plant) and their ease and speed to grow. (You can harvest microgreens in just 10 to 14 days.)
These small plants pack a big, bold flavor. And it is that flavor that attracts cooks to microgreens. Basil microgreens taste like basil, only a bit stronger. Chives taste like zestier mature chives. Cilantro-lovers yearn for the bold taste of cilantro microgreens.
The Difference Between Microgreens and Sprouts
Do not confuse microgreens with sprouts, even though they look somewhat similar and both are seedlings.
Microgreens are grown in soil, and we eat only the seed leaves and stem. Microgreens are typically eaten fresh.
Sprouts are eaten roots and all. But commercially grown sprouts produced in drums or bins in humid conditions have been linked to cases of E. coli and salmonella. Even homegrown sprouts are not necessarily safe to eat raw, according to the FDA. To reduce the risk, the FDA recommends thoroughly cooking sprouts before eating.
Microgreen Seed Options
You can purchase organic microgreen seeds online, but seeds from a garden center will work just fine, too. Here are a few popular seeds that make tasty microgreens:
- Shallow garden growing tray with drainage holes
- Shallow garden growing tray without drainage holes
- Organic soil
- Organic seeds
- Spray bottle filled with water
- Plastic kitchen wrap or clear acrylic seed-starting cover or dome
You can find a microgreen kit with seeds and supplies online and at local nurseries.
Start by washing your trays in dish soap, then rinse thoroughly. Place moist organic potting soil in the tray, gently pat down the soil, breaking up any lumps. Sprinkle seeds liberally on top of the soil. About one to two tablespoons of seeds should work for a standard 10- x 20-inch garden tray, but check the back of the seed pack for sowing directions. Top with enough soil to cover the seeds and pat down again.
Some large seeds, such as sunflowers and peas, may need to be soaked overnight and rinsed before planting; check the seed pack for directions. In addition, some large seeds don’t need to be covered with a layer of soil; simply pat them into the soil so they can germinate.
Use your spray bottle to mist the soil so that it is thoroughly dampened. (The gentle mist won’t disrupt seeds or soil.) Cover with plastic kitchen wrap or a plastic garden dome. Place the tray of seeds in the tray that doesn’t have drainage holes so no water runs onto your counter or table. Set in a sunny (preferable a south-facing) window. An east-facing or west-facing window will work, but a north-facing will not provide enough light.
Microgreen Care Tips
When sprouts start to develop, about day three, remove the plastic wrap or dome. Continue to mist several times a day or as needed to keep the soil moist. Many gardeners prefer to water from below by removing the tray containing the seedlings, placing water in the bottom tray (or a bigger pan), then returning the seedling tray to soak.
When the seedlings get about 2- or 3-inches tall, examine the plant to see if a true leaf has started to bud below the seed leaves which are generally smooth edged and simple shapes. When that bud appears, the microgreens are ready to cut.
Planting Microgreens Outdoors in the Garden
Some gardeners feel that microgreens grown outdoors in the ground take too much work, are slower to grow, and are not as tender as those grown indoors. Outdoor seeds also need to be covered so they will germinate and you need to protect them from pests. The planting process, though, is basically the same.
Because most tender, annual herbs germinate better in warm soil, wait until after the average last frost date in your area to plant.
Find a small, level area of your garden where they won’t be in direct sun. (Fragile microgreens need some sun, but too much sun dries out the soil.) Some gardeners amend the soil with compost, working it in well until the soil has a fine texture and there are no lumps.
Hand-sow seeds, cover them lightly with soil, and water well with a gentle spray with a watering wand. Keep them covered until seeds germinate.
To keep predators away you’ll have to cover outdoor microgreens with netting held up with garden stakes or hoops. Keep the microgreens moist by watering lightly once or twice a day, depending on the weather.
Due to fluctuations in weather, microgreens planted in the ground may take a few days longer to be ready to harvest. Check them often.
Harvesting and Storing
Whether grown indoors or outdoors in the ground, microgreens are easy to harvest. Use a sharp chef’s knife or scissors to cut the seedlings about a half-inch above the soil. You’ll get a bigger handful and get the job done a bit faster with a chef’s knife. Rinse the microgreens in cool water and set on paper towels. Some gardeners like to rinse microgreens and then use a salad spinner to remove most of the water.
Place the rinsed greens between paper towels and store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. They should last about a week.
You can get up to three harvests from a seed bed. Some gardeners feel the third crop is not as tasty as the first two crops, and the plants get leggy. Regardless, after you harvest your last crop, toss your old soil in your compost bin. Then start another gardening tray with fresh soil and plant more seeds so you always have a tray of microgreens growing while you enjoy the freshly picked microgreens in your refrigerator.
Once you start enjoying the fresh and bold flavors of these tender and flavorful greens, you’ll want to experiment with some tasty microgreen recipes. Here are some you’ll want to try from the experts in the Better Homes & Gardens Test Kitchen. All are loaded with good-for-you ingredients: