How To Grow Microgreens Indoors

How To Grow Microgreens Indoors

Small but mighty is the leafy green known as the microgreen. These power plants have recently grown in popularity among urban farmers and those seeking a nutritional boost. The leafy green stalks are just as accessible to those beginning to exercise their green thumb.

They can be incorporated into a variety of dishes, including sandwiches, wraps and salads. They are also sometimes be blended into smoothies or juiced into wheatgrass juice. This superfood adds a rich burst of color, texture, flavor, and nutrients when used as garnishes on pizzas, soups, omelets, curries and other warm dishes.

One noteworthy feature of the microgreen is its low maintenance. All is not lost for those of us lacking the luxury of abundant space, time, and sunlight. They can be grown indoors with minimal sunlight and don't take up a ton of space. We've gathered plenty of info to get you started.

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What is a Microgreen?

The term refers to the developmental stage after sprout but before a plant becomes a "baby" veggie. The leafy green beginnings of the vegetable add concentrated amounts of texture, flavor, and nutrition. This makes them an ideal garnish for a soup or spicy addition to a sandwich. Some people even blend them into green smoothies. They are typically harvested as soon as 14 days after planting, much less of a commitment than commitment than larger plants.

How To Grow Microgreens Indoors

Microgreens vs. Sprouts

The sprout is similar to the microgreen. The difference is the stage of development. When we think of the life cycle of a plant, a sprout is "older" or more mature than a microgreen. You have the same end result if you were to leave it to grow into a fully developed plant. There are major differences in the growing methods as well. Sprouts are typically grown hydroponically, without soil. Here is a more specific breakdown.

Microgreens have three basic parts:

  • A central stem
  • Cotyledon leaf or leaves
  • First pair of very young true leaves

Cotyledons are the first leaves produced by plants. Cotyledons are not considered true leaves and are sometimes referred to as "seed leaves," because they are actually part of the seed or embryo of the plant. The small, crinkled leaves on top are the first true leaves of this seedling.

All three of these components are edible. They are young and tender and have not developed a tough stalk that we sometimes cut around with certain fully grown veggies. What differentiates a microgreen from a sprout or baby green is the microgreen is harvested at the moment when the first true leaf is developed.

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Chock Full of Nutrients

How To Grow Microgreens Indoors

Vegetables have obvious nutritional benefits. The reason sprouts and microgreens have become so popular recently is because you can get tons of beneficial nutrients without as much calorie intake. They are said to have a higher concentration of certain vitamins and minerals in their less mature state. The U.S. National Library of Medicine says that the following microgreens have higher amounts of certain vitamins than their adult forms:

  • Red cabbage - Vitamin C
  • Green radish - Vitamin E
  • Cilantro - Cartenoids (antioxidants that can turn into Vitamin A)
  • Garner amaranth - Vitamin K

The Benefits of Indoor Gardening

No Weather Advisories

Tilling the soil, choosing pesticides, and keeping track of which plant is in season can be intimidating. All of these issues were prevented when you made the decision to plant indoors. Indoor gardening allows you to create the ideal environment for the plants of your choice without much outside interference.

Better Air

Plants emanate oxygen which in turn cleanses the air inside. Those who reside in urban areas that experience less than ideal air quality will see and feel differences in their home.

Many indoor plants are able to reduce levels of potentially harmful gaseous contaminants. Interestingly, the NASA scientists determined that plant roots, leaves and microorganisms in the plant soil all aid in removing trace levels of harmful gases.

Gardening is Therapeutic

According to Healthline, being around plants helps people feel more calm and relaxed, thus decreasing levels of anxiety. Increases attentiveness and memory. Being around plants, whether at home or work, helps improve memory and attention span by 20 percent and can increase concentration.

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How to Grow in 6 Simple Steps

How To Grow Microgreens Indoors
step 1

Moisten the Mix

BHG recommends using a soilless mix to plant your seeds. Remoisten the soilless seed-starting mix. Sprinkle warm water onto the mix and blend until it is thoroughly damp. If the soil gets too drenched during this process, then wait for it to drain before adding the seeds. In rare occasions when growing specific varieties of plants , like bog plants, that need a lot of water this is not necessary. But, typically, damp soil is the best choice.

Choosing Your Mix

Most gardeners have come to a decision on the potting mix of their choice by trial and error. Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing a potting mix. Soilless mix is made with a mixture of organic materials that when combined allow for better breathability for the roots of your plant.

Common Potting Soil Components:

Peat Moss: comes from sphagnum moss. In order to harvest peat moss, the bogs they grow in are drained. Popular in soil blends because it provides soil aeration, and adds substance to sandy soils. Peat free varieties of soil mixes are available to accommodate those concerned about its dangers. Peat moss has become taboo in Britain.

Coir Fiberor coconut husk fiber is remarkably water resistant and also helps aeration.

Perlite: is a naturally occurring form of volcanic glass. Perlite is known for expanding when heat is applied.

Vermiculite: improves moisture retention, has a soft, spongy like texture.

Vermiculite vs. Perlite

Here is a breakdown of the differences between perlite and vermiculite.

Sand: adding sand to a soil mix creates small pockets of air flow to prevent clogging. Sand should be thoroughly mixed to break up soil mix that does not drain enough.

Limestone: ground limestone is included in some organic bags of soil mix to add nutrients to benefit the plant.

Fertilizers: Fertilizers can be found in the following forms:

  • Liquids
  • Sticks
  • Tablets
  • Granules
  • Slow release

Liquid and slow: release fertilizers are the best option for indoor use. Granules and sticks are convenient but, once you've inserted a fertilizer stick into your pot, you have no control over its release. Granular fertilizers are designed for outdoor use. For this reason, we will look closer at only liquid and slow-release fertilizers.

Slow Release Fertilizers: These are also known as time-released fertilizers. They come in the form of pellets or capsules packed with concentrated amounts of nutrients. Over time the outer coating dissolves and slowly releases nutrients into the plant soil. They can last 3 to 6 months.

Liquid FertilizerThis liquid is typically diluted with water before its application. It is then sprayed onto the soil adding nutrients to help a plant's growth.

step 2

Loosely pack the mix

Once the mix is damp, fill container(s) without packing them too tightly. Packing the containers tightly will prevent water from draining properly. So, loosely filling the containers is the best method.

Tray and Flats

There are different sizes of trays to from. Some are plastic, some have holes, others don't.

1020 trays: These are the most standard size. The 10 inch by 20 inch trays might vary slightly in dimension. For example, your tray might actually measure 11 inches by 21 inches. Some trays are divided into sections or cells. This makes it easier to transplant your plant later on, if you decide to do so.

If growing more than one tray, it is not uncommon to see others stack their trays on top of one another. This is an effective way to save space and create an enclosed environment that encourages germination.

step 3

Add Seeds

Sprinkle the seeds on top and gently press into the potting mix. They don't have to be buried too deeply, just beneath the surface is fine. Some microgreens require a lot of seeds since they have to be planted densely in order to get tall shoots and a good harvest.

What Kind of Seeds Do I Need?

Seeds can be found at most hardware and outdoor stores. There is no actual difference between microgreen seeds and regular veggie seeds. The only difference is that their growing methods may vary slightly to get the best results.

Thin Your Seedlings!

One seed is bound to outperform the other when you plant many seeds in one place. Thinning the seedlings refers to the process of removing seedlings that do not grow as strongly as their colleagues. When you notice one seed sprouting a little sooner than another, it may be better to remove the weaker from the soil. This prevents the roots from getting tangled and gives the dominant plant more room to grow.

This typically happens when seeds grow too closely to one another. It may feel cruel but it ensures proper spacing of the plants.

step 4

Cover the container

Cover the container with a second tray to trap warmth and humidity. This method blocks sunlight which some argue can be advantageous during these beginning stages. You have begun what is known as the blackout period.

A length of time in which trays of microgreens are either stacked or covered to exclude light from the seeds.

Most microgreens should grow in the darkness for three to five days before being exposed to light. Faster growing varieties will need two to three days in darkness, while slower-growing types will need five to eight days. It can feel it bit like neglect at first since learned at a young age that plants need sunlight. But, this process leads to a stronger plant.

Where your microgreens fall in that range depends on the specific type of microgreen you are growing along with growing conditions. In addition to this critical initial period of darkness, microgreens need a mix of light and dark as they continue to grow.

step 5

Care for Your Plant

If possible, place the container near a sunny windowsill after the blackout period to promote growth. Make sure your containers or trays are in an area with plenty of air circulation. We need to ensure that fresh air enters the growing space so that the plants can grow in the best possible environment. Pushing out the "old" air and replacing it with "new" air is part of maintaining ideal growing conditions for the plants.

Just as humans require sunlight for vitamin D, plants need it for photosynthesis, so it’s important to make sure your plants are sitting in an area that gets them enough sunlight. For most plants, windows that face south or west provide enough sunlight. LED grow lights may be used, but fluorescent lights are just as effective and will save you money.

Have a water bottle handy and keep the plant damp by misting as often as needed.

Pro Tip: watering from the bottom has its benefits.

You may need to provide a natural boost of nutrients by applying organic fertilizer. Read the instructions on the bag to know how much fertilizer to use at a time and the frequency of application. If you are not keen on using fertilizer, you may choose to use hydroponic nutrients or homemade compost instead.

step 6

Harvesting the Veggies

The moment has finally arrived. The time for harvesting is here. If left to grow, they will become full fledged vegetables. Microgreens are harvested once their cotyledons are fully developed or at the first true leaf stage. Use scissors to snip them off at the soil level. Use sharp scissors to achieve a clean cut. Do not pull them from the soil, this could damage the roots. After snipping, you may get another spurt of growth.

While not all types of microgreens regrow after harvesting, many do and actually can be cut several times. Pea shoots tend to regrow after harvesting. To increase your chances of regrowing shoots after they’ve been harvested, make sure to cut them just above the lowest leaf.

Rinse and serve your greens immediately for the best results. If you've grown different varieties, you can mix them together at this point.

What Kind of Seeds Do I Need?

Seeds can be found at most hardware and outdoor stores. There is no actual difference between microgreen seeds and regular veggie seeds. The only difference is that their growing methods may vary slightly to get the best results.

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The Heated Container

How To Grow Microgreens Indoors

Some urban farmers opt for using an additional heat source. Heat Mats are an easy, energy efficient way to promote faster germination and stronger seedling growth. They emit gentle, uniform heat to warm soil evenly and encourage root formation. Most seeds require soil temperatures in the 75 to 90 degree F range for successful germination. Add warm temperature to the right amount of moisture and you've created that exquisitely humid space your plants thrive in.

Popular Seed Providers

It is worthwhile to invest time (and maybe a few extra coins) in finding quality seeds. You will be spending weeks tending to them. How heartbreaking would it be to spend weeks tending to seeds that weren't good candidates from the beginning? Start strong with seeds you can trust. Research the source of the seeds and maybe even farming practices. Not every farm abides by the same practices.

Johnny's Selected Seeds is a privately held, employee-owned seed producer and merchant headquartered in Winslow, Maine, USA.

We have been farming organically since the 1970s, and selling high quality organic sprouting seed for over 30 years. The farm is located near Shellbrook, Saskatchewan, Canada and through our warehouse located in Parkside, Saskatchewan we can ship anywhere in Canada or the US. We also export overseas.

We are innovative in addressing the ways to regenerate ecological systems to support urban agriculture and value high quality organic food, efficiency, land stewardship and zero-waste.

Seattle Seed Company buys our seeds from small farms and seed cooperatives who want to help preserve the integrity of our food supply. While we are not certified organic by the USDA as a distributor, many of our seeds are purchased from Certified Organic farms. We carefully select our seed varieties to ensure they are of the highest quality and value before we sell them to your family.

Burpee seeds and plants are available for all growing zones and for all seasons and Burpee guarantees each and every product. In order to keep pace with the changing times, Burpee's highly recognized catalog can now be viewed online. Burpee.com can be used as a one-stop-shop for gardening techniques, recipes, FAQs, etc.

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Common Seed Varieties

How To Grow Microgreens Indoors

Here are 12 popular types:

#1. Beets

They actually have a slightly earthy taste, with a hint of pepper. It is a good complement to most dishes as is the vibrant color of beet microgreens

*Bull's Blood Beet has red-purple leaves and a sweet flavor. It provides a beautiful contrast in salads

#2. Pea shoots

As well as tasting delicious pea shoots are highly nutritious, containing seven times more Vitamin C than blueberries

#3. Sunflower

Known for providing essential amino acids, crunchy sprouted sunflower greens contain high levels of folate, B complex vitamins and vitamins C, E and selenium.

#4. Arugula/"rocket” or “roquette”: 

A fast-growing, cool-season salad green that adds a tangy, mustard-like flavor to salads.

#5. Broccoli

One of the easiest microgreens to grow, Sow thickly for heavy yields. Like radish, broccoli greens are best cut young at the true leaf stage, and high in the stem.

#6. Radish

Miracle Gro describes radish as "one of the fastest [growing] crops."

#7. Wheatgrass 

Is great for juicing. The wheatgrass microgreens do not have gluten when it grows in the 10-12 day period before harvest. Only the seed itself contains gluten.

#8. Sorrel

Is the perfect garnish. Its tender leaves have a unique lemon flavor. Red-veined sorrel is considered part of the buckwheat family.

#9. Cabbage 

The red cabbage variety in particular may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

#10. Basil

Imagine not looking to the pantry for dried basil leaves but right in your windowsill. Basil will taste better as the true leaves mature.

#11. Buckwheat

Is high in fiber, and studies have shown that it helps slow down the rate of glucose absorption after a meal, making it a healthy choice for people with diabetes.

#12. Cauliflower 

Are easy to grow and have a deliciously mild, fresh broccoli flavor with a peppery bite.

Generally, the larger the seed, the easier it is to grow - Urban Farmer Curtis Stone

Pro Tip: To help your seeds germinate quickly, pre-soak larger seeds (e.g. mung beans, wheat, peas, beetroot and sunflowers) in warm water for a few hours or overnight. Soaking seeds removes its protective outer layer, allowing it to germinate faster. Seeds are meant to withstand the harshest conditions that occur in nature. This includes frost, wind, rain, heat, animals, and many other factors. The seeds will grow in the safe seclusion of the indoors, so we can remove its armor.

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What Not to Grow

How To Grow Microgreens Indoors

Not all plants can be grown as microgreens due to toxicity concerns. For instance, nightshade plants (eggplants, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, etc.) should not be grown as microgreen sprouts, since nightshade sprouts are toxic.

Whether you’re planting fruits, vegetables, herbs or beautiful seasonal flowers, the best place to start is by reading the packet your seeds came in. Seed packets typically list guidelines on germination and plant care specific to the plant in question.

Avoid These Common Mistakes

  • Not taking notes - Take note of how your plants are doing. It is common to run into issues no matter where you are on the spectrum from novice to expert. Keep a record of which plants do well in which environments and use it to your advantage. Remember the good and the bad- each will help you out later on.
  • Starting too big - Don't take on too much responsibility. By starting small, there is more of you to go around. Some new gardeners mistakenly begin with 5 herbs at the same time. Each one has different requirements and need to be tended to in different ways.
  • Overwatering - In the beginning, there is a huge feeling of excitement and anticipation. New gardeners sometimes get so wrapped up in the excitement of a new project that they go a little heavy with the watering can. While it is a fantastic idea to water a plant, remember that it can be hurtful to give it too much water.
  • Underwatering - Do not let the fear of overwatering cause you to commit another common mistake. Underwatering happens when a plant does now get enough water. Dry soil tends to pull away from the edge of the pot. If this is happening, your plant could be dehydrated.

Compost in Your Kitchen

Composting is the process of decomposing organic solid waste. Broken down ingredients are naturally converted into usable soil additives or mulch. It is great for the environment as it reduces the need for landfills. While it can seem like a daunting task, it can be scaled down to be done effectively in your home.

Jeffrey Neal, the head of the Loop Closing composting business in Washington, D.C., says that you could begin to compost with as little as a five gallon box. Begin collecting food scraps like egg shells or the stubby end of a broccoli stalk. Ingredients like this are deliberately layered with other components to create the right ratio of nutrients. These articles from Forbes and NPR have more information on how exactly to get started.

Storing Your Harvest

Once fully harvested and properly snipped, they can be refrigerated for a week or more. Keep them covered in a resealable bag or container for the longest lasting results. This way, they won't wilt as quickly as uncovered greens. Try placing a dry paper towel inside. If not, the moisture from the leaves will be absorbed more quickly, and the leaves dry out.