By Sherry Stover
VCE Southside Master Gardener
Let’s get growing Microgreens in 17 Days or less. Microgreens are immature versions of vegetable and herb seeds. Winter is the perfect time for sowing seeds you can eat. The garden has been put to bed for the year and unless you have a greenhouse or other comparable set-up, there's not a lot being grown and harvested in the backyard right now. Microgreens have four to six times more concentration of nutrients than bigger/adult size plants, they offer more of nutrients like beta carotene, vitamins A, B, C, E and K plus antioxidants.
Microgreens are a great way to add some fresh nutrition to winter salads, sandwiches or eggs.
Just about any seed, dried pea, grain, or dried bean can be used to grow microgreens. You can use leftover garden seed from last year or purchase new seed. A partial list includes: arugula, amaranth, beets, broccoli, chia, cabbage, chinese cabbage, corn, cress, cucumber, dill, favas, fenugreek, flax, garbanzos, kale, kohlrabi, lentils, mizuna, mung beans, mustard greens, oats, quinoa, pac choi, radish, red clover, sesame, sunflower, triticale, wheat, and all types of peas.
FAST-GROWING MICROGREENS READY IN 10-15 DAYS. Easy to grow & mild: Peas, Sunflower, Radish, Cilantro, Sorrel. Do not grow and consume seeds of the Nightshade family plants such as potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers as microgreens, since nightshade plant sprouts are poisonous.
These might take a little longer to be harvestable but are worth the wait: Dark Opal basil, Rainbow or Ruby Red chard.
Make sure any seeds, grains or legumes you select for microgreens are marked as suitable for human consumption and do not contain alkaloids or have been treated with chemicals. Better yet, buy organic, if possible. Additionally, while some grains such as whole oats can be germinated, oat meal bought at the store has been dehulled and then steamed or roasted and will not sprout. You must always use whole grains in order to produce grain microgreens.
One of the most wonderful things about microgreens is the fact that the act of germinating a seed, bean or grain will cause its nutritional value to increase exponentially. Once soaked and rehydrated for germinating, the amount of enzyme activity skyrockets and the seed becomes a little nutritional powerhouse many times more nutritious than it was in its original state.
First, you will need a container. There is a wide variety to choose from including plastic trays and containers that can be stacked for ease of storage. You can even wash & reuse a food container (yogurt or berry clamshells work great). It doesn't have to be deep-a few inches is enough. Bagged potting soil is perfect; avoid using garden soil or soil mix with large woody pieces. A spray bottle set to a fine mist is helpful for even watering. Find these at discount stores or in the travel aisle. If you don't have a very bright window, then use a grow light. A bright desk lamp or shop lights are fine.
DAY 1: Today gather your supplies: (1) small container(s) with drain holes and lids. As with any implements or materials that came in contact with food, care should be taken to make sure “sprouters” are kept clean and sanitary. Wash them thoroughly with soap and hot water before using and before starting your next crop. Occasionally adding a few drops of bleach to the water and letting them soak is a good practice. (2) fine potting soil; (3) seeds; (4) spray bottle with water; (5) something to cover container to make it dark so the seeds germinate; and a grow light if you do not have a sunny window.
Tomorrow is planting day. Don’t forget: Sunflowers & peas germinate best if soaked for 8-12 hours. Place seeds in a cup & cover with an inch of room temperature tap water. Set aside for tomorrow. No need to soak small seeds, especially not basil.
DAY 2: Let’s plant! Fill your container with potting soil, sprinkle with seeds, gently press seeds into the soil or cover with a light layer of soil, and mist with water. Place a cover over the container so seeds can germinate in the dark.
DAY 3 - 11: Check your microgreens daily - give them a spritz of water to keep soil surface moist. Remove the cover once the seeds have germinated. Place uncovered containers in a spot with bright light. If you don’t have a bright window then place under a lamp or grow light (fluorescent or LED bulbs are fine). If the light is dim then the microgreens will stretch or lean towards the light. ‘Leggy’ microgreens are still edible. Microgreens are usually eaten raw so take care to avoid contaminating with bacteria or viruses that can make you sick. Always wash your hands before handling microgreens. Make sure anything that comes in contact with your microgreens is clean (growing container, scissors when harvesting).
DAY 12 & 13: Consider planting another batch today. That way the second batch will be ready shortly after you finish enjoying your first planting. Check your microgreens daily-give them a spritz of water to keep soil surface moist.
DAY 14 -15: Quick growing microgreens might be ready to harvest today! You’ll know they are ready once they have the first set of true leaves. Cut, rinse, and eat right away- cut microgreens don’t store well. Microgreens make a great addition to salads, sandwiches, and green smoothies. You can even lightly stir fry, use in pasta sauce, or sprinkle on top of eggs.
Day 16 - 17: Most microgreens should be ready to harvest by today. If you’ve already harvested your microgreens, then you’ll want to clean up for next time. Compost the soil and wash the growing container with hot soapy water.
I hope you’re making delicious dishes with your homegrown microgreens and have had fun learning about growing them! While we all are practicing ‘social distancing’ and Halifax County buildings are still closed to the public due to COVID-19, if you have gardening questions, you can reach an Extension Master Gardener or Extension staff member by sending an email to email@example.com. If you are unable to email, you can call and leave a message at the Halifax Extension Master Gardener Help Desk at (434) 830-3383. Be sure to give us your first and last name, telephone number and the nature of the call. The Help Desk phone is routinely checked. Someone will get back to you, although it may be from a different telephone number. Keep washing your hands, wear your mask, practice ‘social distancing’ and try out some microgreens.