Are you interested in growing microgreens? I don’t blame you! We love our microgreens around here. Radish, sunflower, broccoli, peas, kale… you name it! They’re all delicious. Growing microgreens in containers indoors is a wonderful way to fill your diet with nutrient-dense superfoods. Plus, microgreens can be pretty expensive in the grocery store. Growing your own is far more affordable, and easy to do!
Read along to learn how to grow microgreens, including indoors. This article explains the supplies you’ll need to get started, the most popular types of microgreen seeds to grow, and why they’re SO healthy for you! If you aren’t sure about the difference between sprouts and microgreens, we’ll clarify that too. Finally, follow along with our easy step-by-step instructions to sprout, grow, harvest, use, and store your fresh microgreens.
What are Microgreens?
Microgreens are the young seedlings of a variety of edible plants, including vegetables, herbs, or even flowers. They’re jam-packed with flavor and nutrients, making them quite popular with health food fanatics. Microgreens are also trendy in fine dining restaurants. Microgreen seeds are planted, sprouted, and then harvested all within just a few weeks. Come harvest time, they’re either pulled from the soil and rinsed, or cut just above the soil line. Even though they aren’t grown for that intention, we save and eat most of our thinned garden veggie seedlings as microgreens too!
What is the Difference Between Microgreens and Sprouts?
Sprouts are also very nutritious and sought-after, but are surprisingly quite different from microgreens in a number of ways.
- First, microgreens are grown in soil or a similar medium, like peat moss. On the other hand, sprouts are grown without soil in a damp enclosed container such as a plastic bag, mason jar, or other large container. This makes growing and consuming sprouts exponentially more risky, as the environment they’re grown in is more susceptible to contamination and undesirable bacterial growth – including E. Coli or Salmonella. Grown in soil and open air, microgreens do not pose that same risk.
- Second, microgreens are more mature seedlings than sprouts. Edible sprouts, such as sprouted grains, veggies or bean seeds, are consumed within just a few days after germination. The seed, root, and sprout are all included in the portion you eat. Microgreens however are allowed to grow until they’re several inches tall and one or two sets of small leaves form – anywhere from one to three weeks after sprouting.
- Third, sprouts are more or less all ready to consume at one time. With microgreens, you can continually harvest small amounts of them over several days to a week as you need them. I find this to be a major perk!
- Finally, microgreens typically have a more intense flavor than sprouts – tasting more like their parent plant than the mild sprout version. But both are packed with concentrated nutrients and health benefits!
Why Grow Microgreens at Home?
Microgreens are delicious!
Each baby seedling tastes like the type of plant it would grow up to be, but oftentimes even stronger! Radish microgreens are zippy and zesty. Arugula microgreens taste bright and peppery. Sunflower and pea microgreens are earthy, nutty, and mildly sweet. Kale microgreens are… you get the idea. Microgreens add a stellar pop of flavor and texture to any sandwich, salad, or other meal.
It is very easy to grow microgreens.
The process of sprouting microgreens is similar to starting other veggie, herb, or flower seeds indoors. (If you need any tips on that, please see our indoor seed-starting guide.) However, unlike other veggie seedlings, microgreens will have a comparatively short time period under your care. You don’t need to worry about proper spacing, potting up, hardening off, or any other typical seedling care tasks. Really, all you have to do is water them!
Save money by growing your own.
It is incredibly cost-effective to grow your microgreens at home compared to purchasing them in the grocery store. This is particularly true if you buy them regularly (or want to, but haven’t due to the cost). The price for one small 2-ounce package of organic microgreens is upwards of $5 around here! On the other hand, you can grow quadruple the quantity of uber-fresh microgreens at home – for a fraction of the cost.
Add vital nutrients and fresh greens to your diet from home, anywhere and anytime.
Microgreens are nutrient-rich and incredibly good for your health. Anyone can grow them, in any living situation! Meaning, folks living in an apartment or who don’t have access to an outdoor garden space can grow microgreens. Even if you have a garden space, growing microgreens is an excellent way to supplement your supply of greens during the off season – such as when your garden is too hot, frozen over, or full of other plants.
Store-bought microgreens come in plastic clamshell packages. Even if they’re “recyclable”, it still creates waste. Furthermore, such a small amount comes in each package! Folks who regularly eat microgreens may go through several disposable containers per week.
Last but not least, growing microgreens is fun.
…or at least, I think it is! Comparing the growth of different types of microgreens can be a neat activity or even “science experiment” for the kids, or the whole family.
The Health Benefits of Microgreens
Microgreens are popular in the health food movement for a dang good reason! They’re essentially a superfood. During the sprouting process, enzymes, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants within the seeds are activated and enhanced far beyond what you find in the raw seed – or even what would be in the future mature vegetable or plant for that matter. Those nutrients and enzymes help us fight cancer and free radical damage, reduce inflammation, aid in digestion and nutrient absorption, and promote overall total-body wellness.
Of course eating greens is good for you, right? Tell me something I don’t know… Yet studies show that microgreens are significantly more nutrient-dense as young seedlings than they would be as grown-up plants. For example, one study evaluated the nutritional content of 25 different varieties of microgreens and found that the concentrations of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene, and antioxidants were four to six times higher than what was found in the mature leaves of the same plant! Another study examined the mineral content of lettuce microgreens, and found that baby greens had more calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, and manganese than mature lettuce.
Types of Microgreens to Grow
Here is a list of some of the most popular microgreens to grow at home, though there are probably even more that I am forgetting! We often buy microgreen seeds in large bulk bags (1 pound of seeds or more). If you’re just getting started with microgreens, Botanical Interests and High Mowing Seeds both have a great selection of various microgreen seeds in modest size packs – perfect for just a couple trays!
- Green or red cabbage
- Herbs, like basil or cilantro
- Mixed microgreen seeds, like this broccoli, radish and alfalfa mix or this delicious mix of collards, kohlrabi, turnips, radish, broccoli
- Swiss Chard
- Sunflower seeds
- Lettuce, spinach, and arugula
- A Spicy Mix of turnips, mustard greens, radish, cress and arugula
HOW TO GROW MICROGREENS
Okay, on to what you came here for.
- A wide shallow tray or container to grow the microgreens in. It doesn’t need to be very deep – just a couple inches will do. It is best if the container has small drainage holes to prevent standing water (or mold), so you might want a second drip tray to catch runoff below. You can use specialized trays or a starter kit designed for growing microgreens, or something suitable you already have around the house. For example, modify an older tupperware type container by adding drainage slits on the bottom.
- Soil medium. The best soil for growing microgreens is light and fluffy. They don’t need much in the way of nutrients. In fact, too rich or dense of soil can inhibit seeds from sprouting. I recommend using a seed-starting mix, peat moss, or a small amount of well-draining potting soil. Another option is to use biodegradable matting material that is made growing microgreens, like these organic jute mats. Then your microgreens will be mess-free! You can usually reuse them several times before they hit the compost too.
- Seeds. See the list of popular seeds used to grow microgreens above. Many of them linked for easy finding!
- A humidity dome lid, or other material (e.g. plastic wrap, though I’m not a huge fan of single-use plastic!) to cover the tray and keep the seeds moist during germination. We use these durable high-quality domes to grow microgreens as well as our other garden veggie seedlings.
- A spray bottle and water. When possible, use filtered or non-chlorinated water. You could use a basic trigger spray bottle, or a pump sprayer to make things a bit easier.
- Ample natural light, or a grow light. You can grow microgreens outside, indoors near a bright sunny window, or use grow lights over them. Thankfully, it isn’t a huge deal if microgreens don’t have the “perfect” ideal indoor light and therefore get tall or leggy – which is usually considered undesirable for other veggie seedlings. Here is a really basic little grow light. This one will provide more coverage to grow more.
Step 1: Dampen Soil & Fill Tray
I recommend pre-moistening the soil medium before adding microgreen seeds. This helps prevent the seeds from floating and moving around if you otherwise try to thoroughly wet it later. You can either add dry soil to the tray first and then spray it down, or like we often do, dampen the soil in a separate bucket and then add it to the shallow microgreen trays. The goal is for the soil to be damp, but not soggy (especially if your tray doesn’t have drainage holes!). Only and inch or two of soil total is sufficient for growing microgreens.
*If you’re using microgreen mats (e.g. organic jute fiber mats) rather than soil: simply pre-moisten the mat, lay it on top your perforated microgreen tray (one with drainage holes), and spread seeds evenly on top. Then, skip to Step 3.
Step 2: Sow Seeds
Sprinkle a layer of your chosen microgreen seeds across the soil surface. Try to keep the scatter fairly evenly distributed. If you want to grow several types in one tray, I recommend keeping them segmented in different areas of the tray since they may mature at different rates.
For large seeds such as peas or sunflower seeds, use fewer overall seeds. With tiny seeds like broccoli or radish, you can use more. Some microgreen seed packages may recommend pre-soaking the seeds in water before sowing them, especially larger seeds. It isn’t absolutely necessary, but will help get a more quick and even germination.
Next, either lightly gently press the seeds into the soil surface, or cover the seeds with an extremely thin layer of soil – no more than a ¼” deep. Finally, use a spray bottle to lightly mist the surface of the soil and seeds until it appears evenly moist.
Step 3: Cover & Wait
Cover the microgreen tray with either a specialized humidity dome, a layer of plastic wrap, or another container – set upside down on top. Now, wait for sprouts to emerge! Warmer conditions will speed up germination, so feel free to use a seedling heat mat if you have one. The ideal temperature range for most seeds to sprout is around 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The seeds do not need light until they’ve sprouted, so feel free to keep them in a dark place if that is where the best warmth is available.
During this time, check the tray daily for sprouts and moisture. If the soil surface becomes dry, use a spray bottle to wet it once again. However, the dome/cover should keep things nicely damp in there. Sprouting should occur within 2 to 5 days on average.
Once the first seeds begin to sprout, immediately remove the cover and provide ample bright light. Again, you could use a grow light, keep them outdoors (though birds or pests may be attracted to them!) or a sunny window. We often grow microgreens in our greenhouse, though it is definitely not required! If your microgreens are heavily leaning one direction (towards the light) it is a signal that they may appreciate a little more. Provide more light if possible, and rotate the tray every couple of days to straighten them out.
Step 4: Maintenance
Once the seeds have sprouted, the ongoing care for microgreens is very minimal. They’re easy-peasy! All you need to do is make sure they don’t dry out. Mist or spray the microgreen tray with water every day or two to maintain the soil moist but not soggy*. Keep in mind the soil will dry out far more quickly once the tray is uncovered compared to when the humidity dome was still on. Outdoor microgreen containers will also dry out faster, and may benefit from some afternoon shade in hot climates.
*Note: If you have followed along in our other seed-starting tutorials, you’ve likely heard me talk about “under-watering”. That is where you add water to a solid tray below your seedling containers, and the soil soaks up water from below. Do not use the “under water” method with microgreens. It can lead to overly-wet conditions and potential mold.
Step 5: Harvest Time!
When should I harvest my microgreens?
As the young microgreens grow, the first pair of leaves that appear are called the cotyledon, or the embryonic leaves. Many plant’s cotyledons (but not all) look like little hearts. Allow the microgreens to keep growing until they’ve sprouted their first set of true leaves – the leaves that come after the cotyledon pair. Depending on the type of microgreen and growing climate, this will take about one to three weeks. Then, you can begin to harvest and enjoy your microgreens!
How to Harvest Microgreens
The quick-and-easiest way to harvest microgreens is to cut the seedlings out of the tray. Pinch and hold the section of microgreens you want to harvest, and then use scissors to cut them as close to the soil line as possible. Once they’re ready, you can either harvest an entire tray at one time, or take just a small handful for each meal as needed over several days. If you want to spread out the harvest, it it totally okay to harvest some on the early side and let others get a little more mature (though they can become more tough the older they get). On the other hand, if you choose to harvest a lot at one time, be sure to keep reading for storage tips below!
Another option is to gently pull the microgreens out of the soil, rinse the soil from the roots, and eat the roots too! This can be a little more tricky and messy, depending on how tightly packed the tray is and how developed the roots are.
Always rinse your microgreens with fresh water before consuming.
Can I re-use my microgreen soil?
Yes, you can. Yet you may find the soil has become a fairly solid mat of roots. To re-use the soil, put it in another container, break it up decently well, and spread it out to dry for a few days. The roots will die back, and then you can pick through it to remove as many of them as you can. Clearly, this takes a bit of extra effort. An alternative option is to simply add the soil and root mat to your compost pile or worm bin, which will break down and feed your compost or worms!
Step 6: Enjoy!
Now it is time to enjoy your fresh homegrown microgreens. Plop a handful on top of salads, sandwiches, chili, soup, sautéed veggies, quiche, avocado toast, and more! They’re excellent on just about anything.
Storing Fresh Microgreens
If you harvest more than you plan to immediately use, keep your microgreens fresh and crisp by storing them in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. We use either a glass food storage container with a snap on lid, or these BPA-free containers that we always have on hand for freezing large batches of soup, lentils, and chili in meal-size portions.
I like to wash the the microgreens before storage, making them ready to use later. Rinse them with cool water in a strainer, shake, and allow excess water to thoroughly drain away before putting them in a container. They don’t need to be 100% dry, as a little moisture helps them stay crisp. Yet standing water inside your storage container will make them spoil faster. Microgreens should stay fresh for about a week in the fridge. As long as they aren’t moldy, slimy, or stinky – they’re still good!
And that is how you grow your own microgreens!
So, what kind of microgreens do you want to grow first? Our personal favorites are the spicy and superfoods mixes, but we love them all! I hope this article helps you feel confident and excited to grow your own nutritious microgreens at home. Please let me know if you have any questions. Also, please feel free to spread the love by sharing or pinning this article! Thank you for tuning in. Happy sprouting!