Microgreens: Bring Spring Inside
By brandeplotnick on February 08, 2013
Photo: Brande Plotnick
I’m always looking for ways to make something just a little more colorful, and I’m particularly thrilled if I can find a lovely adornment that also adds a punch of flavor and nutrition. That’s why I’m so fond of microgreens piled up on everything from sandwiches and soups to omelets and roasted fish. The vibrant green reminds me of Spring, when the garden’s waking up and perennials are just poking out of the ground. Not only will they liven up your plate, but they are a cheerful site on a sunny windowsill in winter.
If you want a reason to try growing them yourself, take a trip to a decent grocery and look for microgreens. You'll find little plastic boxes of them that weigh almost nothing, and they'll cost upwards of $4! For real!
Microgreens take the baby greens trend from years past to an extreme new level. They are harvested when only a few inches tall or when they’ve just sprung their first set of true leaves. The flavor is very concentrated, and my favorite is a spicy blend of arugula, radish, and mustard greens.
Aside from the sassy zing microgreens provide, word on the street is that they pack a punch in terms of nutritional value. A recent study at the University of Maryland adds some credibility to this theory, showing that some microgreens contained as much as four to six times the amount of certain vitamins when compared to the fully-grown versions of the plant.
Microgreens are extremely easy to grow at home, and the whole process only takes a couple of weeks. They’re just about the closest thing to instant gratification a gardener can hope for! All you really need is a container, soil mix, and seeds. There are several online sources for wonderful microgreens mixes, and you can often specify “spicy” or “mild”. Try Johnny’s Seeds or Mountain Valley Seeds.
I grow microgreens in shallow, brown seed starting trays. You can use any shallow tray, even repurposed plastic food takeout containers with holes poked in the bottom for drainage.
Fill the tray with an organic potting mix, add a small amount of granular, organic fertilizer, and sprinkle your seeds on top. The plants will not be growing for very long, so there’s no need to space the seeds too much.
Next, sprinkle a very thin layer (1/8 of an inch at most) of soil on top of the seeds. Water the surface lightly. I use a spray bottle so I can water gently without displacing the seeds.
Keep the tray in a warm area. There can be lots of light or there can be just a little light, it doesn’t really matter. Plants can’t use light until they have leaves. Once the seeds have sprouted and you see their cute little cotyledons, or seed leaves, give the plants at least six hours of sunlight each day.
When the plants have sprouted their first set of true leaves, they should be ready to harvest. The true leaves are the second pair of leaves to sprout, and they often look quite different from the cotyledons. Use scissors to snip the stems off at the soil line, rinse, remove any seed hulls that are stuck to the leaves, and enjoy.
If you’d like to plant a second crop, just use a fork to gently “till” the soil and rake the harvested crop’s roots back in for added organic matter. Now, you’re ready to start a fresh planting. I plant in large trays because we go through them quickly.
Start a new crop about every 10 days, for a steady supply.
Once you taste microgreens, you might start putting them on just about everything, causing your husband to raise his eyebrows and say, "Again?!" Here are some more obvious ways to enjoy them.
- Mixed in with uninspired supermarket salad greens to give them some flavor
- On top of bland-looking roasted white fish as a zingy garnish
- Stuffed into grilled cheese sandwiches
- Piled up on an omelet
- As a bed for any kind of grain salad or side dish like farro or quinoa
- Mounded on top of soups, especially nice on any creamy soup
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