These tiny edible plants sure pack a nutritious and delicious punch! Brandi of Sauntering Roots Farm shares with us all we wanted to know and more about microgreens...
What are Microgreens?
Microgreens are simply plants – usually vegetables or herbs – that are grown to be harvested at an immature stage. The plants are harvested shortly after the seeds have sprouted, sent up a small shoot and their ‘cotyledon’ leaves. Popular microgreen varieties are radish, pea, sunflower, broccoli, cabbage, basil, and cilantro, but there are so many others. Nearly any vegetable or herb can be grown as a microgreen.
Benefits of Microgreens
Over the past several years, microgreens have grown immensely popular. Not long ago, microgreens could only be found in refrigerators of the crunchiest health food and local co-op grocery stores, but microgreens are now becoming more widely available. Growing your own microgreens is even becoming popular – they are relatively easy, don’t take up much space, and can be grown indoors!
The climb in popularity microgreens has experienced is for good reason. Not only are they delicious (and gorgeous), but they are extremely nutritious. Microgreens are simply the shoot and cotyledon leaves that a plant has after sprouting from seed. A seed is a package deal – inside every seed is everything the plant will need to become established before growing roots and finding other food sources. Therefore, all of those nutrients are still present in the cotyledon, or microgreen, stage, before the “true leaves” emerge and the plant becomes slightly larger. Although there are so many varieties of microgreens, and all are slightly different, in general, they are rich in potassium, iron, copper, zinc, magnesium, and antioxidants.
How Do I Eat Microgreens?
The ways in which you can eat microgreens are never-ending. They add a delicious, nutritious crunch to just about anything, but some of the more popular ways are to top sandwiches, salads or soups with microgreens. There is no need to cook them, and I wouldn’t recommend cooking them, so they are an easy and fast addition to any meal.
Buying Local Microgreens
Microgreens are best when bought from a local source or grown at home. Because the plants are harvested at such an immature stage, they are delicate and do not have a long shelf life. For instance, beets are an extreme example: beet microgreens would most likely remain fresh for about 7- 15 days after harvest, whereas beets can be stored for months! For this major reason, it’s best to buy microgreens locally – you’ll know they didn’t have to travel from far away, consuming resources and arriving not so fresh. Bonus: you get to support a local farmer and your local economy!
Why are Microgreens Expensive?
Microgreens are expensive because it requires a lot of seed to produce them. Using an example of radishes, imagine you plant a raised bed of radishes, which have very good germination rates. If you plant 100 radish seeds, with a 95% germination rate, you’ll have 95 radishes! Yum! That’s a lot of delicious radishes. But with microgreens, 100 radish seeds won’t get you very far.
In addition to needing a high volume of seeds to produce microgreens, some varieties are more expensive than others, either due to the cost of seeds or because of labor involved. For instance, while sunflower shoots are arguably the most popular microgreen, there is more labor involved in growing them because the hulls often stick onto the cotyledon leaves, which must be picked out before harvesting or washing. Microgreen seeds can vary greatly in cost – ranging from about $8 a pound to $60 a pound! That alone explains the difference in why some microgreens are relatively inexpensive and why others are not.
Growing Microgreens at Home
While there are startup costs involved in growing microgreens at home, if eating microgreens weekly is something you’d like to do, then growing them yourself is a great option. You’ll need shallow trays, a growing medium (coconut coir works great, but any organic potting soil will do), and seeds. Pretty simple! The shallow trays can even be repurposed from various containers – mushroom containers are a popular at-home option.
First, determine whether or not you need to soak your seeds for 12 - 24 hours. This is really only necessary for larger seeds, like peas or sunflower. If you’re growing radish, beet, or basil microgreens, soaking them won’t be necessary. After you’ve got your seeds in order, put your growing medium into the containers you’ve chosen, and water it well, soaking the soil or coir. Then, firmly press the soil down, making sure there is an even, flat surface. Now, the exciting part! Lay your seeds out! In general, seeds will be densely sown – larger seeds will be touching but not overlapping, smaller seeds not as dense. However, most find that they will need to tweak their microgreens ‘recipe’ a few times before finding what works for them. A few factors will play into how densely you want your seeds, including airflow. Without circulation, microgreens can be susceptible to fungal issues.
When your seeds are sown, water them again. There is no need to cover them with your growing medium. I find that covering the seeds makes them more difficult to harvest and wash. Instead, because I am usually seeding multiple varieties, I stack my trays on top of one another, using an empty one with a little weight on top. This ensures good soil-to-seed contact. Don’t fret– your seeds don’t need light and your sprouts will be strong enough to push up the tray above!
Once the seeds sprout, keep the soil moist and make sure there is good airflow. Depending on what you’re growing, and other factors like daylight and temperature, your microgreens will be ready to harvest in 7 - 14 days, most likely! Harvest is easy – simply cut just above the soil!
Find Brandi's microgreens at the Public Market each Saturday, or the Biodome Project open weekly on Pine Street in downtown Jamestown!