Even if You Can’t Plant a Garden Right Now You Can Grow Microgreens
Winter is here, today it is especially cold and rainy, and I’ve been dreaming through my seed catalogs again. I came across a cool gardening idea a while back and I think it’s the perfect cure for the wintertime blues. I’m going to grow Microgreens and bring some summer goodness into my kitchen.
Even if you can’t plant a garden right now you can grow Microgreens, they are very easy to grow. I think they will also add a valuable component to my food storage plan, especially if I save my seeds correctly. I can have the ability to feed my family healthy food for years and have a quick way to add greens to their diet if I need to.
Any Edible Greens, Lettuces and Herbs Can Be Grown as Microgreens
Microgreens are just seedlings of edible greens, lettuces, and herbs that are harvested when they are quite young – generally when they are 1 to 1 ½ inches tall. They need soil and sunlight to grow and are smaller and younger than baby greens – only being used for one cutting – when they are a few weeks old. They are not soaked for long periods of time, like sprouts, and therefore may be safer.
Any salad or mesclun mix can be grown as Microgreens. You can use prepackaged seed mixes or even special Microgreen mixes, if you want. In the post, Growing Food on a Windowsill – Microgreens, YouGrowGirl.com likes these spicy and mild mixes:
Spicy: Peppergrass cress, ‘Giant Red’ mustard, radish, arugula, daikon radish, and ‘Wrinkled Crinkled’ cress.
Mild and Tangy: Tatsoi, mizuna, kale, lettuce, miner’s lettuce, and minutina.
And OrganicGardening.About.com’s page on Microgreens suggests beet greens, spinach, watercress, cabbage and basil. I think that cilantro, snap peas and broccoli need to be in there too! Although small in size, Microgreens can provide surprisingly intense flavors, vivid colors, and crisp textures and can be served as an edible garnish or a new salad ingredient.
I’m using some Oregon Sugar Pod Snap Peas – left over from last year – for my first try.
Why Growing Microgreens & Sprouts?
Sprouts and their little siblings, the Microgreens, are an excellent source of food in the winter when most fresh greens are not readily available. Plus they’re jam-packed with nutrients and fiber. Soybean sprouts contain more protein than the mature plant.
In fact, even the U.S. government recommended people to sprout soybean during the Great War out of concern that other sources of protein such as dairy and meat might run low. They never did, but people got accustomed to growing microgreens and sprouts.
The same goes form many other seeds. For instance, red cabagge microgreens contain 40 times more vitamin E and 69 times more vitamin K than the mature plants. Cilantro microgreens contain thrice as much beta-carotene than the full-grown herb. The levels of folate and riboflavin skyrocket when growing microgreens because the seeds need the duo for new cell growth.
Sprouted wheat saved the lives of countless men at sea as it develops significant levels of vitamin C as it sprouts. Vitamin C deficiency used to be a common problem for seamen navigating for months at a time.
Since they lacked fresh fruit and veggies for months, they gradually became deficient in vitamin C (as the human body cannot make the vitamin on its own), which led to scurvy, a debilitating disease that results in organ failure and – a slow and painful – death. Sprouted wheat used to be a life saver in the condition’s early stages.
Recent research has shown that even seeds that contain no vitamin C at all see their vitamin C content skyrocketing during the sprouting phase. For instance, buckwheat sprouts contain 24 mg of vitamin C per 100 grams, while chia sprouts contain 7 grams of vitamin C per 100 grams.
Some microgreens have cancer-fighting abilities, like broccoli microgreens which are rich in sulforaphane – a compound that neutralizes cancer stem cells and helps increase the effectiveness of some types of cancer therapies. Other microgreens can boost the good gut bacteria, beef up the immune system, and even help lower cholesterol.
And the list could go on.
What Are the Most Nutritious Microgreens?
Not all Microgreens are created equal and some are better than others. Here are some you should definitely try.
- Sunflower. When sprouted, sunflower seeds are rich in vitamin E, vitamin D, Iron, Copper, Potassium, Magnesium, Calcium, and Phosphorus. Sunflower microgreens are also jampacked with phytonutrients and vitamin B, including folate, which makes it perfect for pregnant women. Sunflower microgreens are also a rich source of antioxidants which can boost cellular recovery and slow down aging processes. If you’re on a weight loss diet, add sunflower microgreens and sprouts as they are very low in calories.
- Radish. Radish microgreens and sprouts are rich in all essnetial aminoacids. They also have anti-cancer compounds and ar egreat at propping up the immune system and improving liver and gallbladder activity. These microgreens also help menopausal women with their symptoms, including hot flushes. Radish microgreens also contain folate and B6 and can revive even some of the blandest salads.
- Buckwheat. This microgreen is not only high in vitamin B6, calcium, iron, magnesium, and essential amminoacids, but it also a powerful anti-inflammatory. There are even studies about the anti-inflammatory prowess of buckwheat along with its cancer-fighting capabilities in both lab animals and humans.
- Chia. These Microgreens are packed with healthy fats and protein which makes them a great addition to any weight-loss diet and muscle building regimen. Chia is also rich in fiber. It is an all-around super food that shouldn’t miss from any microgreen enthusiast’s arsenal. I have a whole post dedicated to growing and using chia sprouts. Check it out!
- Chives. If you want something that is rich in B6, folate, calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese, zinc, phosphorus, riboflavin, niacin, potassium, and manganese in no particular order, than chive microgreens are for you. They are great in salads, sandwiches, and casseroles. And they make a nice addition to any vegetarian’s or vegan’s diet due to thier high nutritional profile.
- Alfafa. These microgreens are rich in calcium, magnesium, iron, vitamin C, a plethora of vitamins from vitamin B complex, protein, zinc, and copper. Alfafa microgreens are excellent in salads, juices, sandwiches, and even bread.
- Mustard. These are high in protein, vitamin C, vitamin B, clacium, magnesium, iron, vitamin A, zin, potassium, and phosphorus. Mustard microgreens and sprouts are a great addition to salads, soups, dips, sandwiches, dressings, and casseroles.
Simple Supplies Are All You Need to Grow Microgreens
- // Potting soil mix – I chose to use an organic potting mix, purchased at the local hardware store. You can also get seedling mix. Whichever you purchase, it just needs to be suitable for growing in pots. Most outdoor garden soil is too heavy for seed sprouting.
- // Seed – mix or single, organic or regular, it doesn’t matter. Start with something that you know your family will like and grow it.
- // A container – You can find seed starting containers everywhere, at this time of year or use a plastic clamshell from the grocery. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but should be at least 3inches deep. I’ve even been looking into recycling milk jugs as mini greenhouses.
Put two inches of moistened potting mix into your container and even it out, tamping a bit if necessary. Scatter the seeds so that they are about 1/8 to 1/4 inch apart, and cover with 1/8 inch of soil. Some say to soak them first; others seem to think it’s not necessary. I haven’t played around with it enough to see a difference, so for time sake, I’m not soaking mine.
Put your grow container in a sunny southern windowsill (for the winter) and make sure the soil doesn’t dry out. You can cover it with plastic wrap until the seeds sprout, to keep in the moisture.
In the winter, you will need a steady source of warmth for your seeds to sprout. I’ve found out that you can successfully up-cycle milk jugs into tiny green houses that are a boon for my microgreens during winter.
- 1 gallon or 1/2 gallon plastic milk jug
- Pair of Scissors
- Packing tape or duct tape
- Organic Potting Soil Mix for you Microgreens
The milk jugs need to be thoroughly washed for this project. Don’t toss away the lids. To build a mini milk jug greenhouse:
-// Cut the milk jugs around leaving around 3/4 inches from the bottom. Don’t cut the jugs all around, leave some material s is for ti to act as a hinge for your tiny green house.
-// fill the freshly cut bottom of the the milk jugs with organic potting soil mix (around 2 inches)
-// Soak the seeds for about 1 hour and place them in the potting soil. If you want to later transplant the sprouts, plant them at a fair distance from one another. If microgreens is what you’re after plant them very close together.
-// Cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil. If the seeds are large this extra layer of soil should be a bit thicker.
-// Water the seeds but don’t get the potting soil soggy. Damp is the code word here.
-// Close the top of the greenhouse and seal the cut with tape to keep the moisture from escaping
-// Place the milk jug greenhouse on a windowsill and check for moisture every day. You might need to spray the microgreens every now and then.
-// In a few days, you should be able to see the seeds germinate. Microgreens are ready to eat in 10 to 14 days depending on the type of seeds used. If you can always use organic/ heirloom seeds in your microgreen projects.
You can check my related post on building Mini Greenhouses from Milk Jugs for the full instructions or my other post 5 Ways to Recycle a Milk Jug in the Garden for several amazing ways of up-cycling your empty milk jugs if you’re a frugal person like yours truly.
Harvesting Your Crop
Microgreens will be ready about 10 days after seeds are sown. Clip clusters just above the soil line, once the first set of true leaves forms. True leaves follow the initial, simple-looking seed leaves and look more like the mature plant. You can harvest part of the seedlings and keep growing the rest for about 7 days more, but you cannot grow a second crop from the same stems. Replant every 3-5 days to have a continuous crop.
As you can see, Microgreens are simple to grow, and provide you with a quick harvest for not much work. You can add them to salads, sandwiches, or stir-fries, and it’s much cheaper to grow your own than it is to purchase them. For my first recipe, I tried clipping a handful of snap peas, chopping them up and mixed them into cream cheese. Tasty!
Nutritional Information About Microgreens Around the Web
Introducing Microgreens: Younger, And Maybe More Nutritious, Vegetables : The Salt : NPR for more information about nutritional the value of Microgreens
Tiny Microgreens Packed With Nutrients: Microgreens Have Up to 40 Times More Vital Nutrients Than Mature Plants
Growing Microgreens.com has provided some handy videos with growing tips. They definitely have a more advanced system than mine but you should check them out.