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An Experiment in Growing Microgreens

It seems like everywhere you turn, whether in the small scale or hobby farming community, upscale restaurants, or even just with the Instagram gardening set, microgreens are a thing. As in a huge thing. The reason is fairly obvious, especially in a society that appreciates instant gratification. Growing microgreens is like the ATM of gardening. You plant the seeds in a fairly small and shallow container, indoors of all places, and in two weeks you have produce. Albeit, tiny little sprout versions of produce, but produce nonetheless. And restauranteurs love them because they add a pop of color and taste to dishes that in the past would rely on elaborate garnishing to stand out. They are immensely nutritious as well, which brings in the health-conscious foodie types. And last but not least, people are willing to pay extra for these fairly easily produced little miracles of nature, which makes growing or selling them for profit a promising undertaking.

Much has been written about the health benefits of microgreens in the diet, so I won't go into great detail here, but suffice it to say that they are rich in vitamins and nutrients. In fact, published studies have revealed that microgreens are so densely packed with nutrition that they contain between four and 40 times the vitamins and minerals of their fully grown counterparts. Granted, if you substitute the micro for the mature, you will miss out on all that wonderful fiber that grownup veggies bring to the table, but there's no reason to exclude either option. You can have your vegetables and eat them too.

First, you got to plant the seeds

A journey starts with a single step and a microgreen will only come into your life if you plant a seed. To this end, I chose a "jazzy" seed mix of cabbage, cress, radish and mustard (more about these varieties later). I have three raised beds in the lovely greenhouse that my husband built. I'm still learning how to utilize the beds the most efficiently, taking into account the extreme temperature fluctuations of the various seasons. It dawned on me in the seed aisle of the local nursery that growing microgreens might be just the thing for a greenhouse environment. Because microgreens are fragile, they are typically grown indoors. Also, because the little plants are small and delicate, it's difficult to clean them if they are grown outdoors. I added compost to one of the beds and tilled it in to mix with the soil already present. Then, I doused the whole bed with a watering can full of a fish fertilizer mixer to load the soil with nutrients crucial to growth. Scattering by hand, I covered the bed with a dense layer of seeds and mixed them into the soil using my garden-gloved hand. Two and a half weeks later my microgreen harvest was ready. Boom. Done.

As you can see from the picture on the right, my seeds didn't sprout in every square inch of the bed, but where they did sprout there was a dense crop. Most microgreen farmers grow them in shallow trays or containers using seed mix. This is a better solution for people without greenhouses that want to grow their mini-gardens indoors. You will need to find a location in your home that gets lots of light like a windowsill. Or you can purchase an inexpensive grow light to give your indoor garden the light it needs. An additional plus to this method is that you can control the outcome. It's easier to densely pack seeds in every square centimeter of a tray than in a greenhouse bed. But that is what I did, which is why I call this an "experiment." 

It's important when you grow microgreens to make sure you keep the soil moist, which is the happy medium between soggy and dry. Because a sunny day in April turns my greenhouse into a literal hothouse, I pull the shade cloth over my microgreen bed on those days. On cloudy or rainy days, I pull the shade cloth back to maximize the light. I am carefully and painfully learning all the delicate balances these days. Between not enough light and too much light. Between not enough water and too much water. Between too much air flow and not enough ventilation. It's a process.

Meet the Players

So now that I have explained the process, I would like to introduce you to my little micro friends so you can get a sampling of the types of greens that can be grown on a micro-scale. This is only a small representation of micros available, and there will be more on others in future articles.

China Rose Radish

This tasty little green with heart shaped leaves is high in Vitamin C, Zinc and Phosphorus.  It's a bit spicy and is excellent for sandwiches

Peppergrass Cress

The leaves of this peppery micro have a fresh and zingy flavor. Try it in mashed potatoes or white sauces. Rich in Vitamin A, B, C and E and all essential amino acids.

Sawtooth Mustard

This brassica contains antioxidants as well as Vitamins A, B, C, E and K as well as several essential minerals. Contains the distinct flavor of horseradish.

Red Giant Mustard

This baby green delivers a spicy mustard flavor with hearty green leaves that are blushed red. Rich in Vitamins A, E and K.  Great addition to pesto.

Red Acre Cabbage

Red cabbage sprouts contain 40 times more Vitamin E and six times more Vitamin C than the same veggie as a fully mature plant. Adds a peppery finish to soups, salads and more.