Winter is a great time for experimenting. Since I was feeling starved for green, growing goodness to eat last month, I gave microgreens a try. I have been a longtime sprout-lover, so I grew some of those too, just to see which I liked better.
While doing a seed inventory I found we had lots of extra lettuce, kale, and dill seeds which I added to a mesclun mixture of arugula, mizuna, tatsoi, chervil, and more lettuce to use for my microgreen mix.
What Are Microgreens?
What are microgreens, anyway? The seedlings of just about any vegetable or herb can be eaten shortly after they have germinated. Most microgreens are harvested after the first true leaves appear but they can be eaten at the cotyledon stage.
Most microgreens should take about only 2 to 3 days to germinate and roughly 7 to 14 days to be ready for harvest. Some growers prefer to grow until the first set of true leaves appeared, which may take up to 25 days or so. That said, the later the harvest time, the stronger the taste and less tender.
They can be grown hydroponically on foam or fleece or other woven textile but I prefer a compost based potting soil. Others recommend using a soilless mix.
Sow the seeds thickly over your moist growing medium and cover with paper towels, fine vermiculite, or soilless mix.
Water gently and cover with a plastic dome. I like using the paper towels because it is easy to lift and check on the seeds' progress. Keep them moist but not soggy. In 7 to 14 days, depending on the seeds you have planted, they should be sprouting and pushing up the paper towels.
My microgreens sprouted in 4 days.
Members of the cole family are fast sprouting including mustard, radishes, and cress. Herbs such as basil, cilantro, dill, parsley, and borage are slower to emerge as are beets, chard, arugula, and purslane. You can also grow shoots of peas, wheat, buckwheat, sunflowers, and nasturtiums this way. It is recommended to group plants that have similar growth rates.
Once they have sprouted remove the paper towels and move them into the light.
Clip them off at the soil line after the true leaves appear. Handle with care, wash to remove any dirt or seed hulls, dry, and use immediately or refrigerate until you need them. For the most flavor and nutrients eat them right away.
At the same time I started the microgreens, I also started a batch of sprouts. They take only 3 to 5 days to harvest and they are shorter (2 to 3 inches
Sprouts can be grown hydroponically with out soil and also don't need light or air ventilation. You eat the entire sprout whereas you cut off the microgreens above the soil level, harvesting just the leaves.
That said, sprouts are less nutritious than microgreens with less fiber content, too. Raw sprouts can also be riskier to eat.
Since there have been problems with people becoming sick and even dying after eating sprouts contaminated with food-borne pathogens such as E. coli, salmonella, listeria, and staphylococcus, I make sure to buy sprouting seeds from a reputable source that has tested their seeds for these micro-organisms and I make sure my jars and lids are extremely clean.
A good rinsing of the seeds and an overnight soak in warm water gets things started.
I use a 1-quart canning jar with a piece of plastic canvas replacing the solid lid to make it easy to rinse and drain the seeds several times a day. A piece of cheesecloth or nylon netting will work too.
I used a heaping tablespoon of a sandwich mix of alfalfa, clover, and radish seeds and they sprouted in 3 days.
I kept rinsing and draining the sprouts 3 times a day and were eating them in sandwiches and omelets after they reached about 2 inches long. It took less than a week.
We chowed them right down, made a second batch that is gone, and just started a 3rd.
Microgreens Versus Sprouts
I'm still waiting for the microgreens to get tall enough to clip. They are at the cotyledon stage and only about 1 inch tall.
Generally, the ideal length should be in between 3 to 7 inches for most microgreens. Some microgreens are shorter naturally, such as the carrot, marjoram, mint, and oregano.
Maybe because I'm growing them in a cool greenhouse that gets into the 40's at night, they are staying pretty short, nothing like the pictures of microgreens I have seen that have 6-inch long stems. When I try them again, I will grow them in a warmer spot like the sprouts which are in the kitchen.
Also, I've read that most microgreen seeds should be pre-soaked in water for hours (6 to 12 hours) prior to planting. That’s to improve the seed germination rate, otherwise, some un-soaked seeds can take up weeks to germinate.
The takeaway for me is that if you are as impatient as I am—grow sprouts.