Sowing Seeds

Winter Greenery, Thanks to Microgreens!

Last week, I presented my sowing material to you and praised the mushroom tray as the perfect container for sowing. However, in my photos, my now-famous mushroom trays contained microgreens. Many of you expressed your interest in the subject. Here it is, by popular demand, a short introduction to the culture of microgreens.

Brocolis ready to harvest. Image: Amartha yahya on Unsplash.

What are Microgreens ?

Microgreens are plants that are grown from seed, but harvested at a young stage for consumption. In a way, it’s as if we were making a super-dense seedbed, but instead of transplanting the plants, we took out the scissors to cut everything… and eat it! Depending on the plants, we harvest the microgreens when the cotyledon comes out (the first 2 green things that come out of the ground, and which are not the true leaves) or when the plant has 2 to 4 true leaves.

The advantage of microgreens is that they are very easy to grow and allow you to grow fresh food at home, full of vitamins, minerals and proteins. It is often said (depending on the sources and depending on the plant) that microgreens can contain 10 to 50 times more nutrients than the same plants in mature version. It is therefore a concentrated form of nutrients and greens so important for our health, especially in northern climates where winter deprives us of good fresh vegetables for almost 6 months.

Some call microgreens living food and that’s fair enough, since they are generally eaten within minutes of harvesting.

Microgreens are grown on potting soil, unlike sprouts which are grown without soil . For my part, I do my germinations in Mason jars… and my microgreens in my mushroom trays!

Which Plants to Microgrow?

Not all plants are suitable for microgreens and everyone has their favorites. My favorite is peas. The taste is very neutral and it is possible to make several harvests from a seedling, by not cutting too close to the base.

Many plants from the cabbage family are also very popular: cabbage, broccoli, mustard, radish and arugula. Moreover, red cabbage and daikon radish are known as two of the most nutritious microgreens.

Some people love sunflowers because they have large, tender-tasting shoots that are harvested at a very young stage, as soon as the cotyledons appear. If you wait too long, they will become fibrous.

Watercress is a quick grower. Image: Pexel.

Then there is watercress, which is the fastest growing microgreen. This one offers a very spicy flavor that gives personality to a green salad.

Amaranth, clover, alfalfa, cilantro (there can never be too much cilantro), wheat and chia are also popular plants for sprouts.

Getting Seeds: my Tips for Savings

Sprouting is like making a very dense seedbed: it takes a lot of seeds. And if we consider a production allowing to harvest every day, we have to sow a few trays every week, so even more seeds! Even if it is convenient to use our overstock of beets and cabbage in the form of microgreens, we quickly reach the bottom of the envelopes.

This is why, in general, we order our seeds from a company specializing in microgreens and sprouts. However, there are a few tricks to get seeds without having to pay a lot of money. For example, the sunflower seeds used for germination are those of the black sunflower, the same one used in bird feeders! It is much the same for clover, which can be obtained in a bag of seeds for ecological lawns. Also, seed companies sometimes offer a large format, which is aimed at vegetable producers. You can therefore order broccoli and radishes in 250 gram bags (half a pound). And finally, bulk food stores and health food stores sometimes offer raw sunflower, chia and amaranth seeds that can germinate and can be purchased at a fraction of the price. Usually there is plenty to get you through the winter with 250 grams to a kilo of seed, depending on the size of the seeds.

How to Make Microgreens?

Microgreen sowing begins with the same process as a regular sowing: the preparation of the soil. Choose a good quality potting soil. I have done several tests, with perlite, vermiculite and worm compost and my conclusion is that it makes absolutely no difference. These last products being more expensive, they can be kept for other gardening projects.

The potting soil must first be moistened in a container. It should be moist, but not soggy. Place a layer of about an inch or two (2 or 3 centimeters) of potting soil at the bottom of a seedling container with drainage holes. True microgreen trays are just an inch (2 cm) tall. Since the growing season for microgreens is short, you don’t need more than that.

After leveling the surface, spread a very dense layer of seeds. Then press them against the soil. In production, the trays are stacked on top of each other until the seeds begin to germinate. For my part, I add a little potting soil over the seeds, even if it is not necessary.

I moisten the surface of the soil with a spray bottle and place everything in a large black tray without holes, covered with a plastic dome. Almost every day, I make sure the potting soil stays moist and if it dries out, I spray the surface. Here, it is necessary to dose well, between a dry substrate and a surplus of water which can cause the mold of the seeds.

Once the seeds have germinated, you can water instead of spraying. Often, I simply do this by pouring water into the black tray, so that it enters the containers from below.

Most seeds take 7–10 days to germinate and harvesting usually begins after three or four weeks of production. The microshoots are harvested using scissors, when the plants have two cotyledons or when the small plant has between 2 and 4 leaves. These shoots are eaten fresh, in salads, sandwiches or simply added to the plate.

In short, when you are already used to sowing, microgreens are very simple and this fresh greenery is more than welcome when there are meters of snow falling outside!

I reassure you, this is not my making! But what a generous microgreen station! Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Julie Boudreau is a horticulturist who trained at the Institut de technologie agroalimentaire in Saint-Hyacinthe, Québec. She’s been working with plants for more than 25 years. She has published many gardening books and hosted various radio and television shows. She now teaches horticulture at the Centre de formation horticole of Laval. A great gardening enthusiast, she’s devoted to promoting gardening, garden design, botany and ecology in every form. Born a fan of organic gardening, she’s curious and cultivates a passion for all that can be eaten. Julie Boudreau is “epicurious” and also fascinated by Latin names.

2 comments on “Winter Greenery, Thanks to Microgreens!

  1. Pingback: Seed Starting Equipment – Grandma's Prairie Garden

  2. Sorry Julie, have to disagree with you on never enough cilantro. Nasty stuff. However, have recently discovered microgreens and am having lots of fun growing them. We do Chinese dumplings regularly and the pac choi and sprouts that I also grow give them a fabulous crunch. Delicious!

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