Here they are, the 10 vegetables you can grow no matter how little space you have.
But before you take a look at the list and think we must be crazy because that would never work, keep reading. Trust us.
- Mustard Greens
If you are thinking, "How could I possibly grow those plants in my tiny space?!", the answer is - YOU CAN GROW THEIR MICRO VERSIONS. More specifically, start these plants from seed and harvest them as microgreens. Before you start feeling cheated, consider the fact that microgreens, whether they are peas, mustard greens, broccoli, or kale, have up to six times as many nutrients than their mature versions!
A research study conducted at the University of Maryland, College Park, on the nutrients in microgreens, looked at four groups of vitamins and other phytochemicals in 25 varieties of microgreens. They found that leaves from almost all of the microgreens had four to six times more nutrients than the mature leaves of the same plant.1
So, what are microgreens, you ask, and how are they different from sprouts?
To answer that question, you need to understand just a bit about the anatomy of a seed. When every seed is formed, a teeny, tiny leaf, called a cotyledon, and a baby root are formed within it. The first stage of growth for a seed is when the stem of this cotyledon sprouts out of the seed. This thin, crispy, almost translucent white stem is known as a sprout. The first leaves that appear at the end of this stem are the cotyledon. These are not the first 'true' leaves of the plant because these leaves were formed when the seed was formed, before germination. The second set of leaves are known as the first true leaves. Microgreens are plants in the stages of the growth of the cotyledons and the first true leaves. In other words, the 'microgreen phase' is from the time seeds have developed their cotyledons up to and including their first set of true leaves.3
This blog post is a tutorial on how to grow these micro miracles. First, we will give a brief step-by-step list of instructions for all of you out their who are looking for the quick version. Then we will go into more detail about the five most basic needs of microgreens and how to meet them.
Step 1: Gather your supplies
You have the option to find and buy the different materials you will need to start these greens or you can buy them all packaged together for you in a kit. Edible Walls sells a MicroGreen Growing Kit. For a limited time, our readers can get a 10% discount on this Kit by using the coupon code MGGKCC10815. Offer must be used by September 6th, 2015.
The supplies you will need are:
- Plant & Propagation Trays without holes
- Premium Quality Potting Mix
- Premium Quality Seeding Mix
- Seeds labelled for Sprouting or Microgreens or any other untreated seeds - see the 'Seeds' section below for more information
- pH Test Kit
- Spray Bottle
- 6" x 4" Propagation Trays that will nest inside of the larger Plant & Propagation Tray
- Optional: Liquid Seaweed (Kelp) or an alternative organic water soluble fertilizer
Other useful tools:
- Lemon Juice
- Baking Soda (just some, not all people will need this, depending on the pH of your tap water)
- Paper Towels
Step 2: Prepare Your Water - THIS IS A VERY IMPORTANT STEP
Prepare your water at least a day in advance to allow time for the chlorine added to all tap water to evaporate. See the section called WATER below for more information.
Microgreens seeds are sensitive to the pH of water so if you want to set yourself up for success, be sure to check and balance the pH of any water you use before you use it. See the 'WATER' section below for instructions. You will need about 5 cups of water for the initial planting stage and about 1 cup of water per 11” x 21” tray every day after that until you harvest your greens.2
Step 3: Choose Your Seeds Wisely
If you are new to gardening or to growing from seed, consider starting your microgreen growing adventure with the ones that are easiest to grow. Of the seeds included in our Microgreen Growing Kit, the easiest are mustard greens, broccoli and arugula. A few others that are good for beginners are Chinese cabbage, turnip, radish, sesame and lettuce varieties. It is also a very good idea to grow seeds with similar harvest times together in one tray. If you grow Broccoli, which, can be uncovered at day 2 or 3 together with cilantro, which, needs to be covered until day 7 or 8, you will have a difficult time taking care of your greens. The easiest way to do this is to group seedlings together by the number of days required for germination. Germination is the stage in which the first true leaves begin to grow. In other words, if your seed packet says 2-3 days for germination that means the first true leaves will begin to grow in 2 to 3 days and you will be able to harvest them shortly after that. Below is a list of seeds commonly used for growing microgreens and the number of days required for germination:
- Buckwheat: 1-2 days
- Kogane: 1-2 days
- Bok Choi: 1-2 days
- Mizuna: 1-2 days
- Sunflower: 1-2 days
- Radish: 1-2 days
- Cress: 1-3 days
- Kale: 1-4 days
- Amaranth: 2-3 days
- Arugula: 2-3 days
- Broccoli: 2-3 days
- Cauliflower: 2-3 days
- Chia: 2-3 days
- Endive: 2-3 days
- Peas: 2-3 days
- Mustard Greens: 2-3 days
- Cabbage: 2-5 days
- Basil: 3-4 days
- Beet: 3-4 days
- Chard: 4-6 days
- Cilantro: 5-7 days
A great grouping for beginners is arugula, broccoli and mustard green seeds. After you have succeeded with that grouping, try basil, beet, cabbage, and cauliflower together. Give sunflower and kale seeds a try at the same time. It is best to grow cilantro alone as it can be a picky crop.4
Step 4: Pre-Soak Your Seeds
Some microgreen seeds need to be soaked prior to planting. Here are a few, starting with the seeds in our MicroGreen Growing Kit, that need to be soaked, along with the amount of time required:
- Cilantro: 2 hours
- Beet: 24 hours
- Sunflower: 8 hours in cold water
- Buckwheat: 12 hours
- Peas: 12 hours in lots of cold water
The best way to soak the seeds is to submerge them in a large jar or bowl filled with cold water. Make sure there is plenty of water as some seeds (like peas) will absorb surprising amounts of water. Keep the jars in a cold place such as your refrigerator for the appropriate amount of time. Rinse them thoroughly with cold water. 2,4
Step 5: Prepare Your Trays
If you are using the 6" x 4" Propagation Trays included in our MicroGreen Growing Kit, place each tray into one of the larger Plant & Propagation Trays, also included. Pour 4 cups of pH balanced water into the tray. See the section WATER below for more information about pH. Slowly add a handful of potting soil to each of the 6" x 4" Trays and spread evenly until you have about an inch of potting soil at the bottom of each tray. Next, repeat this step, this time using Seeding Mix. You can use the back of a spatula to spread your soil and seeding mix evenly. You want a flat even bed of soil that is firm, but not compacted. The soil should be quite damp but not soggy. If your soil is not damp, slowly trickle water evenly over the soil surface and then go back over with your spatula to even it out if necessary.
Step 6: Spread Your Seeds
Lay the seeds upon the soil evenly and sparsely, allowing ample “breathing” room between seeds. They can touch each other, but not lay one on top of another. Use your spray bottle to mist the seeds directly into the soil. You want your seeds to be making firm contact with the soil, but not be covered by the soil.
Here are some guidelines for the amounts of seed to use per 6" x 4" Tray:
Broccoli and other seeds of similar size: 2-1/2 teaspoons per 6" x 4" Tray
Beets and other seeds of similar size: 1-1/2 tablespoons per 6" x 4" Tray
Cilantro and other seeds of similar size: 2-1/2 tablespoons per 6" x 4" Tray
Sunflower and other seeds of similar size: 1 teaspoon per 6" x 4" Tray
Step 7: Water & Cover
Use your spray bottle and lightly mist the air above the seeds. To retain moisture, spray two layers of papers towels until they are moist and lay them on top of your seeds. Now take another large Plant & Propagation Tray with no holes and spray the inside 4 to 5 times with an even distribution of mist. Turn the tray upside down and place in on top of the tray with your seeds so that the edges of both trays meet. This will serve as your black-out and humidity dome. See the section below called LIGHT for more information. Place your covered tray where it will not get too hot or too cold. Aim for 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. See TEMPERATURE for more information.
Step 8: Mist Every 12 Hours
At least twice daily, lift the lid, and spray the paper towels evenly until they are visibly re-moistened. If the paper towels look dry, spray a good amount of water, over 20 sprays the spray bottle, to ensure your seeds have enough moisture. Remove the paper towels after day two.
Step 9: Uncover
Remove the lid when the sprouts reach the height of the lid. Which days this happens will depending on the seed you are growing and on the temperature of the soil. Water daily by misting only. Do not pour water into the tray as this can cause the growth of fungus. Spray the seedlings 15 to 16 times with a spray bottle twice daily.
Step 10: Cue The Lights
Be sure to provide your seedlings with at least ten hours of light. The best light for your microgreens is going to be direct sunlight, however, some crops can survive with only indirect sunlight. Crops that will grow to microgreen stage in indirect sunlight, given a few more days to do so, are dill, cilantro, many but not all lettuce varieties, some mustard greens, some Chinese cabbage and amaranth. Artificial light from T5 Fluorescent lamps in cool white (around 6.5 Kelvin) and Grow Lights are adequate substitutes for sunlight, just be sure to provide at least six hours of darkness.2
Step 11: Harvest, Rinse, Dry, Eat
Move your tray to a cool, shady place before harvesting. If your greens are harvested when it is too hot they will wilt very quickly after harvesting. Harvesting in the early morning and/or late evening will give you the best results. Use a pair of sharp scissors and cut directly from the base of the roots after brushing away any loose surface soil.
Use a colander to rinse your microgreens thoroughly under cold water. Spread the greens over a towel or paper towels and allow them to air dry completely. Microgreens are best if served right after drying, but can be stored loosely in a bowl in the refrigerator for several days. Do not try to refrigerate greens that are not completely dry.
When growing microgreens you need to use a well draining growing mix. Soil can compact, blocking air circulation and suffocating roots. Commercial seedling mixes contain perlite or vermiculite, which, granulates and breaks up the soil, and peat moss or milled sphagnum peat, which, makes the soil light and spongy. Peat also is naturally fungicidal. Microgreens comprise the two earliest leaf stages, the growth of cotyledon, also known as seed leaf, and the growth of the first true leaves. These stages, being an average of ten days, is simply too short a time to fully utilize fertile soil. For microgreens known to require more than ten days before harvest, a loose, peaty potting soil is recommended. Consider filling the bottom half of your growing tray with potting soil and the top half with seedling mix. In time, you can experiment growing with all potting soil, with all seedling mix, with different layers or proportions of both, and with different sources for either. But, half potting soil and half seedling mix is a good mix to start with.
More To The Point: Most microgreens require at least 2 to 3 weeks before they can be harvested. Unless you are growing a plant which can be harvested sooner, use a good quality potting soil and consider amending it with some peat moss. If you are growing a plant that requires more than three weeks to grow before harvest, like cilantro for example, it is recommended to add a water soluble fertilizer to the water used for soaking the soil BEFORE you plant your seeds. Adding fertilizer after this initial saturation of the soil will result in an overdose of nutrients given too late for the seedlings to utilize.2
Untreated tap water can be harmful if not deadly to your microgreens. Chlorine is the predominate additive to municipal tap water that affects microgreens. Chlorine kills bacteria in our tap water and it will also cause your greens to yellow and curl or just not sprout at all. To rid chlorine, fill a wide-mouthed open container such as a bucket with your chlorinated tap water, and allow it to sit for one day, during which the chlorine will evaporate.
The pH of the water you use for your greens can also play a major role in your success. pH ranges from 0 to 14. Zero is ultra acid, 0.1 to 6.9 are acidic, 7 is neutral, 7.1 to 13.9 are alkaline, and 14 is extreme alkaline. Most edible greens thrive with water between slightly acidic 5.5 to neutral 7. Microgreens, as the early stages of greens, generally thrive with water more narrowly between 6 and 6.5. Chlorine as an alkali affects water’s pH as does the temperature of the water. It is important to test the pH of the water you are going to use BEFORE getting started. Our MicroGreen Growing Kit comes with pH testing strips for this purpose. If your water tests above a pH of 7 or below a pH of 6 (rare), you should alter the pH before using that water. It is rare to have acidic tap water, however, if you do encounter this you can add a sparse amount of baking soda to neutralize the acidity in your water. Vinegar and lemon juice are household items that are acidic and can be added, in very dilute amounts, to your water to make it more acidic if your water is alkaline (a pH over 7). Lemon juice is the best option. Start with an eighth of a teaspoon per gallon of water and test the pH again. Repeat until you reach a pH between 6.0 and 6.5.
More To The Point: The pH of the water you use when growing your microgreens will affect the health of the plants as well as the way they taste. Test the pH of your water before you use it. Add very small amounts of lemon juice to water that is too alkaline and baking soda to water that is too acidic.2
With the exception of peas, celery, and most lettuces, seeds need warmth in order to germinate on time and produce strong plants. Room temperature, around 70 degrees F (21 degrees C) during the day, and 60 degrees F at night are optimal for most plants. Temperatures that are either too cold, 50 degrees F or lower, or too hot, 85 degrees F or higher, will cause seeds to either not germinate at all or to grow under duress. You can grow microgreens indoors year-round. This is, of course, one of the biggest selling points for these tiny crops. However, it is still important to pay attention to indoor temperatures. Cold drafts or unheated air during the winter can be a problem, as can heat coming from sun bathed windows in the summer. Seeding heating mats and grow lights (depending on the type of light you use) can be very helpful for growing during the colder months. If you cannot condition your air enough to compensate for heat coming from windows during the warmer months, you can move your seedlings to the interior of your home and use grow lights that give off little to no heat, such as T5 fluorescent and LED lights. See more in the section below called LIGHTS.
There is some variation in terms of the ideal germinating temperature for different plants. Lettuce, dill, onion, peas, and most Brassicas (arugula, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, mustard greens, cabbage, etc) actually germinate better with temps around 60 degrees F. Whereas most other seeds needs temperatures of 70 degrees F and higher.
More To The Point: Keep the soil temperature right around 60 degrees F for arugula, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, mustard greens, and cabbage seedlings and 70 degrees for most other seedlings. The use of a seedling heating mat and/or artificial light can be of assistance towards this goal when growing during the colder months.2
The best and easiest source of light for your seedlings is sunlight. Grow lights or artificial lighting designed to mimic the color spectrum in light coming from the sun and used for growing plants indoors, can get complicated quickly. Where grow lights can come in handy is for people without access to sunlight, like many people living in apartments and condos. For these people, "full spectrum" grow lights or cool white fluorescent tube lamps are the next best option. Incandescent bulbs generate too much heat and can therefore burn the tender leaves of your plants. Compact fluorescent of CFL lamps will have the same problem. Fluorescent tubes, particularly T5 fluorescent tubes are ideal for propagating seedlings because they are highly efficient and bathe young plants in an even light without hot spots or excessive heat and intensity. Any daylight rated or cool white (6.5K) T5 lamp will work. Edible Walls sells Sun Blaze T5 Fixture which will deliver an evenly distributed source of full spectrum grow lighting to your seedlings. It comes with a built in ballast and saves considerable amounts of energy and therefore money when compared to traditional grow lights. We also sell Miracle LED Ultra Grow Light Bulb that have a standard base allowing you to use them in any household lamp. The best lamps for these lights are ones with flexible arms allowing you to direct the light exactly where you need it. These Miracle LED bulbs are extremely energy efficient and are a good choice for those looking to reduce their energy footprint.
Just like plants grown to maturity, different microgreens have different light requirements. Some will tolerate less direct sunlight than others, including, dill, cilantro, many lettuce varieties, arugula, some mustard greens, some Chinese cabbage, and amaranth. If you are unable to provide any natural sunlight, direct or indirect, to your seedlings, you can either use two Sun Blaze 2FT T5 Fixtures or two Miracle LED Ultra Grow Lights per 1' x 2' growing space, which, is the size of most plant & propagation trays, including the trays included in our MicroGreen Growing Kit. If you are able to provide some indirect sunlight but for less than 14 hours per day, you can use one Sun Blaze T5 Fixture or one Miracle LED Grow Light per 1' x 2' growing space. Any light, direct or indirect, which is within five feet of a window and is provided for at least 14 hours per day should be enough to grow microgreens. Monitor your plants for signs of insufficient light and act accordingly. One clear sign that your seedlings are not getting enough light is a tall and frail stem that appears to be reaching for the sun.
Sunflowers, as their name implies, enjoy the sun. It is not uncommon for sunflower microgreens to grow long and frail stems. There is a way to prevent this in sunflowers, and other microgreens for that matter, by forcing the seedlings to grow strong right from the beginning stages. It may seem counter intuitive, but it works. The life of all microgreens begins with an initial four to five days of the 'dark stage'. After you plant the seeds you cover them with a black-out humidity dome that will both prevent light from reaching the seedlings and trap in moisture to keep the environment nice and humid. If you are using Plant & Propagation Trays included in our Kit for growing your microgreens, you can simply use one tray to contain the soil and greens and another as the black-out dome. Simply spray the underside of the tray with a mister and set the tray upside down on top of the tray with the seeds. As mentioned, with most plants you can take the black-out dome off of most plants after 4 to 5 days. Cilantro, however, requires more like 7 days under the dome. For sunflowers and other plants that may tend to grow leggy, such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kohlrabi, it can be very helpful to extend this initial dark stage by just one day to strengthen your crops by forcing them to grow stronger in their search for light. Another method that has proved beneficial for particularly tricky seedlings is the set a Plant & Propagation Tray right side up on top of the surface of the soil so that the bottom of the tray rests on top of the seedlings. This will force your crop to establish a better and stronger root system in order to lift the tray and reach for light. It is important that you only do this from day four to day six and not from day one. These two methods plus adequate light will ensure you grow strong, healthy, delicious microgreens.2
In addition to light, plants need a minimum of six hours of darkness. When the sun is shining, plants use the light to create energy, or carbohydrates, through a process called photosynthesis. In the dark, plants metabolize and convert those carbohydrates into plant tissue, growing deeper roots, thickening their stems, and broadening their leaves.
More To The Point: Be sure to provide your seedlings at least ten hours of light. The best light for your microgreens is going to be direct sunlight, however, some crops can survive indirect sunlight. Crops that will grow to microgreen stage in indirect sunlight, given a few more days to do so, are dill, cilantro, many but not all lettuce varieties such as arugula, some mustard greens, some Chinese cabbage and amaranth. Artificial light from T5 Fluorescent lamps in cool white (around 6.5 Kelvin) and Grow Lights are adequate substitutes for sunlight, just be sure to provide at least six hours of darkness.2
Microgreens require fresh, ventilated and humid air in order to be healthy and tasty. Misting the air around your plants twice a day is an easy way to provide humidity. Ventilation can be a bit more tricky. Outdoors, plants are exposed to wind, challenging them to grow stronger stems and deeper root systems. One way gardeners have tried to simulate this is by having a fan blow lightly on the leaves throughout the day. If you don't mind the energy expenditure, this will work just fine. If you would rather save a few dollars you can skip the fan and strengthen you plants manually by, once or twice a day, running your hand over their tips when they are first growing or thumbing through their foliage when they are a bit bigger. Because your plants will have such a short lifespan, they will tolerate almost any indoor air provided they are not exposed to any obvious pollutants (hair spray, cleaning products, paint fumes, etc.). They will, however, perform at their best with clean, fresh air.2
You may be wondering by now if you can use any seeds to grow microgreens. The answer is yes, although some are easier to grow and therefore will be more likely to succeed and to taste good. And there is one more important difference; sprouting seeds have not been treated with fungicide or insecticide. Most other seeds, unless Organically Grown (OG), are treated. Because microgreens are eaten so early in their lives, treating the seeds can be a health risk, potentially exposing you to ingesting large amounts of fungicide and insecticide. The easiest way to avoid this and have piece of mind is to use seeds sold or marketed as sprouting seeds, seeds for growing microgreens or to use organic seeds.2
If you are new to gardening, consider starting your microgreen growing adventure with the easiest plants. Of the seeds included in our Microgreen Growing Kit, the easiest to grow are mustard greens, broccoli and arugula. A few others that are good for beginners are Chinese cabbage, turnip, radish, sesame and lettuce varieties.
After you have successfully grown a few of the plants in that category, try a few that are exceptionally delicious but that require longer times for both germination and growth. Here is a list of some that are definitely worth the effort:
- Sunflower (Black Oil)
- Kale (Red Russian)
Thank you for reading this tutorial.
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1. Barclay, Eliza. “Introducing Microgreens: Younger, And Maybe More Nutritious, Vegetables”. www.npr.org. 30 Aug 2012..
2. Braunstein, Mark. “Microgreen Garden”. www.microgreengarden.com. 1 June 2015.
3. Hair, Jaden. “Grow: Difference Between Microgreens, Sprouts and Baby Greens”. www.steamykitchen.com. 1 June 2015.
4. Living Whole Foods Inc. “Growing Microgreens Soil Method Instructions”. www,GrowingMicrogreens.com. 1 June 2015.