Microgreens: the small but mighty Good vegetables in small packages
There’s a new veg in town! Microgreens aren’t just turning heads in the
grocery stores; they’re turning never-before gardeners into green thumbs. As you’ll soon
discover, growing your own is a quick and easy the way to take fresh and local to a new
level. These miniature greens are relative newcomers on the culinary scene and an even
newer trend in grow-it- yourself realm. Brilliant colours and surprisingly intense flavours
have made microgreens a hit, but so too has the novelty of eating parts of vegetables only
palatable when young. Corn plants, for example, are deliciously sweet as shoots but when
mature should only be eaten in a pasture. Tired of waiting ’til fall for the nutty taste of
sunflower seeds? How does 14 days suit you? That’s all it takes to grow a shoot from start
to plate. It’s that fast turn around that’ll get you hooked on growing. To get started, here’s
what you need to know.
By definition, microgreens are simply vegetables or a mix of vegetables
grown to the seedling stage. They were once exclusive to high-end restaurants where they
garnished plates. Today, their culinary use has expanded, and it’s commonplace to find
them in salads, on a sandwich, in soup or even a stir-fry. If you’re fortunate, you may
have access to a grocer who carries microgreens or be able to find them at your local
farmers’ market. If not, you’re still in luck. Demand has grown so much that garden
centres sell microgreens as seeds packs. You can try individual varieties or mixes of
sweet, colourful or spicy blends. Bought or homegrown, it’s a tasty trend that everyone
Although the terms get used interchangeably, “sprout”, “microgreen” and “baby green”
each refer to different stages of plant growth. Here’s a guide to understanding what
Sprout: Synonymous with germination, a sprout is the first stage of development. Grown
in moist environments without soil, they can be eaten as soon as the sown seeds develop
—you guessed it—visible sprouts. The familiar grocery-store alfalfa, mung bean and
radish sprouts are slightly more mature and sport their first set of leaves, called
cotyledons. These sprouts are usually slightly opaque and have a crunchy texture.
Microgreen: Microgreens have stronger, more developed flavours than sprouts, as well
as more colour. Plants at this second stage of development establish roots and develop
their first set of true leaves. Consequently, they look and taste more like salad greens than
sprouts do. Microgreens are usually grown in soil and in brightly lit conditions with
relatively low humidity.
Baby green: Baby greens are allowed to develop past the true leaf stage but are
harvested before they fully mature. You’ll find these tender leaves available as mesclun
and spring mix greens. Baby greens are grown in conditions very similar to microgreens
but are sown less thickly to give them room to grow to a larger size.
Looking at the tiny, first set of leaves, it’s difficult to distinguish one brassica plant from
another. Broccoli, cabbage, arugula and other plants in this family have similar heart-
shaped cotyledons, and it isn’t until their next set of true leaves develop that they’re
Did You Know?
Hundreds of vegetables can and are grown as microgreens. Amaranth, arugula, beet,
broccoli, cabbage, cress, mustard, and radish are among the most common—in part
because they’re quick and easy to grow. Herbs such as chervil, cilantro and chives are
great-tasting but can take more than 14 days to germinate. Yield is also a factor to
consider when choosing what to grow. Basil and celery, for instance, both take 18 to 26
days to grow to size but yeild only half as well as arugula or cress (which also mature
much faster). In the world of microgreens, big yielders include Asian greens (such as pac
choi) and peas. So be adventurous and experiment! Your new favourite is only 14 days
A minimal investment in time and money. That’s all it takes to grow your
own microgreens. That’s what makes it attractive to both first-time growers and
experienced growers. Unlike growing full-sized vegetables, plants only need to be kept
alive for a few weeks, and it doesn’t matter if they get a bit stretched in the process. To
begin with try easy-to- germinate and quick-to- grow crops such as arugula, broccoli,
purple cabbage, peas or radish. Here’s how to get started.
Getting It Right
Choose a proper container. You’ll need trays or shallow pots to grow your
microgreens. Seedling starter trays with domed lids or similarly covered bakery or deli
trays (make sure to cut drainage holes into the bottoms) are great choices.
Fill ’er up. Fill the trays with a good-quality soilless potting mixture to a depth of 2.5–4
cm. Keep the soil about 1 cm from the lip of the tray so that seeds and soil don’t wash out
when you water. Then level and smooth the surface without compacting the soil.
Sow your seeds. Thickly scatter seeds over the surface, and cover (topdress) with more
soil or vermiculite. As a general rule, the topdressing should be no deeper than the
thickness of the seed. Alternatively, cover the seeds with a cotton or paper towel, which
will need to be removed once the seeds have sprouted, for a cleaner end product. Note:
larger seeds, such as peas, will germinate more successfully if covered with soil. Next,
shower them gently but thoroughly with water. Pop on the dome, place in a relatively
warm spot (12–24°C) and keep consistently moist to ensure germination (a spray bottle
works great). At this stage, the seeds don’t need light to sprout, so the tray doesn’t have
to be in a sunny location.
Manage your crop. Once the majority of the seeds have germinated, remove the dome
(and the towel if you used one). Next, if the tray’s not already in a bright sunlit spot,
now’s the time to move it to a windowsill or outside if the weather’s suitable. Grow lights
are also an option if you haven’t a spot that receives at least four hours of direct sunlight
per day. How often you need to water will depend on temperature, tray size and soil
depth. To assess, dig your finger into the soil. It should feel moist like a wrung-out
sponge but not soaking wet. Note: microgreens are delicate and can become matted if
they’re not showered gently when watered.
Harvest your greens. Most microgreens are ready to eat seven to fourteen days after
they’ve sprouted, depending on the plants and the stage at which you chose to eat them.
Your crop can be harvested just after the first set of leaves (cotyledons) open, or you can
wait until the second set of leaves develops. If you plan to let your greens grow any
bigger, seed them slightly thinner so they don’t become too leggy, turn yellow or rot from
crowding. To harvest, gently grasp a handful of greens and cut above the soil level with a
pair of scissors. Use immediately or store in the fridge. They will last up to one week in a
sealed plastic bag or container.
• Buy untreated seeds (free of fungicides). You may even prefer to buy organic.
• Reuse the soil if there were no problems with disease or pests. Compost thereafter.
• If you don’t want to fuss with soil, invest in grow pads. They’re specifically designed
for microgreen production and readily available at garden centres.
• Start a second tray after the first has sprouted for a continuous supply.
Mighty Good and Good for You
Small or large, vegetables are plain-old good for you. Vitamin and
antioxidant-rich microgreens are no exception. However, claims that microgreens have
more nutritional value than their full-grown counterparts haven’t been proven. As relative
newbies on the culinary scene, they haven’t been the focus of many scientific studies.
There are studies on sprouts, but because the finding include the seed in the nutritional
findings, the information isn’t directly comparable to microgreens. Another issue is the
nutritional profiles don’t necessarily match that of the mature vegetables. For example,
with microgreen radishes, corn and carrots, it’s a completely different part of the plant
that’s eaten. But don’t get hung up on the nutritional analysis, or lack of it. There’s no
doubt freshly grown and picked produce, regardless of size, is always a healthy choice.
Here are some of our favourites.
‘Sugar Sprint’ Snap Pea
These attractive shoots with raw pea flavour make a great addition to stir-
fries. As a green, harvest when about 10 cm tall. As a full-grown plant, ‘Sugar Sprint’ is a
bush-type pea that grows well in pots or small spaces. Mature pods are 7–8 cm long and
abundant. Shoots in 14 days; peas in 60.
‘Spicy Mix’ Microgreens
This seed blend lives up to its name, adding a gorgeous, spicy flavour to
any meal. Contains sawtooth mustard, peppergrass cress, ‘Red Ace’ cabbage, ‘Red Giant’
mustard and ‘China Rose’ radish. Harvest when plants have at least two true leaves orwhen they are 2.5–5 cm tall. Seed less densely to grow to baby green stage. Microgreens
in 10–14 days.
‘Liquid Sunshine’ Wheatgrass
Wheatgrass (Triticum aestivum) is a mainstay in health drinks. Grow your
own to guarantee product control and freshness. As a bonus, varieties such as ‘Liquid
Sunshine’ not only grow like a weed but also look great as a table centerpiece. You can
also opt to just sprout the wheat berries. When sprouts are about 2.5 cm, use them in
salads or bread recipes, or grind them to make veggie burgers. Shoots in 7 days.
eg Science & Technology
Certain seeds develop white fuzz on their stems when they start to grow. It’s a natural
part of the process as seedlings set roots and shouldn’t be mistaken for mould. That said,
if you’re growing microgreens without soil, make sure to start with a sterile container to
deter the growth of unwanted organisms. Note that mould or rot can also develop when
using soil, especially if conditions are too moist or there isn’t good air circulation.
eg Quick Tips
Grow several types of plants in one container for a variety of tastes and textures.
To create your own spicy mix, pick your favourite varieties of these plants and use the
3 parts radish seed
3 parts mustard seed
2 parts cress seed
2 part red cabbage seed
Did You Know?
It’s definitely cheaper to grow your own microgreens than to buy them. Prices will vary,
but often range from $7–9 per 100 gm.