| Microgreens – Winter Project Time!
by Stacey Tress
What are Microgreens?
They are larger than sprouts and smaller than baby salad greens. You harvest microgreens after they have produced at least two “true” leaves after the cotyledons appear. Cotyledons begin as part of the embryo within the seed of a plant. In dicotyledonous plants, they produce two kidney-shaped “seed” leaves, the first leaves to appear. True leaves, by contrast, develop from the plant stem. [The dicotyledons, also known as dicots, are one of the two groups into which all the flowering plants were formerly divided. The name refers to one of the typical characteristics of the group, namely that the seed has two embryonic leaves or cotyledons. Legumes (peas, beans, lentils, peanuts), mint, and lettuce are examples of dicots. Grains (wheat, corn, rice, millet), onions, and grass are examples of monocots].
Microgreens vs Sprouts
Microgreens are not the same as sprouts. Sprouts are basically germinated seeds. You eat the seed, root, stem, and undeveloped leaves. Sprouts are produced by soaking and rinsing (high moisture and soil-less), whereas microgreens are planted and grown in soil or a soil substitute. Also, the seed concentration is a fraction of what is used in seed sprouting. After the initial germination period, usually a day or two, microgreen seedlings are grown in high light conditions with normal humidity and good air circulation. Microgreens can also have much stronger flavours than sprouts, with a wide range of leaf shapes, textures, and colours. Read more on sprouts here.
Why Grow Your Own?
Fresh is Best
Growing your own microgreens allows for the production of high quality, risk-free food. The leaves have high nutritional and biological values. When you grow at home, you harvest immediately before use so they are at peak freshness, with optimum nutritional and medicinal qualities.
Who’s ready for a winter project? This is the perfect time of year to consider growing your own microgreens. They add splashes of colour, texture, and many flavours to dishes. One of our favourite microgreens to grow is the pea shoot—tastes just like freshly picked garden peas! Microgreens are immediate and practical and can look very cutesy when planted in little decorative pots. Their culinary use is practically endless as they can be easily incorporated into sandwiches, mixed into soups, dressings, pies, dips, stir-fries, pizza/breads, and of course into fresh salads. Piling fresh cut microgreens onto a salad can offer quite a striking food presentation.
Nature’s Own Superfood
Nutritionally, microgreens are full of dietary goodness like vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. They are at their nutritional and flavoursome best when they begin to display their adult-shaped leaves. Microgreens have been found to contain higher levels of concentrated active compounds than found in mature plants. For example, microgreens provide a concentrated, convenient method for absorbing the active compounds when made into a health drink, as is commonly done with wheatgrass. Wheatgrass is the most well-known microgreen that is grown for its healthy compounds and properties. Wheatgrass, when consumed as a juice, is believed to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, increase red blood cells, relieve blood-sugar disorders, and aid in the prevention of some cancers.
Other species such as flax, broccoli, red radish, and red brassica also have researched health-promoting qualities. There are many studies showing a link between cancer prevention and the consumption of brassicas (also known as cruciferous vegetables) such as broccoli, cabbage, mustard, arugula, and kale. I could write an entire article just on the health benefits of the brassica family—if you are interested in learning more, I suggest you check out the micronutrient sulphoraphane (sulforaphane) which is found in broccoli microgreens.
Phytoestrogens (also known as isoflavones) are a group of chemicals found in plants that can act like the hormone estrogen, and may mitigate certain cancers and regulate hormonal changes. They are commonly found in beans/legumes, soybeans, cereal brans, flaxseeds, and alfalfa and clover. Sprouts and microgreens alfalfa and clover contain high concentrations of phytoestrogens.
Some Basics on How to Grow
- Seeds—all microgreen seeds should be untreated. Ideally buy seeds that have been produced specifically for microgreen or sprout growing.
- Containers—you don’t necessarily need a grow light system to produce healthy microgreens. A fun side to growing microgreens is that you can select something that brings you joy to look at, especially if it’s in your kitchen or balcony. Having containers that are shallow, lightweight, and portable is key. They could be recycled plastic food trays, or old baking pans with holes punched in the bottom could work. Shallow with holes in the base for drainage is the rule.
- Soil or other growing media—edible shoots are tender young seedlings so they require a growing medium that will hold and transfer enough moisture and oxygen around the seed without waterlogging or drying out frequently. A seed-raising mix works great, but you’ll have to cut the microgreen at the base of the stem to harvest. A cleaner alternative could be pumice. You can pull up the entire microgreen with minimal mess, which could be ideal in a small apartment environment.
- Sowing the seeds *tips*—its best to not mix different kinds of microgreens in the same container as all seeds do not have the same growing time. ie. For example, herbs grow slowly while radishes grow quickly. Larger seeds such as peas, corn, and wheatgrass may be pre-soaked as this can speed up germination. Keep in mind that some seeds are mucilaginous, meaning that once they are wetted they will form a thick gelatine-like layer. Cress and arugula are two examples of this, and these should not be pre-soaked.
- Add growing medium—fill your chosen container with growing medium: 4 cm of soil depth is sufficient. Don’t fill containers right to the top as the seeds may spill over the edges when you water. Level out the soil and flatten down gently. Over compaction will slow growth down and results will be poor.
- Sow seeds—sprinkle seeds evenly over the surface. Think sprinkling pepper over a meal as this way you won’t overseed. The density of sowing depends of the size and type of seed you are using. Give the planted tray a light pressing to settle your seed in the soil but not too firm so as to compact it. This encourages your seeds to easily set roots.
- Covering—Soil layer: seeds need a covering layer to keep them warm and moist until they germinate. For tiny seeds such as kale, mustard, and basil, it should be a fine layer of sifted soil to the depth of the sowed seeds. Large seeds such as pea and beet don’t need sifted soil. Give your seeds a generous watering. Underwatering could result in poor or no germination. For the watering, we prefer to use a plant mister (it’s actually a portable weed sprayer, but we’ve never used it for that purpose). Keep the seeds moist or they may not germinate. Covers: your container now needs to be covered to speed up germination and growth. It creates a mini-greenhouse effect. Clear plastic works, clear plastic shower caps are handy as they are elasticated. If using a seedling tray, you can easily find the clear plastic lid to match.
- Locations to grow—as mentioned before, the germination process does not require light but once germinated, like most other plants, they need light to grow. A sunny windowsill or counter is ideal. Light for shoot production doesn’t need to be intense; young seedlings need much less light than mature plants, meaning that these greens can be grown near a window. (You’re only growing them to the first leaf.) They are at their nutritional and flavourful best when they begin to display adult-sized leaves. That can be done anywhere you can grab a little indirect light. But keep in mind, especially if you are growing here in our prairie winters, that you need to keep the container a bit warm.
Plant Care and Harvesting
Once seeds have germinated, they need light to grow and flourish. Remove plastic caps and leave in the light for 7–14 days depending on variety. Don’t leave containers in standing water. Harvesting early in the day proves to maintain a longer shelf life, but cutting just before eating is ideal. Microgreens contain many vitamins, including vitamin C, the levels of which are known to decline the longer the greens are stored after the harvest. Sharp scissors are best for harvesting, but pinching works, too. A quick rinse may be all you need to “clean” the shoots before eating. Typically, fresh microgreens will store in the refrigerator for 4 days to a week.
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small red onion, finely chopped
6 large flat mushrooms
2 slices grainy bread, crumbled
1/2 cup toasted sunflower seeds
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
Handful of microgreens
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp olive oil
Lightly saute the garlic and onion.
Cut as much of the stalk as possible from the mushroom and chop stalk finely.
Mix all ingredients together.
Wet hands and gather enough stuffing for one mushroom; squeeze to compact it.
Press firmly onto the top of each mushroom, covering all the gills.
Bake on a flat oven dish at 350ºF for 15 minutes.
Serve with a generous garnish of fresh microgreens and a drizzle of olive oil.
Corn, Feta Cheese, and Microgreen Fritters
1 cup flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup soda water
2 cups whole corn kernels
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 cup microgreens, mixed or one variety
Sift dry ingredients.
Mix all the batter ingredients until smooth.
Add corn and feta cheese, and stir, add microgreens last.
Stand mix for 10 minutes.
Cook in spoonfuls in a small amount of oil in a pan over medium heat until golden on both sides.
Serve with a chutney or a microgreen salad.
Makes approximately 12 fritters.
Microgreens: A Guide to Growing Nutrient-Packed Greens, Eric Franks and Jasmine Richardson. Gibbs Smith, 2009.
Microgreens: How to Grow Nature’s Own Superfood, Fionna Hill, Firefly Books, 2010.
The Everything Sprouted Grains Book, Brandi Evans, Adams Media, 2012.
Stuffed Mushroom and Fritters from Microgreens—How to Grow Nature’s Own Superfood by Fionna Hill.
Stacey Tress, a Holistic Nutritional Therapist (HNT) and Young Living Essential Oil Distributor (#2282633), lives in Rhein, SK, with her husband and two daughters. She is the owner of Garden Therapy Yorkton – GT Bliss which offers fermentation workshops, active culture kits, permaculture consulting, essential oils, and more! To learn
more, call 306-641-4239, email email@example.com, and/or Facebook “Garden Therapy Yorkton – GT Bliss.” Webpage: www.gardentherapybliss.ca. Also see the display ad on page 9 of the 25.4 November/December issue of the WHOLifE Journal.