As the garden’s hardy greens are finally about to succumb to continued winter cold weather, it’s time to move your vegetable production inside. I’ve been setting up a microgreens growing station in a walk-in closet for about five winters now, and believe me, it’s a thrill to harvest something fresh when the outdoor landscape is brown and bleak. Aside from the hazard of my cat chewing on the tender greens before I’m ready to harvest, an indoor microgreens station is a no-brainer for fresh winter food.
This is a super-easy question with multiple answers, any one of which should convince you to head to your local garden center or plant shop to purchase the growing accessories.
Packed full of nutrition. Microgreens are the first few leaves of edible herbs and veggies, specifically the leaves that emerge just after the cotyledon leaves. According to WebMD, microgreens of red cabbage, cilantro and radish can contain up to 40 times more vital nutrients than their full-grown counterparts.
Add tons of flavor. You thought microgreens were just kale sprouts, didn’t you? I mentioned red cabbage, cilantro and radish above, and I’ve seen microgreens of mustards, arugula, daikon, which provide a kick of flavor to anything they are added to (don’t worry, you can use broccoli, kohlrabi and regular leaf lettuce, too). Use just-unfurled greens to top meats, pasta and salads, or let them grow just a bit longer to create a full salad or add to a smoothie.
Fast and easy. Set up with lights, proper humidity and warmth, microgreens can be ready to harvest in just a couple of weeks depending on the type of microgreens you grow. That means you can have literally dozens of harvests before your outdoor garden is ready in spring. And another bonus: If you’re using clean containers and growing media, the likelihood of pests and disease is close to 0%.
Scratches the gardening itch. Vegetable gardens are harvest addicts. Snipping herbs is one thing, but growing from seed and harvesting is the full-circle production cycle to which veg gardeners are hooked.
Equipment and Accessories for Growing Microgreens
Part of the “fast and easy” aspect of growing microgreens is that you can do this with minimal equipment. Of course, the “more” or “better” the tools, the easier the task of growing. Let’s touch on what you’ll need to get started.
Containers. Any vessel that can hold growing media will suffice, as long as the container has holes to allow for water to drain out. Plant pots, seed trays, tin pie pans, recycled take-out containers—all of these will serve the purpose as long as you put some holes in their bottoms and include a tray underneath to protect your surfaces.
Light. You can set up your growing sitch in a sunny window, or go a little more pro by investing in some growing lights and a timer. We appreciate the lighting products and the wealth of information from the folks at NextLight, providers of full-spectrum LED grow lights. For the serious home-based grower, NextLight’s products are very much “plug and play” items, meaning they come with all the cords and equipment to set up a grow area in no time.
Pro tip: Using a timing device with your supplemental light makes providing 10-12 hours of indoor sunshine easy.
Seed-starting mix. Seed-starting mix is not regular growing media, but rather a mix that is formulated specifically to provide the conditions that support seed germination. In fact, there’s no soil in it at all. Our Organic Mechanics Seed Starting Blend is a 100% organic combination of coconut coir, pine bark, rice hulls, earthworm castings and fertilizer, all providing that delicate balance between adequate moisture and water drainage. We add in our Worm Castings and an OMRI-listed organic fertilizer to give the growing seedlings the nutrition boost they need for continued growth up to three to four weeks after bursting out of their cotyledons.
Seeds! You can find specific seeds for growing microgreens at any number of in-store and online seed shops. As I mentioned above, these microgreens seed often come in mixes of several different veggies, such as the Jazzy Mix from Botanical Interests. I’ve also had success sowing “expired” seeds from the previous year’s packets of Swiss chard and kale, so if you have any laying around, give them a go.
Optional items. A heat mat placed under growing container helps keep the growing media cozy, encouraging growth—definitely a bonus for a cool-kept home. You can also place a clear plastic dome or some loosely draped plastic wrap over the container after sowing your microgreens to help maintain a warm and moist environment.
Pro tip: Do vent the covering if condensation builds up!
Harvest and Beyond
Your microgreens will be ready for harvest about two weeks after sowing. Harvest all at once or just a portion of your crop every few days. Depending on the type of greens you are growing, your cut greens may begin to grow additional leaves from the untouched center portion of the seedlings, giving you multiple harvests from the same crop.
Once the growing media becomes rootbound, it’s time to recycle that biomass into your composter, clean the container with a 10% bleach solution and start the process again. Or, sow subsequent crops every week or two so you have a ready-to-harvest crop every week.
This all sounds easy enough to tackle as a winter gardening project, right? We can help you start. Head over to our Seed Starting Blend page for more information about the product and sizing, then place your order and get rolling on your first microgreens crop of many to come.