For gardeners, January and February can be long months where there is little opportunity for hands-on gardening activities if we exclude tasks such as ordering seeds and supplies or planning for the upcoming gardening season.
One of the options for indoor activity in winter is the cultivation of micro-greens, the tiny, delicate greens that add color, texture and flavor to a variety of foods. If you recently ordered a salad, sandwich, or even some soup at one of the “white tablecloths” restaurants, you’ve probably encountered a number of micro-greens on top of your food as an ingredient or garnish.
Micro-greens are sometimes confused with germs, which are germinated seeds that are consumed as a whole plant – seeds, roots and leaves. However, micro-greens are edible, immature greens that are harvested soon after germination when the plants are only 1-2 inches tall.
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Like ripe vegetables, micro-greens are nutrient-rich and full of unique flavors and textures. Micro-greens are available at local grocery stores and can be relatively expensive, but are easy to grow at home if you may already have them on hand.
Which seeds are best for growing micro-greens indoors?
A wide variety of lettuce greens, leafy vegetables, herbs, edible flowers and even some grains can be grown as micro-green.
The easiest plants to grow as micro-green for beginners include cabbages such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, as well as mustard, chia, sunflower and buckwheat. Legumes such as peas, beans, alfalfa, lentils and chickpeas are also excellent micro-greens. One of my favorite seeds to grow as a micro green is beets because of their unique color, taste and texture.
You can choose to grow more than one type of seed as micro-green in the same container, or grow different types of seeds in different containers and mix the micro-greens after harvest. Microgreen seed mixes, which contain a wide variety of seeds with similar growth rates, can be purchased online.
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Some common vegetable plants, such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes, are not edible at seedlings and are not suitable for producing micro-greens because they contain toxic alkaloids.
Start growing micro-greens
Once you’ve decided which plants to grow as micro-green and get the seeds you want, you’ll need some simple supplies, including planting trays, a humidifying bottle, and growing media such as peat-based seed mixture or coconut coconut.
Because micro-greens do not require large amounts of medium, flat seed trays are better than deeper pots. Takeaway plastic pots are perfect for growing micro-greens, but be sure to punch more holes in these pots for drainage.
After filling the containers with planting medium, place the containers in a water container to moisten the medium from below. If the medium is completely wet, remove it from the water and allow the excess moisture to drain.
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Unlike seeds planted under the soil in a traditional vegetable garden, the seeds needed for microgreen production should be placed on top of the planting medium and should not be covered with planting medium. Larger seeds such as peas and hard husks such as sunflowers should be soaked in water overnight before sowing to improve germination.
Warm, sunny windowsills provide the perfect place to grow micro-greens, especially if the window is facing south. Micro-greens also grow well in other parts of the house next to the lamps.
Handling and harvesting micro-greens
After sowing, occasionally pour a little water using a spray bottle to keep the seeds moist during germination (shoot growth). Seed trays should be kept in the dark for a few days to help germinate and maintain good humidity. This is easily achieved by covering the trays with something that can block out the sunlight.
Most seeds germinate within 3-7 days and are ready for harvest within 2-3 weeks.
After germination, keep the medium moist by watering it from below by placing the container in a water pan again.
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Micro-greens should be harvested immediately before use with scissors or a sharp knife, as micro-greens can be stored for a short time after harvest.
After growing the first micro-greens, you will probably catch yourself and be ready to try growing different types of plants as micro-green.
Mike Hogan is an associate professor at Ohio State University and an instructor at OSU Extension.