How to Grow Herb Microgreens and Other Plants

Have you heard of microgreens? They're a little larger than sprouts but not full-fledged seedlings, or what growers call baby greens. When harvested after developing their first true leaves, these tiny, tiny plants are, well, delicious. They have all the delicate flavor of their gown up counterparts, without the bitterness or woodsy, earthy or sometimes smoky flavors herbs and other edible plants develop as they mature. They're light, bright flavors and refined textures exhibit the best traits many of these plant varieties have to offer.

Unlike sprouts, microgreens are really popular in culinary circles right now. If you've been dining in restaurants with fabric tablecloths and mood lighting (lucky you), chances are your side salad or fusion entrée sported a microgreen or two.

As a little background, sprouts have lost favor in recent years because the humid growing conditions they require can also be the perfect breeding ground for bacteria like Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Salmonella. Actually, there have been food poisoning outbreaks here and in Europe from sprout consumption, and a particularly virulent outbreak in Germany resulted in fatalities.

Microgreens carry some of the nutrient concentrations that made sprouts so attractive, but without the health risks.  Although not true for all plants grown as microgreens, it appears many varieties contain adult concentrations of nutrients compacted into their tasty, tiny leaves -- for up to 5 times more nutrient concentration than you'll find in a like serving of the mature plant. This is nice if you're looking for more bang for your veggie buck, or want your kids to get maximum value in that forkful of salad they're choking down.

Some Reasons to Grow Microgreens

I first found microgreens attractive because the basil and other herbs and vegetables I grew in the garden produced more seeds every year than I could possibly use. Turning the extra into tiny greens was a nice way to avoid wasting the excess. I can grow these greens indoors in winter when my garden is under a foot of snow, while at the same time saving myself a trip to the produce department of my local supermarket (so hate driving in the snow). It's a win, win as the advertising folks say. 

From seed to table ranges between one and five weeks depending on plant variety, which is usually less time than it takes for problems to develop in most indoor seedlings (in my experience, anyway). I can also schedule staggered plantings, so I always have some nice salad or soup ingredients ready to go. From last summer's basil plants, for instance, I harvested enough seed for spring starts and for five microgreen harvests over the fall and winter.

It's a neat way to grow herbs and vegetables that doesn't require a green thumb, a big garden, a huge investment or much know how. It's fun, too. If you like (nearly) instant gratification, growing microgreens is for you. 

What Microgreens Can you Grow?

There are a surprising number of plants that make delicious, tiny greens. Although this list isn't exhaustive, it will keep you busy for a few seasons.

Let's begin with the herbs. These are great candidates:

  • Basil (sweet)
  • Chives
  • Cilantro
  • Dandelion
  • Dill
  • Fennel
  • Fenugreek
  • Lemon balm
  • Marjoram
  • Mint
  • Mustard
  • Parsley
  • Rocket
  • Sorrel
  • Tai basil

Other plants that make good microgreens:

  • Amaranth
  • Arugula
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Buckwheat
  • Cabbage
  • Carrot
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Chard
  • Chervil
  • Chia
  • Cress
  • Cucumber
  • Flax seed
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Lettuce
  • Millet
  • Mustard
  • Pak choi
  • Peas
  • Purple cabbage
  • Radish
  • Spinach
  • Sunflower
  • Swiss chard
  • Turnip
  • Wasabi

How to Grow Microgreens

To grow microgreens, you need:

  • A sunny window that gets at least four hours of bright light a day - For our purposes, "bright" means you can place your hand in the light coming through the window and it casts a hand print shadow. If you don't have enough light, a grow-light setup will also work. Because you will be growing plants only to the seedling stage, fluorescent light works great. Fluorescent fixtures are typically the least expensive plant lights around, too.
  • A pot or tray - I like to use flat seedling trays. In spring, I grow my garden plants in them, too. (Although it isn't essential, especially if you keep your home warm, I like to use a heated mat. Seedlings sprout sooner that way. I remove the mat once plants develop their first two leaves and harvest after the next two or so appear robust and ready.)
  • Potting mix - Just about any variety will work. You can also use vermiculite or coconut (coco) coir.
  • Water mister - You want a variety that produces a very light spray and distributes water evenly.

*You can also purchase microgreen growing kits. These kits eliminate the guess work of starting an indoor microgreen garden, and usually provide a few of the easiest to grow plant varieties to start out with:

This growing strategy works for me:
  • Choose your seeds and distribute them evenly in the potting mix to the depth recommended by the seed supplier.
  • You can plant seeds closer together than recommended -- but don't overlap them.
  • Place the tray in a sunny window and water the media twice daily until ready to harvest. (You want the soil surface to stay moist but not saturated.)
  • To harvest microgreens, snip them just above soil line with a pair of scissors or shears.

 You can certainly start microgreens outdoors in spring and early summer, too. Just follow the instructions on the seed packet, with the small change of being able to plant seeds closer together. Harvest often and enjoy.

I like to add microgreens to bean dishes, soups, stews, salads, omelets and use them to top or garnish casseroles and baked potatoes. They are truly yummy.

Once harvested, rinse and use or refrigerate microgreens immediately. You can store them for up to four days in your refrigerator's vegetable bin, but they will typically begin to lose color and texture within a couple of days. They're delicate.

Note: Many experts recommend using your own garden seeds or organic (untreated) seeds when growing microgreens. This is because there is some concern any fungicide or pesticide applied to the seed may linger on the plants at this early stage of their development.

*As full disclosure, the above are paid links where a commission accrues to The Herb Gardener for any purchase you make.


Microgreens_WIkI.jpg   By Lufa Farms [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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