Do you like to grow your own food? Looking for an easy gardening project that delivers fast results? Ever considered trying your hand at homegrown microgreens?
I had the opportunity to review a book on the topic — Microgreen Garden: Indoor Grower’s Gude to Gourmet Greens by Mark Mathew Braunstein. Without a lot of space to grow outdoors and lacking the patience for plants that take months to give birth, I’m intrigued. After reading the book and doing a bit more research, here’s what I’ve learned.
What Are Microgreens?
Microgreens are small, young herb or vegetable seedlings, harvested after growing just a few leaves. Primarily used as a food garnish or salad ingredient, you may think of microgreens as a fussy garnish used by highbrow chefs in white tablecloth restaurants. Think again. Microgreens have gone mainstream as more chefs and home cooks have recognized they are small but mighty. They add flavor, color, and texture to a dish — but that’s not all. Recent research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and University of Maryland (the first of its kind to study the nutrients in microgreens) shows microgreens pack a punch of nutrition. From a 2012 NPR article:
The researchers looked at four groups of vitamins and other phytochemicals – including vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta carotene — in 25 varieties of microgreens. They found that leaves from almost all of the microgreens had four to six times more nutrients than the mature leaves of the same plant.
More studies are needed to compare the nutritional value of microgreens to their older selves, but I’m more intrigued than I was before learning about this study.
What Microgreens Can You Grow?
Mr. Braunstein’s book provides a nice overview of the wide variety of microgreens you can cultivate. Early in the book, he gives you his top ten easiest microgreens for beginners, including radish, turnip, endive, lettuce, and mustard microgreens. In a later chapter, he describes each variety of microgreen in more detail, laying out best practices in soaking, sowing, germination, and harvesting. Some microgreens are more challenging to grow than others, but since you can grown them in small spaces, why not give them a try?
Homegrown Microgreens 101
- Pick your seeds and handle them with care. Buy from a dependable source and store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator. They’ll last 2 to 5 years, depending on the seed type. Mr. Braunstein recommends starting with a few varieties of the more easily-grown greens until you’ve seen some positive results. The good news? They germinate quickly and can usually be harvested in less than a couple of weeks, so you won’t have to wait long to start new batches.
- Choose your containers. Mr. Braunstein provides a detailed method for repurposing those plastic containers fresh fruits come in for your microgreen gardens. You can also use plastic containers for hummus or yogurt. Or start your homegrown microgreens on cafeteria trays or baking sheets. I even found a clever lady who creates microfarms in creative containers like vintage suitcases and old phonograph cabinets. Kind of gets your creative juices going, doesn’t it?
- Plant those puppies. Prepare your potting soil or seedling mix and fill your containers. Some seeds require soaking while others don’t. Some should have a light blanket of soil while others should just be pressed gently into the dirt. The book does a great job telling you how to prepare the containers and the soil for best resuts.
- Provide the right amount of sunlight and water. The book lays out varying techniques for making sure your homegrown microgreens get the right amount of water in the best way to maximize growth. It also gives direction about providing the right amount of light — microgreens need about 10 hours of light and 6 hours of darkness each day. Temperature comes into play as well, so the book offers guidance around how to speed germination and maintain plants at the right temperature.
- Watch ’em grow — then harvest and enjoy. Apparently, there is a point at which a microgreen crop is at its tastiest and that’s usually at the seed leaf stage before true leaves have developed. Microgreens grown larger than that can become tougher and bitter. Mr. Braunstein suggests the only way to know when to harvest is to sample the greens every day once they’ve produced their seed leaves. Harvesting is easy but does require a gentle touch. And many microgreens will provide you with a second wave of green goodness after the first harvest.
My Take On The Book
I haven’t started my homegrown microgreens yet, but I do feel well-equipped to make it happen with the help of this book. I’m not crazy about how it’s organized (for example, the chapter on choosing containers comes after the planting, growing, and harvesting chapters) but it’s an easily navigable book, so that’s not such a big deal. The end of each chapter also has an “inside scoop” section summarizing the key points in the chapter — very helpful indeed. Sections for recipes and resources seem to be added as an afterthought with only four recipes and a few scientific resources about plants included, but a quick visit to the Microgreen Garden web site provides a bountiful list of seed and supply companies and links to quick guides and articles about homegrown microgreens.
Have you tried cultivating homegrown microgreens? Think you might give it a try?
Image Credit: www.microgreengarden.com