Why Grow Microgreens In Your Organic Backyard

Posted: June 11, 2014

Research indicates that microgreens are higher in nutritional value than mature vegetables, and are much easier to grow! Find out all about them in this informative post!

A microgreen is a fresh tiny green plant that is used, both, as a visual and flavour component or ingredient in fine dining. They are smaller than “baby greens” and different from “sprouts”. Depending on the grains used for growing micro-greens, they have primary leaves of different sizes, shapes, colours (shades of green), and textures, with varying  flavours like mildly sweet (sunflower), pungent (mustard) or bland (horse-gram). They are considered as unique type of greens that are used to enhance the beauty, taste and freshness of various dishes by chefs in high-end restaurants.

In Indian dining, microgreens, like green coriander leaves or mint leaves, can be used to garnish various dishes, or as components of vegetable or fruit salads. As they are delicate and very tender, they should not be steamed or cooked before consumption.




What is a microgreen?

A microgreen is 3 to 6 cm long and has a single delicate stem, a single or a pair of fully open cotyledon leaves, and another pair of very young true leaves. When they grow beyond the two-true-leaf-stage, they are no longer microgreens, but can be considered as “baby greens.” Both microgreens and baby greens lack any legal definition. Microgreens are not sprouts (sprouted grains with shoots and roots) that are legally defined.

Microgreens of sunflower with two open cotyledon leaves (left), and horsegram (center) and mustard (right) with two open cotyledon leaves and two true leaves (8 days after seeding).

Microgreens of sunflower with two open cotyledon leaves (left), and horsegram (center) and mustard (right) with two open cotyledon leaves and two true leaves (8 days after seeding).

Nutritional value of microgreens

Research indicates that microgreens are higher in nutritional value than mature vegetables. The contents of chlorophyll, vitamin A, C, E and K, carotenoids, and enzymes are highly variable depending on what microgreen you grow, where you grow it, when you harvest, and what type of growing medium you use. Intensely coloured microgreens are considered more nutritious than lighter ones. Further research is needed to establish the nutritional potential of different microgreens.

Shelf life of microgreens

Generally, microgreens have very short shelf-life. They must preferably be consumed immediately after harvest. Researchers are trying to optimize packages that provide the optimal atmospheric composition required to extend the shelf life of micro-greens up to 14 days after harvest. Commercial micro-greens are most often stored in plastic clamshell containers, which do not provide the right balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide for live greens to “breathe.”

Who can grow microgreens?

Growing microgreens is relatively easy. Mostly, small “backyard growers” produce microgreens for niche markets (mainly 5-star hotels and restaurants) near big cities. Others can grow microgreens for their own consumption even in urban environments. By growing and consuming microgreens, we have some control over what we are eating, and we also escape the risk of ingesting toxic pesticide residues that come with vegetables and fruits bought from markets. We can try different microgreens and choose the ones that we like the most. Growing microgreens can be an excellent project for school children because they can learn about, appreciate, and practice growing real foods, healthy eating, human nutrition, and team work like gardening.

By growing and consuming microgreens, we have some control over what we are eating, and we also escape the risk of ingesting toxic pesticide residues that come with vegetables and fruits bought from markets.

How do you grow microgreens?

Any grain or seed can be used to produce microgreens. Different grains used for producing microgreens include monocotyledons like wheat, rice, maize, millet, sorghum, etc. and di-cotyledons like beans, peas, pulses, sunflower, mustard, cabbage, cauliflower, carrot, radish, beetroot, etc. They require high light levels, preferably natural sunlight with low humidity and good air circulation. Such conditions ideal for microgreens do not encourage the growth of dangerous pathogens.

Microgreens are grown in small mud or plastic pots or shallow trays with drainage holes. The growing medium consists of soil, pot mix (soil, compost or animal manure, coir pith, tank silt, and fertilizer micronutrients) or peat moss. They are planted at very low seed density. Seeds are soaked in water for 12 hours and then drained and pre-germinated for in a moist cloth for 24 to 36 hours. Pre-germinated seeds are sown thinly on soil surface in pots or trays and covered with a thin layer of soil (twice the thickness of seed). The soil is kept moist or wet by spraying water 2-3 times a day.

Microgreens grown in small mud or plastic pots (8 days after seeding)

Microgreens grown in small mud or plastic pots (8 days after seeding)

Microgreens are allowed to grow for 7 to 14 days in tropical climate and slightly longer (14 to 28 days) in cold weather or temperate regions. They are ready for harvest when the two true leaves are fully expanded. If left for longer, they will begin to rapidly elongate and lose color, flavor and probably nutritional value. When ready, the tender young plants are cut just above the soil surface (and leaving the roots in the soil), washed in clean water to remove any soil particles, and collected into small bundles for consumption or marketing. Precautions must be taken to avoid any microbial contamination during and after harvesting the microgreens. If possible, growers can follow the FDA guidelines developed for sprouts: “Reducing Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Sprouted Seeds” (FDA 1999).

So what are you waiting for? Go ahead and start growing your own microgreens. Teach your children how to grow and eat microgreens. While having fun with the entire family, you will add to your health and happiness.

This post was originally written for The Alternative by V.Balasubramanian, who is an agricultural consultant and trainer based out of Coimbatore.

 

The Alternative is an online publication on social change and sustainable living.

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