One day I will live in a house with a beautiful garden where I will grow my own fruits and vegetables, but until that day comes, I won’t let living in small, one bedroom apartment stop me from gardening. I may not be able to grow watermelon or pumpkins, but I can grow herbs, green onions, and my personal favorite: microgreens.
If you’re not familiar with microgreens, they are pretty much the closest to instant gratification you can get in the gardening world. Microgreens are the seedlings of vegetable greens, harvested before full maturity. They have a concentrated flavor, aroma, and nutrient content. And the best part? You can grow them just about anywhere, and you don’t need any fancy equipment to do it! Read on to learn about how I grow microgreens in my small, sunlight-challenged apartment.
Here’s what I use to grow microgreens:
- Light source
From the above list, the only two items that I actually purchased new were the seeds and soil. For the container and light source, I relied on the zero-waste mentality of making do with what you have.
Believe it or not, there’s actually no such thing as microgreen seeds! Microgreens are simply regular greens that you harvest early, so they are grown from ordinary vegetable seeds. Of course, some edible greens are better suited to being grown as microgreens than others. When I first started out, I chose a “microgreen mix,” which is basically a pre-mixed variety of seeds that grow under the same conditions and at the same rate. I have also grown mustard greens, pea shoots, and broccoli greens using this same method.
I used four parts organic potting soil mixed with one part vermiculite. The vermiculite aids water retention and promotes germination. Make sure whatever soil you choose is an organic, sterilized mix. You do not want to use soil from the backyard to grow something you plan to eat since you don’t know what kinds of pathogens it may contain.
If you plan to grow a lot of microgreens, you can purchase special containers called 1020 trays that are specially designed for propagation, but to me, the idea of buying a hunk of plastic that I wasn’t sure how much I would use seemed wasteful and unnecessary. Instead, I upcycled a plastic produce container from the grocery store. I simply cut it to the right height (about two inches tall) and poked lots of holes in the bottom for drainage. You could also use a clamshell package that already has holes in it.
Turns out, you don’t actually need one of those fancy $100+ grow lights to grow plants indoors. A regular full-spectrum, florescent light bulb will do. We happened to have one of these in the kitchen above the sink, so I installed a tension rod shelf between the cabinets to bring the plants up closer to the light. It might not be the prettiest solution, but it’s affordable and renter-friendly.
Once you have your supplies in order, follow these steps to grow tasty microgreens in about two to three weeks!
- Dampen the soil mixture by adding just enough water so that it becomes damp, but not soaking wet. It’s important to add the water very gradually so that you don’t overdo it.
- Add enough soil to cover the bottom of the container—it should be about an inch or so or deep. Having more soil than that won’t do any harm—it’s just a bit of a waste because microgreens really don’t require that much.
- Heavily sprinkle the seeds on top of the soil like you’re decorating a birthday cake—they should be pretty densely scattered. There’s no need to burry the seeds or press them into the soil. Then, cover the tray to give the seeds time to germinate. 1020 trays often come with lids you can use to seal in moisture and block the light, but I just covered my makeshift trays with a kitchen towel, and it worked just fine.
- As soon as the seeds begin to germinate, usually after about 2-4 days, uncover the tray and place under the light. Make sure they seedlings get at least eight hours of light per day. At this point, you’ll also want to water the seedlings daily, or at least every other day after they get a little bigger. I like to water them from the bottom by setting the tray in an inch or so of water for a few minutes to give the roots time to absorb water through the drainage holes. I put the water in a casserole dish, but you could also use your kitchen sink if you have a stopper. With this watering method, you can avoid disturbing the fragile leaves and stems of the seedlings.
- Most microgreens are ready to harvest in about 2-3 weeks, or once they’ve grown their second set of leaves, but instructions on the seed package should offer a more precise time frame for the type of greens you’ve chosen. Microgreens can be harvested easily with a pair of scissors. I like to harvest however much I plan on using that day, but you can also store them in an airtight container in the fridge for at least few days. Once you’ve harvested all the greens, you can compost the soil with the roots and clean the container to use again in the future.
- Enjoy your microgreens in salads, or to top pretty much any main course for a boost of color and nutrients! I’ve eaten them on top of pizza, pasta, stir-fry, scrambled eggs…the possibilities are endless!
Have you ever tried growing microgreens? What’s your favorite way to eat them? Let me know in the comments!
Indoor Kitchen Gardening, by Elizabeth Millard. Cool Springs Press, 2014.
Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening, by Peter Burke. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2015.
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