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Microgreens

Microgreens bring fresh produce into one’s diet and are easy to grow at home.  These small greens don’t take up much room, and can grow quite easily and quickly because you cut the vegetables when they are short.  In what follows, you will finda brief explanation about micro-green seeds, what soil and container to use to grow the seeds, how much water and light the greens need, and how best to harvest the greens.

Quick overview

Go online or in a seed catalog to find and order a variety of seeds that you would like to grow.  Get a growing tray with holes in the bottom, and enough good soil to fill the tray.  Pack the try with the soil and spread the seeds densely over the surface, but so none are on top of others.  Lightly coat the seeds with soil at a depth of less than ¼ inch.  Place in a warm well lit place out of harsh direct sunlight.  Water the seeds and continue to water them twice a day for approximately the next 10 days until they become ready to harvest.  Cut your microgreens and enjoy.

Soil

We will focus on using soil, as growing Microgreens in a soil-less media quickly adds waste to the landfill.  The best soil to use is healthy soil that is full of nutrients.  Microgreens grow in very compact space. So where any one plant may not demand much from the soil, the collection of hundreds of plants requires the soil to be very fertile.  In this case, the better the soil, usually yields better growing result.  Organic soil that is sold for growing vegetables is an excellent place to start.  There are many different brands of soil, so trying different types may result in surprisingly different outcomes.  Soil may seem simple, but you can resolve many of the difficulties with growing Microgreens by having healthy fertile soil.

Seeds

The seeds you use should, themselves, be healthy seeds that are stored in a cool dry, ideally an airtight container.  Beyond that, the seeds that are used for growing Microgreens vary, and actually, increasingly, are available in more varieties all the time.  Microgreens are just small vegetables (with the addition of a few non-vegetables, like sunflowers, which make great Microgreens), that are harvested shortly after their first true leaves appear.  Please note that not all vegetable greens can be eaten, as tomato and potato greens can be poisonous. It is always best to first check that the crop you plan to grow is safe to eat.  

Both Sprouts and Microgreens have specific growing cycles. When growing sprouts, the sprouts reach maturity after their first leaves appear.  The seed has enough energy within itself to grow to this point.  This is why sprouts are grown from seed just in water.  Microgreens grow one stage further, which is why they need soils to grow in, and it is the nutrients taken up from the soil that helps them to grow the extra step.  Seeds can be purchased from any number of seed supplies; however, we recommend that you purchase the seeds in bulk.  This quantity can initially be small to make sure you like the variety and the supplier.  When growing Microgreens, quite a lot of seeds are used, which is why buying in bulk is recommended. It is not economical to by the small seed packets sold at nurseries and grocery stores.

Containers

The typical containers size in which you grow Microgreens is the 10x20-inch black plastic trays available from most nurseries or grower suppliers.  These come in several different formations, with some being divided into two or twenty separate sections or they may just be one open space.  The different style trays have unique pros and cons, identifying which one is best will be an individual decision.   Make sure that the tray has some drainage holes along the bottom.  Microgreens need frequent watering to keep the roots from drying out.  If the trays are unable to freely drain, the frequent watering will flood their roots and potentially lead to a host of problems.

Water

Microgreens grow best if they are kept in a somewhat moist environment which is not allowed to dry out.  This means that you typically water twice a day.  These greens are just little plants and like any other small delicate plant, when you water them, it is important to be gentle.  Instead of using a hose or a watering can that has a full stream, we recommended usinga mister or a can with an attachment that gently showers water out, so that the plants do not get knocked over.  How much water you use will depend upon the temperature and the soil used.  Generally, a self-regulated watering system results, when you monitor that the soil does not dry out and that any excess water drains freely out the bottom.

Light

During the first 2-3 days, while the seeds are germinating, the Microgreens do not need light, because they are not yet able to photosynthesize and use the light.  Microgreen are ready to harvest after about 10-14 days.  Once the seeds germinate and until you harvest them, keep them in a well-lit location.  Direct sun light is often too hot and drying for many young plants.  We recommend that you do not place the trays in the direct sun light.  The growth of plants is related directly to the amount of light energy they are able to convert. Many Microgreen production facilities actually keep the Microgreen in the light for 18 hours a day.  While it is not necessary to use extra artificial lights to grow your Microgreens, it can help increase their growth.  A grow light or special LEDs placed over the growing trays works well to easily accomplish this.  Whatever the lighting schedule that you decided upon, allow the greens to have some time in the dark.  Just keeping the lights on 24 hours a day doesn’t necessarily mean that there will be better results, as everything needs some time to rest.

Harvest

As mentioned above the amount of time until the greens are ready will depend upon the variety of seeds you use, the soil you select, and the water and light fed to the plants.  As your plants grow look for well developed leaves, which for most plants are at the stage where their first true leaves develop.  A true leaf is a leaf that resembles the leaves of the plant when it is mature, as most plants have similar looking oval shaped seed leaves (cotyledons if they are dicots).  The best way to determine if the Microgreens are ready to harvest it to taste one.  They should be crisp and juicy, and full of flavor.  It can be very instructive to try a couple over the course of a few days to see how the flavor changes and choose the time for starting the harvest when it tastes the best.  Most of the time, the harvest can be extended over a week or so, but it should be noted that many Microgreens will begin changing into their more mature adult vegetable forms, and with that, will become increasingly bitter.   When harvesting the Microgreens, it is handy to use a sharp pair of scissors and cut the greens horizontally close to the soil.  If the greens are well rooted, you can hold the tray somewhat vertically, so that as you cut the greens off they will fall into an awaiting bowl beneath the growing tray.  The cut greens will stay for a few days in the fridge, if kept like perishable greens, but they are best eaten fresh so if time allows it is better to just cut only the amount you will eat. 


SPROUTS

Equipment

There are many good, inexpensive sprouting trays that are available for sale online.  A good system will have enough height so that growing sprouts are able to expand in size.  Also there should be a drain hole around the bottom of the container so that water does not sit and lead to the growth of molds.  Additionally, systems that stack are nice because you can grow more sprouts without taking up too much counter space.  It is not necessary to have translucent containers, as bamboo trays work.  However, if you stack containers, having translucent walls allows light through and enables all the sprouts to photosynthesize evenly when they are within the enclosed container.

Location

It is good to keep the sprouts in an environment that is around 75 degrees and well lit; however, it is usually best to keep the sprouts out of direct sunlight.  Sprouts can cook quickly when in direct sunlight and be unable to recover from this stress.  Where light is important for the plant’s development, the seeds are unable to utilize light for the first 3 or 4 days of their life.  So for the first few days, the sprout container can be covered to prevent light from entering.

Procedure

Once you have the seeds that you will be sprouting and the container the seeds will be sprouted in, the first step in growing your little plants is in prepping the seeds.  This is as simple as soaking the seeds.  If the seeds are small, they only need to be soaked for around 8 hours, but if they are larger like sunflower seeds, they would do well to soak for about a day.  However, when soaking the seeds, if they will be in the water for more they 12 hours, the water should be changed so as to avoid fermentation.  After the seeds have been soaked, give them a quick rinse and place them into the sprouting container.  In the container there should be enough seeds to fill about the entire bottom of the container, but try to avoid having so many seeds that they are piled too high.  As the seeds sprout they grow in size.  If there are not enough seeds, some of the more delicate sprouts may topple over; but if there are too many, they can become suffocated and begin to rot.  There are many sizes of containers and seeds; therefore, it can be helpful prior to soaking the seeds to pour some of the dry seeds into the container to see how many you will need. 

It is important to care for the germinating seeds and young sprouts as they grow.  These tender little plants can dry out quickly if their tops or their exposed roots are not protected from the wind and dry air.  To help guard against this, it is important to understand how to properly set up the equipment you are using and the location you have chosen, so that the process will be easy for you and compatible for the sprouts.  Additionally, when you cover the sprouts to protect them from the drying effects of the air, the covering will likely increase the container’s temperature.  So, it is important to make sure that the sprouts do not over heat.  If there is a concern that the inner temperature may get too hot, which can easily happen in the summer, the covering can be left slightly ajar so that excess heat is allowed to escape. 

The sprouts should be kept moist without causing them to sit in pools of water for extended periods of time.  It is favorable to rinse the sprouts twice daily with cool water allowing for no more than 12 hours between rinsing.  If your sink has a faucet spray hose, this can be very helpful.  The sprayer allows for the sprouts to be washed with enough pressure to disrupt any undesired fungal growth and dislodge any loose seed hulls.  At this time, if the seed hulls are knocked loose, they can be poured off of the sprouting container with the excess water, while ensuring that the sprouts are held in place by either the container or your hand.  It can be useful to remove the discarded hulls because they provide no nutritional benefit except as a fiber source in some cases; but as they remain disconnected from the growing plant and are moist, then they have an increased chance of rotting and spoiling the rest of the growing plants.  If white fuzz, or mold, develops, this is typically harmless and can usually be rinsed off with a little extra washing.  If, however, there are dark, slimy, or stinky areas in or among the sprouts, this is not a good sign.  Remove everything in the area of the effected sprouts, as the conditions required for the sprouts to grow can also support the quick growth of undesirable molds. These need to be removed before they become established. 

If discolored areas develop in the sprouting container, or there is some undesired growth in the container, it can be a good time to more thoroughly clean the sprouting container.  After growing each cycle of sprouts, the container should always be cleaned well.  Usually, hot water and a soft clean kitchen brush are sufficient.  If conditions require more stringent sterilization, fill the container with one of the following, depending upon the container’s material and your preference; boiling water or a diluted food grade hydrogen peroxide.  Soak the container for at least five minutes and then clean it in the typical manner.  At this or any time you clean the container, it is best to dry it by placing it in direct sunlight.

Harvesting

Harvesting times will vary for different plants as well as differences in temperature and season, but it typically begins when about 90% of the seed hulls have fallen away and the growth of the plant’s true leaves have appeared.  It is good to observe the color of the plant prior to harvesting, as its color has some reflection on the nutritional health of what you will be eating.  The sprouts should be a nice healthy green color indicating they have been manufacturing chlorophyll.  If the little plants are growing yellow, it can often be sign that there is a lack of light.  By exposing them to a bright, indirect light, they will typically turn green quite quickly and be ready to harvest.  The sprouts can be consumed prematurely, as the seeds themselves are edible and nutritious.  However, by allowing the germination process to come to completion, the sprouts begin to mature, thus increasing the yield from every seed.  Simply put, when you wait until the sprouts are ready, you will get more nutrients. Additionally, by growing your own sprouts, you make all these nutrients available at your home without the additional energy cost to transport the food from the farm or nursery.

Nutrition

Sprouts are nutrient dense, and their inner growth results in increased available benefit while neutralizing some potential unwanted factors that may exist in the seeds alone.  For many plants, it is found that they reach their maximum nutrient density between 5-10 days. Therefore eating sprouts enables one to consume the plant at the most nutritious point of its growth.  It has been observed that the protein, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes multiply from 300 to 1200 percent.  Additionally, by sprouting, you decrease certain acids that reduce the absorption of nutrients and interfere with digestion. During the process of sprouting, soaking and pouring off the water helps to flush out phytic and oxalic acids.  When present, these acids can bind up minerals such as zinc, chromium and manganese, rendering them unavailable.   To our benefit amino acids increase during germination and peak between the 5th and the 9th day depending on the variety.  We gain the needed hydrogen bonds through the natural chelation process that occurs during sprouting, resulting in greater availability of minerals and trace minerals for easier absorption by the body.

Sunflower:  the largest of the sprouts. It is 4% protein, and is a good source of phosphorous, calcium, iron, copper, potassium, iodine, magnesium, niacin, and 92 USP units of vitamin D.

Alfalfa: “alfalfa” means ‘the father of all foods’ in Arabic, and it is one of the richest sources for chlorophyll and magnesium; contains 8000 IU of vitamin A, 20,000 IU of vitamin K (per 100 g.), as well as other trace minerals, vitamin B-complex, and up to a 40% protein content.  Due to its high content of vitamins, minerals, and protein, it has historically been considered a ‘tonic’.  (Wrap text around EG-HA Sprouts DSC_0021.JPG found in Drop Box)

Buckwheat: rich in B-vitamin factors, like choline and inositol.

Garlic and Onion: a good source of chlorophyll.  The chlorophyll works to neutralize the associated odors making the sprouts an excellent way to consume these odorous plants.

Clover: a good source of vitamins, minerals, volatile oils, and amino acids.  Its form of calcium and magnesium allows the body to absorb these nutrients easily and works to relax the nervous system and settle the stomach.

Fenugreek:  rich in minerals including iron, sulfur, and vitamin E.  It has a chemical composition that resembles that of cod-liver oil and is traditionally said to feed the blood.

Broccoli and Cabbage: a rich source of fiber and a good source of minerals, as there are 253mg. of potassium, 1710mg. of sulfur, 47mg. vitamin C, and 200 IU of vitamin A and E (per 100g.). 

Special Considerations/Problem Solving

While sprouted beans are nutritious to eat, there may be some concern regarding the digestibility of the beans.  The longer the beans sprout the easier they will be to digest; but if there is any uncertainty, it is always good to quickly steam or lightly cook the bean sprouts prior to eating.  This may also be a good idea if you eat a large or regular quantity of these types of sprouts.  A similar recommendation is offered for sprouted grains.  These too may be eaten raw, but as grains are usually eaten cooked, it would be better to serve sprouted grains after cooking moderately.