If you’ve gone out to eat at a fancy restaurant recently, you’ve probably noticed the small greens that show up alongside your main dish. Gone are the days of the sprig of parsley being haphazardly thrown on the side of the plate. The new version of garnish typically used is referred to as microgreens.
Microgreens are essentially young edible versions of various vegetables and herbs. The popularity of these tiny plants is rapidly on the rise as more and more people become aware of their amazing flavor, nutritional power, and convenience.
Arugula, basil, radish, beets, mixed greens, peas, cilantro, and cress are the most common microgreens to see in restaurants, but there are now more than 30 varieties that can be successfully grown. The visual appeal of these microgreens is the main reason they are used to garnish a dish, but there are several other appealing factors.
Instead of waiting to see and taste these wonderful plants, why not start growing microgreen seeds in the comfort of your own home? The amount of space needed to get started is minimal, and the initial investment for equipment and supplies is incredibly low.
Health Benefits of Microgreens
One of the main reasons to grow microgreens is to reap the health benefits the tiny seedlings offer. Various studies have shown that microgreens are full of nutrients like vitamin c, vitamin e, vitamin k, lutein and beta-carotene at levels that are four to forty times higher per ounce than adult plants of the same type. The levels of nutrients differ from plant to plant, and the microgreens don’t offer as much fiber as adult plants, but they do provide a good amount of nutrition for such a small package.
The microgreens are also packed with flavor, so it shouldn’t be too hard to convince anyone to eat them. Microgreens have a wide array of flavor profiles and can add a textural component to a dish. The purple radish microgreen can be grown in about a week, and it has a similar flavor to a spicy radish.
What Seeds Do I Need?
The easiest way to dip your toes into the world of microgreens is to become a microgreens farmer yourself. Instead of being overwhelmed by the variety of microgreen seeds that are available, a better path is to learn from others who already have some experience with growing these plants.
The best seeds for microgreens growers to get started with are radish, peas, and any of the brassica greens such as broccoli, kale, cabbage, and mustard. These plants tend to produce uniform and fast harvest and also give you a variety of flavors and colors. Red garnet mustard has beautiful red and purple leaves and a mild yet spicy flavor.
China rose radish has a beautiful pink stem, and it contains a spicy flavor similar to the adult radish. Beets have deep red stems and slim golden green leaves. The cress has unique three-lobed leaves and a clean, peppery flavor. Finally, the peas have a wonderful crunch and a flavor that is milder and sweeter than most other microgreens.
Starting a Microgreens Farm
The startup costs of microgreens farming can vary, but in general it’s very affordable. The space for the growing can be in a spare room, basement, garage, shed, small greenhouse in your backyard, or any other spare space available at home. The microgreen seed can be grown year-round by using T5 fluorescent or LED lights as the light source.
If desired, water for the plants may be filtered to remove any chlorine or other chemicals that might be present, and you’ll need a short hose hooked to a sink or a watering can to keep them well moistened. Standard plastic 1020 nursery trays are the product most widely used by growers. These can be easily spread out on a table for seeding and moved around to keep the different types of plants organized and easy to harvest. The seeds should start out covered in the trays, either by stacking other trays on top, covering with a dome, or laying moistened paper towels over the top.
Two or three days after they germinate, the seeded trays can be moved under the lights. Standard potting soil or a peat-based mix can be used, and most of the microgreens are ready to harvest in two weeks or less. A good rule of thumb is to consider harvesting the plants when they reach a height of 1 or 2 inches.
If you want comprehensive list of supplies needed, links where to get them, and step by step directions for your first time growing microgreens, please sign up for a free copy of my ebook here.
Where Can I Sell my Microgreens?
You might start out just growing microgreens for yourself and others in your home, but many people slowly begin to realize there is a high retail demand for these plants. Once a small microgreens farm is established, it isn’t much of a stretch to increase the crop and start growing for others. Some restaurants will pay upwards of $60 per pound for high-quality microgreens. Local restaurants are a great place to start when attempting to sell microgreens.
Restaurants like to advertise that their food is grown locally, and they typically like to support local farmers. Growing these plants in an urban area cuts down on delivery costs and allows you to deliver a product at the peak of freshness, which is in stark contrast to the flimsy and fast spoiling microgreens most chef are used to receiving from national distributors.
Plants can be harvested in the morning and delivered to restaurants the same day. Smaller grocery and health food stores are another possibility for a microgreens farmer. Again, having the freshest plants available to customers is something many stores want to offer. Other options to consider include attending a local farmers market or selling direct to consumer with a microgreens delivery model.
Here are a couple videos related to delivering microgreens:
How do Microgreens Compare to Sprouts?
Sprouts and microgreens are often lumped into the same category, but there are significant differences between the two. The main difference comes down to where the seed is planted, and what parts of the plant are eaten. In the comparison of microgreens vs sprouts, there are health and flavor benefits found in both. Sprouts germinate in water and need to be rinsed out a couple of times each day. The seed itself is eaten in the case of sprouts, along with the seedling plant.
Sprouts can be ready to harvest within four to six days of germination. Bean, lentil, alfalfa, chickpea and radish are some of the most popular sprouts to grow. Microgreens experience more photosynthesis, longer grow times, and more leaf development. These plants are grown for one to two weeks, and the leaves and stem are the only part eaten. The seed and root is not eaten with microgreens because they are cut off at the soil level after the hulls have shed.
Maintaining An Organic Operation
With all of the information available on growing food organically, it is no wonder more people want to operate this way. It’s simple to use organic farming methods from the moment you grow your first microgreen seed. After buying your first batch of organic seeds, the next step is to have a container to house the crop and collect water as it runs through the soil. A simple clamshell plastic container will work well, with the lid being used as the water collection tray at the bottom. Or you can buy a few inexpensive 1020 trays from your local garden center.
The growing medium I recommend is organic peat moss or potting soil, which is readily available. The next step is to lay down your microgreen seed over the pre-moistened growing medium. It’s good practice to spread the seed out where it forms any clumps to give as many plants as possible a chance to grow. It’s pretty easy to maintain an organic operation with microgreens as we don’t have to worry about adding fertilizer or pest control products due to their short grow times – it’s just seeds, soil, and water!
How to Use Microgreens
Once you get started with a small microgreens farm, it makes sense to start including these delicious and nutritious plants into your own weekly diet. There are many ways to eat microgreens; each one has its unique traits and benefits. A simple way to use the plants is to put them on a sandwich. Replacing lettuce with microgreens is an easy switch. The greens will add a different texture, more robust flavor, and give the sandwich more nutritional value.
Salads are another logical choice for a simple way to incorporate the greens into a regular diet. The micro-greens can be added to a salad, or they can become a salad on their own. Either way, microgreens will add color, flavor, and texture. Protein shakes and smoothies are a popular breakfast food and quick snack throughout the day.
Kale and sunflower microgreens are popular items to add to smoothies because they turn the entire thing green, and add fiber and nutrients, and protein in the case of sunflower. Another way to incorporate these amazing plants into your diet is to garnish a soup or stir-fry. Basically any foods that start with “s” provide great opportunities to incorporate microgreens (yes, that’s a joke…sort of! lol!).
Turn Love of Microgreens into a Profitable Business
The increasing demand for microgreens makes it possible for the average hobbyist to turn their love of these super plants into a profitable business very quickly. The seeds for 25-30 of these plants are readily available, the equipment to get started is affordable, and there’s a short turnaround time for a crop. The demand for the plants continues to rise as health foods continue to become important for fighting global health challenges.
If you really want to get started with microgreen farming, it doesn’t make a difference where you live. These plants will thrive in the right climate in a small greenhouse or backyard garden, or as most people do, they can also be grown inside where there is a south-facing window or area setup with overhead grow lights.
Microgreen farming has become an amazing hobby for people looking for a way to add some nutritional content to their main dishes, salads, and smoothies. It can also be a great side business or full-time job by expanding the number of crops being grown, and working with local restaurants, farmer’s markets, home delivery, and grocery stores to sell your crops.
If you’d like to take the next step and collect more information about starting a microgreens business, I highly recommend you attend one of my free webinars titled “How To Start A Profitable Microgreens Business With Very Little Time, Money, Or Space.” REGISTER HERE
Here is one last video you may find helpful: