If you’ve gone out to eat 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 the garnish is typically referred to as microgreens.
icrogreens are essentially young edible versions of various vegetables and herbs. The popularity of these tiny plants is on the rise, and you may be surprised at how much of a nutritious punch these little guys pack.
Arugula, basil, beets, kale, and cilantro are the most common microgreens to see in restaurants, but there are now 25 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 affordable.
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 six times higher than adult plants of the same type. The levels of nutrients differ from plant to plant, and the microgreens don’t offer the fiber of the 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 be 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 to get started with are mustard, radish, Swiss chard, watercress and cilantro. These five plants tend to produce uniform and dense groupings of plants. This makes the initial harvesting easier for those who are just starting out. These plants also give you a variety of flavors and colors. The mustard is a nice dark purple and has a mild yet spicy flavor. The radish has a beautiful pink stem, and it contains a spicy flavor similar to the adult radish. The Swiss chard has light green leaves and gold, pink, orange, red and white stems. The plant has a mild chard flavor. The watercress has unique three-lobed leaves and a nice peppery flavor. Finally, the cilantro has a wonderful aroma and a flavor that is milder than the adult plant.
Starting a Microgreens Farm
The startup costs of microgreen farming can vary, but in general they are very affordable. The space for the growing can be in a spare room, basement, small greenhouse in your backyard, or any other spare space available at home. The microgreen seed can be grown through the winter by using T5 fluorescent lights as the light source. Water for the plants should be filtered to remove any chlorine or other chemicals that might be present. It is also a good idea to give the plants some liquid seaweed extract as a nutrient boost. Standard plastic nursery trays are the product most widely used by growers. These can be easily spread out on a table to keep the different types of plants organized. The seeds should start out covered in the trays. Once they germinate, the seed can be moved under the lights. Standard potting soil 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.
Where Can I Sell my Microgreens?
You might start out just using micro green seed to grow microgreens for yourself and others in your home, but many people slowly begin to realize there is a high 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 $30 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. Plants can be harvested in the morning and delivered to restaurants the same day. Smaller grocery stores are another possibility for a microgreens farmer. Again, having the freshest plants available to customers is something many stores want to offer. A third option to consider is a local farmers market.
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 are planted in the soil and gather more nutrients because of this. They also experience more photosynthesis. These plants are grown for one to two weeks, and the leaves and stem are eaten. The seed is not eaten with microgreens because they are cut off at the soil level.
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 when you start the journey of growing microgreen seed. The first step is to have a container to house the plants 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. The base material that should be used is organic peat moss or potting soil, which is readily available. The next step is to obtain some organic microgreen seeds and plant them in the soil. It is a good practice to spread the seed out to give as many plants as possible a chance to grow. The seeds then need to be misted a few times each day with filtered water. To maintain an organic operation, it is crucial that nothing else be added into the growing of the plants.
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 add color and flavor to a salad. Protein shakes and smoothies are a popular breakfast food and quick snack throughout the day. Spinach and kale microgreens are popular items to add to smoothies because they turn the entire thing green, and add fiber and nutrients. Another way to incorporate these amazing plants into your diet is to garnish a soup.
Turn Love of Microgreens into a Profitable Business
The steady demand for microgreens makes it possible for the average hobbyist to turn their love of these super plants into a profitable business. The seeds for 20 to 25 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 because they are a welcome addition to many main dishes. The plants add a nice burst of color, and they add a variety of flavors. The nutritional content of the plants is another great selling point because they have been proven to hold higher levels of nutrients when compared to their adult plants.
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, and can also be grown inside where there is a south-facing window. If there isn’t access to a sunny window, you can still grow a crop of microgreen seeds using grow lights.
The microgreen seeds are essentially the same seeds used for the adult plants, but you need to make sure they are untreated and organic. Finding a wholesale source to buy the seeds is the best bet for turning a tidy profit. Once seeds are planted, you’ll know it’s time to harvest them when a second set of leaves starts to grow. These leaves are known as the true leaves.
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 and grocery stores to sell the plants.