By John Wallace, SIFT Farm Manager
A simple way to produce greens throughout the winter is to grow microgreens. The nutrients contained in microgreens are concentrated during the cotyledon stage and they have stronger flavor, making them great additions to almost any meal. Research has shown that some microgreens (such as red cabbage, cilantro, and radish) have as much as 40 times more nutrients than standard greens. Learn more about the study here.
Microgreens differ from sprouts in that they grow just past the cotyledon stage showing their first true leaves. This means they need nutrients and light, whereas sprouts can be grown in a dark area with no soil. A fluorescent light or a south-facing window will suffice.
Continuous seeding is important if you want to have fluid successions of microgreens. First, you want to identify the time frame it will take before being ready for a cutting. Typically, the larger the seed is, the quicker the germination. Smaller seeds tend to germinate more slowly. Leafy greens, brassicas, peas, and sunflowers all can be grown in about 15 days. Herbs, amaranth, and scallions can take about a month to reach the cutting stage. Cold temperatures and low light can lengthen the process. I typically seed every 10 days for quick-growing microgreens and 15 to 20 days for slower-growing microgreens.
Here on the SIFT farm, we grow peas, sunflower, and radish as a base to our mix. I find this to be a great profile of flavors due to the sweetness of the pea shoots, the nuttiness of the sunflower, and a little spice from the radish. I also have grown red pak choi, amaranth, and beet greens, which brings added flavor and color to the mix. Watercress and chervil are two microgreens that I have used to balance the flavors in my microgreen mixes. Watercress can bring a spicy bite to the mix, so I usually add cilantro or scallion. Chervil is a relative of parsley but has more of an anise flavor. I recommend adding scallion to these mircrogreens and using on top of fish or with citrus. Once you have found a variety of microgreens that works for your taste, it is easy to get into the swing of planting and harvesting.
Microgreens are relatively trouble-free, as long as you avoid over-watering them. Molding can occur because the plants are crowded and there is minimal air flow under the vegetation. Keep enough moisture to germinate the seeds and then scale back on watering. It is best to water from below if possible rather than overhead. At home, I use a spray bottle to mist the soil, making it hard to accidentally flood my microgreens, which seems to work well.