Micro but Mighty

Tips, Tricks, and Recipe Ideas for Enjoying Microgreens

By Victorian Tilley, AmeriCorps Member, SIFT Farm Educator

Sunflower microgreens ready to be enjoyed.
Sunflower microgreens ready to
be enjoyed. Photo: NCAT

Microgreens have increased in popularity among farmers and home growers alike. I would dare say that they have surpassed sprouts in popularity for several reasons. Microgreens are very young plants that are harvested for their cotyledons, the first two leaves that emerge during germination. For some microgreens, harvesting when the plant is just past the cotyledon stage and have their first “true” leaves is desirable. Sprouts are plants that have barely sprouted and are harvested a tad earlier than the cotyledon stage. The primary difference in microgreens and sprouts is that sprouts do not need any sunlight and typically grow in water, and microgreens, since they have a slightly longer lifespan, require sunlight and grow in a soil medium. Growing microgreens, often called “shoots,” is attractive to growers since they average seven to 10 days to “maturity,” are easy to grow indoors or in a small space, are grown in soil, do not require much attention after they have been established, add variety to many dishes, and are packed with nutrients! See John Wallace’s blog for an informative overview on the mightiness of microgreens.

Sunflower seeds and sweet pea seeds just laid onto soil and watered in.
Sunflower seeds (left) and sweet pea seeds
(right) just laid onto soil and watered in,
ready to be covered for their blackout
time. Photo: NCAT

Growing microgreens has been a solution for many producers who strive to keep their production up in the slower winter months. If season extension is what you wish to pursue, then try this mini crop out. Here at the Butte SIFT demonstration farm, we use peat moss as our growing medium, shallow seedling trays (different from plug/cell trays), and seeds! These materials, a little space near a south-facing window, and some water are basically all you need to get started. Some seeds, like black oil sunflower and sweet pea, do need to soak for at least four hours (overnight if you can) before planting. Otherwise, all you need to do is spread the seeds right on the top of your soil in the tray and water them in. It is usually beneficial to spread the seeds out pretty thickly, but not so thick that the greens are crowded — a single layer should suffice. Another trick is to keep the plants under cover for the first three to four days, so they think they are under soil. This is known as their “blackout time,” and can be done with a small piece of wax paper and other trays stacked on top of it, to put a little weight on the seeds. This won’t harm the seedlings and they will actually start to press the weight up as they are sprouting. This is when you want to uncover them and give them some light. The SIFT farm is currently running a small microgreen operation indoors on rack of grow lights.

Broccoli microgreens, four days old, have just been uncovered and are ready to be placed under the indoor grow light.
Broccoli microgreens, four days old, have just been
uncovered and are ready to be placed under the indoor
grow light. Photo: NCAT

And even if you’re not a farmer or avid gardener, growing microgreens is an easy pursuit with beneficial results. Find that sunny window in your house and you’ve got a perfect space to set up shelving. Or simply use a table that can hold one or a few trays. As I mentioned earlier, microgreens are very easy to get established, and even easier to maintain afterwards. A little over a week later, you have some yummy micro-veggies ready to be enjoyed. Bonus points go out to this crop because it is actually quite healthy for you. Assessments of nutrient concentration in microgreens have been conducted by several scientists, and results are impressive. According to Xiao et al., microgreen versions of certain vegetables can have up to 40% more nutrient concentration than its fully-grown sibling. The research involved testing several different microgreen plants for micronutrients. Researchers found that plants specifically in the brassica family really show out at the microgreen stage, with daikon radish and red cabbage having substantial amounts of Vitamin E and Vitamin C, respectively (2012). Other nutrients like calcium, potassium, magnesium, and iron, which are crucial for the balance of many processes in the body, are highly concentrated in microgreens: wasabi containing highest levels of potassium, savoy cabbage with highest levels of calcium, and purple kohlrabi with highest levels of iron. We have huge health concerns in our country, particularly regarding diseases that can be modified by the diet, and minerals found in microgreens can contribute to reducing risks of metabolic disorders, heart disease, and osteoporosis (Xiao et al., 2016).

Whether you are trying to extend your growing season and increase your wintertime sales, or you simply wish to have a few kitchen veggies and herbs handy, growing microgreens is a great option. So how exactly do we cook and eat these tiny plants? Well, you really can use them in just about any dish with minimum prep and cook time! I personally love to throw some in a salad, often having bulky microgreens like pea and sunflower act as my “lettuce.” They work great on sandwiches, tacos, and in omelettes. You may see them as colorful garnishes atop fancy dishes in restaurants, but they pack such a flavorful punch that they deserve more of the spotlight. Microgreens also add a nice boost to smoothies and juices. Hand me a bag of sweet pea microgreens and I can eat them by the handful like chips. The flavors and culinary possibilities are endless. Here is a great recipe to get you started. Enjoy!

BASIL & PEA PESTO (recipe from Breanna Burnett-Larkins)
Pesto is a super simple sauce that will taste new and fresh. Try combining these ingredients in a blender to create a creamy, intriguing additive to your already great dish:

• Pea shoots
• Basil shoots
• Garlic
• Olive oil
• Pepper
• Lemon juice

Directions: Combine all ingredients in a blender; blend until smooth. Squeeze lemon on top and enjoy! If sauce is too thick, try adding a splash of water and blend again until smooth.

Visit these sources for other recipes and get inspired to make your own creations!

Portobello, Roasted Peppers & Microgreens Pizza, by Christie Brinkley

8 Ways to Kick Up Your Dinner With Microgreens

References
Xiao, Z., E.E. Codling, Y. Luo, X. Nou, G.E. Lester, and Q. Wang, Q. 2016. Microgreens of Brassicaceae: Mineral composition and content of 30 varieties. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, 49, 87–93. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jfca.2016.04.006

Xiao, Z, G.E. Lester, Y. Luo, and Q. Wang. 2012. Assessment of Vitamin and Carotenoid Concentrations of Emerging Food Products: Edible Microgreens. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 31, 7644. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,shib&db=edscal&AN=edscal.26220819&site=eds-live&custid=magn1307

https://agresearchmag.ars.usda.gov/2017/apr/microgreens

Posted on: February 28th, 2019