My grandmother had a green thumb, both my parents did, and my mother-in-law’s thumb is positively pulsating with green… but I never pegged myself to be one with them. Sure, I watered the plants every now and then, and dug up water canals around the coconut trees with my grandmother, but those were at best chores and nothing more.
Always on the hunt for new things to cook and eat, I found Microgreens popping up everywhere and started digging into it. The more I dug, the more it pulled me in!
I learnt from my mother-in-law the fascination and joy that can come from growing your own produce. Her terrace garden is the pride and envy of so many, and she basically grows almost all the produce she needs for daily cooking. Inspired by her, I decided to start small, with microgreens!
The last few weeks have been positively magical for me!
Ever since planting them, my morning routines have somewhat been altered. Usually I wake up, and walk straight to the coffee pot, but now, I walk straight to the window to see how much they’ve grown, or to check if any new ones have sprouted. It’s almost become an addiction and obsession that I am just indulging myself to no end. Well, actually to a very healthy, and fruitful end.
What are Microgreens?
Microgreens are just regular vegetable and lentil plants that are harvested before the first true leaves begin to mature. Prominently used by chefs for decades to garnish and flavour foods, microgreens are now finding their way into homes, for their delicate beauty, intense flavour and rich nutrients. Each ‘crop’ is ready to be harvested within 2 weeks (on average), making these extremely easy to grow in small containers, right inside your home. All you people living in apartments, this is for you!
Besides its compact and fast growing nature, what makes a microgreen special is the nutrition it packs within it. It is well known that sprouts are more nutritious than the lentils they are sprouted from. Microgreens are an extension of that concept. When a plant first takes root, its rate of nutrient absorption is highly accelerated, and overtime stabilises as the plant keeps growing to maturity. But at the initial stages, nutrients are highly concentrated, and once the first cotyledon leaves (the first leaf like structure that breaks out from the seed) start absorbing sunlight, there is increased chlorophyll production to fuel the plant to grow.
Nutrition from Microgreens
Studies have shown that Microgreens have 5 times the nutrition (vitamins and carotenoids) found in mature plants.
Key nutrients measured were Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin E and beta-carotene (a pre-cursor to Vitamin A). But among 25 microgreen varieties tested, red cabbage had the highest levels of Vitamin C, cilantro had the highest carotenoid content, garnet amaranth ranked high in Vitamin K while green daikon radish topped in Vitamin E.
– Source: Wiki
These little bundles of nutrition also pack a concentrated punch
of flavour – the microgreen beets tasting more sweeter and more beet-like
than an actual beet. This makes them an absolute golden ingredient in high-end restaurants – adding beauty and elegance when carefully placed on a beautifully plated dish, doling out fresh bursts of flavour in each bite.
What varieties can be grown as microgreens?
Well, everything! Salad greens, leafy vegetables, regular vegetables, root vegetables, herbs and even edible flowers can be grown and harvested as microgreens.
The most commonly grown varieties are – Arugula, radish, spinach, basil, carrot, celery, chives, cabbage, mustard, cilantro,fennel, mint, dill, beets, chard, kale and lettuce.
literally any almost all edible vegetable or herb can be eaten as a microgreen. Do a little research online to check for toxicity (thanks Toby!) and start with the seeds already in your pantry and refrigerator, and make your way up with store bought seeds – Mustard, fenugreek, coriander and lentils can be soaked and sprouted – and these are readily available in your pantry.
How to grow Microgreens?
This is the best part – growing them. All you need is a little soil, a few seeds, a small container and a window sill that receives a decent amount of sunlight. Oh, and a little water of course!
The seeds – some can be a little expensive, and considering that you are harvesting them before they mature into a full plant and reap vegetables and fruits, it is quite a trade-off. If you can spare it, please do, we spend so much more on junk food each day. But if you can manage to grow microgreens from relatively inexpensive seeds, then it is truly worth its weight in gold.
There were also some websites that suggested a soil-less method of growing microgreens – simply on paper towels, and I did try that. But that method did not work for me, and all I had were sprouts that refused to burst into a plant. Then again, I may have been at fault there, missing some vital piece of information on getting it right. I’m still working on that.
Home-grown Microgreen Mustards in 6 days
I first started my microgreen crops with mustard seeds, which is a staple in all Indian homes. Almost every Indian curry or sabji starts with the sound of mustard crackling in oil. So that’s where I started, and in 6 days, it was ready to be harvested.
Fully grown mustard greens are rich in vitamin A, carotenes, vitamin K, flavonoid anti-oxidants and other phyto-nutrients. Going by the microgreen principle, I am sure that microgreen mustards should contain concentrated amounts of these.
In 2 days they were seen poking out of the soil.
Day 6 – Ready for harvest
To harvest them, simply use scissors to snip off the stem, right above the soil. Rinse with water and use immediately. The longer they remain unused after harvest, the more the nutrition they loose, defeating the purpose of this endeavour.
Recycled containers to grow microgreens
I am not sure if you can tell, but my microgreen mustards were grown in what used to be a Tofu container.
These Microgreen beets (below) are being grown in a plastic milk can (1 gallon), cut in half. Most seeds sprouted in 3 days and were ready for harvest in 5 days. But unlike mustard, each seed is sprouting in its own time. Some are still yet to sprout. And the seeds were a little expensive, so I am hoping to continue growing a few into full beets.
Look at the colour on them! Breathtaking! When they first sprouted out of the soil, I sat in front of them for hours, just watching them. The colours are so vibrant, it could inspire a mute to sing.
I have also recycled tennis ball packaging containers, old coffee mugs, Styrofoam trays, and even egg cartons into growing microgreens!
All this talk of microgreens, and I must sneak in a mention of spring onions too! Did you know that spring onions (like lettuce, garlic, onions and so much more) can be regenerated into a full plant using just the bulb?
I just saved the white bottom part of a few spring onion stalks, put them in a glass with 1/4 inch of water, placed them by a window and in 3-4 days, they had grown back all their green stalks. Only water! No soil! Now I just keep cutting the greens and changing the water in the glass every other day, leaving the roots immersed in water.
You can grow them too!
1. Select a container – if recycled, be sure to wash and dry them to ensure no residue is left behind from the original contents. Food residue promotes fungal infections and chemical residues can seep into the soil- both hindering the plant’s growth.
2. Poke a few holes at the base of the container for excess water drainage. Too much water retention in the soil can prevent the seeds from sprouting, and young roots can ‘drown’ and die.
3. Place a tray to catch the excess water under the container.
4. Fill the container with soil (organic soil/potting mix preferred), at least 1-2 inches deep. Spread the seeds over the soil, and cover with a light layer of soil.
5. Remember that some seeds (like coriander, which needs to be soaked for 24 hours prior to planting) require pre-germination processing. Follow the instructions on the seed packaging before planting seeds.
6. Water the soil generously ( if you didn’t miss the drain holes, the excess should just seep right out onto the tray).
7. Cover the container loosely with a small plastic bag – this will prevent the soil from drying out and creates a humid environment for the seeds to germinate. Place the container in a cool, dark place.
8. Water the container ONLY when the top soil feels dry to the touch.
9. When the seeds sprout out of the soil, remove the plastic bag, and move the plants to a sunny spot in the house.
10. Enjoy watching it grow, and harvest when the leaves sprout and the plant is about 2- 3 inches. To harvest, simply use scissors to snip off the stem directly above the soil.
There are so many ways to enjoy microgreens – in salads, burgers, sandwiches, soups, curries – the options are endless. Keep an eye out for my next post (and several more) featuring Microgreens.