A straightforward ten-step process can be used to grow microgreens. You’ll find that it requires little effort, time, and knowledge. As you incorporate the growing of fresh, healthy greens into your life, you will quickly develop the necessary skills and efficiency.
Get ready to start growing microgreens!
Step 1.) Fill Your Growing Trays With Soil
The first step is to create the seed bed by filling your trays with the growing medium of your choice. Most growers have discovered that 1 to 1-1/2 inches of soil should be enough to fill the trays.
Next, the soil can be leveled using your hand. Don’t fill your trays completely to prevent soil and seed from spilling over the edges when you first water. Then, smooth and flatten the soil using your soil press, being careful not to compact your seed bed.
Poor, slow growth will be the result of over-compaction.
Step 2.) Sow Your Seeds
You are prepared to plant your seeds now that you have a level, smooth seed bed.
Similar to how you would season a dish in the kitchen, take a small pinch of seeds with your fingertips and sprinkle them over your tray. Give the seeds plenty of time to cover the entire tray evenly. Then, simply add more seed or distribute the extra if you discover that you have sown too many or too few seeds in any area of the tray.
You can use only one type of seed per tray or as many different types of seeds as you like, making a varied tray. This is advantageous if you only plant a few trays at a time but still want to eat various greens.
When growing a mixed tray, the only thing to remember is to use varieties that can be picked around the same time. The type of seed you use and the desired harvest size will determine the sowing density.
Spreading a thick seed layer is advised if you want a dense tray of cotyledons¹.
Simply sow your greens less densely and give them more time to grow if you want to experiment with getting them to the “true leaf” stage.
To get the hang of sowing, you might need to experiment first. It’s possible that you oversowed some varieties, resulting in poor growth and rot in your trays. On the other hand, your yield per tray will be very low if you sowed them too thinly.
The quality of the soil also influences your greens’ ability to grow. Find your balance with just a few trays at first.
You should lightly press your tray after it has been sewn. Your seed should be very lightly seated in the soil, again taking care not to compact it. By seating your seeds, you can ensure they come into contact with the soil and develop roots quickly.
Step 3.) Covering Your Seeds (Three Options)
Three options are available for this step.
A layer of soil about the depth of the seed being sown, but making sure the seed is covered, would traditionally be used to cover one’s seeds.
Another choice is to use paper towels or cloth to cover. If you are germination your seeds in a dark area, your third choice is to leave them exposed.
Using towels to cover trays is the most straightforward and efficient approach out of these three.
Covering with Soil (Requires a Sifter)
Smaller seeds (such as brassicas, endive, amaranth, etc.) must be covered with sifted soil if you decide to cover them with soil.
Although there are soil sifters available, some use a pasta strainer, which is readily available in most kitchens and works just as well. Simply put some soil in the strainer, shake it over your trays, and then repeat.
After doing this, you will be left with the larger potting soil pieces that won’t fit through your strainer.
Repeat this process until your seeds are thoroughly covered, then set these aside.
Sifting is not required when covering larger seeds, such as pea, chard, beet, etc. Simply take a small amount of soil and spread it evenly across the tray. You should give your tray one more light press after you’ve covered it.
The same force you used to seat your seed should be used again. After watering your trays, if you notice that seeds are beginning to appear on the surface, simply add a little more soil on top.
Covering with Towels (Allows Peeking)
Using cloth or paper towels as a covering is an alternative to covering with soil.
The majority of large seeds are not covered using this technique, but it works wonders for smaller seeds.
Your sown trays will create a moisture blanket if you place a towel over them. Lay your paper towel or thin cotton cloth directly on the seeds. Once planted, keep the area moist until the seeds sprout.
Once you begin experimenting with towels, you may discover that the towels have all the advantages of soil-covering and none of the disadvantages. Saving time and money using this technique and also spending less money on soil and less time covering our trays.
You can also peek at the daily development of your germination seeds using towels. Children may find this amusing as they peer under the towel to see the seeds slowly open and transform into plants.
Uncovered Seeds (Careful With Direct Sunlight)
This approach does not involve any seed cover.
To ensure germination, more time must be spent checking the moisture level. Whether it’s a greenhouse or covers, your trays will need to be protected somehow.
Additionally, keeping these trays out of direct sunlight will be beneficial, especially during the summer. This will aid in keeping the right amount of moisture.
When seating the seeds, take special care if you leave them exposed.
Step 4.) Initial Watering (Proper Watering Is Vital)
After that, you need to water your trays.
Set your sprayer to a light or medium shower setting to wet the entire tray evenly. As long as your seeds are not submerged under water, preliminary watering is the only stage at which overwatering is not a problem.
Underwatering, however, will lead to weak or no germination.
A germination seed requires constant moisture. The process will halt, and your seeds won’t grow if the seed bed and, by extension, the seed are allowed to dry out.
Step 5.) Cover With Lids (Mini Greenhouse)
If you are not growing in a greenhouse of some kind, you will need to cover your trays with lids after they have been watered.
These lids are utilized to accelerate germination by trapping heat and moisture. Be aware that if you use plastic lids, you should watch your trays carefully in direct sunlight.
Temperatures inside can rise significantly above those outside thanks to the “mini greenhouse effect” that the lids produce.
This has the advantage of promoting germination and growth, but it must be carefully controlled to prevent excessive heat buildup in your trays.
Simply move the lid to the side to create some ventilation if you notice things getting too steamy inside.
Step 6.) Watering Your Germinating Seeds
It’s crucial to monitor your seeds’ development during germination and to maintain the proper moisture levels.
When using the towel method, check the water’s dampness daily to keep the towel moist and the seed beneath it. The towel method can provide a window into the germination process. You can lift a corner of the towel whenever you like to see the stages of germination rather than having the seeds hidden from your view.
Keep the cover on your seeds until they have finished germination.
The towels will start to lift off the soil after a few days, giving you a clue that your greens are about to need to be exposed to light.
Some germinating seeds develop a white fuzz on their stems. This is normal as your seedlings establish roots and are not mold.
Trays with soil on them will need a little more care as the soil dries out more quickly than towels; water these trays a few times each day.
Your microgreen trays will be so densely seeded that when the seeds sprout, the soil’s top layer will lift along with them. Early in this process, if the soil is not thoroughly rinsed off the seeds, they will remain in the dark beneath the soil.
These seedlings will turn weedy and pale very quickly.
At this point, watering the tray will likely cause the soil to drown and kill most of the tray. You can spend the entire first season growing your greens, burying your seeds in the soil. Losing trays because you are a few hours late can be frustrating, even though it is not difficult to do.
If you choose not to cover your seeds, be cautious when watering them. A brief shower won’t interfere with the germination of your seeds.
Whatever method you choose to use to cover your seeds, remember that they need regular moisture to germinate.
Step 7.) Finding A Good Spot To Grow
The fact that microgreens take up very little space is one of the factors that makes growing them so accessible to so many people. You can grow fresh, delectable microgreens for yourself and your family on a windowsill, porch, patio, or front step if you don’t have enough space to grow a garden in your backyard or don’t even have one.
Most people understand that plants require light to thrive. However, light is not required for germination.
You can keep your germinating trays anywhere as long as they are kept warm and moist.
Microgreens need light to grow and thrive once they have germinated, just like most other plants. Photosynthesis², the process of taking sunlight and converting it into energy, is crucial to developing your greens.
Find a sunny spot inside or outside for your seeds to grow once they germinate.
It would be best to consider your greens when deciding where to place your trays. Some varieties prefer full sun in the summer, while others need dappled shade.
No matter the variety, some warmth, and light are necessary. Plants that aren’t getting enough light will start searching for any source of light they can find. They will then lose their robust, healthy appearance and turn “leggy” and skinny.
Additionally, you’ll see a change in their color. When given enough light, trays resemble a dense lawn of vibrant greens.
In contrast, when given insufficient light, trays start to look yellow and weak, which makes them more prone to rot and disease.
This is easily preventable. Look for a location for your greens that receives the most sunlight. You could grow your greens on a sunny windowsill, on your porch ledge, or even on your front step.
Grow lights are another choice if you believe you don’t get enough sunlight. Grow lights come in various sizes and costs and can be purchased online or at your neighborhood gardening store.
When choosing a system, consider your energy costs. If you live in a sunny area, you might never need them, but they could be beneficial in locations with limited sunlight during the winter.
Grow lights can be installed wherever it is practical. For example, a greens-growing haven could be easily created in a basement or unused closet.
Step 8.) Maintaining Your Growing Microgreens
Your seeds will need light to grow and flourish now that they have germinated.
You should take the towel and the plastic lid off if you use the towel method. After the towel is taken off, it can be burned, composted, used in a vermiculture system, or discarded. You can turn your lid over and insert your fray if you’re growing indoors.
Your counters will remain water-free thanks to this. To prevent your soil from standing in water, make sure to empty this water each day.
The greens must stay in the light for an average of seven to fourteen days, depending on the variety.
Arugula, which grows quickly, will need a shorter growing period than basil, which takes longer to grow. Remember that this timeline considers the effects of the weather, location, and watering schedules.
Even though you might go through several growing cycles with the same outcomes, significant variation frequently happens when any of the factors mentioned earlier are changed.
For example, the more exotic microgreens, like mint or sorrel, will take significantly longer to germinate and grow to size if you expand after experimenting with some basic varieties.
You must monitor the moisture of your seedlings because they are now exposed to light.
It’s impossible to determine the soil’s moisture content by simply looking at its surface. You’ll have to get your hands dirty.
To check if the soil is thoroughly moist, place your finger in the corner of the tray. Most of the time, one daily watering is sufficient; be careful not to overwater.
At this stage, overwatering could drown the seedlings and halt their growth. Greens that are underwatered will become wilted.
The greens may continue to be damaged after their cellulose structure has been damaged by either overwatering or underwatering, but they frequently recover. You might have noticed if you placed your greens in a dim area and then moved them.
You might also leave your greens on a cloudy day, believing that you have watered them enough, only to return to a sunny day and discover that they have wilted. After a couple of hours, a gentle soak frequently brings them back to life.
Nature frequently experiences this phenomenon, particularly in hot, dry climates where plants must conserve energy.
When a plant is exposed to intense direct sunlight and heat, energy is directed to the roots to maintain life, causing the leaves and flowers to droop and wilt during the hotter hours of the day. As a result, such a plant might appear to be dying in the middle of the day when it is actually in full bloom during the coolest part of the evening.
Therefore, You should keep your microgreens properly watered to minimize stress.
Pay attention to the sun’s intensity and avoid midday irrigation. Water drops applied to plants during the hottest part of the day act as miniature magnifying glasses and risks scorching the leaves.
In climates and seasons when the sun is strongest, this can be easily avoided by watering in the morning or evening.
Step 9.) Harvesting Your Microgreens
Microgreens can be harvested at various growth stages.
You can either harvest them as soon as their cotyledons open or wait until their true leaves, the second set of leaves, have appeared. If left to grow, the greens will eventually show signs of stress, including yellowing, stunted growth, and a weak or “leggy” (tall and unhealthy) appearance, and they will begin to rot from the inside out.
This typically begins to happen due to how densely you are planting the seeds and how little soil you are using to cultivate them.
You could observe the same seed grow through several stages if it were allowed to grow less densely, in a larger container, or directly in the ground with plenty of room for its roots. It would eventually develop into a full-sized plant, depending on the variety from which you could harvest its fruit or leaf (i.e., a head of broccoli or full-grown leaves of arugula).
The quality of the soil significantly influences your greens’ health and vitality. Stress symptoms will appear much earlier and more frequently if you use soil of lower quality.
How to Harvest
The day’s heat is one of the most crucial things to consider before harvesting your greens.
The greens will be wilted and turn to mush if cut after being in the sun for a few hours or even in the shade on a hot summer day. Although they are usually too damaged to recover, you can always try soaking them in cold water to revive them.
The best times to harvest are in the early morning and late evening. Keep your greens cool throughout this process.
When harvested at the right time, they will continue to appear as vibrant and fresh as when they were first planted. This is crucial if you intend to sell or store greens for personal use or consumption.
According to our findings, the best tool for harvesting microgreens is a pair of scissors.
Consider trimming your tray as you would your greens. Then, with one hand loosely holding a section, use the other to cut it with your scissors.
Depending on the type and age at which they are cut, your greens may be one to four inches tall.
For most greens, cut about an inch above the soil to get a nice balance of stem and leaves. Cut higher if the greens have been allowed to grow tall or if you prefer less stem.
After cutting the greens, take them in one hand and loosely flick the cut’s stem side to remove any dirt or frayed ends. If you plan to sell your greens, this step will keep your home salad clean and save you time washing.
Use as much as you need after cutting and placing each handful in a bowl or on a plate. Your trays won’t grow again unless you cut above the cotyledons. Then, you can compost the remaining soil and roots.
Don’t feel you need to harvest an entire tray or just one type of plant at a time. Additionally, you can experiment with greens at various growth stages and make a unique blend by combining just a few varieties at multiple sizes.
This will give your mix different textures and a varied appearance.
The ability to cut and consume microgreens within minutes is one of the best things about growing them. This enables you to enjoy the freshest, tastiest, and most healthy salad possible at home.
Step 10.) Washing & Storing
It is typically unnecessary to wash your greens unless you intend to sell them to restaurants or individuals. Instead, give them a quick rinse before serving, just as you would with salad greens from the market or your garden.
Some growers decide against washing their greens before selling them.
Selling unwashed greens is more of an option in operations that use soilless techniques (such as hydroponics).
To offer a clean product, free of soil and rotten leaves, you must wash the greens if you are growing them in soil. Before you sell the greens to your customer, you can inspect your product more closely and get rid of any soil, grit, seed hulls, or moldy leaves by washing the greens.
Your ability to sell unwashed greens with confidence and an advantage over other growers will result from doing this.
Although washing microgreens is a straightforward process, it can also be laborious and time-consuming. Therefore, we find it convenient to buy a plastic tub to use only for washing greens.
Have easy access to running water, and find a size that will fit in the sink where you will be washing.
To keep your greens fresh, wash them in cold water.
Good lighting is crucial so you can see your harvest clearly and easily remove any rotten or discolored leaves. Using a headlamp and being in a well-lit area greatly assist this process.
A hand can easily skim off most of the seed hulls, seeds, duff, and damaged leaves that float to the top. Also, heavy substances like soil frequently sink to the bottom. It takes attention to detail and patience to complete this process.
It’s critical to use impeccable processing to highlight your greens. Although it might seem difficult initially, you’ll learn how to do it quickly and effectively with practice.
You might discover that you create new techniques to speed up the processing.
Different methods are frequently required for various crops. Some greens are simple to wash, but others are more challenging and take more time and care.
Sometimes a two-stage washing procedure is necessary for greens that are dirtied or dense with damaged leaves. Following the initial washing, remove a handful at a time, examine it on a plate, remove anything we missed, and repeat.
These greens frequently need a second rinse.
Your germinating seeds will require much less washing if you cover them with a towel rather than soil. Removing half of the soil and seed hull typically present in your rinse water and covering with towels reduces your work in half.
You may go from getting three to four rinses per crop to one or two when switching from soil to covering with towels.
Your next step is to dry your greens after washing them. A small fan works wonders for ventilation. You should keep an eye on the greens and use your fan on a low to medium setting.
You will need to turn them over and fluff them every few minutes, careful not to overdry them. If you allow your lovely, delicate microgreens to become over- or under-dried and stored in the refrigerator, they may turn out quite the opposite.
We advise using a resealable bag, filling it with a little air, and placing it directly in the refrigerator if you store greens for yourself. Utilizing a reusable container is an additional choice.
Microgreens are quite perishable, but depending on their quality, variety, and container moisture, they can last for at least three to four days and frequently even a week or longer.
If you plan to sell your greens, you should buy a small precise scale and either food-grade resealable plastic bags or plastic clamshells. To identify the variety and the date the greens were harvested, creating some kind of label can be helpful.
How Much Microgreens Should You Grow?
How many people you want to feed will be your priority when determining how many trays to grow.
Every household has members who consume varying amounts of greens, so the number of trays you require will also vary.
Start with two to three trays, twice a week, for a family of four. Because the growing cycle is so brief, it is simple to start small and make the necessary adjustments. A few varieties can be spread out on each tray to create a variety of vibrant colors, flavors, and textures.
Typically, you will have a batch of trays that you are sowing, a batch of trays that are germination, and a batch of trays that you are harvesting from.
This will allow the home to receive a steady supply of fresh greens. If you’re growing for yourself alone or have limited space, even one tray per week of sowing would be great.
It is priceless to have a small influx of fresh, homegrown greens for the family.
Resources + References
1.) Cotyledons – Study.com link
2.) Photosynthesis – PDF