There are a lot of misconceptions floating around online about microgreens.
You may have heard they’re hard to grow, go moldy, or aren’t sustainable. Or maybe you heard they were just a trend, or that they were messy to grow and more trouble than they’re worth
Let’s sit down and set a few things straight.
Microgreens aren’t Sustainable
It’s easy to find microgreens unstainable at first glance. Bright lights, throwing out soil after one crop, ordering and shipping specialized seeds.
But microgreens are sustainable for a number of reasons.
They’re nutrient dense, microgreens can contain up to 25 times as many nutrients as their more mature counterparts. That means that any microgreens you harvest are equivalent to 25 times their mature versions, or another way to look at it, is that they use 25 times less resources for the same nutritional content.
Microgreens are also really efficient on water. A carefully dialed-in grow can use as little as 5 quarts (5 liters) of water for a whole 10” x 20” tray.
Mature greens need to be watered again and again for months, fertilized, and washed when they’re harvested. And in the heat of the day, a lot of water can evaporate. The water use adds up ridiculously quickly. Microgreens are surprisingly water efficient.
You Need a lot of Space to Grow
You might be asking yourself something like this:
Farming takes up fields and space like nothing else, how can you get into indoor urban farming without a ton of space?
You actually don’t need a lot of space to grow microgreens, you can grow up to twelve 10” x 20” trays on a shelf like this one on Amazon:
12 trays is enough microgreens for a voracious family of microgreen eaters, it’s really going to be more greens than you can handle because they grow so quickly, a tray can be ready in as little as 5 days.
And all of that will fit into 6 square feet or so. That’s a small closet, or a corner of a room, you can even grow microgreens in your basement. You really don’t need as much space as you might think.
You can do it in even less space than that! Windowsills or book shelves can hold even smaller containers.
They’re a Luxury Food, not a Staple
Upscale restaurants and resorts sprinkle a few microgreens on top of their finest entrees and meticulously crafted salads. They add color and texture, so unless you’re living the high life, how can you have microgreens in your every-day diet?
Grow your own! I’ve found that growing my own microgreens costs around 5% to 10% of the cost of buying them, depending on the variety.
Growing microgreens can actually be cheaper than buying salad greens if you watch your costs, and the nutrient benefits are enormous
They Need Grow Lights and use a lot of Electricity
Microgreens are tiny versions of everyday vegetables, herbs and flowers. So just like any plant, they’re perfectly content growing in the sun!
You don’t need special expensive grow lights and tons of electricity to grow microgreens, in fact they grow just fine near a bright window, or under a desk lamp (with the right bulbs).
If you do decide to pick up some lights online, I’d recommend checking out the Integrated Barrina T5 LEDs. They have the small form factor of a T5, but they put out a ton of light, and the cost is incredibly reasonable (click link to check price).
They come in a pack of 6, they’re 4 feet long, and they put out 2200 lumens of 6500k light each. I’d recommend using 2 lights per 3 10” x 20” trays. If you do this, the electricity cost works out to 20watts *(2/3) * (12hours)*(1/1000)* $0.1/kWh. This works out to just under $0.03 per day.
You can find the electricity cost calculator I used here.
That’s 3 cents per day per 10” x 20” growing tray.
Microgreens Don’t Absorb Nutrients from the Soil, it’s all from the Seed
A lot of information that you find online claims that microgreens don’t absorb nutrients from the soil, and that they have everything they need in the seed. This is thinking that’s borrowed from sprouts, a close relative of microgreens.
With sprouts you grow in a pure water, and you eat the whole thing! Roots and all. Microgreens are grown a little longer, so they benefit from a few extra nutrients. You don’t need to fertilize microgreens, especially if they’re in soil. But they do benefit from using a nutrient-rich soil, like a nice potting mix, seedling mix, or vegetable and herb mix.
Microgreens grown in a soilless mix (low to no nutrients) like coconut coir, or peat moss don’t grow quite as quickly or reach the same lush foliage as microgreens grown with a richer food source for the roots.
Microgreens are Hard to Grow
The key with anything that seems complex at first, is to break it down into manageable steps. Put one foot in front of the other, do lots of reading, and you’ll master microgreens in no time.
And make sure you’re not missing any of the key steps. Each one has a reason, and together they make the whole process a lot easier and more consistent.
Microgreens are Expensive
You need to buy lighting, shelving, soil, fertilizers, growing trays, harvesting equipment, seeds, the list goes on!
Microgreens must be EXPENSIVE right?
Well, even if you buy all of that stuff (and you don’t need to!), no, not really!
You can grow microgreens for as little as $1 per flat if you buy in bulk and really control your costs.
And for startup equipment all you really need are high quality seeds, a bit of clean soil, and you can improvise the rest with things you already have:
- Use natural lighting, grow near a window or under an LED or fluorescent light you already have.
- Use baking trays, casserole dishes, bowls, or almost any food-safe container you already have to grow in.
- Harvest with your favorite scissors or a sharp knife
Sprouts are the Same as Microgreens
Sprouts and microgreens are sometimes used interchangeably online. Some people call sprouts microgreens, or vice-versa.
Sprouts are the just barely germinated seedlings, and if you grow them for a few more days or weeks, in soil or another growing medium, then they’re called microgreens. With microgreens you harvest them just above the soil line, so you’re leaving seeds and roots behind.
The roots, stems and leftover soil from microgreens help build an incredibly rich soil if you compost them in your garden.
Microgreens have a few benefits in my mind over sprouts:
- You don’t need to rinse them multiple times per day: lower labor
- Food safety isn’t as big of an issue, because you don’t eat the roots and seed
- More colors and texture are possible
- They last a lot longer in the fridge if you store them properly
You can read more on the sprouts vs microgreen debate here:
Are sprouts the same as microgreens? Hint: no! (Links to Article)
Composting Spent Microgreen Trays is Complicated
To be fair, composting can seem complicated if you’re doing it wrong. It can smell bad, never really take-off, or you might end up with bugs all over your garden, or worse, in your house!
I wouldn’t recommend bringing soil in from outside that you’ve just composted, especially for microgreens. Bugs and other critters can really take-off and thrive indoors without their natural predators.
But composting is a great way to re-use microgreen soils in your garden, on your lawn, or to share with neighbors.
Follow the steps I walk through in the following article, and your composting will go quicker, be dark, rich, and smell earthy and pleasant:
You don’t have Time to Grow Microgreens
Once you have all your materials, and picked out a corner of your house to grow them in, you can grow microgreens in under 5 minutes per day, less time than it takes to go to the market.
Growing a single tray of microgreens takes up this much time for each step:
- Spreading soil on to your tray: under a minute
- Measuring seeds with a scale and shaking them evenly over your soil: about a minute
- Grabbing a jug from the cupboard and filling it up with water: 30 seconds
- Watering between your solid and perforated trays (sub-irrigating): 30 seconds
- Covering with a blackout dome or another tray: seconds
- Harvesting with scissors or a sharp knife: 5 minutes if you’re just learning
- Cleaning up after: 5 minutes
So really, you can grow a single microgreen tray for much less than 20 minutes, and that time drops dramatically if you’re growing a few of them.
Offset that against the time it takes to shop for fresh greens at the market, and you’re really not spending much extra time at all.
- LED irradiance level affects growth and nutritional quality of Brassica microgreens (G Samuoliene et al., 2013)
- Light intensity and quality from sole-source light-emitting diodes impact growth, morphology, and nutrient content of Brassica microgreens (JR Gerovac et al., 2016)
- Nutritional characterization and shelf-life of packaged microgreens (VM Paradiso et al. 2018)
I’m Alex Lafreniere. I learned a lot about plants when I built and operated a landscaping company. I learned even more when I started growing and selling Microgreens. But, learning is a journey, not a goal. Ever since travelling across the world, I’ve wanted to find ways to bring more delicious and exotic plants into my life. This is the site where I share everything I’ve learned with you. And maybe we’ll learn a thing or two together.
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