Congratulations! You must have figured out how to grow microgreens if you’re looking at methods for harvesting. Feels good! You’re almost there.
When should microgreens be harvested? Microgreens are usually ready to harvest 7 to 14 days after germination. Many are harvested once the cotyledons are fully developed, and the first true leaves are just starting. However pea shoots and some other microgreens can be harvested with multiple leaves.
Harvesting microgreens too late can mean bitter, tougher greens. Too early and you have less yield. Not all microgreens are ready to harvest after the same amount of time, in fact there’s a pretty big range. I’m putting together a cheat sheet of microgreen germination and grow times, so you can plan your harvests ahead of time.
As you’ll see below, there are some ways to seriously speed up your microgreen harvesting, while getting nice clean cuts without pulling up the plants and messing things up with soil and debris.
How to Harvest Microgreens – the Simplest Way
At its simplest, microgreens harvesting can be done by taking scissors or a knife and cutting off the microgreens above the soil line. Brush off any seeds hulls or debris and you’re done.
I like to grab bunches with one hand, and then cut with the other. I start cutting on the “inside” between the bunch that will be removed and the rest of the microgreens. I cut towards the previously removed microgreens. Experiment a bit and you’ll figure out what works best for you.
A clean cut is important. The cut end is where micro-organisms including fungi and bacteria begin to attack and decompose your microgreens. A clean cut minimizes the surface area, much better than torn or jagged cuts.
Have a container of food-safe sterilizing solution handy, and one of pure water, dip scissors between trays and wipe off excess. I use peracetic acid, a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and white vinegar.
Harvest at low humidity if you have the choice.
What Parts of a Microgreen do we Harvest and Eat?
It might seem straightforward if you’re experienced with microgreens, but with microgreens we’re only eating the plant that’s above the soil. The roots and seed/hull aren’t consumed.
Mention sprouts vs microgreens.
Brassicas and some other families of plants can be grown as microgreens and form cotyledons. As the seed unfurls, the initial energy reserves form initial leaves called cotyledons.
This first set of leaves for Brassicas is very similar between species, and not until the first true-leaves emerge does the real differentiation by species begin.
Another consideration is that true-leaves will add a lot of weight to your microgreens. This can be a bonus if you like the flavour, or if quantity is more important than quality. Say it isn’t so!
Identifying when to Harvest Microgreens
The general rule of thumb is to harvest once the first true leaves start to emerge. In general, microgreens become tougher and more fibrous as they age. But this isn’t the case with all microgreens!
The best thing you can do, especially when you’re growing for the first time, or trying a new variety is to taste. Taste your microgreens every day as they grow and you’ll start to build an understanding of how the taste changes over time.
If you’re going to be selling microgreens, take notes on how the taste changes. It can be hard to develop the right language and refine your sense of taste, but do your best and you’ll be ahead of the competition. Taking notes also helps you focus your attention on what you’re actually tasting.
A really useful exercise is to plant the same microgreens (say sunflower) on a schedule so you can taste multiple maturities at the same time. Plant some today, then some in three days, then some in 5 days. That way you can taste them side-by-side and really get a feel for how the flavour evolves.
Pea shoots can be grown longer, because they don’t really grow in the typical fashion that other microgreens do, they have a different growth habit.
Some other microgreens taste better at the true leaf stage as well. Most lettuces will taste a little milder with more developed leaves, and most mustards too.
Removing Microgreen Seed Hulls While Harvesting
A lot of the problems with seed hulls can come from moisture and timing problems!
Seed hulls are particularly troublesome when growing:
- Radish (some varieties)
- Lettuce (some varieties)
Lean your microgreens and tray up sideways, almost on the verge of the microgreens falling out of the tray. Then take your hand and brush it through the microgreens, knocking off the hulls.
I wrote an article on removing hulls from sunflower microgreens, but most of the tips apply to most microgreens.
Preventing Soil from Contaminating While you Harvest
Soil shouldn’t come into contact with microgreens you’ll be eating. You can always rinse it off, but ideally you can harvest in a way where soil never makes contact with the harvested microgreens.
You can lean your microgreen trays up at a steep angle, to keep the harvested microgreens from falling down into the soil. Microgreens will fall away from the tray as you harvest if you do it right.
Or you can grab the microgreens with one hand, and harvest with the other, pulling up lightly as you cut.
If all else fails, you can rinse and dry your microgreens. This should knock off the majority of the seed hulls that are left over too.
Measuring While you Harvest
Measuring and packaging microgreens while you harvest is a great way to reduce cleanup time, and keep tabs on your operation. If you keep track of your yield per tray, especially when you’re first starting out, you can do a bit of optimization.
Once you’re growing a few dozen trays per week it gets in the way to measure the yield from each and every tray, and you get a pretty good feel for it. Just a quick visual inspection and brushing your hand through the microgreens will give you a good indication of yield.
So, if you’re just starting out, here’s how I would do it:
Test different soils, watering schedules and lighting, and dial things in. To do that you’ll need a scorecard. The scorecard is the weight of fresh greens per tray and quality, which is a combination of flavour, tenderness and shelf-life.
Harvest your tray into a container on a scale (a big bowl works great).
Quick tip: Some scales turn off pretty quickly and lose their zero. If yours does this you can keep a second identical bowl beside it to zero out the scale. That way you don’t have to empty out your main measuring bowl mid-way through a tray when your scale turns off.
Then put your chosen packaging (plastic clamshell, bag, or whatever you sell your microgreens in) on the scale and measure out your portion. I always aim for 5% to 10% over.
Here are some handy conversions:
28.35 grams in an ounce (oz)
Shoot for minimum 60 grams for a 2 oz container
At first a cheap scale will work fine, but as you become more commercial you’ll need to get a scale that’s certified for trade. Especially if you’ll be measuring at a farmer’s market.
Some considerations when buying a scale:
- Lower capacity is more accurate for the price (ex: a scale with a 1 lb maximum capacity will read 2oz better than a scale with a 60 lb maximum capacity)
- Stainless steel is food safe and easy to clean
- Look for NTEP certification, this means it’s legal for trade in most states, but check your state to make sure
- Budget: you should be able to find a suitable scale under $200
Harvested microgreens are too wet
There are three main factors that can play into wet microgreens at harvest. Watering schedule, humidity, and airflow.
Watering schedule is really important. Even if you’re watering from the bottom, and your humidity is low, you can still have wet microgreens when you harvest. Especially in the middle of trays. This is because of evapotranspiration. Plants release water vapour into the air as they photosynthesize and breathe.
It’s not a bad thing unless the microgreens are wet when harvested.
It might be tempting to dry the microgreens, but you need to be careful. As soon as your microgreens are harvested they’re more susceptible to bruising, especially from handling.
Quick tip: Minimize handling of harvested microgreens
The best option is to have sufficient airflow while growing by installing fans. And only if needed drying the microgreens under a fan post-harvest.
Microgreens are often wetter when harvested directly from greenhouses. Greenhouses generally have higher humidity than indoor growing environments where dehumidifiers are often used. If you’re growing in a greenhouse consider moving your microgreens to a lower humidity environment before harvesting if you have the space.
Should you water microgreens before you harvest?
In order to give microgreens the best shelf-life, you want them to be fully hydrated when harvested. But the problem is, the more moisture microgreens have in them, the more they evapotranspire (release moisture). And this moisture can increases the humidity and lead to mold.
But, with proper ventilation, you don’t need to worry.
Unless your microgreens are soaking wet when you harvest, you should be fine watering within 12 hours before harvest.
Pros and cons of Harvested-On date for microgreen packaging
I prefer the harvested-on date instead of a best-before date.
It’s honest. It’s exactly the truth, and it’s universal.
But the flip side is that if customers are used to best-before, the product could seem expired to them. Or they see a product that was harvested a week ago, and they want something harvested yesterday. Ultimately it’s always a compromise, but I’d go with Harvested-On unless you have a good reason to choose best before.
If you’re selling to a grocery store, health-food store, or other retailer, have a quick chat with them about how they’ll be storing and displaying your product.
If it’s going to be sitting somewhere it might get sun, or it’s more exposed to room-temperature or the outdoors it could spoil quicker. If it’s shaded and deep in a cooler it will keep longer.
This is also a consideration when you’re considering how to write your labels. Best-before dates can be challenging if the product is sitting in the sun at one retailer, and it’s perfectly climate controlled in a cooler at another retailer.
So I find it’s probably better to go with a harvested-on date.
Then you can check in at the retailer and get a feel for how long the product is lasting, and replace any product that’s going bad if that’s your arrangement.
I did some deep research on microgreens packaging and put it all together into a guide to help you make informed decisions, check it out if you’re worried about choosing the right plastic, or how to keep your microgreens fresh longer.
Improvised Harvesting Equipment
There are a lot of ways to harvest microgreens on a budget:
- Utility knives
- Chef Knives
Scissors are really convenient and sharp knives of all kinds work great too. I wouldn’t go with anything more complicated than that for my first few weeks of growing microgreens, especially if you’re not selling.
If you’re looking to speed up harvesting or just interested in experimenting, consider electric hedge trimmers.
Electric Hedge Trimmer
These will save you a lot of labour over scissors or knives. It’s a great option to add once you have some higher volumes to harvest.
Electric hedge trimmers can work great for microgreen harvesting, but there are a few things to watch out for.
The first is safety, you want to be careful with power tools.
When preparing a Hedge Trimmer for Microgreens you’ll want to consider a few things:
- Food-safe lubricant
- Blade sharpness and fit
Second, you’ll want to prepare your hedge trimmer for use with microgreens. From the store, the trimmers need a good cleaning, and that includes removing any lubricant. You don’t want any lubricant contaminating your microgreens.
Food grade greases and oil are available. The simplest is probably mineral oil from your local drug store. Silicone lubricant that’s food grade is also available.
Some hedge trimmers aren’t that sharp from the store. Inspect the blades looking for two things. Look for a close fit between the stationary blade and the moving blade. And look for smooth machining. Hedge trimmers work similarly to scissors, the fit and finish is key to a clean cut.
If the fit isn’t great, you’ll tear your microgreens and have reduced shelf life. They also won’t look as good.
If you don’t want to deal with extension cords you can buy plug-in and battery powered versions. Expect to pay more for the convenience. Extension cords can also create an electrocution risk if you have standing water on your floor and make cleanup a little harder.
Purpose-Built Microgreens Harvesting Equipment
When your operation starts to get up to commercial scale, you’ll be spending more and more time harvesting microgreens, and all that labor can cut into profits. There will come a point when it makes sense to invest in specialized harvesting equipment.
These are the two best options I’ve been able to find.
Hand-held Microgreens Harvester
Farmer’s friend llc makes a hand-held microgreens harvester. The cost is $559 USD. And it requires a cordless drill to operate (not included). I haven’t tried one of these out myself, but there seem to be positive reviews on YouTube and elsewhere so this is what I’ll be buying when it makes sense.
The Farmer’s friend Microgreens Harvester.
Greens Harvester (floor mounted)
This is the big leagues. If you’re getting up into the hundreds or thousands of trays per day, this is probably what you’ve been looking for. I haven’t had a chance to play with one of these in person, but it looks like a pretty interesting machine.
The manufacturer claims this harvester can do up to 400 flats in an hour ( vs around 30 trays per hour by hand). So you’re harvesting over 13 times faster. That means you can cut a 12 hour day of harvesting down to under an hour.
Hamill APS makes the purpose built Greens Harvester at a cost of approximately $39,000 CAD or $32,000 USD. Check it out here.
How long do microgreens last after harvest?
Microgreens should last at least 1 week in the refrigerator, and up to 3 weeks in ideal conditions and if the harvesting was done correctly.
A really important step when harvesting microgreens is to get them into a cooler or into the fridge as soon as possible.
You really want to drop their temperature in a hurry as soon as they’re off the roots.
How long microgreens last after harvest depends on many factors. The most important is humidity. If microgreens are exposed to the air in most refrigerators, they’ll dry out.
Luckily, that’s what your crisper drawers are for! Crisper drawers are designed with little vents that allow you to control the amount of air exchange. Closing the vent traps humidity in the crisper, opening it lets it out. Close your vents when storing microgreens.
Another trick which I’m convinced makes a difference is cleaning your fridge. If a fridge gets a real deep clean, and I mean removing everything and disinfecting all surfaces and every piece of food and packaging that goes back in, it makes a huge difference.
Part of the reason food spoils in the fridge is from drying out, but decomposition by micro-organisms is the other big problem. By doing a deep cleaning once in a while, you can give microgreens the best chance.
Find my best information and tips and tricks for keeping microgreens longer in the fridge in this article:
Delaying microgreen harvests
You planted too much! Or maybe you had a slow day at the farmer’s market. Or maybe a chef changed their order last-minute. Whatever the cause, you have too many microgreens, and you have a new batch that’s almost ready. What can be done?
By placing a growing microgreen tray into a cooler, it will slow down growth and you can stretch the harvest for a few days.
You still want to make sure the microgreens are getting enough water. And make sure the cooler isn’t so cold so it will damage the greens. A temperature of 35 F to 40 F (1 C to 4C) is great.
And if you can maintain the temperature right at 1 C, even better:
“One degree Celsius was the optimal temperature for radish microgreens storage“
Once you’re spending upwards of an hour or two per week harvesting microgreens, consider upgrading from scissors or a knife to an electric trimmer (under $100), or the Farmer’s Friend Microgreens Harvester ($559 + Cordless drill).
If your want even more control and efficiency, and have a large operation, consider the Hamill APS Greens Harvester ($32,000).
Hardest microgreens to grow
The hardest to grow microgreens typically have slower growth, small seeds, thin stems, inconsistent germination, hard-to-source seeds, low available information, seed hulls that don’t shed on their own or a combination of these factors.
Microgreens that are commonly considered hard to grow include: Amaranth, Chives, Carrots, Basil, Beets, Chard. Find more information on what makes certain varieties of microgreens harder to grow & my best advice for success here.
Can you harvest microgreens more than once?
Some microgreen species can be harvested more than once, pea shoots are a great example of this. Sunflower, broccoli, and radish microgreens can only be harvested once.
I’m Alex Lafreniere. I learned a lot about plants when I built and operated a landscaping company. But, there’s always more to learn. Ever since travelling across the world, I’ve wanted to find ways to bring more tropical and exotic plants into my life. This is the site where I share everything I’ve learned with you.
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