Microgreens are a really visually appealing and delicious way to get in your daily vegetable servings. They can be really colorful and make a great garnish on an appetizer or entree too.
These greens are packed with nutrients and are easier to cultivate than more traditional greens.
The rising trend of microgreens is bringing more and more interest from people of all backgrounds. A common question that comes up is whether microgreens need to be hydroponically-grown, or grown in soil with fertilizer.
Or, is there a healthier organic way of growing them?
So, are microgreens organic? Not all microgreens are organic. Microgreens can be grown in soil or hydroponically, depending on the preferred cultivation system of particular growers. Organic microgreens are grown in soil or on a growing medium without the addition of man-made additives or fertilizers, whereas non-organic microgreens are exposed to fertilizers and other additives.
Since there are two main groupings of methods to grow microgreens (soil and hydroponics), this article will explore these methods of cultivating organic microgreens. Organic microgreens offer a way to experience these nutrient-rich greens in a more natural and artificial-free context, which includes specific steps that need to be taken to properly grow the microgreens and to check if microgreens you find in stores are truly organic.
What Are Organic Microgreens?
Organic microgreens are microgreens that are grown in as natural a way as possible without the use of synthetic compounds or additivies. They also should be grown with organic soil, and using organic seeds.
But before we discuss organic microgreens, we first need to define what microgreens are.
Microgreens are essentially various varieties of herbs and vegetables that are grown from their seed state to within one to two weeks when the greens achieve their first set of leaves.
A practical way to remember when a green can be called a microgreen is to follow the timeline of one to two weeks. It’s right before you would call them baby greens.
Some microgreens, like sunflower, don’t taste good once they have true leaves, so they make horrible baby greens, but delicious microgreens. Sunflower true leaves turn your tongue green, and have a welching bitter flavour, kind of like pure cranberry juice.
The term “organic microgreens” is used to differentiate microgreens grown organically, whether it’s in soil or on a growing medium like coconut coir. Microgreens that are grown for mass-production with all of the accompanying synthetic protocols that come with mass-production of crops aren’t usually organic.
And not all hydroponic microgreens are organic or non-organic, it’s a mix. Some hydroponic growing mediums are made of pure materials, like coconut coir, or hemp fiber. But others have synthetic glues and binders to hold them together.
Due to organic farming producing higher and more natural concentrations of vitamins and minerals, as well as decreased health concerns due to harsh pesticides, organic microgreens are a great way to experience the flavor and benefits of microgreens when compared to more commercial methods.
Growing microgreens hydroponically, which is a growing scenario that uses water-based cultivation techniques instead of soil, is one of the most frequent methods used for growing microgreens. It’s a great way to keep the mess down (no soil flying everywhere).
Additionally, microgreens grown in more traditional methods that feature an overreliance on soil additives, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides are also popular. These two methods probably represent the large majority of microgreens you will find in markets.
To achieve microgreens that are truly organic, a grower needs to focus on wholly natural soil types as well as natural growing techniques: truly organic farming. Since achieving truly organic microgreens is only possible with organic soil, seeds, and organic fertilizers, there is a bit of a process or system that should be followed to grow microgreens organically.
How to Grow Organic Microgreens
There are many variables that go along with having success in organic farming, with additional considerations needing to be taken into account for microgreens in particular.
It might seem complex at first, checking if each and every supply and process is organic, but once you have it figured out, it’s actually simpler. Organic growing has less moving parts most of the time, and definitely in the case of microgreens.
Microgreens need lighting and environmental conditions to be just right for maximum yield, but you can get away with a pretty wide range. You’ll also want to ensure that you have the proper soil, seeds, and fertilizer to grow organic microgreens. You can grow organic microgreens directly in the ground or in trays, but organic soil and seeds are crucial.
Growing in trays is probably your best bet if you’re just starting out. By growing indoors you can control the conditions more closely, and avoid a lot of the problems you can run into outside (or in a greenhouse).
Where to Source Organic Microgreen Soil
Finding organic soil for microgreens isn’t always straight forward in some areas. Organic soil, in its truest form and must be completely absent of synthetic compounds, fertilizers, and prepared according to specific processes. Organic certification has requirements not just on fertilizer, but how soil is handled, how sanitation of trays are used, and much more.
Some organic farmers will mix their own soil. If it’s used for microgreens, it should be tested for pathogens to ensure the composting did a good enough job of pasteurizing the soil and killing most of the problem causing organisms. Indoor growing is especially sensitive to any pathogens that are left in soil, because there’s no natural competition. Once mold or bacteria get a foodhold indoors, they have free reign to multiply.
Mixing your own soil is simple, but composting, and getting all the ingredients to a high enough standard that you can safely use them for microgreens is quite challenging.
I’d recommend you start with buying soil.
A key point to keep in mind when looking for the right kind of organic soil is to look for a label that shows the stamp of the Organic Materials Review Institute or OMRI.
Once you are able to find a soil that meets your specs (organic), you might consider adding an OMRI approved compost like Blue Ribbon Organics. While this is a really great product, it’s usually not necessary.
Microgreens grow so quickly that you don’t need to add a ton of nutrients, they get the majority of their energy from the seed. That’s why it’s possible to grow in a relatively nutrient-free hydroponic growing medium like coconut coir. The seedlings absorb water, air and sunflight, and they rely on themselves for the rest!
Where to Source Organic Microgreen Seeds
You can’t get around it, you’ll need organic seeds if you want to honestly call microgreens organic. Mirogreens are especially sensitive to seed quality, including coatings, fungicides and pesticides. Because you’re harvesting at such a high density, and so close to the seeds, any chemicals or pathogens on your seeds will have a much easier time making it into your finished product.
Unlike mature vegetables where they’re exposed to the elements, and washed by rain or irrigation for months before harvest.
Just as with appropriate microgreen soil, finding organic microgreen seeds used to be a bit of a challeng, but the options for organic seed have exploded online!
It is important to shop for microgreen seeds that certify organic cultivation, such as Superfood Microgreen Seed Mix by Rainbow Heirloom Seed Company, which offers a variety of microgreen seeds in one package.
Mixes are a great way to get started, or go with specific varieites like broccoli (arguably the healthiest microgreen), or radish (extremely easy and consistent growth).
As long as the seeds you choose are certified as organic, this step is pretty simple.
Plant them at the right seeding density, and you’re growing.
Can Fertilizer be Organic?
Fertilizing does increase yields, but it’s not necessary. It’s fun to experiment with, but it can change the taste, and definitely isn’t required when you first start out. And yes, fertilizer can definitely be organic.
Water is more than enough to ensure that microgreens grow properly due to the short time between planting and harvesting, but if you choose to give the growth process a boost with a fertilizer, be sure it meets organic certification.
Fertilizer for organic vegetables needs to have a focus on organic materials, such as compost, to ensure adequate soil-conditioning. If you prefer liquid fertilizers, the same rules apply in terms of high concentrations of compost.
Since microgreens are a vegetable, you should opt for a plant-based compost like this Liquid Kelp Organic Seaweed Extract by GS Plant Foods, which is an OMRI-listed fertilizer that will add a significant boost to your organic microgreen soil choice.
Avoid fish emulsions or anything with fish in the name. Give them a smell and you’ll understand why. These can really change the flavour of your microgreens in a negative way.
How to Check if Microgreens Are Organic at the Store
Not all microgreens are organic, so it’s worth doing a bit of investigating if you’re shopping for microgreens at the supermarket. It might surprise you to know that microgreens at farmer’s markets might not be organic too.
There are re-sellers that sell at farmer’s markets. They buy their product from far away, sometimes importing it from overseas. It can be hard to track down the growing practices in that case, so a quick way to narrow things down is to focus on local producers. It’s easier to get familiar with organic suppliers in your area.
You can’t identify organic produce by looking at it, so you’ll need to trust the label. Luckily regulatory bodies are pretty strict about labelling in most places, so you should be fine.
The USDA requires that all foods that are marketed as organic be listed as such, yet produce can frequently be misplaced or shuffled around. Your best bets are to get to know a few growers or markets that you trust, and shop from them exclusively, or you could always grow your own microgreens!
If in doubt, always check for an organic label.
Are Microgreens GMOs?
GMO means a genetically modified organism. While evolution and random mutation has modified the genetics of everything on earth, you’re probably worried about organisms that have been genetically modified by humans!
And that’s definitely a reasonable thing to be fearful of, to err is human!
Luckily most seeds that are marketed for growing microgreens or sprouts aren’t GMO’s. You can ask your seed seller, or check their website for more information. If you’re buying microgreens, anyone that markets organic microgreens is probably taking steps to ensure they’re not using GMO seeds, but it never hurts to ask.
So what have we figured out?
Microgreens are organic only if they are grown with organic seeds, soil, and without synthetic compounds. In some areas, an organic certification also requires that sanitation products be restricted (usually to hydrogen peroxide and peracetic acid and maybe a short list of others).
Growing microgreens in soil doesn’t guarantee that they’re organic. And growing hydroponically doesn’t guarantee microgreens are not organic. It all depends on what the microgreens come into contact with.
If microgreens aren’t labelled as organic, they’re probably not. But luckily, organic produce is trending ever upwards, so you’re finding organic microgreens in more and more places with larger and larger selections.
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Broccoli Microgreens: A Mineral-Rich Crop That Can Diversify Food Systems
- Virginia Tech: Effects of Seed Density and Other Factors on the Yield of Microgreens Grown Hydroponically on Burlap
- Wikipedia: Microgreen
- ACS Publications: The Science Behind Microgreens as an Exciting New Food for the 21st century
- Home Microgreens: Soil for Microgreens–Which Media is the Best?
- Journal of Renal Nutrition: What You Should Know About Organic Foods
- Wikipedia: Hydroponics
- Organic Materials Review Institute
- com: Blue Ribbon Organics OMRI Certified Organic Compost
- Wikipedia: Compost
- com: Superfood Microgreen Seeds Mix
- com: Liquid Kelp Organic Seaweed Extract 1 Gallon Fertilizer Concentrate
- USDA: Organic Labeling Standards
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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