Over the coming weeks and months Dish, our Head Farmer, is going to share his experiences of moving our urban farm from Paddington to his home and provide tips and guidance on how you can also grow at home to help you learn, clear your mind, and grow your own fresh produce.
In this blog Dish will explain how to grow microgreens, which are fast-growing and highly nutritious. The perfect crop if you want to see results fast! These short cycled crops can keep your kitchen stocked all year round using only light from your windowsill.
What are Microgreens?
Microgreens are the young seedlings of vegetables, herbs, beans, and grains. The seeds are grown in a high density in flat containers for a very short period of time. Dozens of plants can be grown as microgreens, offering a variety of colours and flavours (see table below).
Possibly the easiest fresh produce to grow, they’re best eaten raw and unadorned, but you can also incorporate mild-flavoured microgreens into salads and smoothies. Aromatic microgreens, such as coriander, radish or mustard greens can be used as a condiment to contribute spice or heat.
Why should I eat Microgreens?
You can grow microgreens easily at home and thus harvest just before serving; this is important because freshness can be a marker for nutritional content as well as flavour. For example, a recent study in Food Chemistry found that mature spinach lost about 80 percent of its vitamin C after three days of storage.
Another reason to eat microgreens is that they contain phytonutrients, which are substances in plants (phyto means plant) that promote health, prevent disease, and help cure illness. These protective nutrients are highly concentrated among the Brassica group of plants, which includes broccoli, cabbage, and kale. The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that red cabbage microgreens had forty times more vitamin E and six times more vitamin C than mature red cabbage. Therefore, eating nutrient dense foods like microgreens allows us to consume lots of micronutrients proportional to the amount of food we eat.
Growing microgreens, or other foods, at home also means we can avoid single-use plastic packaging, as we know most leafy greens we buy in supermarkets are packaged for preservation.
If you want to learn more about the nutritional benefits of eating microgreens, check out Jill's blog on this very subject! Jill is our nutritional therapist, she helps people achieve and maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle, critical for optimal health and disease prevention.
What shall I grow?
You can grow many plants as microgreens, but their difficulty level varies (see table below). The easiest group of plants to grow as microgreens, and therefore the best for beginners, are those in the Brassica family.
How to Grow Microgreens
Here’s the process:
The first step is to find containers in which you can grow your microgreens. They grow well in wide and shallow containers like garden trays. You can also upcycle takeaway containers, foil pie dishes and gutters into grow trays. Make sure you make holes at the bottom of the containers for drainage.
Next we need to choose our growing medium. You can get really creative and resourceful with what you use. Some examples are soil, coco coir, felt, wood pulp mats and even agar jelly.
If you are using a soil/coco based medium, fill the container up to an inch full and tap down to get an even surface. If you’re using a fabric medium, cut it to the size of your container and prepare it by soaking in a bucket of water before placing it into the container.
As most seed packets in garden centres usually have very few seeds, you may find it is best to buy some seeds in bulk. I have attached a link for a seed supplier. You can also experiment with seeds from Indian grocery shops such as coriander, dill, fennel and basil. They come at a modest price and it is surprising how many of these will sprout.
Next you’ll need to weigh out your seeds. You can use a seed density calculator to work out the quantity of seeds you’ll need. Generally, Brassicas like Broccoli, Kale, Mustard and Cabbage require 2.5g of seed for every 10cm² of your tray. Scatter all of these seeds evenly onto your growing medium.
Give the seeds a good watering and then find a dark, warm location for them to germinate. Here we are mimicking the natural environment as seeds would normally be underground when germinating. Watering them every other day will give you a better germination rate.
Once you see the emergence of the first leaves you can bring them out into the sunlight. A bright window is perfect for them. Ensure that the medium stays moist by watering every day or two, depending on how quickly your growing medium dries.
You will have a bouquet of nutritious microgreens to harvest just 7-10 days after you sowed them. You can experiment by harvesting on different dates to compare how the flavour changes. Herbs such as coriander and basil are most aromatic when their first set of leaves have grown, these are called the cotyledon leaves. Some plants are grown until the next set of leaves emerge, these are called the true leaves and they resemble the mature leaves. Crops such as frilly mustard can be grown until their true leaves emerge as they have an aesthetic appeal.
If the prospect of growing fresh nutritious greens all year round with no single use plastic appeals to you, try this method out. There are links to some pieces of equipment you may want to use below. We’d love to see progress pictures of your little seedlings, please tag us on instagram @squaremilefarms! Don’t forget, we’re here to help, so do get in touch if you have any queries. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or message us on social media (links below).
What do I need to grow Microgreens?
Here’s a few links to equipment we think you’ll find useful.
Dish is Square Mile Farms’ Head Farmer. He’s spent the last year experimenting with growing 40+ types of vegetables, herbs and microgreens at our Paddington rooftop farm and in our office farm installations. Using his knowledge of building and maintaining indoor hydroponic systems he is on a mission to help London workers reconnect with their food by helping them grow it themselves!
Square Mile Farms bring vertical, urban farming to city dwellers in their homes and in the workplace. We aim to bring people closer to food production and help to create a culture of healthy, sustainable living. Find out more about our offering and get in touch here with any queries. Sign up to our newsletter for tips on a healthy lifestyle and a round-up of relevant news. You can also follow us on social media to stay up to date with our journey, find us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Why not join our online Urban Growing Community for advice on growing at home and much more!