Authored by Amanda Decker UF/IFAS Extension Orange County Summer Intern Graduating UF CALS December, 2022 B.S. Plant Science specialization in Plant Breeding and Genetics
What Exactly Are Microgreens?
Florida offers year round gardening, which can be overwhelming at times. If vegetable gardening seems intimidating, or you feel you need a break, try growing microgreens! Microgreens, also known as vegetable confetti, are quick, easy, and nutritious crops. They are young greens typically harvested at the first true leaf stage. Microgreens include many crops like amaranth, kohlrabi, swiss chard, etc. The main difference is the stage they are harvested. This makes microgreens ideal for gardeners who may not have the time to grow these crops to completion. Microgreens are harvested with the stems, cotyledons, and first true leaves intact and used to enhance salads and many other main dishes. They are grown for color, texture, and flavor. Usually, they are marketed as specialty mixes like colorful, sweet, mild, and spicy. Microgreens lack any legal definition. This marketing term is used to describe their respective category.
Why Do We Grow Them?
You may be asking why we harvest the same crops earlier and market them so distinctively? Research conducted by the University of Maryland and the USDA found that microgreens contain 4 to 40 times more nutrients than the mature leaves of their full-grown counterparts. This is excellent news for folks like me who struggle to eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables! In addition, they have a quick turnaround time from sowing to harvest, meaning they have minimal inputs, ultimately resulting in a high-profit margin of 35% to 75%! They provide home gardeners with a quick, easy way to supply nutritious, colorful, and flavorful additions to the table. Home gardeners actually have the advantage in producing microgreens due to the rapid decline in quality and nutrition. Therefore, the sooner microgreens are brought to the table, the better. This downside does not prevent microgreens from being highly marketable to restaurants, farmer’s markets, and specialty stores, as they are a highly sought-after gourmet item! Microgreens are advantageous for urban farmers because of their benefits and ability to be grown indoors year-round. In addition, they can sell for over $25 a pound! They only require a small investment and a small amount of space. They can be produced continuously through succession planting. However, microgreens require a larger volume of seeds; therefore, the seed cost is higher. In fact, seeds are typically the highest cost associated with producing microgreens. It is also important to note that harvesting microgreens is a time-consuming process.
How Do We Cultivate Them?
So how do we grow these tiny crops that pack a big punch at home? They are usually grown together according to their germination times and growth rates. They are typically found categorized as slow-growing or fast-growing microgreens. However, with practice, you can coordinate sowing times to produce a mix of varieties. A soilless mix is usually recommended as the best growing mix because any potting mix that contains compost or soil increases the risk of soilborne diseases. Success has been found with many mixes like peat, vermiculite, perlite, sphagnum moss, and coconut fiber. Microgreens are typically cultivated in seedling flats. The seedling flats are filled with 1/2 inch to 2 inches of growing media. Seeding densities should be thick enough to cover the tray but not inhibit airflow; otherwise, there will be an increased risk of pathogens. The seeds are watered in and covered with a humidity dome; they are then misted until germination. They can be grown under natural or artificial light. Therefore, the home gardener can grow them in a sunny spot or indoors under a grow light. Germination time can vary depending on the crop, but it is usually within 10 to 14 days. After germination, they are sub-irrigated to avoid excess moisture in the plant canopy. Once the plants reach the desired height, they can be snipped, cleaned, and brought to the table. Plants are often snipped closest to the medium without getting medium on the microgreens. Enjoy your tasty microgreens! Keep in mind that whether a microgreen can be harvested a second time depends on the crop. In addition, the initial harvest is always the best.
If you would like to learn more, refer to the resources below: