Known for their distinct flavors, unique textures, vivid colors and superior nutritional content, microgreens are rising in popularity among chefs and health conscious citizens. Used as garnishes for soups, salads, sandwiches and even mixed drinks, there is no shortage of demand for these tasty greens.
So how do microgreens differ from sprouts and baby greens? While they are all harvested and consumed in an immature state, they differ in terms of size and parts consumed. Sprouts are the youngest and include the entire plant (root and seed shoot). Microgreens are slightly larger, around 2 to 3 inches tall, and the stem, cotyledon, and first true leaves are harvested and consumed. Baby greens are harvested when 3 to 4 inches tall and only the leaves are consumed.
A myriad of vegetable and herb varieties are suitable for microgreen production and are selected based on unique characteristics such as color, texture, or flavor. Some of the easiest varieties to grow include amaranth, cabbage, radish, beet, mizuna, kale, kohlrabi, swiss chard and mustard. Other suitable crops include varieties of cress, carrot, arugula, onion, basil, chive, broccoli, lemongrass, fennel, popcorn, buckwheat, celery, spinach, and sweet pea. Lettuces are typically not produced as microgreens due to their overall delicacy and tendency to wilt easily.
Among the many reasons to produce microgreens are their quick turnaround time (7 to 18 days from sowing to harvest), high profit margin (ranges from 35% to 75%), minimal inputs (most do not require fertilizer) and nutritional analysis. Research from the University of Maryland and USDA showed that microgreens contain 4 to 40 times more nutrients than the mature leaves.
Microgreen Production Using Soilless Media:
8 Easy Steps to Producing Microgreens:
Fill seedling flat with ½ inch to 2 inches of moist soilless growing media (20 row seedling flat recommended).
Place seedling flat in tray of same dimensions but without holes.
Sow seeds evenly and thick (3/16 in – ¼ in spacing). One 20 row seedling flat contains approximatley1000 plants!
Mist until seeds have germinated, then sub-irrigate to avoid disease and damage to plants.
Place in greenhouse or under T-8 fluorescent lights.
Harvest when 2-3 inches tall (plants will not regrow).
Rinse with water; can store up to 10 days in refrigerator.
Other methods for commercial production include utilizing burlap or Sure to Grow mats with wide NFT-type troughs. Seedling mats are popular among commercial growers because they facilitate faster harvesting. Mats can be held vertically and cut with an electric trimmer rather than time-consuming harvest with scissors.
Xiao, Zhenlei, et al. “Assessment of vitamin and carotenoid concentrations of emerging food products: edible microgreens.” Journal of agricultural and food chemistry 60.31 (2012): 7644-7651.