By John Olive, Director, AU Ornamental Horticulture Research Center | CoastalAlabamaGardening@gmail.com

Photos/Courtesy John Olive

Microgreens, which are typically harvested when shorter than 2 inches, can be grown in an egg carton.

Q: What are microgreens and can I grow them, or do I play mini-golf on them?

A: Microgreens are often included on popular lists of superfoods and are not tiny putting surfaces on a short par 3. Growing them at home is easy, and can be a fun way to introduce children to gardening while providing a fresh, nutrient packed addition to your diet. There are many uses for microgreens. They can be used in a salad or put on a hamburger, hotdog, or any side dish.

Often referred to as vegetable confetti, microgreens are the small seedling stage of common leafy greens. They are harvested even smaller than plants sold as “baby greens.”

Some of the most common plants used for microgreens include cabbage, kale, lettuce, beets, bok choy, mustards, chives, radish, Swiss chard, spinach, and even cilantro. (I have the “soapy taste gene” for cilantro so I cannot recommend it for human consumption).

Although not typical greens, other plants such as sunflowers and sweet peas can be grown to add different flavors and texture to a microgreen mix. Sunflowers are harvested with cotyledons, before the first true leaves emerge.

Microgreens are an excellent source of vitamins C and E, β-carotene, lutein and lots of other stuff that is good for you. Most of the information on nutrition I have seen is anecdotal and more research is needed but some studies have shown that microgreens, when compared to mature leaves, have much more of some nutrients.

Microgreens can also add different textures and flavors to a salad. Arugula and some mustards can be too strong and overpowering, but as microgreens they can add subtle flavor or bite to a salad or side dish.

There are many ways of growing microgreens. What is described here is a simple method for beginners. A quick internet search will reveal an abundance of additional information.

Microgreens, like most plants, require light, water, and a good growing medium. You can grow them indoors in a sunny window or under grow lights or outdoors in a sunny location, but microgreens are better grown in a container to avoid dirt splashing on the foliage. Growing them in a dense layer and in small containers helps keep them clean. Nobody likes gritty greens!

Microgreens can be planted in just about any small, shallow container with potting soil and drainage. Use a bagged commercial potting soil to avoid plant diseases.

Sow seed generously in a uniform layer and lightly press them in. Water and maintain soil moisture by placing the container in a shallow dish so it is watered from the bottom. Seed is quick to germinate and, depending on the species, will be ready to harvest in 7-21 days.

Plants are usually harvested when they are 1½ to 2 inches tall. The difference in days to harvest is a good reason to plant different species in separate containers until you learn how they grow.

A mix of greens with similar harvest times can be planted in the same container. Tender stems and leaves are harvested with regular household scissors by cutting plants off at the soil line. Handle and wash harvested greens gently before eating.

There are many seed companies that market seed exclusively for use as microgreens but you can also purchase regular seed and harvest as microgreens. Order at least one-half ounce of each type you want to try so you have enough for several spaced out plantings.

Microgreens are an easy to grow nutrient packed addition to your kitchen garden.

You are invited to this upcoming gardening event:
What: Mobile Master Gardeners Lunch & Learn (Free)
When: Monday, April 16, 2018, Noon to 1 p.m.
Where: Jon Archer Ag Center, 1070 Schillinger Road N., Mobile
Topic: Nutrition, Samantha Chirichella, DC
Master Gardener Helpline: 1-877-252-4769, or send your gardening questions to coastalalabamagardening@gmail.com