How to grow microgreens? (Not sure what are microgreens yet? Read Introducing Microgreens ) It can be dreadful starting something new - there is so much to figure out but so little time. You almost wish you can perfect your craft overnight. When starting, I decided to take things into my own hand and just grow away. After all, every growing environment is different, and there is no point expecting perfection in the first try. I thought it will be interesting to share on my experimentation journey. Hopefully, you can also derive some learnings from my mistakes.
1. Getting ready the items
Be assured that growing microgreens is easy. They are actually popular choice for most small farmers due to their quick turnaround and simplicity. The only 3 items that you need to get:
- Seeds: Sunflower, sweet pea, black pea, black bean and peanut are good to start for beginners
- Growth medium: For a clean no mess solution, use mats. Otherwise, generally, the guideline is a growth medium or mix that is light, loose and with moderate water holding capacity. There is no consensus on what best – soil, hemp mat, peat-based mix (think cocopeat and peat moss), try with what is available and works best for you.
- Growth tray: Any kind of containers with a good amount of surface area will work. Recycle your takeout containers or utilise your idle Tupperware.
And yes, you do not need to worry over what kind of fertilizer to get. Microgreens are self-sufficient from the nutrients store in the seeds. For a quick insightful overview of the growing process, watch Beginners Guide to Growing Microgreens.
2. Pre-soaking to jumpstart the seeds
Certain varieties require pre-soaking to soften its hard shell and jump-start its sprouting process. One benefit of soaking is that you help to ensure a quicker germination time and possibly a bountiful harvest. You can also separate the damaged beans so that they get an even tray of healthy microgreens.
Whether soaking is required and what is the duration of pre-soaking required depends on the seed variety. Typically, large seeds like sunflower or peas are mandatory to go through this process and require longer hours (8-12hrs) of soaking. For others like mung bean, it is good to have. Soaking doesn’t work for types of seeds though. Mucilaginous seeds like arugula and mustard will become gooey in soaking, so do not soak them at all.
3. Picking the right growth medium
Other than soil, hemp mat often quoted as is probably the best growth medium for microgreens. However, I was unable to find on any of the major eCommerce platforms. I ended up getting the only available growth mat through an eCommerce site - the thin sponge mat in the 2nd container.
The three growth media used, from left to right- cocopeat, thin sponge and a dishtowel. My short verdict- none of them is ideal. Cocopeat is too fibrous to retain moisture well and for the other 2 media, read on to find out.
4. A bad growth media can be fatal
This thin sponge growth mat has excessive water holding capacity and poor air-filled porosity. The material seems to be too stiff for the roots to penetrate and extend. Seeds that grow in this tray with this sponge growth mat experienced the highest “fatality rate” (spot the mouldy seeds).
5. Do not grow on your dish towel (if you still want to use it)
Never belittle of the tenacity of those micro roots. I was pleasantly surprised initially when my dishcloth turned out to be one of the best media that gives a lush growth. However, the bigger surprise came when I was having a hard time plucking out the baby roots off the cloth. They squeezed, twisted, turned, pierced through and populate themselves through the cloth. I got a cloth fill with popped pimples after harvesting. I decided to discard it in the end. What an expensive tray of bean sprouts.
6.Blackout Period to facilitate germination
After sowing the seeds, prime your seeds for germination by covering them with a black lid or a towel to prevent the exposure to light. The purpose here is to trick your seeds into believing that they are being buried underneath the soil and it is time to grow and penetrate to reach for the light.
7. Follow the timeline of the seed, not the rules
The blackout period needed for seeds ranges from 2-5 days, as one online resource stated. Following this information, I ended their blackout period happily at the same time even with a noticeable difference in the rate of germination between the trays – tray A has barely germinated compare to Tray B. The result 6 days after exposing them to light – tray A suffering from stunted growth due to premature exposure to light.
That said, you do want to check out your seeds between 2nd and 5th-day marks. However, do not take these as definite timelines. You still want to examine your seeds’ condition and decide accordingly.
8. No Strain, no gain
After seeing the first shoots, it is time to add some stress to your seeds. Reasons for doing it:
- The weight pushes down the seeds to remain in contact with the soil
- The seeds can stay moist through contact with the soil
- The plants grow up to be well-rooted and have stout stems as it pushes up against the weight
What a reflection of life lessons – You must stretch yourself if you want to gain new growth and become stronger.
9. Overwatering kills the seeds
It is better to be safe than sorry. To apply this mantra in growing, I intentionally over water the growth media a little bit lest the seeds fail to germinate due to the lack of water. That is what happened on the third-day post-planting – a significant number of rotten and mouldy seeds that gave off a sour smell.
I have been applying my lesson learnt so far and spray my seedlings about twice daily. That seems to be the right amount.
10. Check and water your microgreens daily
Place your microgreens tray somewhere easily visible. Your daily tending and shower of love are essential to make the microgreens flourish!