Beautiful, delicious, and nutritious, microgreens are an important part of the Jessica’s at Swift House Inn culinary experience.
One late autumn day in 2022, Chef Rob asked me to grow microgreens for the kitchen of Jessica’s, where he is the executive chef and I am the co-owner. I was overjoyed at the challenge, but I didn’t know how to grow them. He handed me a couple of packets of seeds: red garnet amaranth and red-veined sorrel and wished me luck.
This is when I realized that I would have to learn how to grow microgreens if I wanted to provide garden-fresh produce for the kitchen all winter long.
Supplies for Growing Microgreens
- The right soil. I order soil from Home Microgreens, but I also combine my own formula using one part seed starter with one part high quality potting soil.
- A lighting system. I ordered the Bamboo Grow Shelves from Gardener’s Supply, which is large enough for the entire microgreen garden, which supplies a restaurant kitchen that seats 50 four nights a week.
- Grow trays. I use 10 x 20 black plastic grow trays from Johnny’s Seeds as well as the small black plastic grow trays from Home Microgreens. I like to use a combination of both big and small trays depending on the needs of the kitchen.
- A watering can.
- A spray bottle for misting.
- Post-it notes and a Sharpie for labeling and dating seedlings and harvested containers.
- A couple of large plastic bowls and strainers for harvesting and washing microgreens.
- A pair of sharp scissors for harvesting microgreens.
- A regular supply of clean containers to package the microgreens for the kitchen.
- And of course, seeds!
Research Growing Techniques Online
My favorite source by far has been Home Microgreens which offers an affordable online shop with all the supplies you need, a deep library of articles, photos, and videos to learn more techniques, and a comprehensive downloadable guide to get started. I also watched useful microgreen growing techniques on Epic Gardening, a YouTube channel that specializes in growing food. Both sources should give you an excellent start. But please read on to learn more about our personal journey.
At First We Failed
Sometimes I lost all of my seedlings to damping-off disease in which the stem would rot, grow weak, and the seedling would topple over. Other times, I planted too sparsely, making a pitiful harvest. Yet at other times, I planted too densely, making it difficult to harvest and hard for the seedlings to flourish.
But my biggest mistake of all was using coco coir to grow microgreens. The coconut husk medium lacks nutrients. Potting soil has the nutrition seed needs to grow. Although some sources may advocate using seed starter to initiate germination, I found that it doesn’t have enough nutrients to sustain the microgreens after they get past the germination stage. Seed starter is useful for drainage and moisture retention. It’s nice when combined 50-50 with good soil.
Nutrition Advantages of Microgreens
Microgreens are the seedling form of any vegetable that you would normally plant and harvest at full size. You will have a 1 -2 inch tall stem and the open cotyledon and a set of true leaves. When harvested at this tiny size, they pack a lot of nutrition and have the following health benefits:
- They contain antioxidants and phytonutrients
- They can lower blood pressure
- They can lower cholesterol and support gut health
Our Favorite Varieties of Microgreens
I like to deliver a pint-size container of microgreens to Rob each week. Sometimes, if we are flush, I can bring more varieties for him. The kitchen’s favorite microgreen is bull’s blood beet, because of their intensely vibrant burgundy color which makes dishes pop with bolts of crimson. They have a mild, beet-y flavor, and they are fairly easy to grow. Their maturity time is about two weeks. Home Microgreens has advice about how to grow them without overwatering and avoiding the dreaded hulls that remain attached to many of the seedlings.
The chef also likes a steady supply of Mighty Mix, which is a mild blend with broccoli-like cotyledon leaves and purple stems which are probably from kohlrabi and I’m guessing a red cabbage as well. We also like to grow radishes for their incredible speed and size, arugula for their zippy flavor, sunflower shoots for their sunny scent, and shiso (also known as perilla) leaves for their unexpected flavor.
Essential Techniques for Growing Microgreens
When I first started growing microgreens, I thought the “pressing down method” was optional. I was wrong. After you sow the seeds, mist them, and cover with the inverted plastic lid, you press down on them with a heavy weight, much heavier than you would think little seedlings could handle: up to two pounds. I found that the best method is to weigh the lid down with a couple of dense books.
The weight of the books presses the seedlings down. In the dark and humidity of this environment, the seedling sends its tap root down and the nascent stem unfurls north, trying to find daylight. But because it can’t under the weighted lid, its stems grow longer which will make them easier to harvest. The stems also become stronger trying to get the weight off of their heads. Sometimes, you can see the seedlings will have worked together to push the stack of books off. Usually I’m too impatient and worried about damping-off disease to get to that point, so I give them light as soon as they are germinated.
The key to success in growing microgreens is finding the right spacing when sowing the seeds, the right cadence in bottom-watering the trays, and choosing the right varieties that the chefs can use.
Good luck in learning how to grow microgreens! We hope this helps.