With backyard vegetable gardens all the rage, it’s obvious growing your own food has become more than just a hobby for many.
Not only is vegetable gardening nutrition for the body and soul, you could actually benefit emotionally as well. It’s been said once or twice that microbes within soil can work in similar ways to antidepressants, making you happy. So, all in all, it’s a win!
I’ve been told over and over that the biggest drawback to a backyard garden is the space requirement. Trust me, I feel ya. I’ve got a few level spots, but my acre of a backyard could be easily compared to a bunny slope.
With the inability to garden traditionally, some folks have taken to mini or ‘micro’ green gardens.
What exactly is a microgreen? Microgreens describe a category of plants with edible stems and leaves, that are generally harvested anywhere between 1-4 inches tall, with the purpose of raw consumption. They differ from spouts in that we don’t eat the root.
Microgreens can be distinguished from ‘baby’ greens as they can be eaten at the seed leaf (cotyledon) stage, while baby greens will always have ‘true’ leaves. Harvest time will vary by species but generally, microgreens are ready to roll within 10 – 14 days.
Microgreens can be utilized for a variety of purposes. You can snack throughout the day as I do or use as a garnish, add to a salad or sandwich or even blended into a smoothie.
Additionally, microgreens chock full of nutrition. According to the new BACKYARD SERIES of publications available about the Tennessee vegetable garden (W 346-J), “studies have shown that when compared to mature crops, microgreens can contain higher concentrations of beneficial antioxidants and other phytonutrients.”
If you’re a foodie, microgreens can add texture or color resulting in an aesthetic addition to what might ordinarily be a visually unimpressive dish. Additionally, the distinct flavors of these micros can pack a punch.
Just as nutrients concentrate, so does the flavor. Micros carry the flavor of their resulting fruit. Whether it’s enjoying the heat from a radish microgreen or maybe it’s the subtle notes of a purple basil shining through … it’s all good!
First you must select the microgreens you want to grow. Remember to consider available light, temperature and growth requirements, in addition to the desired flavor or texture, when selecting your microgreens. There’s only one rule! It’s essential to purchase raw seeds that haven’t been chemically treated. Many suppliers now offer seeds specifically marketed for microgreen production so you’ve got a plethora of options.
Some cool-season microgreens include kale, broccoli, cabbage, beets, swiss chard, pea, lettuce, mizuna, arugula, pac choy, turnip, radish, endive, mustard, cress and carrot. A few warm-season options include amaranth, sweet corn and sunflower. Even herbs like basil, cilantro, parsley, fennel, dill, marjoram, mint and sorrel, can also be grown as microgreens. Or like my friend Charlie at CC Gardens, you can try something totally different. A ‘magenta spreen’, also known as tree spinach? Or maybe ‘tangerine lace’, a type of marigold with a yummy citrus flavor?
Commercial growers will often utilize alternative substrates, such as horticulture grade rockwool, to germinate and grow microgreens, while most homeowners prefer to use the old school ‘dirt’ method of growing.
You can use a range of containers for microgreen production, as long they’re clean before use and have bottom drainage. Many use greenhouse seedling trays while others utilized recycled plastics such as blueberry or raspberry clamshells.
A good commercial substrate is recommended, just like you would use when seeding in your tomato and pepper plants for the garden. It should be free of pathogens with good drainage and moisture retention.
Generally, a good peat mix with either vermiculite or perlite will suffice. Just be careful to not ‘overwater’ or your seedlings could damp-off due to excessive moisture.
After filling the container with your soil mix, scatter the seeds evenly across the surface. Avoid clumping or overcrowding can be an issue. Check your seed label to determine how much (if any) soil should cover the seeds to prevent them from drying out while germinating … and then water in. A light misting nozzle or spray bottle works best, to avoid shifting seeds around the tray.
Dependent on what type of container you are using, cover the seeds. After germination, remove the covering so that the new babies will be able to breathe and maintain moisture to avoid any pests or pathogens.
After your guys reach adequate maturity, grab a pair of kitchen shears and start snipping. Whether growing for flavor, nutritional content or aesthetic appeal, microgreen production is an alternative to traditional growing methods that can be a treat for you and all those who will enjoy them!
“A Home Grown Tradition” is written by Amy Dismukes. Amy is the UT/ TSU Horticulture Extension Agent for Williamson County, Tenn., and is a graduate of Auburn University, where she received a Bachelor of Liberal Arts, a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture and a Master of Agriculture in Plant Pathology & Entomology. She provides educational training for both homeowner and commercial clientele regarding issues concerning horticulture, conducts site visits throughout the county to diagnose and resolve issues with insects, plant diseases, soil and weeds, and is a frequent guest speaker for professional, garden and horticultural associations and commercial pesticide workshops/conferences. She also coordinates the Williamson County Master Gardner Program. Please email any questions or concerns to Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column includes research-based recommendations from Tennessee State University and the University of Tennessee. Extension is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity and the diversity of its workforce. Educational programs serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, sexual orientation or national origin.