Restaurants may pay around $25 to $50 per pound for microgreens, but you can grow them in your own home year-round, with minimal effort. Several seed suppliers now offer many microgreen varieties and specialty microgreen mixes that are easy, fun and economical to grow.
Fresh, nutritious, colorful and very tasty is how I’d describe microgreens. These tiny, tender gourmet plants that are big on flavor have been popularized by chefs during the last decade in California, with the trend spreading eastward. You’ll find them at upscale restaurants and in many farmers markets across the country. Microfennel, microarugula and even microbasils delight foodies as garnishes for soups, salads and entrees, with their interesting textures, vibrant colors and intense flavors.
“Microgreens offer a big punch of flavor in a compact, almost magical size,”says chef Nathan Lyon, who will be featured in cooking segments on “Growing a Greener World,” my new show that will debut in select public television markets across the country beginning May 15. The show features eco-friendly gardening, outdoor living and a special focus on growing and using fresh, locally grown food.
“Because we eat with our eyes first, microgreens elevate a dish into something unique and decadent … not only in flavor, but in presentation as well,” adds Lyon. Some of the most attractive micros include Red Osmin basil with its bright reddish-purple leaves. Hong Vit radish boasts gorgeous red stems and green leaves. And Garnet Red Amaranth‘s bright magenta to purplish color is simply stunning.
Restaurants may pay around $25 to $50 per pound for these tiny greens, but you can grow them in your own home year-round, with minimal effort. Several seed suppliers now offer many microgreen varieties and specialty microgreen mixes that are easy, fun and economical to grow.
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These tiny vegetables are harvested at the seedling stage, when they are about 1 to 2 weeks old, when their first leaves or cotyledons have developed. These micros are smaller than “baby greens,” which are several weeks older. The next leaves that develop are known as “true leaves.” Some people wait to harvest their greens until after these leaves have developed.
Some seed companies have taken the guesswork out of selecting what to grow as a microgreen. For example, Johnny’s Selected Seeds (johnnyseeds.com) of Maine has two pages of “micro mix varieties” arranged according to fast- or slow-growing. You can harvest the fast-growing greens in 10 to 15 days, while the slow-growing greens take 16 to 25 days. Because they germinate readily and grow quickly, arugula, radish, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, mizuna and mustard are some of the easiest to grow.
According to Johnny’s, a few of the most popular micro mix greens seeds include: Garnet Red Amaranth, Red Russian kale, arugula, Bull’s Blood beet, rhubarb chard and purple radish. You can even grow herbs as microgreens. Popular choices include cark opal basil, cutting celery and Grosfruchtiger Leaf fennel. You may also want to consider cinnamon basil with its fragrant aroma, sweet-tasting Italian basil and sorrel with its lemony flavor.
Anyone can grow microgreens at home. You don’t need much space or time, making this a great choice for anyone in small spaces with a windowsill, balcony or deck. And if you get the urge to grow seeds in winter, no problem. You can grow these year-round. Simply broadcast the seeds generously onto the surface of a sterile, lightweight soil-less mix and press them in gently. Next, dust lightly with more of the mix. Water and cover with plastic. Ideally, place the trays or pots in a sunny windowsill.
After they germinate in three to four days, remove the plastic cover and give them some water. Then let the seedlings grow to the first pair of (cotyledon) leaves, or the first true leaf pair, depending on your taste. Generally, they will be about 1 to 2 inches in height in about a week or two, depending on the variety. Carefully harvest with scissors and enjoy these yummy, tiny but tasty delights.
“Crab salad, potato leek soup, tuna tartare are all good, but when you top them with a small microgreen salad, the crowd goes wild!” remarks Lyon. Seared ahi tuna on microgreens for dinner tonight, anyone? Or just eat them straight up, like I do. Either way, these greens really do tickle the taste buds and tantalize the tongue.
Joe Lamp’l, host of “GardenSMART”on PBS, is a Master Gardener and author. For more information visit www.joegardener.com.