Microgreens: Potent Morsels
by Mary Jasch
Every weekend Jenny and Greg Van Groun and daughter Courtney Van De Moere set up racks of baby vegetables for sale – super food, really, exploding with flavor and nutrients – at three New Jersey farm markets. The veggies are microgreens, grown in their greenhouse at Hope Cress Farms, Blairstown, NJ.
Research shows that microgreens contain up to 40% more nutrients than their mature counterparts and range from herbs to root and cruciferous veggies, greens and even corn and sunflowers. They are delicious on everything – just ask Greg, who can’t wait to grow them full-time.
Greg, who currently provides tech support for greenhouse software, spends early mornings and evenings caring for the small but mighty veggies. It was his boss who convinced him to try growing microgreens. "I wanted to do something on my own and wanted to try something different. It's been a fun trip." And farming is nothing new to Jenny, no matter the scale, having grown up on a dairy farm where her family raised their own meat and vegetables. She has also worked in a greenhouse and florist. "This is just an extension," she says.
Just as the nutrients of a mature plant are concentrated in a tiny microgreen seedling, so is the flavor. Greg’s favorite is the Spicy Mix (a blend of arugula, mustards and Asian greens) on sandwiches and, well, just about everything. He loves watching people try their first taste, such as the producer of one market who tried radish and exclaimed “Wow!” with a look on his face reminiscent of Phil Rosenthal on Somebody Feed Phil.
For grow-it-yourselfers, microgreens are easily grown in shallow trays of soil. While some seed companies sell organic seed, it is best to buy food-grade seed from a specialty company because you are practically eating the seeds, says Renee Shepherd of Renee’s Garden Seeds. High Mowing Organic Seeds in Vermont sells organic seed especially for microgreens (and other products) for home and commercial growers.
High Mowing sells only organic seed, no so need to worry, says Paul Betz, sales manager. Seed coatings can have a lot of issues that have to do with the seed casing that sheds as the seed grows. "Everything we sell is certified organic. Having organic seed is part of our microgreen program. Because you're eating a young plant as opposed to long term plants, any product you use will most likely be on the plant.”
Tips for Home-growers from Paul Betz at High Mowing
Microgreens take usually 10-14 days from sowing to harvest.
SOIL: You can use a compost-based mix with peat or coir, or a light potting mix with vermiculite. If using peat, moisten the peat first before sowing. Keep the soil moist but not wet.
COMPOSTING: You can run into problems with composting. Eliminate soil-borne disease by using fresh soil every time you sow seeds.
CONTAINERS: Use a shallow tray like a baking sheet. Drill holes for drainage and plant above the lip. Using a shallower tray extends the value of the potting mix.
NUTRITION: You don't need a lot. Don’t use synthetic fertilizer.
PLANTING DENSITY: Seedlings need air-circulation. A dense stand can produce fungal diseases. Use a measuring spoon to learn how many seeds in a given spot is good.
SOWING: Put seeds on top of the moist soil. Put soil on top of pea and sunflower shoots. It helps to shed their hulls.
DIFFERENCES: Some veggies green up in the last few days. Blanching peas and popcorn elongate them and make them more tender.
DIG IT! Tip: Always ask you seed company for advice.