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In the past, self-grown cress from your own windowsill was a welcome addition to bread, salads and soups. Today, on the other hand, people talk about the trend towards microgreens, but ultimately mean nothing else. Numerous vegetable and herb plants offer a high yield and - much more important - an extremely high vitamin and nutrient content by harvesting shortly after germination. We'll tell you how to grow your superfood yourself and how to grow it without soil.
Small vegetables, young plants or even superfood - microgreens are given many descriptions. Overall, these are "normal" herbs or vegetables that are harvested shortly after they have sprouted. What you should not confuse this trend food with are sprouts. Contrary to the sprouts, microgreens are allowed to develop their first leaves and shoots. As a result, the nutrients from the seed are attacked by the onset of growth. However, the range of young plants is supplemented by other valuable content through the onset of photosynthesis and metabolism. Common examples of popular plant species are:
- Pak choi
- Red cabbage
- cut salads
This knowledge of what and why is essential when it comes to the correct cultivation of trendy microgreens. Although these are "full-fledged" plants, the following properties make them very suitable for cultivation without soil:
- Nutrient reserves are present in the seed, no need for supply from the growth substrate
- External moisture supply required, thus growth medium primarily as a water reservoir
- Due to the onset of growth, there is a need for holding options for the roots
- High heat requirement for germination and first sprouting
If you take a closer look at these requirements, you come to the conclusion that it will not work entirely without a growth substrate, but that cultivation can certainly succeed without soil. What is particularly important is the search for a suitable replacement medium on or in which the individual seeds and young plants can find optimal conditions. First and foremost, the media in question should offer the following:
- water storage capacity
- Water permeability to avoid waterlogging
- Fibrous or porous structure for root support
From this manageable but essential list of requirements, there is a whole range of possible plant substrates that are suitable for growing microgreens as home-grown superfood:
- Clay granules, e.g. perlite
- Mineral nutrient substrate, e.g. vermiculite
- Kitchen paper (only for fast-growing varieties, e.g. cress)
Grow your own microgreens
If we are clear about the basic principles of microgreens and possible substrates for cultivation, we can start with the concrete implementation. Only a few tools are required to ensure that the attachment is easy and safe:
- Plant bowl, e.g. flat saucer, wide flower pot or similar
- Plant substrate as described
- Seeds of the selected plant species
- Spray bottle or small watering can with a very fine watering sieve
- scissors (for harvesting)
If everything is ready, only a few steps are necessary before the journey from seed to consumable microgreen can begin:
1. Choose location
To germinate, the seed needs warmth and moisture. Once the sprouts are growing, light comes on as the basis for photosynthesis. Suitable locations are therefore, for example:
- Window sill over radiators
- Floor areas behind French doors (especially with underfloor heating)
- In summer: south-facing locations near windows, then without heating
The placement at the window has the additional advantage that the plant bowls always catch the eye and so the control of the optimal humidity is not forgotten.
notice: Actually, it would be possible to first concentrate on a warm location and only take the brightness into account after germination. For the sake of simplicity, however, we are looking for a location right from the start that takes both into account. This means that there is no need to move the planting bowl and the focus of care can remain on the right moisture.
Once the location has been determined, the planting bowl can be placed. Wide, flat containers that offer the largest possible cultivation area are optimal. A high substrate thickness is not required due to the very early harvest, since the roots penetrate only a little from the surface into the depths of the substrate during the short growth period. Water drainage holes and a saucer are also unnecessary, since watering or keeping moist should be done at short intervals with little watering.
- Spread the substrate flat in the planting bowl and press down lightly
- Loosen and crumble pressed substrates, such as coconut fibres, beforehand
- Provide two to three layers of very thin pads such as kitchen paper
- moisten the substrate
- Scatter seeds evenly over the substrate and press lightly
- Pour or spray the seeds lightly
notice: It is quite sufficient to lay out the seeds on the substrate. Pressing in or sprinkling with substrate is not necessary. In this way, the seeds receive sufficient air and warmth right from the start, while the roots find their way into the substrate after germination anyway.
Once the seed has been sown, the care of the microgreens is essentially limited to keeping the seeds and plants moist at all times:
- Water the substrate regularly from above
- Avoid waterlogging (because of mold and seeds floating away)
- Ideal: spray with a fine mist of water
- Avoid drying out the seed
Other care measures are usually not necessary due to the very short growth time until harvest. Above all, you can usually confidently delete the search for or protection against diseases from your care repertoire for the microgreens. Here, too, there is simply not enough time that pathogens or parasites need to spread to the plants.
notice: The actual growth time of the seedlings can vary significantly due to drought and age of the seeds, temperature and humidity, and the variety chosen. The waiting time from sowing to harvest can be from two to three days (cress) to one and a half to two weeks (beetroot). In general, it can be said that all plants that take a particularly long time to grow “normally” are among the slower candidates, even as microgreens.
Finally, the now "mature" microgreens are harvested. Since these are by definition not fully mature plants, it is of course difficult to find the right time to harvest. It should be said that the main problem lies in a late harvest. Because too early would simply mean “harvesting” the seeds yourself. As soon as the cotyledons are formed, the plants are fully usable in the sense of a healthy and nutritious diet and can therefore also be harvested.
On the other hand, if the harvest is too late, the nutrients from the seed have already been used up and the plant begins to suffer from the deficiency. A good time to harvest is therefore when the plants have formed the first pair of leaves after the cotyledons. Then the plant still has a complete supply, but also enough green matter for good usability as food. The actual harvest is then done very simply with scissors. Cut off just above the substrate, the young plants are best eaten fresh.