Get Fresh: Growing Microgreens Indoors for Year-Round Salads

Learning how to grow microgreens at home allows you to harvest fresh and nutritious greens year-round. And growing microgreens at home is so much less expensive than buying them at the store!

If you’re after winter greens, try growing lettuce indoors, too.

close up of microgreens with pink stems

Microgreens are available year-round, and can go for as much as $30 to $50 a pound! They’re a delicious addition to salads and sandwiches, but at that rate, cost-prohibitive to many. The good news? Microgreens are easy to grow at home!

Growing microgreens

Fast growing microgreens are harvested as soon as the first two or four true leaves appear.

Growing microgreens allows you to produce a lot of fresh greens for salad, stir fries, and soup in a short time. Many varieties of seeds are available, from spicy mustard and radish, to juicy sunflowers or sweet pea shoots. And in the dead of winter, there’s nothing like having a windowsill full of fresh greens.

Your windowsill salad can be ready in as little as 2-3 weeks! Most microgreens are harvested only once, by cutting the plant off at the soil’s surface. The roots remain in the pot. You can seed another crop in the same soil several times to make the most of your supplies.

radish microgreens with tiny roots on black

What’s the difference between microgreens and sprouts?

  • Microgreens are planted in a shallow layer of soil and cut off at soil level. The roots are not eaten.
  • Sprouts are not grown in soil. They are eaten in their entirety, tiny roots and seeds and all. This means that some larger seeds are often e better grown as microgreens, so the hard seed can easily be avoided.

Growing microgreens indoors

Fill a shallow tray or upcycled container with about 2″ of potting soil. Make certain that the container has drainage holes to allow excess water to escape. Scatter seeds densely over the soil. In this case, don’t worry about overcrowding the seeds – the wee sprouts don’t mind being crowded. You want the seeds to be in a pretty solid single layer on top of the soil.

Cover seeds with a thin layer of potting soil. Water thoroughly and close the plastic lid, if your container has one. This helps to retain moisture until the seeds sprout.

hands holding a tray of microgreens, with others in background

Microgreens growing trays

These tiny plants don’t require much in the way of soil. You’ll need shallow trays in which to grow them. These can be trays specifically made for growing microgreens, but if you’re working to reduce your use of plastic, you can upcycle a variety of containers for this purpose.

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  • Salad containers
  • Mushroom containers
  • Milk cartons and jugs
  • Takeout meal containers

Even if you don’t generate a lot of these types of containers, I bet you know someone who does. If you’re upcycling containers, be sure to add drainage holes if necessary.

trays of microgreens with a yellow spray bottle

Lights and water

Use a full spectrum grow light, if necessary, to allow for fast growing microgreens and adequate growth. The light should be placed four inches above the top of the leaves.

  • Keep the soil moist. Microgreens are shallowly rooted and require more frequent watering than plants like lettuce, which roots more deeply. If the soil surface is dry you’ll need to water.
  • Mist the soil surface and the emerging plants if you live in an area with low humidity. Microgreens grow quickly, and need higher humidity than seedlings.

When to harvest microgreens

When the fast growing microgreen seeds germinate and the plant emerges from the soil, the seed leaves (cotyledon) unfurl first. A few days to a week later, the first true leaves emerge.

Once the first set of two or four true leaves are fully open the microgreens are ready to harvest. Harvest when they’re about 1½ to 2 inches tall. Sunflower microgreens or pea microgreens may be little taller at 3-4″ high at harvest time.

hand with scissors harvesting microgreens

How to harvest microgreens

To harvest microgreens, cut them off at the soil surface with scissors. You’ll only get one harvest out of each tray of most of these greens. When you’ve clipped they entire tray, you can replant seeds in the same tray. you can use the same soil 3-4 times; after that transfer the roots and soil to your compost pile.

Related: Sprouting Lentils for Protein-Packed Sandwiches, Salads, and Wraps

5 slices of bread topped with cucumbers, greens, and avocado

How to eat microgreens

Wash the greens under cold water and drain well. You can use them on sandwiches as you would sprouts to add color and crunch, add them to smoothies for extra nutrition, or sprinkle them on stir fries or soup, just before serving.

The flavor and texture of microgreens varies. Radish microgreens can be a bit spicy; larger microgreens like sunflowers or pea shoots work well in salads and stir fry dishes. Smaller microgreens like kale, amaranth, chard, and pac choi, work better as an addition to sandwiches or wraps, as you would use sprouts. Use them as a garnish. Sprinkle them on hummus or spinach dip. There are so many ways to use them.

Avoid using larger beans, like kidney beans, as microgreens. The leaves of some beans are toxic and shouldn’t be eaten.

microgreens growing in a container

A perpetual harvest at home

To make sure that you have an ongoing harvest, plant out a new tray of seeds every five days or so. This method of succession harvesting means that as you harvest one tray, another should be ready to clip. 

When one tray is harvested, replant it with a new batch of microgreens.

You will need to replenish the soil with fresh, sterilized potting soil after 2 or 3 rounds of microgreens. This will keep the fungus that causes damping off disease from getting the upper hand.

buckwheat seeds in a right hand

Related: How to Grow Your Own Organic Broccoli Sprouts

Where to find seeds for growing microgreens

Microgreens are becoming more common in seed catalogs. The seeds sold as microgreens are generally inexpensive, open pollinated varieties of regular vegetables or herbs, sold in larger packages and labeled as microgreens. Only a few varieties, such as Abundance Kale and Roji Leaf Radish, are selected specifically for fast growing microgreen production.

Check your favorite seed company for their selection of microgreens, but feel free to also browse through their regular vegetable selections. Choose organic seed rather than conventionally grown seed for growing microgreens to keep your family safe from pesticide and herbicide residues.

True Leaf Market carries an excellent selection of seeds for growing both microgreens and sprouts.

Some seed suppliers sell seed mixtures – a combination of seed varieties – in a single package. If you are brand new to growing microgreens indoors, this option gives you a variety of flavors and textures in one planting. The seeds in these packages mature at the same time, so they can be harvested together. The seed catalog will give you the “days to maturity”, usually 14 or 21 days.

If you have a lot of older seed packages that you plan to replace with fresh seed this year, consider using them. Since microgreens are planted densely, a lower germination rate is acceptable.

Lettuce is not generally used as a microgreen because of the highly perishable nature of lettuce. 

pea shoots up close
 

The best microgreens to grow

  • Abundance Kale
  • Amaranth
  • Arugula
  • Basil
  • Broccoli
  • Buckwheat
  • Bulls Blood Beets
  • Cabbage
  • Carrot
  • Celery
  • Chives
  • Cilantro
  • Collards
  • Cress
  • Dill
  • Dwarf grey sugar peas
  • Fennel
  • Fenugreek
  • Kohlrabi
  • Komatsuna
  • Lemon grass
  • Magenta Sunset Swiss Chard
  • Mizuna
  • Nasturtium
  • Onion
  • Orach
  • Pac choi
  • Purslane
  • Roji Leaf Radish
  • Russian Kale
  • Shiso (Red perilla)
  • Shungiku
  • Sorrel
  • Spinach
  • Sunflower [how to grow]
  • Parsley
  • Popcorn [how to grow]
  • Spinach

Avoid using larger beans, like kidney beans, as microgreens. The leaves of some beans are toxic and shouldn’t be eaten.

hands holding a tray of microgreens, with others in background

How to Grow Microgreens

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Maintenance Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes
Difficulty: Easy
Estimated Cost: $5

Growing microgreens at home is a cost-efficient way to put fresh food on the table year round. This method is perfect for apartment dwellers.

Materials

  • Seeds
  • Potting soil
  • Shallow trays or upcycled containers

Tools

Instructions

  1. Fill a shallow container with good potting soil to ½ inch from the top. Use trays specifically made for growing microgreens, or upcycle takeout containers. Just be sure that the container you use has sufficient drainage.
  2. Sprinkle seeds for microgreens densely on the soil surface. Cover loosely with a light layer of additional soil.
  3. Use your hands to press the soil down firmly over the seeds.
  4. Water the seeds in thoroughly.
  5. Place the container on a tray to catch excess moisture and set in a spot where the tray will receive plenty of light. Without strong light microgreens will grow spindly and leggy.
  6. Water gently when soil begins to dry out.

Notes

Microgreens can be grown in a sunny window if you live where there is adequate sunlight year round. If you live north of the 40th parallel, you’ll need supplemental light in the winter months to grow microgreens.

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Originally published February, 2016 and contributed by Chris Dalziel; this post has been completely updated and edited for clarity.

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About the author: Kris Bordessa is an award-winning National Geographic author and a certified Master Food Preserver. If you want to send Kris a quick message, you can get in touch here.

17 comments… add one
  • Taylor Aug 17, 2020 @ 17:14

    Fresh microgreens are wonderful in salads, on sandwiches and wraps, and sautéed into hash or stir fry. You can choose whatever greens you enjoy the most—from kale to arugula to radishes—to create your own perfect microgreen mix.

  • Sarah Jan 23, 2020 @ 4:51

    I’m just about to get started with microgreens. Thanks for this informative & interesting read! Very inspiring.

  • Greg Garnache Dec 30, 2019 @ 2:43

    Hi Kris:
    My wife and I have discussed growing micro greens. Your article answered all of my questions. We are now ready to get started.
    Thanks,
    Greg G.

  • sophia Aug 20, 2019 @ 0:31

    Hello Kris, Thank you for this very informative blog. Lucid and thorough, without useless chatter.
    I am pregnant now and should read a lot about healthy food and lifestyle.
    Microgreens have been proven to be some of the best food for women during their pregnancy (alongside kale), especially during their second and third trimester. So, i decided to start growing it. But what do you think about automatic sprouter machine? Have you ever tried it?

    • Kris Bordessa Aug 23, 2019 @ 14:35

      I haven’t tried a sprouter machine, sorry!

  • Sarah Jan 22, 2018 @ 11:48

    Hello! I have a question regarding light. Do you put light on the seeds right away, or keep them in the dark until they sprout? And then once the leaves do appear!do you keep the lights on 24/7? Thank you for the help!

  • Lisa Oct 23, 2017 @ 10:52

    I composted my delicata & butternut squash seeds in my garden. I dump all my compost directly in the garden by pulling back my woodchips, dump compost and cover it back up with the chips. I had the most beautiful micro-greens you’ve ever seen. I know they were delicata because that’s was the pile I dumped the compost with the seeds. The same with my butternut. My question is, they are good to eat, right?

  • Julia Jun 17, 2017 @ 7:43

    Wonderfully. I followed you and did that, thank you so much.

  • Laura Mar 4, 2017 @ 9:26

    Thanks Chris for useful information. Keep up with your good work.

  • Jean Feb 26, 2017 @ 10:40

    Can you tell me about how many hours a day I need to have light on the microgreens? I have seed starting shelves already set up. Thank you.

  • Lucy Jan 31, 2017 @ 1:06

    I’m a new reader of your site. Awesome article by the way, I shared your article with my followers 🙂

  • Emmajean Dec 28, 2016 @ 11:46

    I am glad my husband sent me your sight I would love to learn more… I love a homeopathic approach to healing and eating heathy… I will study your page thank you.

  • Scott Sep 15, 2016 @ 7:48

    are the roots not good for you??

  • Jennifer Jun 9, 2016 @ 7:35

    Great article. Very thorough and easy to comprehend. Thank you for such complete instructions; I feel brave enough to try growing microgreens!

  • Audre May 24, 2016 @ 12:58

    found you by accedent — I tried to grow lettuce over the winter and now know what I had wrong — Thank you

  • carol Mar 4, 2016 @ 10:26

    Im not successful at growing most greens and vegetables because of where we live. I do want to try this though. Would they be yummy in my stir frys? I kind of stick to the things I know I can grow and I’ve just discovered how easy it is to propagate grapevines and my other plants. Have at least 15 new grapevines to share. I am excited to try this, because we try to eat vegetarian with some chicken and fish.

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