My good friend, Will, has the coolest side-hustle/passion project… aquaponics. Google it. Basically, he can grow fruit, vegetables, and herbs in a completely sustainable environment that uses a water filtration system with fertilizer from fish. No soil needed. How awesome is that?
I got to see it firsthand when we went to visit Will and his beautiful family in Connecticut where he has an aquaponics system set up in his greenhouse and is expanding to include one in their barn as well.
He sells his produce—lettuce, basil, tomatoes, and herbs—at local farmer’s markets through his company, Sweetlife Farms. The most popular thing he sells? Microgreens.
I had them on everything when we visited including eggs, pizza, salad, and turkey burgers, and I can see why people love them so much. They add a hint of fresh flavor and seasoning, plus they pack in some awesome nutrients. And the best part is that these can easily be grown on your kitchen counter—details below! No need for a garden that requires a lot of maintenance (Confession: I’ve tried and failed many gardens.)
Read on for more information about these baby sprouts that pack a nutrition punch!
G: What are microgreens?
W: Microgreens are immature plants. Instead of growing a mustard plant for 7 to 9 weeks, microgreens are cultivated from the same seed in just 14 days. Seeds are packed with nutrients and have everything they need to begin growth (minus water and sun). To grow into a mature plant, they will eventually rely on nutrients from soil. But before they get to that point, they can be enjoyed as microgreens!
G: How are they grown?
W: I grow them in a complete hydroponic, closed system using 10×20 growing trays lined in a mat made of hemp. I mist them with room temperature water for a healthy soaking then cover them in the dark for 3 to 7 days for germination, checking daily to make sure they have the proper amount of water. Then I transfer the trays to the good stuff—sunshine! They are grown in 18 hours of sunlight and 6 hours of darkness. I bring the trays to the market for on-demand harvest for customers. They go into a clam shell (aka a storage container) and when refrigerated have a 10-12 day shelf life.
G: Are there any sustainability benefits to choosing microgreens?
W: Because they can be grown in such a short amount of time and thrive in a hydroponic system, they avoid the need for any fertilizers, pesticides, etc. At Sweetlife, they are grown completely using solar power so they have a net negative carbon footprint as they take carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the air as soon as they emerge!
G: What health benefits do microgreens offer?
W: The flavors that attract so many people to microgreens come from their nutrient-packed leaves. All of them are an excellent source of antioxidants, but every species also has other benefits. For example, arugula microgreens are an excellent source of calcium, magnesium, manganese, and potassium while dandelion greens can help detoxify the body.
G: Which type of microgreens are most popular?
My mustard greens (spicy and mild) are the most popular variety I sell and they are packed with vitamin A and C. They both have a wasabi kick to them, but the spicy packs a real punch! I love them on my eggs every morning, they are great on sandwiches, burgers, and blended in smoothies, but because of the wasabi taste my favorite is as a garnish on fish.
5 Steps to Grow Microgreens in Your Kitchen:
- Select a seed. For beginners, there are a bunch of varieties that are more forgiving including Red Russian Kale, broccoli, mustard, arugula, and mizuna.
- Shred some no bleach, no additive paper towels on the bottom of a Tupperware, or other water-proof container until you have a decent layer built up (1/8 inches, roughly). Use a spray mister/bottle to moisten the paper towel base. (It should not be soaking wet.)
- Spread seeds so that they densely cover the paper towels. (They should not be stacked up on top of each other, but there should not too much space in between seeds either.)
- Cover the Tupperware to achieve complete darkness or store in a kitchen cabinet for 2-4 days, using the spray bottle to lightly mist each day. They love to be kept around 70 degrees Fahrenheit during this period. (Note: If you live in a place with very dry air (like Arizona) you may want to check the moistness of the paper towel in the morning and evening and mist to achieve moistness.) After 2 to 4 days, you will see the yellow seedlings grow to be about 1 to 2 inches tall! This is a good sign as they haven’t developed their chlorophyll (which makes them turn green), but are begging for some sun!
- Move microgreens to an area of decent sunlight (kitchen counter or table is fine) and follow the same guidelines for watering. After being exposed to the sun for about 4 days, you can cut and eat the microgreens and enjoy for up to 2 weeks!