What is a microgreen?

These are vegetable seedlings that are grown and then harvested when they are small and leafy. The seed itself is not eaten. They are harvested later than sprouts but earlier than baby greens. The vegetable seedlings that are regularly grown as microgreens include Basil Sweet Genovese, Beetroot Ruby Queen, Cress Moss Curled, Radish Rambo, Pea Fiji Feathers, Rocket , Cabbage rubies, Rocket emeralds, Mizuna red gems and more.

They are sold in seed packets, conveniently labelled as Microgreens in garden centres. In reality you can grown any vegetable seedling as a microgreen by harvesting them at this stage of development.

A microgreen can range in size from 2.5cm to 7.5cm including the stem and leaves. This usually includes a central stem, fully developed cotyledon leaves (baby leaves) and one pair of small true leaves.

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At this point they should be harvested with scissors just above the soil.

Microgreen nutrition
Microgreens look great, add texture and provide a flavour boost but these are only part of the reason that the home gardener should consider growing and eating them.

"All of these nutrients are extremely important for skin, eyes and fighting cancer and have all sorts of benefits associated with them," says researcher Gene Lester, PhD, of the USDA. Lester said he was surprised to find microgreens were superior in nutritional value than the mature plants.

"To find that the levels were not only detectable but in some cases four to six times more concentrated than in the leaves of a mature plant, I find that quite astonishing."

How to grow
Growing microgreens from seed is relatively straight forward. Simply select your seed, fill a tray with seed raising mix, ensure it is spread out evenly and firmly. Sprinkle the seeds across the mix and then cover with a thin layer of seed raising mix as per depth indicated on the seed packet - this may vary depending on the variety.

Water the mix thoroughly and then place the tray in a warm dark place, or cover with news paper in a warm place. Check your seedlings regularly. As they are germinating, remove the newspaper and shift the tray to a light, warm area. Water as necessary and in 10 to 14 days from germination you should be harvesting your own microgreens.

For ease of harvesting, microgreens are best sown in seedling trays, ensuring that the seed raising mix fills the tray nearly to the brim. It is far easier to trim your harvest off just above soil level, than if they are sown in pots that are only part filled with mix.

After harvesting your microgreens, they unfortunately do not re-grow. The tray filled with seed raising mix along with the base and roots of the microgreen should be emptied into the compost bin.

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Microgreens being so quick to grow from sowing to harvest are great for kids gardening, a neat project for the classroom or the school holidays. They grow well indoors as long as they are given good light so make a good vegetable for growing and harvesting during winter months.

Four easy to grow varieties from Mr Fothergills are;

Flavours of the Orient; blend of mustard ruby streaks, garland chrysanthemum and coriander.

Flavours of Eastern Europe; blend of pink kale, red cabbage and peas.

Flavours of Western Europe; blend of cress, amaranth red garnet and peas.

Flavours of the Mediterranean; blend of Italian mixed basil varieties, rocket and sunflowers.

Free gardening workshop
This Saturday 14 July at 2pm is a free Hellebore - 'Winter Roses' talk at Springvale Garden Centre. Come and learn how easy these plants are to grow. See a fashion parade of the impressive range of new varieties. There will be a good discount off the hellebores as well as a couple of other products, presented by Brydie Hamblyn.

Gareth Carter is general manager of Springvale

Garden Centre.