How to Grow Microgreens

Nourishing microgreens are easy to grow, plus a micro basil and arugula pesto recipe

Meet our new garden columnist! Kevin Espiritu is a self-taught urban gardener, obsessed with finding creative ways to grow plants in small spaces. His mission is to explain gardening in simple terms, so even self-proclaimed “black thumbs” can start having success growing plants. His first book, Field Guide to Urban Gardening (out next month), is a beginner’s guide to growing plants in urban spaces, complete with 20-plus garden plans for any living situation.

DIY Microgreens

If you haven’t heard of microgreens… you’re in for a treat. These plants are nutritional powerhouses, often containing around 40 times more nutrients by weight compared to their fully grown counterparts. Best of all, they can be grown anywhere, even if you’re living in a small, cramped apartment.

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But first…what are microgreens? Microgreens are normal veggies and herbs that are harvested early. Depending on the variety, you’ll harvest at the 8- to 21-day range. They’re even smaller than baby greens, which are typically grown past the 3- to 4-week range.

I’ve saved the best for last: Even black-thumbed gardeners can grow them with ease!

Microgreen Supplies

Here’s what you’ll need to grow your first tray of microgreens:

  • Seeds
  • Potting soil (the finer the better, but microgreens get most of their nutrients from the actual seed)
  • Two (2) 1020 propagation trays
  • Spray bottle

For seeds, I recommend trying out simple leafy greens like arugula, radish, lettuce mixes or kale. These are all harvested in under 10 days and produce a large amount of microgreens. You can buy single seed packets or purchase seeds in bulk from online suppliers.

Microgreens Growing Steps

1. Add the water first to make it easier to fully soak your soil. Top watering creates a soggy mess. Fill your tray with around two cups of water. Then add your potting soil, about 1/2-inch below the brim. Leaving this space makes it easier to harvest your crop without pulling up a lot of dirt along the way.

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Make sure your soil is smooth and level in your tray, then measure out about 1 to 2 ounces of microgreen seeds. As a rule of thumb, the larger the seed, the more room they take up in the tray for a single green, so the closer you will want each seed to be to each other. That usually means you’ll need to plant more of them by weight. For example, arugula can be seeded at 1 ounce per tray, whereas larger radish seeds require around 3 ounces per tray.

2. Sprinkle your seeds directly on the surface of the soil.

microgreens how to DIY epic gardening

3. Give them a light misting with your spray bottle.

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4. Take your other 1020 propagation tray and flip it upside down on top of the first tray. This tray acts as a “blackout dome” that will simulate burying your seeds below the surface of the soil.

At this point, the hard work is done. It’s time to let your seeds germinate. Most varieties take 2 to 4 days to germinate. Every day during the “blackout” phase, take the top tray off and check on your seeds. You’ll want to look for a few things:

  • Is there enough moisture? If not, make sure to water your trays well with a watering can.
  • Is there any mold or fungus on the surface? If so, remove the blackout dome early to try to lower humidity.
  • Are your seeds beginning to germinate? If so, it’s nearly time to give them some sun.

5. After five days, your seeds will have germinated and begun reaching for the light…only there is no light! It’s time to remove the blackout dome and expose them to the sun. They’ll be yellow and a bit spindly looking, which is completely normal. They haven’t been able to photosynthesize yet. In a day or two of sun exposure they’ll green up and start growing.


6. At this point, it’s up to you when you want to harvest your crop. The cotyledons, or seed leaves, are the first set of leaves to sprout. After that, the first set of “true” leaves appear. This is a fantastic time to harvest, as the microgreens are still young and nutrient-dense. Any longer and you’re crossing over into the baby-green territory.

When harvesting, use a sharp, sterile cutting instrument and cut about 1/2-inch above the surface of the soil. Take care not to pull up any dirt or seed hulls—this makes cleaning your microgreens a pain. Washing microgreens can be done, but it’s unnecessary if you’ve harvested in a clean fashion. Washing typically reduces the shelf life of refrigerated microgreens by about 25 percent, so avoid it if you can.

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Photography by Angelica LaVallee

Experiment growing different varieties for salads, smoothies and more! 

microgreensHow to Use Microgreens

Packed with vitamins and minerals, microgreens are incredibly versatile. Here’s some ideas!

  • Throw a handful into your morning green smoothie
  • Garnish soups and pizzas
  • Whip up a quick-and-easy microgreen salad
  • Make an easy and nutritious pesto

Impressed by the nutritional value of these tiny little greens, we wondered what else you might be able to make with them. Kevin likes pesto and shared his favorite recipe for a micro basil and arugula pesto with us below.

Micro Basil and Arugula Pesto

2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup Parmesan
1 cup basil greens
1 cup arugula greens
2 Tbsp. pine nuts
Salt to taste
1/2 cup olive oil

Blend garlic first. Add cheese, microgreens, nuts and salt. Then add oil.

Watch Kevin on KUSI’s Good Morning San Diego, showing us how to start some microgreen seeds.

Categories: Garden Guide, Gardening