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Desert Gardening

The Fine Art of Growing Microgreens in Arizona

What are Microgreens?

Microgreens are immature vegetables harvested long before the plants reach maturity and develop adult leaves. Harvesting microgreens occurs between 7 to 28 days after germination, depending on the species. 

It's incredibly easy to get started with microgreens. Other than suitably sized growing containers and growth medium, the only other thing you need is a few sunny windowsills, and you will be good to go. 

Harvested microgreens typically range between one and three inches tall and possess a more intense flavor for a given volume than their mature counterparts.

Microgreens should not be confused with sprouts, which involves soaking seeds in water to get them to germinate. Although uncommon, sprouts have a higher probability of bacterial contamination than microgreens. 


Benefits of Microgreens

There are more reasons to get into microgreen growing than the space savings you will enjoy. Here are just a few of the extra benefits you will appreciate when adding microgreens to your gardening repertoire. 

High Nutrient Density

Microgreens are more nutrient-dense than their mature counterparts because all the vitamins and minerals the plant needs to reach maturity are packed into a tiny space. 

This study [1] reveals that microgreens contained up to 40 times the nutrients for the same weight in mature vegetables. Microgreens may be tiny, but pound for pound, they are a convenient solution for improving your nutrient uptake.

Good Source of Polyphenols

Polyphenols are natural chemicals that protect against the effects of harmful free radicals in the body, which are reactive compounds associated with damage to cell walls and some chronic diseases. 

Most mature vegetables contain polyphenols, and microgreens are no exception. However, some microgreens were shown to have more and a greater variety of polyphenols than mature versions. [2]

Microgreens are Packed with Flavors

If you want to add an intense burst of flavor to your salads, then microgreens are your answer. 

Microgreens pack in all the flavors of their mature counterparts, and, in many cases, they will be much more intense. 

Radish microgreens are a great example of how flavor-packed these miniature plants can be. They carry the spiciness of their full-grown versions but deliver it with a heftier punch. Radishes are not the only ones, as many varieties can provide the same flavors and with greater potency. 

They Provide Quick Access to Healthy Greens

You generally must wait a month to six weeks before you can enjoy fresh produce from your garden when you're waiting for them to mature to full size. 

However, microgreens can be harvested in as little as a few days to two weeks. You also don't need as much space to grow a lot of microgreens. Since they will never get to full size, you don't have to worry about spacing out the plants. You can pack quite a few microgreens into a small area, making them the perfect indoor crop. 

You can Grow Microgreens all Year Round

We already know that microgreens do well indoors, but this trait also means you can enjoy a steady supply of microgreens all-year-round. The Arizona summers can be brutal for outdoor plants, especially on vegetables. 

As a result, many gardeners in Arizona's hottest areas often take a break from vegetable gardening during the harshest months of the year. A crop of microgreens grown indoors means you don't have to go without fresh produce during the more challenging gardening months in Arizona.


Growing Microgreens in Arizona Climates

Understanding the prevailing climate in the area you live in is essential to creating a healthy, productive garden. Arizona has a reputation for consisting of large areas of hot, arid desert. Still, the state has a thriving agricultural industry, the third largest for fresh produce and the fourth for total acreage devoted to agriculture. [3]

The reason for Arizona's thriving agricultural industry is due to its USDA classified climate and hardiness zones. When you consider the range of different climate and hardiness zones in Arizona, you will find many areas perfectly suited to growing a wide variety of vegetables. 

For instance, the city of Flagstaff is classified as a zone 6a climate. This classification signifies a low-temperature range of -10 to -5 degrees. Therefore, Flagstaff is a much better environment for growing cool-weather plants. However, Phoenix has a hardiness classification of 9b and 10a, making it much better suited for plants that thrive in warmer climates. 

If you plan to use your outdoor spaces for growing microgreens, you will need to carefully consider your options according to the zone in which you live.

Zone 6 is excellent for growing popular microgreen crops like cucumbers, cilantro, mint, and dill. Zone 9 hardiness zones like Phoenix are perfect for microgreens of broccoli, beets, celery, and arugula. You can find your zone by entering your zip code here.

There are not many vegetable crops that cannot be grown as microgreens, but some are more suited than others. In Arizona, the favorite vegetables and herbs grown as microgreens include:

Herbs

  • Anise
  • Basil
  • Cilantro
  • Dill 
  • Fennel
  • Garlic
  • Lemon Grass
  • Mint

Vegetables

  • Amaranth
  • Arugula
  • Broccoli
  • Blood Beets
  • Dark Red Beets
  • Garden Kress
  • Golden Peas
  • Green Cabbage
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Melons
  • Mustard Greens
  • Orach
  • Pumpkin
  • Purple Radish
  • Red Cabbage
  • Red Radish
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Sorrel
  • Squash
  • Sunflower
  • Sweet Basil
  • Yellow Corn
  • Swiss Chard
  • Mustard Wasabi
  • Wheatgrass


Indoors or Outdoors - Which is Better for Microgreens

One advantage of growing microgreens outdoors as often as possible is that the young plants tend to grow thicker and stronger. Outdoor environmental factors tend to force the young plants to grow more robustly than their indoor counterparts. 

However, indoor crops provide significant advantages, including reduced loss through pests, lower risk of disease, and no weeds. When growing microgreen crops vertically, it is possible to increase yields to 20 times greater than outdoor crops. 


How to Grow Microgreens

Getting started with microgreens is one of the most straightforward gardening systems around. You will need a minimal amount of equipment which will include:

  • Seeds
  • Growing medium (soil is not required)
  • Something to cover the seeds that will block sunlight
  • Growing containers
  • Spray bottle
  • Sharp knife or scissors

If you are growing microgreens indoors, you will need to have access to a few sunny windowsills. Failing that, artificial lighting designed for agriculture will supplement the available sunlight or lack of it. 


Selecting Seeds for Microgreens

Growing microgreens is a popular endeavor, so many seed manufacturers specifically label their seeds as suitable for microgreens. However, a selection from the above list in standard seed packets will be enough to get going. Make sure whatever variety you choose is a chemical-free version. 

Take note that some microgreen varieties like squash, pumpkin, peas, and beets will require you to soak the seeds overnight before sowing. Soaking softens the hard outer shell so the sprout can break through. Check the requirements for each seed you intend to grow. 


Select Your Growing Medium

You don't need soil to grow microgreens. It's recommended that you don't use it when growing microgreens indoors because of the risk you will bring in unwelcome microorganisms. Growers can select from a variety of suitable growing mediums for microgreens, including:

  • Coir
  • Seed starting mix
  • Hemp grow mat
  • Hydroponic grow mats

Growing microgreens in a medium that is organic and sterile will give your crop the best start. 


Best Container for Microgreens

Just about anything can be used as a container to grow microgreens. Ideally, the container should:

  • Be around 1" to 2" deep.
  • Have drainage holes.
  • Be easy to clean.
  • Be food safe.
  • Be easy to cover for blackout periods.

Many microgreen gardeners recycle the small plastic fruit containers supermarkets use as packaging for berries and the like. 

You will be harvesting microgreens when they are around 1" to 3" tall, so choose containers that are not so deep that you can't easily access the bottom of the stems with scissors or a sharp knife. 


Prepare the Growing Medium

Cut the growing medium to size and place it in the tray. Take a large shallow container without holes and fill it with drinking water. Float the trays on top of the water and let the moisture soak up through the drainage holes. Once the medium is sufficiently wet, allow the containers to drain. 


Sowing and Growing Your Microgreen Seeds

Sprinkle your microgreen seeds evenly over the surface of the moist growing medium. You don't have to worry about spacing because you will be harvesting the microgreens long before they start crowding each other out. 

You can simulate an outdoor environment and encourage healthy growth by placing something hard over the top of the seeds that will block light. Try stacking trays on top of one another to put some weight on the seeds. You can remove the covering once the seeds have germinated and started growing. 

Now all that is left is to monitor your seeds to ensure they don't dry out. Carefully control the moisture levels as you don't want to promote mold growth. 

If you use a spray bottle to water the plants, ensure you have adequate air ventilation so excess moisture on the plants can evaporate. Otherwise, use a large tray to water the plants from the bottom as described above. 


Harvesting Microgreens

After a few days to a couple of weeks, your microgreens will be ready for harvesting. Use a clean, sharp knife or a pair of scissors to cut the greens close to the bottom of their stems. Microgreens don't have a long shelf life, so use them as soon as possible, making sure to rinse them thoroughly. 


Start Your Microgreen Harvest Today

Microgreen harvesting is one of the most manageable, straightforward gardening systems perfect for complete beginners to gardening veterans. Whether you don't have much space available or want to supplement your outdoor salad crops with intense flavors, growing microgreens is something everyone can try. 


References:

[1] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22812633/

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3915300/

[3] https://agriculture.az.gov/sites/default/files/AZDA_GuideToAZAg-R5.pdf

[4] https://draxe.com/nutrition/microgreens/

[5] https://www.phoenixmicrogreens.com/microgreens/grow-list/microgreen-grow-list

[6] https://puregreensaz.com/arizona-microgreens/

[7] https://agriculture.az.gov/sites/default/files/AZDA_GuideToAZAg-R5.pdf

[8] https://askinglot.com/what-climate-zone-is-phoenix

[9] https://extension.psu.edu/a-step-by-step-guide-for-growing-microgreens-at-home