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Microgreens look and sound like they belong on plates at a gourmet restaurant. But the truth is that these healthy greens aren’t just for commercial growers.
They’re an accessible way for any home gardener to grownutritious food at home, and there has been a grassroots movement (pun intended) to spread the word about them.
Microgreen Growing Trays: What To Know
This article will break down everything you need to know about using growing trays for growing microgreens at home, including the plants’ benefits, microgreen setup, growing tips, and ways you can address potential challenges.
What Are Microgreens?
First thing’s first: what are these adorable little leaves that are going all over your food? Microgreens, also called micro herbs or even the jazzy “vegetable confetti,” are baby plants whose leaves can be removed and added to a meal for flavor, nutrition, and aromatic purposes.
Unlike other plants, which are often raised through outdoor growing, microgreens can be grown inside.
Microgreens are plants that are the growth cycle equivalent of toddler-age: too big to be a sprout but too small to be a “baby green.” In practical terms, this means that they’re one-to-three inches tall.
What’s more, microgreens don’t come from just any plants. They’re the plants whose mature forms are staples of cooking: microgreens can be harvested from onions, carrots, broccoli, chard, beet, dill, lettuce, and more!
The upshot for cooking purposes is that despite their size, microgreens pack a flavorful, aromatic punch. This is not to mention nutrition that’s sometimes healthier than the plants themselves, making it a great option to grow your own microgreens at home. And it’s easy enough that it isn’t just for professional microgreen growers.
What Are the Different Types of Microgreens?
The various types of microgreens are nearly as endless as the types of vegetables you might think of. Online stores like True Leaf Market organize their microgreen seeds into various categories if you aren’t sure where to start.
Each set of seeds is designated with a marker to show which seeds are organic, which are considered heirloom seeds, those that are AAS winners, and those that are staff favorites. Of course, if you are just getting started, that doesn’t help much.
Fortunately, True Leaf Market makes it simple to sort for other attributes, such as how difficult it is to grow the microgreens and how long it takes to harvest the crop. Some microgreens will harvest in 7 to 14 days, while others may take as many as 30 days to harvest.
If you listen to many nutritionists, you will hear sayings like “eat the rainbow,” indicating that vegetables and leafy greens that grow in varying colors offer varying nutritional value. At a store such as True Leaf Market, you can even sort microgreens by the color that they grow in, ensuring you grow a diverse array of microgreens.
So what is the best microgreen? Popular microgreens include the following:
- Small-seeded sunflower microgreens
- Cabbage microgreens
- Swiss chard microgreens
- Mixed lettuce microgreens
- Purple radish microgreens
- Mustard microgreens
- Brussels Sprouts microgreens
- Pea microgreens
How Do You Grow Microgreens in Trays?
To grow microgreens in trays, you will fill a bottom tray with water and place the planting trays into the bottom tray. The bottom watering tray obviously shouldn’t have any drainage holes, while the top planting trays will have drainage holes that allow water to reach the root system.
Once the soil has absorbed water in the lower tray, you can remove the top tray with holes and place it in an area with proper lighting. Watering your microgreen growing trays through absorption into the roots will help you avoid overhead watering.
This practice leaves your tender microgreens dry but sends the water directly to where it is most needed: the root system.
Some people use soil or a similar growing medium to grow their microgreens, while other people opt to grow hydroponically. The first step is to recognize the difference so that you don’t buy the wrong kit.
Once you decide which method is right for you, we recommend that you start with a microgreens growing kit with all of the equipment and seeds you need and all the necessary instructions.
Microgreen Growing Tray Materials
Although they seem to belong in the world of high fashion, you can grow microgreens from the comfort of your home. In terms of materials, you’ll need a shallow tray, a growing medium (this can be soil, but it doesn’t have to be), and the seeds themselves.
When it comes to the best microgreens trays, you have some options, including specially designed planting trays or upcycled ones. We’ll get into more details about planting trays in the next section.
There’s also a smorgasbord of options for growing media. The most straightforward is to use potting soil, which is available online or at your nearest soil emporium. However, you could also try out an alternative growing medium, which we’ll discuss later.
Finally, you need seeds! Beginner microgreen growers should try out whatever seeds seem appealing, but it’s always good to pick the seed of a plant you enjoy.
What Kind of Tray Do You Use For Microgreens?
Besides being your microgreens’ main aesthetic statement, a growing tray is also their house, so you’ll need to pick out something right. Thankfully, there are plenty of factors to help you determine the best microgreens trays for you.
The easiest is to use a specially designed microgreen planting tray optimized for plant growth. However, for the thrifty microgreen aficionado, it’s also possible to start out using food-grade plastic takeout containers to stretch out the value of your General Tso’s Chicken order.
You might also want a microgreen tray with drainage holes to let excess water seep out. Aside from those elements, here are some factors to remember when looking for a good microgreens tray.
Getting quality material is essential if you want to grow microgreens. Now, microgreens are sturdy little things and can grow in all kinds of containers, but you should also think about longevity.
Flimsy trays made of lower-quality material can work, but they won’t be able to go through too much wear-and-tear and aren’t the best for outdoor growing. On the other hand, an ultra-durable tray can last you for several microgreen cycles, making them the best trays for consistently growing microgreens at home.
In any case, be sure to pick out a tray made of food-grade materials and made of BPA-free plastic, as this will ensure your greens are safe to eat.
Shallow Trays vs. Deep Trays
Certain crops do better in a deeper tray with holes. The deeper trays allow time for roots to mature and take hold as the microgreens grow. Microgreen crops such as pea shoots, sunflowers, and wheatgrass all do better in the deeper tray (around 2.5” inches deep).
Nearly all other microgreen crops do well in shallow trays. A shallow tray will reduce waste associated with the planting trays, and most microgreens do not need substantial root systems or significant depth.
For this reason, shallow microgreen trays generally work best, and while many microgreens will still grow well in very shallow trays, a moderate depth is likely best. Shallow trays work well for most lettuce varieties, but for taller plants like sunflowers, a deeper planting tray is best.
Tray size is also necessary to consider, as it determines how many seeds you can foster at once.
Here, you’ll have to make a decision. You may only need a five-by-five-inch tray if you want a small supply of microgreens for typical use. However, if you’re looking to use them all the time or make the first step in establishing a microgreen empire, you can also get a tray with larger dimensions.
You can also find compartmentalized trays that will allow you to grow a variety of microgreens side-by-side with larger microgreen trays.
The next concern to think about is cost, which depends on your commitment to microgreen growing. Small microgreen trays are great if you’re looking to dabble and add a little razzle-dazzle to a dish.
But if you want to devote more time, energy, and money to growing microgreens at home, you can do so by finding the best trays possible. You might invest in durable trays for growing microgreens. If a tray is made with luxury materials or is excessively big, it may be more expensive.
Also, keep in mind that you will likely need multiple tray sets for the various growth stages to keep your microgreens in the harvest. Leading industry providers like the Bootstrap Farmer recommend that you grow in four phases, so you may consider starting this process with Bootstrap Farmer trays, which come in a kit.
We also recommend that you consider high-quality BPA-free reusable trays, such as those sold by the Bootstrap Farmer. Most of these trays are leach-resistant and avoid any toxins.
Proper drainage holes and the other tips listed in this article will help protect the plant itself, but taking the extra step to find BPA-free trays makes sense when growing your food in that planting tray.
Do Microgreen Trays Need Holes?
One of the big questions in setting up a microgreen tray is determining whether you need bottom holes in the tray. Why get holes, you ask? It is commonplace when raising plants to insert holes in the bottom of trays or other receptacles, as these require excess water to drain out so that the plant doesn’t drown.
However, most microgreens grow in moist soil, not soaking wet soil, meaning there won’t be any runoff water that needs to drain out. While it might be counter-intuitive, the tray with holes is most commonly used to set the microgreen growing trays into a second tray that has water so that the water can seep into the primary tray and feed the root system.
Some water may then drain away from the soil, yes, but utilizing this methodology, the drainage holes are as much about allowing water into the heavy-duty trays as it is about allowing water to run out of the tray.
If you’re planning on using bottom watering, a form of hydroponic growing that uses two trays, as opposed to the overhead watering, which uses just one tray, you definitely need microgreen trays with drainage holes.
What Soil Should I Use For Microgreens?
As we suggested above, you have a few options when it comes to a plant base for your microgreens. The most traditional is soil, but there are other options available to you.
Potting Soil Mixes
Soil mixes are the most convenient option for raising microgreens, and they’re a perfectly healthy option for nourishing the plants.
When selecting soil, go for one that is 80% organic material and 20% perlite; perlite is a volcanic glass that’s added to soil to increase aeration and improve irrigation. If you’re particular about your soil, review the ingredients list before you buy, and be on the lookout for ingredients like peat moss, coconut coir, and sterilized compost.
Chemically, a good soil mix should be pH balanced (that is, its pH should be around 7) and that have fully organic fertilizer; a microgreen needs help to grow, after all. Ultimately, you’re looking for soil that is safe for organic growing, has solid water retention, and can form small air pockets in the soil. Light soil will allow the microgreens’ tiny roots to thrive.
Make Your Own Soil Mix for Microgreen Growing Trays
If you want to be involved in every step of the microgreen growing process, you also can make a soil mix that’s the same quality as store-bought stuff! You can combine peat moss and coconut coir as a base, use limestone for pH balance, organic fertilizers like compost or fish emulsion, and perlite.
Are Microgreen Growing Trays Reusable?
Since the entire vibe of microgreens is crunchy and organic, it only makes sense that you want to reuse your growing trays.
Thankfully, if you have a sturdy, high-quality growing tray, it should be fine to reuse. You need to clean out the old microgreen roots and start again.
If you used coconut coir growing mats, you could also reuse them, but be sure to remove the old roots and dry out the mats before growing microgreens in them again.
How Do You Prevent Mold from Growing on Microgreens?
It’s all too common for plants to befall the unfortunate fate of mold growth. Besides damaging plants, mold can also make microgreens unsafe to eat, defeating the entire purpose of growing them. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to identify and prevent mold on your microgreens.
If you see fuzzy hairs at the base of a microgreen root, don’t despair! Most likely, this is not mold but clusters of root hairs—thin cilia that grow out of plant roots to increase the area from which they can draw moisture.
Mold will be different. It will grow directly on the seed hull, the stem, or the leaves; it will be slimy; it will not come off if you rinse the plant with water; it might look like a dark-colored spot on the plant’s leaves. In some cases, it will give off an unpleasant smell.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways to discourage mold in a microgreen tray so that you don’t waste soil or seeds.
First, you’ll want to make sure you start right. If your space is mold-prone, consider a bottom watering method. Also, make sure to wash your microgreen seeds before planting, spread them out sufficiently, and disinfect your microgreen trays before you start planting.
Then, you’ll want to make sure that you’re using a clean, good-quality medium; a dirty medium with lingering substances can make mold thrive.
Next, give the seeds the kind of environment they need. Ensure they get eight-to-ten hours of light and grow in a space with controlled moisture, neither too dry to live nor too damp to encourage mold.
How Do I Clean My Microgreen Growing Trays?
Experienced microgreens growers utilize reusable microgreen trays. With this in mind, it is important to know how to clean microgreen growing trays.
Let’s start with the obvious. Remove any soil, roots, and leftover matter from your last harvest. All of this matter works great in the compost if you have one.
Once any debris has been cleared, was the trays with soapy water, or consider running them through the dishwasher.
While many microgreens trays are made super durable, plastic doesn’t do well when heated to high temperatures, so ensure that you turn off the heated dry function on your dishwasher.
Lastly, rinse them off and let them dry! They will soon be ready for normal use.
Where To Buy The Best Microgreen Trays
You first need to decide how many trays you might need, but trays often come in bundles. If you plan to grow for the market, you will ideally have at least four sets of trays. Why exactly? You will have one tray germinating, one tray growing, one ready to harvest, and one waiting to be cleaned up.
You can find microgreen trays on Amazon, but Bootstrap Farmer trays are very popular. True Leaf Market is another place to pick up great trays. They sell heavy-duty trays, and naturally, the kits have a tray with holes to grow in and trays without holes for bottom watering and stacking.
A store such as True Leaf Market has seeds starting as low as $5, so getting a microgreen garden started is very affordable. We recommend that you look for BPA-free plastic planting trays.
Alternative Indoor Gardening
Growing microgreens can be fun and is a great way to add nutrition to your daily diet. Still, you can only make so many meals from growing microgreens at home. Microgreen trays work great for growing a topping or supplement to whatever you are already making, but not many people are eating a bowl of microgreens three times per day.
If you are interested in truly raising your game, a new breed of indoor hydroponic gardens works great for growing your own fruits and vegetables at home. Systems such as AeroGarden and Click & Grow may be the most popular, but there are other options as well.
While AeroGarden and Click & Grow make multiple-size indoor hydroponic systems, they are most widely known for their space-saving countertop units and work particularly well for indoor herb gardens.
Indoor Gardening In Small Footprint
The Lettuce Grow system is another popular solution, and it is designed for plants to be spaced vertically along an art-shaped column. This enables the user to plant more fruits and vegetables inside a still-small footprint.
Lastly, the Gardyn system sits somewhere between AeroGarden and Lettuce Grow in form. The Gardyn system isn’t artfully designed like the Lettuce Grow, but it does facilitate vertical growing inside a small footprint.
While this may deter some, the Gardyn also features small cameras that facilitate AI monitoring of your plants’ health. This is then followed up with helpful advice.
Microgreen trays are a great way to add homegrown nutrition and flavor to your diet. Regardless of whether you are interested in an indoor hydroponic garden, we recommend that you grow microgreens because the two concepts complement each other.
Another way of looking at it is that an indoor hydroponic garden doesn’t replace your microgreen planting tray; rather, it supplements it. Still, it is hard to beat the dense nutrition packed into microgreens.
Final Thoughts on Microgreen Growing Trays
Microgreen growing trays are an excellent way to foster delicious, nutritious herbs from the comfort of your home. We’ve covered just about everything you need to know in advance, but the best thing you can do is just start growingmicrogreens.
So what are you waiting for? Get to it! The best microgreen trays are the ones you will use!
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