Can You Grow Microgreens Hydroponically? (5 Key Things To Know)


Microgreens are extremely nutritious, tasty, and one of the easiest and fastest plants to grow hydroponically. They look great growing in your windowsill and look even better as a garnish on your favorite dishes. 

Hydroponically growing microgreens has allowed for faster growth rates and larger harvests while requiring less resources than traditional soil-grown micros. In this article, we will go over why we think you should be eating microgreens and how you can easily grow your own hydroponically. 

Let’s dive in. 

Hydroponic Microgreens 1
Hydroponic microgreens can grow faster than soil-grown micros without all the mess.

Hydroponic Microgreens (What You Need To Know)

Often confused with “sprouts,” microgreens consist only of the stem and leafy part of the plant. Sprouts, on the other hand, include the roots in addition to the stem and leaves. Microgreens reach about 2-3 inches in height before harvest.

In simple terms, microgreens are basically one size up from sprouts. Both are great, but in this article, we will be specifically focusing on microgreens and how you can grow them hydroponically.

seedling
Microgreens are just the “top” part of a young germinated seed (stem and leaf, not roots).

Hydroponic set-ups are known for growing plants at speedy rates with little maintenance and even fewer required resources. Hydroponic microgreens grow to be about as fast and frequent as plants can be.

Microgreens already grow quickly in general and they grow even faster when germinated within a hydroponic set up. Plus, without the use of soil, the micros can go from harvest directly to your plate for a boost of flavor and nutrition. 

Microgreens are the young plant of the vegetables, greens, and herbs that you already love. They are harvested once the seedlings have reached just a few inches tall.

sunflower seed sprout
Microgreens are harvested shortly after the seeds germinate and seedlings begin to grow.

But, don’t underestimate these little guys. Despite their small size, they are full of nutrients, and many varieties pack a good punch of flavor. 

Maybe you’ve seen microgreens atop your avocado toast, garnished on a soup, or in the blend of your salad. Yes, they look fancy but they provide so much more than the opportunity for an Instagram picture. 

A study of 25 common varieties of microgreens found that they contain from four to 40 times more nutrients than their mature counterparts. It was found that microgreens had significantly elevated levels of phytonutrients like carotenoids, ascorbic acids, and other assorted vitamins and antioxidants.

Are we saying that if you garnish your mac and cheese with microgreens that it’s suddenly healthy? Not exactly. But, we might tell ourselves that from time to time. 

Hydroponic Microgreens 2
Microgreens go great as a garnish on many dishes, and they have lots of vitamins and minerals.

Can Microgreens Grow Without Soil?

Microgreens can absolutely be grown without soil. In fact, the process of growing microgreens without soil is about as simple as can be. 

Soil is simply a source of nutrients for plants therefore it is not necessary as long as the plants receive the nutrients in an alternative way. 

Aeroponic systems provide nutrients to hanging plants through a sprayed mist. Aquaponic systems connect plants to tanks containing aquatic animals such as fish, shellfish, and snails. The nutrient-dense water from the tanks is fed hydroponically to the plants.

(You can learn a little more about these soil-free growing systems here).

aeroponics towers
You can use aeroponic (nutrient mist) or hydroponic (cycled water) tower systems to save space when growing plants.

In traditional hydroponic setups, the soil is replaced with a water soluble nutrient solution. The nutrient solution is added to the hydroponic water cycle which flows from plant to plant, ensuring that each plant receives the necessary nutrients needed in order to flourish. 

To grow microgreens hydroponically, a water cycle is not necessary due to the fact that the seedlings are harvested so early in their life cycle. In most cases, spraying the seeds with microgreen-friendly water just twice a day is all the TLC they need to grow. 

Hydroponic Microgreens 3
A water cycle is not necessary to grow hydroponic microgreens.

Can You Grow Microgreens In Just Water?

You can grow microgreens in just water as long as there is a growing medium to support the plant once it starts to root. For microgreens, a hemp grow mat or coco coir mat works perfectly. 

coco coir coconut fiber mat
A coco coir (coconut fiber) mat works well as a medium for growing microgreens without soil.

It is important to remember to test the pH of your water to ensure it is ideal for your hydroponic microgreens. A pH of roughly 6.0 is key to thriving microgreens. 

Amazingly enough, to grow microgreens, a nutrient solution is optional because the seedlings are harvested so early in their development. Everything they need to reach their small, ready-to-harvest size is already available within the seed. We told you not to underestimate these little guys!

For hydroponic microgreens, as long as they are germinated in a climate-controlled environment with light, water, air, and within a safe structure, they will thrive. But, if a large yield is your goal, then including a nutrient solution is a good idea. 

Hydroponic Microgreens 4
If you wish, you can use a nutrient solution to grow hydroponic microgreens.

How Long Do Hydroponic Microgreens Take To Grow?

Hydroponic microgreens can be harvested as soon as the first leaves have established themselves. In ideal growing conditions, microgreens can be ready as soon as 7 days to 21 days after planting, depending on the varieties that you choose. 

To harvest your microgreens, you want to cut them right above where the stem meets the roots. Unfortunately, they will not propagate themselves from the remaining roots. You will have to plant more seeds for more microgreens. 

Hydroponic Microgreens 5
Hydroponic microgreens can be ready for harvest in as little as 7 to 21 days, depending on the type of seeds you planted and their time to germination.

What Microgreens Grow Best Hydroponically?

Rather than choosing a single variety of microgreens to grow, it is common to choose a couple of your favorites to grow together. This results in a harvest full of various flavors and nutritional value.

To successfully do this, it’s important to choose microgreens that thrive in similar conditions to grow amongst one another.

peas
Peas are just one type of plant that you can get microgreens from!

This chart is a fantastic resource that sorts out the varieties of microgreens according to their growth rates. We also love this Microgreen Variety Guide that explains each microgreens taste and lead-time.

Below we have some of the most common types of nutritional microgreens categorized by their variety and taste. 

Shoots and Tendrils:

  • Mild flavor, a bit sweet and nutty
  • Pea Shoots, Sunflower Shoots, Popcorn Shoots  

Spicy Greens: 

  • Peppery, bright flavor with a bit of a spicy kick
  • Cress, Arugula, Radish, Mustards

Micro Herbs: 

  • Compliment dishes according to each characteristic flavor
  • Basil, Parsley, Fennel, Cilantro, Dill, Chives, Sorrel

Tender Greens: 

  • Wide range of earthy flavors but still on the mild side
  • Broccoli, Spinach, Cabbage, Chard, Kale, Carrot, Tatsoi, Mizuna
sunflower sprouts microgreens
Sunflower seeds are another great choice when growing microgreens.

Although the combinations are seemingly endless, some common mixes of microgreens that do well together are as follows:

Mild Mix: Red Cabbage, Kale, Broccoli, Mizuna

Spicy Mix: Arugula, Mustards, Kohlrabi

Rainbow Mix: Swiss Chard, Beet, Radish, Red Amaranth

Hydroponic Microgreens 6
You have lots of options for growing microgreens: there are mild ones, spicy ones, and fast-growing ones.

How To Grow Hydroponic Microgreens At Home

What you’ll need to grow hydroponic microgreens at home:

  • Plastic trays that either have poked holes or you can poke them yourself
  • Microgreens seeds (sprouting variety is ideal for faster germination)
  • Support surface (Growing pads/mats are a sustainable alternative to paper towels)
  • pH test strips
  • Brand new spray bottle (Wasn’t originally filled with chemicals)
  • Access to light
  • Nutrients (optional but provides greater yield)
empty seed tray
You will need some type of tray or container to grow microgreens.
  1. Start by ensuring that your water is at an ideal pH. The closer it is to 6.0, the better.
  2. Soak your mat/pad/paper towels in the water (nutrient solution is optional here)
  3. Place the mat/pad/paper towels in a growing tray with drainage holes
  4. Sprinkle your seeds across the soaked surface
  5. Cover your seeds with a second tray to protect them from light
  6. Keep them out of light for the first few days
  7. Mist roughly every 12 hours
  8. Once the plants have established themselves, you can remove the cover to let the light in
  9. Harvest once the leaves have opened and they are 2-3 inches in height!
paper towel
You can use damp paper towels as one option for a growing medium for hydroponic microgreens.

Growing hydroponic microgreens can really be as simple or as complex as you’d like it to be. One of the least complicated tutorials only requires a plastic take-out container (this is a great way to upcycle an old one), some paper towels, and the microgreens seeds of your choice. 

Hydroponic Microgreens 7
You can use a mat, pad, or paper towels as a growing medium for DIY hydroponic microgreens.

Making sure your micros have access to light is crucial. If you plan on growing them in a basement or closet with little to no sunlight, you will definitely need to incorporate a grow light into your arrangement. 

If you’re looking for a more aesthetically pleasing approach, you can purchase a ready-to-go set-up like this Hydroponic Indoor Garden or SunBlaster Grow Light Garden for a more tasteful mini garden within your home. Plastic, glass, or stainless steel are the best materials for hydroponic systems because they’re easy to clean and won’t rust.

The great thing about hydroponic microgreens is that they are perfect for compact spaces. Your personal at-home microgreen operation can be as small or as large as you want it to be. But, be ready to eat your greens because hydroponic methods are known for large harvests that grow fast! 

It’s important to remember that microgreens only have a shelf life of 10-14 days from harvest. But, luckily, they compliment pretty much any dish and can be thrown into smoothies and juices with ease. They can always be frozen for future use too!

You can purchase ready-made hydroponic setups to help you grow your microgreens.

Conclusion

You truly can’t go wrong with microgreens. They are easy to grow hydroponically at home and even easier to add to your favorite meals and snacks for an extra boost of nutritional value. Your body and your green thumb will thank you for giving microgreens a go!

If you want to grow microgreens with soil instead, you will need seed trays for the soil – you can learn more here.

You can learn more about hydroponic towers, how they work, and what you can grow in them here.

Learn more about hydroponic gardening (and the answers to some common questions) here.

You can learn about the NFT method (a specific type of hydroponic growing setup) here.

You can learn about the Kratky technique (another hydroponic system) here.

DWC hydroponics is another alternative method you might want to read up on.

About the author:
Sofi is a passionate writer who studied communications and environmental studies at Eckerd College. You can get in touch with Sofi at https://slenzi4.wixsite.com/website.

Sofi L.

jonathon.david.madore

Hi, I'm Jon. Let's solve your gardening problems, spend more time growing, and get the best harvest every year!

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