Sprouts and microgreens pack a nutritional punch and offer a delicious crunch to sandwiches, soups, salads, and more. Both are reported to contain more nutrients per ounce than mature plants of the same species. Today, I’d like to share information on how to grow broccoli sprouts and microgreens, though this information can be used to grow young edible shoots of many different plant species, including radish, kale, beets, cilantro, basil, amaranth, and many others. They are far less expensive than sprouts or microgreens you purchase in the grocery store, plus they are fun to grow.
Sprouts vs microgreens
Often the terms “sprout” and “microgreen” are used interchangeably, but technically they aren’t the same. Sprouts are newly germinated seeds. When you’re eating them, you’re consuming the initial root and the initial shoot system of the plant, along with the seed itself. Sprouts are highly nutritious because they contain the germination-fueling “food” that was stored within the seed.
Microgreens, on the other hand, consist of only the shoot system of the young plant. The seeds are germinated, and then they begin to grow and green up. Microgreens are stems with leaves that are severed from their root systems. They offer great nutrition because they’ve now begun the photosynthetic process and not only contain the last of the food that was stored in the seed, but they also are now able to make their own food. Typically, microgreens are harvested just before or just after the seedling produces its first set of true leaves.
Now that you know the difference between sprouts and microgreens, it’s time to talk about how to grow broccoli sprouts and then continue with growing broccoli microgreens. Let’s begin with the importance of selecting the best seeds for growing sprouts and microgreens.
Which seeds to use for sprouting and microgreens
When you’re first learning how to grow broccoli sprouts or microgreens, you may think your only source of seed is to buy from a traditional vegetable seed catalog. While this is certainly okay to do, it’s costly and unnecessary. The seeds for sale in gardening catalogs are meant for growing mature broccoli in the garden. They are varieties that have been bred to have certain traits at maturity, so they tend to be more costly than seeds for growing microgreens. Since we don’t need our plants to reach maturity and produce a large, high-quality broccoli head, we don’t need to buy seeds that cost several dollars per ounce.
Instead, broccoli seeds for sprouting and growing microgreens can be purchased for minimal cost.
Focus your efforts on finding organic broccoli sprouting seeds. Organic is key for growing fresh sprouts and microgreens because you don’t want to use seed that’s been treated with fungicides. And you don’t want to grow sprouts from seeds grown using conventional pesticides or herbicides. You can find high-quality sprouting seeds from online retailers. They should be very reasonably priced and come in larger quantities than you’ll find in a vegetable seed catalog.
Now that you know which seeds to use to grow broccoli sprouts and microgreens, let me introduce you to 6 different methods you can use for continual harvests.
How to grow broccoli sprouts and microgreens: 6 different methods
There are many different methods of growing broccoli sprouts and microgreens. Some require specialized equipment while others do not. I will say, however, that since you’ll be growing broccoli sprouts and microgreens indoors, the methods that don’t use soil tend to be cleaner and easier than those that require soil for growth. If you’re wondering how to grow broccoli sprouts without any soil and it seems too good to be true, read on — I have lots of great tips and suggestions below!
Growing broccoli sprouts in jars
I’ll start by telling you about one of the easiest ways to grow food indoors. Sprouting is a simple process that requires nothing more than good seeds and some everyday equipment. All you need is a clean, quart-sized Mason jar with either a special mesh sprouting lid and base you can purchase for the job, or a piece of window screening or cheesecloth with a rubber band. You can also purchase attractive angled countertop sprouting jars. If you want to get a little fancier, invest in a 2- or 3-tiered sprouting cube.
Once you have your seeds and sprouting jar, here’s how to grow broccoli sprouts:
1. Sanitize the seeds by soaking 2 TBSP of seeds in a cup of water and 2 TBSP of apple cider vinegar. Let them soak for 10 minutes then drain and rinse with clean water.
2. Put the seeds in the jar and fill with water to cover the seeds. Put the lid, cloth, or screening over the mouth of the jar and let the seeds soak over night.
3. In the morning, drain the jar and then put the jar on its side on the counter. Every day, use fresh water to rinse the seeds two times per day and then drain the jar afterwards.
4. The seeds will germinate just a few days later. You can eat them anytime after sprouting. I like to wait until they start to turn slightly green before using them.
5. For a continuous sprout harvest, keep several jars going at a time by starting a new jar every few days. Though I’m talking specifically about how to grow broccoli sprouts, you can use this method to sprout amaranth, cabbage, kale, alfalfa, mung beans, lentils, and other seeds, too.
How to grow broccoli microgreens in soil
If you want to grow broccoli microgreens instead of sprouts, planting the seeds in soil is one way to do it, though it can get pretty messy. You only need a few pieces of equipment for the job.
- Organic potting soil or coir-based potting soil
- A flat without drainage holes (I also love this compartmentalized tray that allows me to grow 8 kinds of microgreens at a time.) Other containers work well, too, including take-out containers, plant pots, and empty yogurt containers.
- Grow lights or a sunlight (see below for more on lighting)
Steps for growing broccoli microgreens in soil:
1. Start by filling the flat or container with the potting soil to within an inch of the upper rim.
2. Then, sow the seeds very thickly. A few tablespoons of broccoli seeds per flat. Since your broccoli microgreens are harvested when very young, they don’t need a lot of room to grow.
3. Cover the seeds with a light dusting of potting soil and water them in well.
4. Place the tray under grow lights or in a sunny windowsill (see lighting section below). You can keep the trays in a dark place if you want to, but it isn’t necessary.
5. Keep the soil well watered, but remember that there are no drainage holes in the bottom of the tray so it’s very easy to overwater. Don’t overdo it. Mold could be the result.
6. Broccoli microgreens and other varieties are ready to harvest as soon as they develop their first set of true leaves.
Don’t reuse the potting soil to grow more microgreens as it will be depleted of nutrients. Empty the tray and refill with fresh potting soil to grow your next round.
How to grow broccoli microgreens using a grow mat
In my opinion, the easiest way to grow microgreens is using a grow mat instead of soil. It’s clean, easy to use, and the mats can be reused many times. You do need some special equipment, though. Namely, the grow mat itself.
Microgreen grow mats can be made of several different materials, all of which work well though some require more frequent watering than others. My favorites include:
- Hemp grow mats (I like this biodegradeable one or this hemp grow pad)
- Jute grow mats (this one is a favorite)
- Felt microgreen grow mats (My favorite felt one comes in an easy to use roll)
- Wood fiber grow pads (I like this one as well as this one that is sized to fit a flat perfectly)
I do know people who use a paper towel as a grow mat, but I find they dry out much too quickly. To grow broccoli microgreens, as well as many other varieties, on a mat, you’ll need nursery flats without drainage holes, the mat, and seeds. That’s it.
How to grow microgreens on grow mats:
1. Start by cutting the mat to fit into the bottom of the flat. Skip this step if the mat is already sized-to-fit.
2. Then, soak the mat in water for several hours, no matter what material it’s made from. Soak the seeds in water for a few hours, too, while your mat is soaking.
3. Drain the excess water from the flat.
4. Spread the soaked seeds across the top of the mat. There’s no need to cover them with anything.
5. Place the flat under grow lights or in a sunny windowsill. Keep it well watered. Do not allow the grow mat to dry out.
6. Within a few days, your broccoli microgreen seeds will sprout and grow.
Watch this video for step by step instructions on how to grow microgreens on a grow mat.
How to grow broccoli microgreens on wood shavings
Another option is to grow broccoli microgreens on wood shavings, or “confetti”. These are a bit messier than the grow mats and cannot be reused, but they’re sustainable and compostable. You can purchase wood shavings from a feed store that are used for animal bedding (make sure they’re finely sized, not big shavings), or better still, purchase wood shavings made specifically for growing microgreens.
Follow the same steps as growing sprouts in soil, only use the wood “confetti” to fill the flat instead of soil. I recommend soaking the shavings in water for a few hours before filling the flat. The wood shavings hold a surprising amount of moisture, so they don’t need to be watered quite as often as soil.
How to grow broccoli sprouts or microgreens on growing paper
Another clean and easy way to grow microgreens is on growing paper. This paper is designed to hold moisture. It can have little ridges to hold the seed in place or it can be flat, like regular paper. Either way, growing paper is a great way to grow microgreens and sprouts. You can purchase sprouting papers here. Most are sized to fit into a standard nursery tray.
Steps for growing sprouts or microgreens on growing papers:
1. Place the paper into the bottom of a tray.
2. Soak the paper in water for a few hours. Soak 2 tablespoons of seeds in a cup of water at the same time.
3. Drain the excess water from the tray.
4. Spread the seeds across the paper. No need to cover them with anything.
5. Make sure the paper stays constantly moist, adding water to the tray as necessary.
If you want to harvest the broccoli as sprouts, you can scrape them off the paper soon after they germinate. If you want to harvest as microgreens, let the seedlings grow for a week or two before cutting off the sprouts.
Use a kit to grow microgreens
Your last option when considering how to grow broccoli sprouts and microgreens is to use a commercial kit. Opt for a seed sprouter tray like this one or go fancy (and super-duper easy!) by using a kit like this one that has the seeds already embedded in the grow mat. So simple!
The best lighting for growing microgreens
As I mentioned above, most microgreens grow well on a sunny windowsill. A east- or west-facing window is best during the spring, summer, and fall. However, if you want to grow microgreens in the winter, I suggest a south-facing window or using grow lights to ensure your sprouting seedlings receive enough light to green up.
You don’t need to spend a lot of money on a fancy grow light. I love this gooseneck option or this tabletop grow light, which is sized perfectly for a single tray. Simple tube grow lights work great too, though a florescent shop light fixture fitted with florescent tubes is the most inexpensive option of all. Because microgreens are harvested very young and you don’t need them to produce flowers or heavy foliage growth, florescent bulbs work perfectly fine and are a very affordable option.
If you opt to use grow lights, leave them on for 16 to 18 hours per day. An automatic timer is a real life saver as it switches the lights on and off every day as needed. Keep the tray about 2 to 4 inches beneath the lights. Any further away and you’ll find the seedlings stretch for the light and don’t green up as well.
Using a heat mat to speed microgreen growth
If you want to speed up the process, opt to place a seedling heat mat underneath your tray of seeds. These waterproof mats are designed for seed starting, but they’re great for growing microgreens, too. They raise the soil temperature about 10 degrees above room temperature, creating a perfect environment for quick germination. Seedling heat mats are inexpensive and they last for years. I have four of these seedling heat mats so I can use them for sprouting and seed starting at the same time.
Harvesting broccoli sprouts and microgreens
If you’re growing broccoli sprouts, they’re ready to eat soon after germination takes place. But, if you’re growing microgreens, allow the seedlings to grow until they form their first true leaves (see above). Then, use a sharp pair of scissors or micro-tip pruners to make your harvest. Give them a rinse under cool running water and enjoy. For longer storage, don’t rinse the harvested microgreens. Instead, pack them in a plastic zipper-top bag and put them in the refrigerator where they’ll last for 4 or 5 days. Rinse just before eating.
Great books on sprout and microgreen growing:
Microgreens: A guide to growing nutrient-packed greens
Year-round Indoor Salad Gardening
For more on growing food indoors and through the winter, check out the following articles:
Growing in a winter greenhouse
8 vegetables for winter harvests
3 ways to grow veggies in winter
Edible sunflower microgreens
Best herbs for a kitchen windowsill
Have you grown microgreens or sprouts before? Tell us about your experience in the comment section below.