Growing sprouts of broccoli

How to grow broccoli sprouts and microgreens: 6 methods for success

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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.

Sprouts and microgreens offer a way to grow vegetables in winter.

Microgreens, including these from arugula, amaranth, and broccoli, are tasty and nutritious.

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 planting 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.

Learn how to grow microgreens using fiber grow pads.

Purchase high-quality, organic seeds packaged especially for sprouting.

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 jar with either a special 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.

Sprouting jars can be made from a standard screw-top jar.

Sprouting jars are a great way to grow all different kinds of sprouts, including broccoli, alfalfa, radish, mung beans, and more.

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.

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. 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).

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.

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 sprouts and microgreens in soil.

Growing microgreens in soil is easy. You can use nursery flats, pots, or even fabric grow bags for the job.

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:

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.

Grow mats are a great choice for growing microgreens without soil.

Grow mats like these are great for growing sprouts and microgreens without using soil.

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.

How to grow broccoli sprouts and microgreens on grow mats.

This segmented microgreen tray allows you to grow several varieties at once using grow mats.

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.

The best broccoli seeds for sprouting and microgreen production are organic.

These broccoli seeds are ready to sprout on a ridged paper sprouting mat.

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!

Sprouting kits are easy to use, but they're only one method of growing sprouts.

Sprouting kits are easy to use and tiered versions allow you to grow several types of sprouts at the same time.

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.

Sprouting papers make growing microgreens easy.

Use grow lights for easy microgreen production indoors if you don’t have a sunny window available.

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.

Learn how to grow broccoli sprouts and microgreens.

Seeds and sprouts grow much faster when a seedling heat mat is used beneath the growing flat or container.

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 fridge where they’ll last for 4 or 5 days. Rinse just before eating.

Great books on sprout and microgreen growing:
Microgreen Garden
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.

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Discover how to grow broccoli sprouts and microgreens with these 6 methods.

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18 Responses to How to grow broccoli sprouts and microgreens: 6 methods for success

  1. Wendy says:

    You do not put the seeds directly under light right away. You cover them and keep them in darkness for at least a few days. You can also reuse the soil because you’re harvesting microgreens long before they have the chance to take significant nutrients out of it. After I read those two things and realized you don’t fully know what you’re talking about, I quit reading the rest of the article. Misinformation on the internet drives me crazy.

    • Hi Wendy – Like all things in life, there are many different ways to grow microgreens. I used to grow them commercially on a small scale on our certified organic farm using the methods I describe in the article, though you can restrict light in the early growth stages as you describe, too. It was always easier for me to grow them uncovered since I didn’t have the time to constantly be checking on them. As for reusing the soil, it’s not only the nutrients they deplete, but also fungal issues that can become problematic when reusing potting soil. Damping off is a common fungal disease that affects microgreens and can easily wipe out an entire flat. The organism that causes damping off can remain in the soil and will easily transfer to a new batch of microgreens. It’s yet another reason why reusing soil is a bad idea. There’s no misinformation here, I promise. Just a different opinion.

  2. Kristine says:

    How many times can you cut and eat the micro greens befor they lose their nutrition and you need to reseed?

  3. Kris says:

    Thanks for this detailed post, it’s very helpful. Do you have any suggestions for glass containers to use with grow mats?

  4. Bazia says:

    I have a warm room that my heater is in. Is this worth a try? I’m thinking that just heating the bottom makes germinated seeds have a cooler spot once growing off the heating mat less susceptible to mold, etc.

  5. Lucy Stewart Van Liew says:

    When i was a child in England ( I’m in my 60’s) we used to grow mustard and cress on pieces of old towel or face flannel. This would still work but i also sprout just using paper towel on the polystyrene tray that comes with food from the supermarket

    No need to buy special equipment!

  6. kelly thompson says:

    very helpful info as I get started, thank you for the info. What is your fave method though? or the one thats almost foolproof?

  7. Jennifer says:

    I’m using a Kitchen Crop deluxe seed sprouter for the first time. The trays leaves the seeds a bit damp and the humidity has caused a possible mold/fungus and it smells funky. There’s a white hairlike mold, not sure. The instructions do not require soaking. I started the trays at different intervals and there’s a range from 4-7 days. Do you have any advice? I may switch to the mason jar technique. Do the leaves have to be a dark green before consuming.

  8. Prag says:

    Can the grow mats be re used unlike soil?

  9. Gefry Stone says:

    An Excellent article Jessica.

    Thorough and accurate.

    I am a Horticulturist of 30 years and enjoy growing sprouts for home use.

    Essential to prevent mold and disease as you have mentioned:

    #1 Soak the seeds in 2 TBSP VINEGAR added to 1 Cup of water for 10 minutes
    This kills fungus, bacteria and mildew which will foul your sprouts

    #2 Gently RINSE (Jar method) the sprouts with 1-2 cups of cool water at least 2 TIMES a day.
    Leave in the rinse water 30 seconds each rinse in order for the sprouts to release surface glucosides (sugars released in the germination process) which will grow fungus, mildew, and bacteria.

    Thanks again for this comprehensive article!

  10. Tess Mickelsen says:

    Thank you for this informative post! I am using my age-old 2-tier sprouter to, yet again, attempt broccoli sprouts. I admit I’ve avoided them often over the years because I have a great nose, and I’m sorry, they smell like broccoli is cooking in my kitchen from the moment the first little guy develops a tiny tail! I have no idea how to avoid this problem. I’ve tried rinsing 3 times a day, but it doesn’t matter … they just stink! I assume enclosing the whole thing in a zip bag would not be advised? That’s how I handle hard boiled egg odor in my frig. Any other advice??

    • I wouldn’t put the growing sprouts in a plastic bag because that would remove the air circulation and you’d likely develop mold. Have you tried radish sprouts, arugula sprouts, or amaranth sprouts? I find they smell much better.

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