Microgreens, the young and tender counterparts of mature vegetables, have gained enormous popularity in recent years due to their nutritional density and flavor profile. They are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that are essential for health. To maintain their nutritional integrity and freshness, you should know how to harvest and store microgreens properly.
Understanding the Microgreens Lifecycle
Microgreens typically take 1-3 weeks from sowing to harvest. The life cycle begins with germination, where seeds sprout in a growing medium. Once the sprouts develop cotyledons (the first set of leaves), they’re considered microgreens.
They are ready for harvest when they’re about 1-3 inches tall and have a pair of fully developed cotyledons. In some cases, microgreens may have a set of true leaves, which are the leaves that grow after the cotyledons.
Tools Required for Harvesting
Harvesting microgreens don’t require any complex machinery or tools, but there are a few key items that can help make the process smoother and more efficient. Here is a list of the basic tools required to harvest microgreens:
- Sharp Scissors or Knife: A sharp pair of kitchen scissors or a knife is perhaps the most important tool you’ll need. It will help ensure a clean cut that won’t damage the delicate stems and leaves of the microgreens. Some gardeners prefer to use a ceramic knife as it is resistant to rust and can help prolong the freshness of the cut microgreens.
- Harvesting Tray: You’ll need something to collect the harvested microgreens in. A clean, dry tray or a large dish can work well. If you’re harvesting a lot of microgreens at once, you might want to consider using several trays.
- Gloves: While not essential, some people prefer to wear gloves while harvesting. This can help to protect your hands and also prevent any transfer of dirt or germs to the microgreens.
- Clean Water: Having some clean water nearby can be useful for washing any harvested microgreens that may have soil on them.
- Storage Containers: After harvesting, you’ll need an appropriate place to store your microgreens. Shallow, airtight containers are typically the best option. They allow for easy access to the microgreens and help to maintain their freshness.
- Paper Towels or Cloth: These are useful for gently blotting the microgreens dry after washing them. They can also be used to line the storage container to absorb any excess moisture.
While not a tool in the traditional sense, your refrigerator is an essential component of the harvesting process. It’s the best place to store your harvested microgreens to prolong their freshness and nutrient content.
Remember, the main goal during the harvesting process is to avoid damaging the microgreens. This means being gentle and using the right tools to ensure a clean cut and proper handling of the plants.
When to Harvest Microgreens
The timeline to harvest microgreens depends largely on the specific plant variety, light conditions, and temperature. However, as a rule of thumb, most microgreens are ready to harvest in about 7 to 21 days after seeding. Here is a generalized breakdown:
- Fast-Growing Microgreens: Some varieties like radish, broccoli, and kale typically germinate quickly and are usually ready to harvest within 7-10 days. These grow so fast that if not harvested in time, they may become overgrown and lose their tender texture and flavor.
- Medium Speed Microgreens: Varieties like arugula, beets, and Swiss chard may take a bit longer, usually 10-15 days to reach their optimal harvesting point.
- Slow-Growing Microgreens: Some microgreens such as carrots, celery, and chives may take up to three weeks (21 days) or even longer to be ready for harvest. Patience is necessary with these varieties, but the result is worth the wait.
It’s important to note that the number of days before harvest can also depend on the desired size of the greens. If you prefer slightly larger microgreens, you may want to wait a few extra days before harvesting.
Aside from the days elapsed, another key indicator of readiness for harvest is the development of the plant itself. Microgreens are typically ready to be harvested once they have developed their first pair of true leaves. The true leaves come after the cotyledon stage and are the leaves that resemble those on the mature plant.
As a final consideration, harvesting time may also depend on the taste. Some microgreens might become bitter if allowed to grow too long, while others may not have developed their full flavor profile if harvested too early. Experimenting with harvest times can help you find the sweet spot for your taste preference.
It is also important to know that some microgreens like Fava beans, Green peas, Snow peas, Snap peas, Speckled peas, and Kale regrow after cutting them.
Do Microgreens Lose Their Nutrition If Not Stored Correctly?
Absolutely, the way microgreens are stored can significantly impact their nutritional content. Microgreens are packed with nutrients, but these can degrade if the plants are not handled and stored appropriately.
When microgreens are exposed to unfavorable conditions, such as heat, light, or oxygen, they undergo a process known as oxidative stress. This stress can break down the beneficial compounds in the microgreens, such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, thereby diminishing their nutritional value.
Here’s how different aspects of incorrect storage can impact microgreens’ nutritional content:
- Heat: High temperatures can accelerate the degradation of sensitive nutrients in microgreens. Vitamin C, for instance, is particularly susceptible to heat and can rapidly decrease under such conditions.
- Light: Exposure to light can also affect the nutrient content of microgreens. Light can lead to the degradation of vitamins A, C, and some B vitamins. It’s why it’s recommended to store microgreens in a dark environment.
- Oxygen: Oxygen exposure can cause oxidation, which degrades nutrients and can cause microgreens to lose their freshness and vibrant color. Over time, this can also lead to the growth of harmful bacteria.
- Time: The longer microgreens are stored, the more nutrients they lose. Freshly harvested microgreens have the highest nutritional content. With each passing day post-harvest, the nutrient content gradually declines.
To preserve the nutritional integrity of your microgreens, it’s best to consume them as soon as possible after harvesting. However, if you do need to store them, doing so in a cool, dark environment, such as your refrigerator, can help slow the degradation of nutrients. Additionally, storing them in an airtight container can also limit their exposure to oxygen and extend their freshness.
Remember, the key to reaping the maximum health benefits from microgreens is to handle them gently during harvesting, store them correctly, and consume them while they are still fresh.
Understanding the correct harvesting and storage methods for microgreens ensures that you enjoy these nutrient-packed superfoods at their freshest. Whether you’re a commercial grower or a home enthusiast, applying these tips can extend the life of your microgreens, reducing waste and saving money.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the best method to store my harvested microgreens to ensure they stay fresh?
The best way to store your harvested microgreens is in the refrigerator. Before you store them, make sure to gently blot the microgreens dry if you’ve washed them, as excess water can cause them to spoil faster.
Place them in a shallow, airtight container lined with a paper towel or cloth to absorb any excess moisture, then store the container in the refrigerator. They should stay fresh for about 5-7 days.
Why are my microgreens wilting shortly after harvesting?
Microgreens are delicate and can wilt due to a few reasons. If they are left out at room temperature for too long after harvesting, they can wilt due to the heat. They can also wilt if they are stored while wet, as excess moisture can cause them to decay.
To prevent wilting, harvest your microgreens just before you plan to use them, and if you need to store them, ensure they are dry and stored in the refrigerator.
Is there any harm in harvesting microgreens before they develop their first set of true leaves?
While it is not necessarily harmful to harvest microgreens before their first set of true leaves appear, you might not be maximizing your harvest. The first set of true leaves is often an indicator that the plant has reached its nutritional peak. Harvesting before this stage might result in a less flavorful and potentially less nutritious yield.