[Picture: speckled pea seeds center, wheatgrass seeds left, radish seeds right, credit KnowingNature] Posted by Rachel Haber, KnowingNature Founder & CEO on December 10, 2021
Choosing the right seeds saves you time and money, so in this article I explain what makes good quality microgreens seeds, how to pick the right seeds for you, where to buy them, how to store them, and even a word on organic and NonGMO.
What makes good quality microgreens seeds?
Technically there is no separate category of "microgreen seeds" - microgreens seeds are the same vegetable seeds that you find at your local plant nursery in the little paper packets. However, the little paper packets will not get you many harvests if you are growing them as microgreens, so seeds for microgreens are sold in larger quantities. Also, not all varieties in the paper packets are safe and tasty to eat as microgreens (we have a separate article about microgreens varieties).
The qualities that matter for good microgreens seeds are:
- Germination Speed. This means the number of days between planting and germination. For example, radish seeds germinate 2 days after planting, parsley seeds germinate 14 days after planting. This information is usually provided by the seller, and sometimes written on the seed pack.
- Germination Rate. The percentage of all the seeds that will actually germinate. Look for at least 85%. If only 40% of the seeds germinate, that means 60% of the seeds you planted will not grow, will take up space in the container, and might even start molding while the 40% are growing. This information is usually written on the seed pack.
- Even Germination. That the seeds germinate at the same time and grow at the same pace. If half the seeds germinate on day 3 and the rest germinate on day 6, the growth will be uneven and cause some greens to be harvested too early or too late. Unfortunately this information is usually not provided and discovered only in the reviews or through experience growing them.
- Days to Maturity. This means the number of days between planting and harvesting and eating the microgreens. There are many varieties that reach maturity within 2 weeks, and a handful of mostly micro-herbs that reach maturity between 2-4 weeks.
- Pre-Soak. This refers to soaking the seeds in water for several hours before planting them in a container. If you are covering your microgreens in a layer of growing medium, then this step is rarely necessary. I try to avoid this step since I find it particularly annoying spread wet seeds when spreading dry seeds is so easy, and it adds hours to the planting process. This information will hopefully be provided by the seller.
- Flavor. This means the flavor of the microgreens, not the seeds. As microgreens continue to grow in popularity, growers are developing varieties specifically for their taste as microgreens (as opposed to how big the vegetable gets, or how cold hardy the plant is, etc.). Flavor may be second to nutrition for many home growers, but food that tastes great will always be easier to grow and consume because you will look forward to eating it that much more. This information will be offered by the seller, and is best measured by experience growing them.
- Cost. I put this here to explain that cost is not a quality of the seed itself, it is a function of supply and demand. There are loads of microgreen varieties that are sold at very affordable prices from both large seed sellers and local seed sellers, and you do not need to break the bank to grow delicious and healthy microgreens.
What seeds are right for me?
Certain qualities are important for all growers, like germination rate and even germination. Other qualities vary in importance based on your needs. Here are suggestions:
If you have very limited time to spend on planting or caring for your greens - choose seeds that do not require pre-soaking, have fast germination speed and short days to maturity. This way you do not need to keep checking the soil moisture between planting and germination, and between germination and harvest. Seeds that meet these criteria are radish, pea shoots, wheatgrass, broccoli and kale. Avoid micro herbs that take a long time to germinate and hard shelled seeds like swiss chard.
If your priority is to enhance the flavors and textures of your meals - choose seeds with stronger flavors, and with longer days to maturity. Stronger flavors means you can get a lot of flavor from a small amount and your harvest will last longer. The longer the days to maturity, the less a few days here and there will affect the flavor of the greens and you will have a longer window of time within which to use your greens. Greens that meet this criteria include lots of micro herbs like chervil, parsley, mustard, fenugreek and cilantro, and sorrel and carrot.
- If you're priority is adding nutrition - choose seeds with no pre-soak, short days to maturity and not so strong flavors. This combination offers a strategy of growing lots of greens that will be easy to work into a wide variety of meals throughout your day. Greens that meet these criteria are pea shoot, sunflowers, broccoli, kale and arugula. Certain varieties are also known to have particularly high health benefits, such as broccoli, arugula and fenugreek.
Where should I buy microgreens seeds?
The options for in person buying are much smaller than buying online, but many independent garden centers are starting to offer microgreens seeds so it worth checking your local nursery. The big box nurseries generally do not offer microgreens seeds (yet).
Online, all of the largest seed sellers have dedicated sections for microgreens seeds which makes browsing easy and efficient, as well as a variety of sizes. Our favorite large sellers (no affiliation) are johnnyseeds.com and trueleafmarket.com. There are also smaller and more specialized sellers like High Mowing Seeds, and yours truly at KnowingNature.com. There are also lots of independent sellers on etsy.com and amazon.com, although it is hard to predict the quality of those seeds before you try them.
If you are just beginning, I highly suggest
(1) only buy from reputable sellers - this minimizes the chances that your seeds have been damaged or mishandled, so that if you experience any problems you can all but rule out that the seed quality is the cause.
(2) buy in smaller quantities until you know you love the seeds - the seeds become a lot cheaper in large quantities, but avoid the temptation to get a bargain if you aren't familiar with the seeds. A good price is still a waste of money if you are unhappy with your seeds because of their taste or how they grow.
Another good reason to buy from reputable sellers is that they provide valuable information about the seeds you are buying before you even purchase them, such as the best way to grow the seeds, days to germination, age to maturity and taste.
How to store seeds
The ideal storage for seeds will avoid light and moisture. If you are buying seeds in bulk and they come in a see-through container (like a clear bag) or in a container that is not air-tight (like a burlap bag), then transfer to a sealable bag/jar and place away from sunlight in a dry place. Kitchen pantries, kitchen cabinets (that are not near any appliances), and book shelves are all good spots. Bathrooms and and damp/high humidity rooms are bad places to store seeds.
Is it worth it to buy Organic or NonGMO seeds?
Many seed varieties will have Organic and NonGMO options that cost more. There are good reasons to buy organic and nonGMO seeds that I listed below. That said, those reasons do not impact overall quality - organic and nonGMO do not imply anything about the germination rate, germination speed, flavor or any other measure.
The main reason to buy organic is to support organic farming practices which are WAY better for the environment. It is arguable whether organic seeds are "safer" than non-organic seeds because it is unclear how much, if any, residue from non-organic chemicals remains on the seeds, or how safe the organic chemicals are compared non-organic chemicals, or how much of that residue makes it into the microgreens.
That said, if the price is not prohibitive to you I suggest buying organic whenever it is available. It supports organic farmers, and from a health perspective it is the more conservative approach since microgreens are grown so densely and eaten so soon after planting that more of whatever is on the seed will make it into the greens.
The value of buying NonGMO is less clear. Plants are genetically modified for many reasons, the most common being so that they can survive being sprayed with high amounts of chemicals that would otherwise be harmful to the plant, like the overused and toxic weed killer glyphosate (aka Roundup). Since seed packets will not specify why a seed was genetically modified, we don't know whether the GMO seeds come from plants that were blasted with harmful chemicals or if it comes from plants that were genetically modified to be more frost tolerant. The takeaway is that NonGMO is not in and of itself a benefit, however buying NonGMO may eliminate the risk that the seeds were exposed to very harmful chemicals.
Need a great microgreens planter? Check out the KnowingNature Windowsill Planter
Learn more about growing: return to "How To Grow Microgreens At Home"
Need organic soil & seeds? Browse the varieties we currently offer
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