Green Powerhouses and How to Grow Them: Sprouts vs. Microgreens

When temperatures dip into lows that are enough to affect even your cold-weather crops, it’s nice to know you can still have fresh greens without going to your grocer. 

I’m talking about microgreens and sprouts!  

When I found out how easy these were to do, I was an instant fan.  Not only are they easy, but they take very little time to see results and are powerhouses of nutrients. Studies have shown they have higher levels of nutrients than full-sized vegetables. 

You can get these wonderful veggies from your grocery store, but you will save so much money by growing them at home.  Once you see the astronomical difference in cost and weigh it against the little investment of time, I think you will fall in love with these mini-gardens yourself.      

There are a few important differences between sprouts and microgreens, and we’ll talk about them here.  First, what are sprouts and microgreens exactly?  Sprouts are germinated seeds, legumes, or grains.  You eat the whole thing -  seed, root, and shoot. Microgreens are the edible greens that are grown from seed in a medium, then harvested by cutting off the tender new shoots and early leaves.

Sprouts are incredibly easy to grow, typically in a jar with a draining lid or cheesecloth stretched and anchored down with a canning ring/rubber band/string. 

Microgreen vs. Sprouts | Vego Garden

Microgreens are grown in some kind of medium, typically soil or coco coir, but there are several other great options worth looking into as well.   I am looking into trying burlap next.

You can use most kinds of vegetable seeds for sprouts or microgreens, but there are pros and cons.  Some are spicier or sweeter, and some grow a little quicker or easier than others. Some popular types to begin with are broccoli, pea, sunflower, arugula, radish, and kale.  Sprouting seeds specifically from microgreens reduces the risk of E. coli and salmonella. 

Some people argue that seeds from grocery-store foods could be irradiated and therefore very difficult to sprout, but I have not personally had this experience.  I sprout from what comes from my food (I buy organic groceries and have an organic garden), and I also buy seeds specifically sold for sprouting or microgreens.


Sprouts couldn’t be easier to grow.  They require almost no space, and you only need the seeds, water, and a canning jar with something to help you strain the water out. They are typically ready in three to seven days.  

Begin with anywhere from two tablespoons of seeds to 1/2 cup, depending on the size of the seed and how many sprouts you want at the end.  Begin by soaking them in warm water and gently swirl or stir.  A general rule is to use about three-parts water to one-part seed.  Cover the jar with something loose or breathable so that some air can get in while you soak the seeds for six to eight hours minimum; overnight works well if you’re doing this before bed.  In the morning, strain the water out, rinse the seeds, and strain again.  I like to rinse my seeds three or four times.  You do not want any mold growing in there.  If you see mold or smell anything “off” or rotten at any time, discard the seeds, sterilize the jar, and start again.  

After you have rinsed and strained the seeds several times, leave the seeds in the jar with a breathable cover on it, preferably at a slight angle to keep the seeds from sitting in any extra drops of water.  You want the seeds moist, but not continuously soggy.

There are specially made jar lids for this that help strain and tilt, and they work well while being inexpensive. 

At this point, some people prefer to keep sprouts in a darker area or covered with a towel, but I have found they do better for me in indirect sunlight.  I imagine it depends on the seeds you are using, so try different ways to see what is most successful for you.  

Repeat the rinsing and sieving twice a day until all or most of the seeds have sprouted. 

Once the sprouts are anywhere from 1/2 to 2 inches in length, you then can give them a final rinse and spread them to dry on a paper towel.  A salad spinner would also come in handy here, especially if you want to try and get rid of some of the seed hulls, but this is a matter of preference.  

Microgreens vs. Sprouts |Vego Garden

At this point, the sprouts are ready to eat, and you can also store them in the refrigerator for up to a week.  I want to mention here that I have recently discovered sprout gardens, which is a system to take some of the work out of sprouting and does have favorable reviews.  I have no desire to buy anything extra, and as there is almost no work in using the jar method, I haven’t tried these.  However, it seems that it makes a big difference to some people who might not sprout their greens without it.  I say use whatever it takes to get these incredible vitamins, antioxidants, and enzymes into your diet!  If you love sprouts but hate the jar method, see if the sprout garden might work for you.  


Microgreens have been shown to have even more nutrients than sprouts, but they do take a bit longer (one to three weeks) to grow and involve a little more equipment and space.  You will need some kind of shallow tray or container that you can repurpose by adding drainage holes.  I use trays made specifically for microgreens because I like the ease of cutting large swaths of them at once, and because they have excellent drainage with a lift-out nesting tray that will keep them as moist as they need to be. 

Of course, you will also need the seed and the medium you choose to grow in. There are many options of what to grow your seed in, but the most popular seem to be soil and coco coir.  Soil is popular because it is inexpensive, readily available, and can be reused in your garden when finished.  Coco coir’s possibly best selling point (at least for me) is that it is much cleaner than soil and won’t spill all over your kitchen island when working with your greens.  It also has the benefit of being lighter than soil, giving an open texture that promotes aeration and drainage, thereby giving the tender, young roots an easier time of growing. You can compost coco coir when finished, and both soil and coco coir have ways of possibly being reused for microgreens if you are interested in putting in some extra time and work.   

Now for planting!  I like to pre-moisten my medium before the seeds ever go in. This works better for me than misting afterward.  It ensures all the soil or coir is damp without washing the seeds around.  After filling your container with your chosen growing medium, plant the seed at the proper depth as noted on its package.  You can also look up preferred planting depths online.  

You may wish to use a cover for the first couple of days until they germinate.  It will help keep the humidity at the right levels but is not strictly necessary.  I personally have not needed to soak my seeds prior to planting, but some growers like the jumpstart.  Because my trays are nesting, I leave a little bit of extra water to be wicked up by the medium, keeping it slightly more moist the first day or so.  You can plant the seeds fairly close together as they will not reach the mature size, and you want to maximize space for harvesting.  

Depending on the seed you choose, microgreens can be harvested anywhere from 1 to 5 inches tall.  I usually shoot for the middle of this.  This typically takes one or two weeks.  During this time, they will definitely need light.  Either a bright windowsill or a grow light will work.  You will notice legginess and flopping over without enough light.  This is the main drawback for me as I don’t want a grow light, and my beautiful large windows are slightly tinted to keep from turning my house into an oven.  So I tend to grow seed that matures quickly for microgreens as I don’t have enough un-tinted windows for multiple trays of vegetables.  

When harvesting, you are looking for the first two “true” leaves emerging before cutting.  The easiest method is to pull gently on a handful of greens (don’t uproot them!) while cutting close to the soil line, without actually getting into the dirt.  This will make cleaning them much easier.   I also prefer to use precision scissors as they can weave in and out very easily while also being very sharp.

 At this point, your greens are ready to be rinsed and dried, eaten or stored, although they are most nutrient-rich in the first day or two after harvesting.  Microgreens have more flavor than sprouts as they are further along in development.  Like sprouts, they will also keep for several days in the refrigerator.                                      

Enjoy the fruits (vegetables) of your labor

Microgreens Vs. Sprouts | Vego Garden

For both sprouts and microgreens, there are innumerable ways to use them. They can be put in sandwiches, wraps,  salads, or blended into smoothies.  They can top pizza, scrambled eggs, stir fries, soups, or dusted with Parmesan and eaten straight as a snack.  They are so nutritious and so very easy to grow; I hope you will try one or both of these methods to exercise your green thumb in the dark days of winter.  Happy gardening!

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