micro-herbs growing
Angela Slater
Daughter of a farmer and market gardener so have always had a connection with the outdoors, whether it was keeping animals or producing fruit, vegetables and cut flowers. Along with my work at Hayes Garden World I also have a smallholding, mainly breeding rare breed pigs. I gained an HND and BSc in Conservation and Environmental Land Management, as a result I am an ardent environmentalist and have a keen interest in environmentally friendly gardening. In my time at Hayes I worked for several years in the Outdoor Plant and Houseplant areas

How To Grow Magnificent Micro-Herbs

Grow easy, nutritious, tasty micro-herbs all year round

Micro-herbs are so easy to grow, you don’t even need a garden, they’re packed full of nutrients, tasty and can be grown all year round; so absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t be growing them. They are an excellent way to introduce children to gardening as you can taste the results in just a few days. Micro-herbs are usually leafy greens grown and harvested when they have either one or two pairs of leaves. They differ from sprouting seeds in that they are grown in compost whereas sprouts are grown in water, micro-greens are eaten when they are further developed and they contain more fibre than the sprouts. An advantage of growing them at home is that you know they are not going to be treated with any fungicides or pesticides.  

Recent studies have concluded that most micro-herbs contain between 4 and 40 Xs as many nutrients as when they are left to grow to full size. Micro red cabbage contains 40 Xs more vitamin E and 6 Xs more vitamin C than the full sized heads. Clover is absolutely packed with calcium, iron, manganese, selenium and zinc. These little power-houses also contain beneficial vitamins B6 and K, lutein, beta-carotene, folate and many other micro-nutrients and trace elements, all of which are essential for healthy skin and eyes and also play an important role in fighting cancer.  

Harvest them by either pulling the whole thing gently out of the soil, wash off the compost and eat the root and all, or cut just above the soil surface with a pair of scissors. Time from sowing to harvesting depends upon the species but is usually within 7 – 14 days, but this can be longer in winter as they don’t receive as much heat and sunshine as in summer. Basil is naturally slow to germinate, it can take up to 3 weeks in summer and longer in winter. Pea shoots can be harvested when they have a few pairs of leaves, cut off above the lowest pair of leaves and leave as they will re-grow to produce another crop.

two bowls of tomato soup with a garnish of micro-herbs

Use them in salads for a zing of spiciness, especially radish, mizuna, mustard and mibuna. They also make a great addition to stir fries, stews, pasta sauces, risotto or improve a curry with some coriander; just add them at the very last minute. Try making pesto or just simply add them to a sandwich or use as a garnish. Varieties suitable to grow include:

  • balm, lemon
  • basil
  • broccoli
  • celery
  • chard, red
  • chives, garlic
  • coriander
  • fennel
  • mustard
  • Oriental leaves; mizuna, mibuna
  • parsley
  • pea shoots
  • radish
  • rocket
  • sorrel
  • tarragon
  • watercress

Kits containing everything you need are available from seed companies, but you can quite cheaply make your own containers from re-cycled materials such as margarine or yogurt tubs, plastic trays which have contained fruit or the cut off bottoms of 2ltr plastic drinks bottles. The depth of the container is immaterial as you only need 2cm (1”) of compost. Make sure you pierce the bottom several times to ensure good drainage.

Position

Place in a warm well lit spot, they prefer full sun but will tolerate a little shade, a windowsill is ideal.

How to sow

Place about 2cm (1”) of seed compost or Vermiculite into the seed tray or pot and press down lightly until it is firm. Stand in a tray of water until the compost is just damp. Sow the seed on the top and cover with a very thin layer of compost or Vermiculite. Don’t sow the seed too thickly and stagger the sowings with a few days in-between so that you have a steady supply and don’t end up with a glut. When sowing peas they will benefit from being soaked in warm water overnight; this helps them germinate quicker. It is not essential to use new compost every time, you can use spent compost but add a little pelleted chicken manure as it is full of nitrogen, which is the nutrient needed by leafy vegetables.

Aftercare

Keep the compost just damp and always water by standing the tray in water until the surface of the compost is just damp. After sowing the seed you can place the tray into a plastic bag to hasten germination, but it’s not essential.