How to Grow Amazing Salad Microgreens at Your Campsite

Reader Contribution by Mary Ann Reese
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Take your next camping or hiking trip to a new level by growing microgreens while you are are enjoying the great outdoors. Microgreens are a power-packed specialty food increasing in popularity across the globe. Many higher-end restaurants serve microgreens as a garnish on dishes as it makes a pleasant addition of colors and textures, not to mention flavors. Microgreens provide a method to the great pleasure of growing and eating your own food.

No need to interrupt growing your microgreens just because you are leaving for an extended hike or camping trip. In fact, taking growing trays along with you will enhance your outdoor experience and increase your nutritional intake. Growing microgreens is very easy. In a few simple steps you can be on your way to eating fresh greens all year long wherever you are.

Growing and Harvesting Microgreens

Microgreens are harvested when the first leaves have fully developed but before whats called the true leaves have emerged. It’s a natural way to increase a menu’s nutritional value while adding culinary bling at the same time. Some of the most common microgreens are grown right in the cafe or restaurant’s kitchen.

Microgreens are an excellent addition to camping food as well. You may choose to grow mustard, cabbage, radish, or spinach microgreens. They have the advantage over mature greens because of their higher concentrations of bioactive elements like vitamins and antioxidants.

Microgreens are more nutritious than full-grown greens, however, they are usually eaten in smaller quantities which is a good thing considering the cost. Some stores are known to price their microgreens at more than $25 a pound! We found it unnecessary to pay these prices once we learned how to grow our own microgreens. Our microgreens are ready to eat in just a week or two and can be snipped for garnish or harvested for the main green in a salad.

Photo by Pixabay/DeviPuspitaAmarthaYahya

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a survey lead by Agriculture Research Service verified “microgreens contain considerably higher levels of vitamins and carotenoids—about five times greater—than their mature plant counterparts.” You can read more about this research in the January 2014 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

Sprouts vs. Microgreens

Sprouts are harvested before the 1st leaves have developed, whereas, microgreens are cut just after 1st leaves have developed.

Backpacks and Back-bags

There are backpacks and back-bags where you can grow and harvest microgreens while you hike. If you have ever tried this successfully or not, please reply to this blog. We’d love to hear about your experience.

Using Microgreens 

Microgreens are germinated seeds of edible herbs and vegetables and are rising in popularity as the new culinary trend. They are small in size but strong in flavor and nutrition. Their intense flavor and rich colors, can be emphasized in a meal as the focal point or simply add to a dish for extra crunch and texture.

Microgreens can be used as a garnish by simply clipping a small amount with scissors. Some microgreens are very colorful and can really liven up a dish or add appeal to a creamy soup. Some of the choices for more color are beets, red mustard, amaranth, red cabbage, and kohlrabi. They can be used in place of lettuce for sandwiches or salads.

As a fantastic alternative to beansprouts, microgreens add a delightful texture to pita sandwiches or burgers. Add chopped tomato, avocado and cucumber to a bowl of microgreens and you have a delicious salad. Micro greens are fine without dressing but a light dressing of oil and balsamic vinegar is superb.

A Note on Allergies

I grow our microgreens in our greenhouse that we made from an unused dog kennel. (To learn more about making a greenhouse from an unused dog kennel, click here.) I am allergic to the entire brassica family, which is the family where broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbages belong.

Because starches and oils are not yet developed in microgreens, I am able to eat broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage microgreens with no problem.

If you have any food allergy, please check with your doctor before experimenting with eating microgreens of your allergy plants.

Hydroponically Grown Microgreens

I’ve only grown our microgreens hydroponically. I like the no-soil process because it is cleaner so no rinsing off of soil is necessary before eating. Some folks enjoy the soil-based microgreens and even claim the availability of more seed choices such as sunflower and buckwheat being easier to grow in soil versus hydroponically.

I highly recommend purchasing a microgreen kit from Growing Microgreens. They have a wide variety of seeds and their kits are complete with everything you will need as a beginner or experienced microgreen grower.

Growing microgreens is a fun hobby or you can turn it into a cottage industry as they are always in high demand, especially at more refined restaurants and country cafes.

Microgreens are germinated in the dark, requiring them to become strong right from the start and to strive for the light, making them active growers. Warmth is definitely a requirement for micro greens.

We use a heat mat made for plants. It’s advised not to use a home heating pad as they are not designed to be subjected to damp or wet conditions. Since we grow our micro greens in our greenhouse that we made from our unused dog kennel, we use the plant heat mats to keep an even temperature of about 70 to 80 degrees. In the heat of the summer, we do not need the heat mat on, so we’ll just unplug it and leave it in place for unexpected cooler days or nights.

Camping and Hiking with Microgreens

When you are camping chances are you will have warmer days and maybe cool nights. Taking microgreens camping with you to be able to enjoy the freshness of these greens with their high nutrition works well even with cooler nights.

Simply start the seeds a week to a week and a half before you plan to leave for your camping trip. By the time you leave for camping or hiking, your microgreens should be near ready to clip and eat.

At your campsite, locate a sunny spot to place your microgreens tray. You can move it around as the sun moves to take advantage of the warmest spots for your trays.

Growing microgreens is a great way to get kids involved in learning the planting, germination, and harvesting process. Learning about where food comes from focuses their attention on farming and permaculture. Growing microgreens gives kids a chance to get their hands dirty and really understand how food is grown and how they can help care for the earth.

Temperature for Microgreens

If your weather will be around 60 degrees Fahrenheit instead of 70-80, stick with the seeds that thrive in the cooler weather, such as lettuce, dill, onion, peas, and most brassicas. Experiment with growing multiple seed varieties in the same tray. You can grow up to four or five varieties in one tray giving you a good salad variety to take camping with you.

With hydroponics, there is no soil to spill in your car on the way to your campsite. The little bit of water, in the form of moisture, will keep the greens fresh until you arrive at your campsite when you can refresh the greens with a good watering.

Once the germination period is complete and the dark cover is removed, the greens will need as much light as possible and warmth will be critical.

Leave No Trace: Remember, when you are camping or hiking, leave no trace. Plan ahead and be prepared. Dispose of waste properly. You know what they say, pack it in, pack it out.

Purchasing Microgreen seeds

Seed tastes vary with each type of seed. For instance, amaranth microgreens have a slightly earthy taste. While radish micro greens are slightly spicy. It is good to experiment with a variety of seeds before your camping trip in order to choose one or two seeds for the trip that you know work for you in ease, taste, and growth rate.

When you purchase your microgreen seeds, they should be untreated seeds, organic or not. The untreated seeds allow for proper germination and safer ingestion of clean greens.

Download a printable version of the above chart.

How to Grow Microgreens

Step 1: Prepare your tray or container

Decide whether you want to use the soil method or the hydroponic method. For the purpose of this blog, we will be using the soil-free hydroponic method. Place a hydroponic felt or mat in the tray.

Pouring about two cups of water evenly over the surface tipping the tray to distribute the water getting it to reach all four corners. Make sure the mat is saturated but only use up to two cups of water as any more will cause the seeds to stand in water promoting mold.

The beginners kit I ordered contained everything I needed to begin growing my own microgreens. From there, I have since purchased bulk seeds and more supplies, as well as microgreen books to further my overall knowledge.

For a quick tray to take camping look for Mustard seeds as this is a quick and easy grower.

  • Red mustard will add color to your salad and a little kick of spice to your palate.
  • Cress is a quick growing seed with a little spice. Most varieties of lettuce are very tasty as well as attractive for a garnish on soup or alone as a salad.
  • Sesame germinates rapidly so might be a good one to try for camping.
  • Turnip seeds germinate and grow quick microgreens. They taste much like a turnip itself.
  • Radish and cabbages, my all time favorites, are quick and tasty.

Step 2: Sow your seeds

I normally use two trays, one tray of radish for instance and one of cabbage seeds. Broadcast the seeds evenly and very sparingly on the moist hydroponic felt. Be careful not to spread the seeds too densely, as this will increase the chance for mold ruining your whole crop.

Give each seed its own space barrier for breathing room. As a rule of thumb, if using larger seeds such as radish, you may need up to a quarter cup of seeds in a typical 10-inch-by-20-inch tray and maybe three tablespoons if the seeds are smaller such as lettuce.

Generally a hydroponic felt or mat is of a light material so any seed is easy to see which assists you in accurately broadcasting the seeds. This is one reason to grow hydroponically since with a soil-based system, seeds are difficult to see on the dark soil and you may not have adequate water at your campsite to thoroughly rinse any soil off of soil-based grown microgreens before eating them.

Step 3: Spray and cover container

Spray plain water on the seeds lightly, for instance only a dozen sprays for the whole tray just to moisten the seeds. I use another dark tray inverted as the top. Spray a few sprays of water inside the inverted tray to create humidity for your seeds.

You will need to spray the seeds like this daily for 4 or 5 days until you see the first sets of leaves emerge. Then, remove the dark cover from the tray and from then on, only water by lifting up a corner of the mat and pouring in a small amount of water, enough to keep the mat damp. The seeds should never be allowed to sit in water as this will rot the seeds.

Step 4: Uncover the container

Your seeds should be germinated and ready to grow without the dark cover after 4 or 5 days. When you see the baby leaves, the cotyledon leaves, first appear you are one day away from being able to uncover your tray. Remember to check and water your seeds daily by pulling up a corner of the growing mat.

The tray should be very damp but not more than half way up the channels that run the length of the tray. If you are using your own containers this is no more than an eighth of an inch deep.

Never water your microgreens from the top, always from under the mat and never spray your microgreen leaves from the time you remove the dark cover.

Step 5: Time to Harvest

Your microgreens should be ready to cut or harvest in less than two weeks unless they were subjected to cooler conditions then they may take a little longer (see lead photo). However, I have noticed if I’m growing microgreens in cooler temperatures and they take longer than two weeks, my crops are never the plush healthy greens they are when grown in cozy warmth.

Keep in mind there are always exceptions to any of these growing and harvest times. Check the Internet for specific times and conditions needed for various seeds. Before you harvest your microgreens, move the tray or container to a cool, shady place to avoid causing the tender leaves to wilt. If harvested in the cool of the early morning or later evening your microgreens will stay crisp and fresh longer.

Use scissors to cut microgreen tops for your meal or uproot the entire plant to enjoy more taste variance and texture. It’s always a good idea to rinse and dry your microgreens before eating them. Your microgreens can be stored in the refrigerator for several days if they are dried after rinsing. When the entire tray has been harvested, compost the mat and start another tray!

Mary Ann Reese is a certified mentor in designing, building, and operating food bank farms. She has also been certified to teach cooking classes to low-income families. As an organic grower, Mary has owned a mini-farm, greenhouse, chickens, ducks, and geese raised from eggs in an incubator and is happy to share years of wiser living advice with her readers. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here

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