Microgreens are one of the top ways to add nutrition to a meal. They’re also an easy and artistic option for garnishing your dishes. Just imagine a steaming dish of lasagna topped with crunchy, bite-sized basil. Mouth-watering, right? In this article, you can make that tasty meal a reality by learning how to grow basil microgreens.
Genovese basil, also known as sweet basil, is by far the most popular for growing microgreens. This is largely because of its supreme taste and health benefits. You might think that a smaller plant means a smaller flavor, but that’s definitely not the case here. Genovese basil microgreens actually have a stronger taste than mature basil, are slightly sweeter, and more tender. Throw in the fact that basil microgreens have over 3 times the nutrients of grown plants and we have the perfect herb!
Basil microgreens are one of the more slow growing microgreens. They germinate in 2 days but can take up to 20 to grow. However, thanks to their leisurely pace, you have the opportunity to spread out your harvest instead of clipping the basil microgreen plants all at once.
Perhaps the best thing about basil microgreens, or really any microgreens, is that they’re compact. You can grow these tiny veggies right in your home, with no digging required! All you need is seeds, supplies, and shelf space.
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Growing Basil Microgreens
You’ll see that it’s pretty easy and rewarding to grow microgreens. Even though basil microgreens take a little more time than others, each step will fly by. Let’s start with gathering some supplies.
- Seeds: We love True Leaf Market’s microgreens seeds, and will share a recommended list momentarily!
- Container: grab at least 3 shallow growing trays, one with drainage holes and two without
- Growing medium: go with a soil that’s fine-grained, such as Espoma’s seed starter mix or coconut coir
- Light: the Agrobrite T5 is our favorite out of the many great T5 grow lights
- Scissors: home kitchen shears are perfect
- Misting water bottle
- Heating mat (optional)
- Seed shaker (optional)
We highly recommend the high-quality seeds from True Leaf Market. Here’s a list of some of our favorite basil microgreens:
- Genovese basil
- Red Rubin basil
- Colorful basil microgreens mix
- Anise basil
- Dark Opal basil
- Thai basil
- Cinnamon basil
These materials are going to make the perfect setup for your home microgreen garden. Most of them can be reused with each microgreen crop you grow. The exception is the soil, which can grow bacteria if reused too often. Make sure to wash the tray with hot water in between uses.
You may opt to use natural sunlight instead of artificial, but microgreens actually grow best under grow lights. When placed directly underneath the light, the basil microgreens will grow uniformly and straight up. This also lowers the risk of etiolation.
Genovese and other basil seeds are mucilaginous, meaning they contain a significant amount of mucilage. This gelatinous substance is commonly used in medicine, glue, and even marshmallows. When it comes to soaking seeds though, mucilage is a bit of a hindrance. When the seeds get wet, the mucilage that the seeds are coated in makes them turn gooey, just like chia seeds. Save yourself some trouble and skip this step.
The first thing to do is fill the tray with drainage holes with potting soil. The soil should reach just below the top of the tray. Give it a misting of water and smooth out the soil as evenly as possible. Now, spread the microgreen seed across the potting soil. Because basil seeds are so tiny, you may want to use a seed shaker bottle to distribute them evenly.
When we grow microgreens, we space the seed very close together. This is going to create a dense mat of greens. There should be about 15 basil microgreen seeds per square inch or 2 tablespoons per tray.
Once the basil seeds are set, make them at home with a misting of water. The seeds will almost instantly start releasing mucilage, turning into goo. The mucilage holds water well, so don’t mist as much as you would with other micro plants. Grab a tray without holes and place it right on top of the soil. It should block out the light completely so the seeds can germinate and grow. Still, be aware that the container must have some airflow.
Some home microgreen gardeners claim that basil seeds don’t need darkness for germination. They’ve even stated that light helps the seeds sprout! This isn’t widely confirmed though, so feel free to do a little home experiment. If all goes well with germination, you won’t need that extra step to grow microgreens.
If you want to speed up the growing process, use a seed starting mat for this step. It will heat the potting soil to help the basil seeds germinate faster and get a jump-start on growing into microgreens. Set your mat to at least 75°F. Remember to turn it off for the growing step below.
Leave the cover tray in place for the first 4 days (if you chose to use one). It’s important that you don’t lift it because the mucilage will remain on the basil seeds until they’ve sprouted, and they will stick to the cover. The potting mix and mucilage should have retained enough water to last a while without another misting.
On day 4, check out how much the basil seeds have grown. If they are evenly sprouted and have tiny, folded leaves, you can take the cover tray off for good. The basil seeds are now ready to grow into full microgreens. If they don’t seem ready to you, mist with water, put back the cover tray, and give them another day or two to keep growing.
You’ll see that your basil sprouts are pale in color, so unlike the grassy green of grown basil leaves. This is quickly fixed by flipping on the grow light. Give your basil microgreens at least 12 hours of light every day and they’ll quickly turn green.
Growing microgreens and soil are very susceptible to bacteria, particularly the damping-off disease. To keep the plants as safe as possible, we’re going to ditch the spray bottle and start watering the soil from the bottom. Grab the hole-less tray and fill it with a few inches of water. Then, set the basil microgreen tray inside it. The growing medium will soak up the water and make it available to the growing roots, all without getting the leaves wet. Remember to take off the tray after some time so the soil doesn’t get waterlogged.
Water the basil microgreens this way as they continue to grow. You’ll know if the plants need more water by how light the tray feels. Depending on the temperature and air flow, you may be watering the growing basil microgreens every few days.
Basil microgreens grow for about 20 days until harvest, but they can be ready sooner so you need to know what to look out for. After all, if you don’t harvest them in time, you’ll end up growing basil plants, not micro greens.
Most microgreens need to be clipped at the cotyledon stage, but basil microgreens are an exception. For the best taste, wait until the first true leaves grow in. For your reference, the cotyledons are shaped like half circles while the true leaves are ovular and a little wrinkly. Also, the microgreens will grow to be about 2-3 inches tall.
Once you’ve determined they’re ready, stop watering for at least 8 hours so they can dry out a bit. Then, grab your home kitchen shears, which are perfect for a quick garden harvest. Cut the greens in bunches just above the top of the soil.
As we mentioned earlier, you don’t need to harvest the basil microgreens all at once. This step can be completed over several days. If you don’t get to them in time, the taste will be slightly different but still delicious. Basil microgreens can keep growing in their shallow tray for up to a month, but will need to be transplanted after that.
We recommend eating basil microgreens raw, since they’ll lose some nutrients when cooked. Plus, they’re deliciously crunchy when raw! Add them to pasta, eggs, grilled cheese, and more (we hear basil microgreens are fantastic in pesto).
Don’t wash the basil microgreens until you’re just about to use them. They store best when dry (the same way as any other microgreen). Place unused greens in an air-tight container and stick it in the fridge. If you see some moisture in the container over time, stick a paper towel in there to dry it up. With this home storage method, the basil microgreens will last about a week.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What can I do with basil microgreens?
A: Add them raw to any dish you like! Basil microgreens taste amazing in pasta, eggs, pizza, and pesto. They pair well with mozzarella and marinara sauce.
Q: Do basil microgreens taste like basil?
A: Yes, but with a slightly sweeter flavor (in our opinion, they’re way better!).