Sprouts, Shoots and Microgreens

What’s for dinner? Fresh sprouts, shoots and micro greens, served up this cold, snowy February by Master Gardener Tracey Filson! Join us to learn about the equipment, process and fun involved in growing your own greens indoors.  These treats are quick to grow using simple equipment and supplies, much of which you may already have on hand. 

Sprouts vs Shoots/Microgreens

Sprouts are the seeds of a food crop soaked in water; after sprouting they are eaten whole; root, shoot and emerging seed leaf.  The water is changed repeatedly over several days and the germinated seeds (sprouts) are ready to eat in 3-7 days (depending upon plant species).

Image Credit: Almanac Photo

Shoots and microgreens on the other hand, are grown on a fibre mat or in a potting medium.  They establish roots and their first leaves (cotyledons) emerge and develop. The stems and leaves, but not the roots, are harvested and eaten. This process takes longer than sprouting, with greens usually ready for consumption in 8-12 days. 


Sprouting is done using a wide mouth glass jar such as a mason jar, topped with a mesh lid or piece of cheesecloth or fine screen, secured with an elastic band. To avoid bacterial contamination of your sprouts, it is important to ensure that your hands are clean and the equipment used is sterilized before you begin. For this reason, plastic containers are not ideal.

Sprout starter. Image credit: Tracey Filson

Organic sprouting seeds are available commercially, or you can use open pollinated seeds harvested from your own garden. They can be purchased as a blend of different types or as individual varieties.  If you are collecting seeds from your own garden, take care not to introduce contaminants when harvesting and storing.

Sprouting Directions

Soak: Measure 2-4 tablespoons of seeds into a wide mouth jar with a sprouting lid or screen.  Add potable water, swirl, and drain. Refill jar with water and soak 4-14 hours (depending on seed type, usually overnight). Drain well. Invert jar in a bowl to continue draining and place in a dark location, ideally at 20-24 degrees C.

Rinse: Twice a day, refill jar with cold, clean water, swirl, and drain. (3 times/day in hot weather)

Enjoy: Ready to eat in 3-7 days (again, depending upon variety).  Wash to remove seed husks, then spin or pat dry.  Refrigerate and store up to a week.

If you have a cooler home in the winter like Tracey, you might have better success with seeds from the mustard (Brassicaceae) family.   (e.g. Broccoli, kale, radish, mustard greens).  They will successfully germinate at lower temperatures (16°C), but it may take a bit longer to reach harvest.

Shoots and Microgreens

To grow these greens, you will need a sterile growing medium* or fibre mat, a clean, shallow tray with holes in the bottom for drainage, a second drainage tray without holes, access to a sunny window or grow lights and of course, seeds!  Tracey fills the tray with a pre-moistened organic seed starting mixture and tamps it down lightly before sowing.

*A note on growing medium: An organic starting or potting mix works well as does a compost/peat/perlite mix, there are many recipes out there. Do not use a commercial mix that contains “moisture retaining crystals”, nor unsterilized soil from your garden.

Image credit: Lee Valley

To Soak or not to Soak?

Pre-soaking large seeds such as beans and sunflowers before planting is recommended, as this hastens germination. Don’t pre-soak small seeds like broccoli as they are difficult to sow when wet, or mucilaginous seeds such as arugula. 


Sow the seeds much thicker than you would for baby greens or transplants, with seeds just touching each other.  Tamp down the seeds to ensure good contact with the soil or grow mat and mist with water.  Do not cover the seeds with soil as this slows germination time and is not necessary.  Cover with a plastic tray cover and place in a dark location until germination, or simply place a pre-moistened (not soggy) paper towel, newsprint, or kraft paper over the seeds until they germinate.  Spritz the paper periodically to keep it from drying out.  

Image credit: kevberon on pixabay.com

Let There be Light

Once the seeds have germinated, remove the cover and place them in a sunny windowsill (south facing) or under grow lights, away from drafts and direct heat.  Keep the seeds moist, but not wet by watering from the bottom, in the drainage tray rather than from above into the seed tray if possible.  This ensures more even watering and better root development.  

Grow lights. Image credit: Tracey Filson

Harvest and Enjoy

Once the cotyledons (seed leaves) are green and fully opened, the microgreens are ready to harvest.  Simply snip them off just above the level of the soil with a clean pair of scissors or sharp knife.   Wash and dry as you would any salad greens before eating.  Tracey places her cuttings directly into a salad spinner.  Of course, you can let these little seedlings continue to grow and harvest when you are ready to eat!

Soybean sprouts. Image credit: Tookapic on pixabay.com

We hope you are inspired to give this a try and enjoy a little bit of summer in your salad!

For more information on this topic, check out the following resources: 

Mother Earth News – Seed sprouting chart

West Coast Seeds  – How to Grow Microgreens

Mumm’s Seeds – an organic Canadian producer of sprouting seeds

Organic Sprouting Seeds and supplies are available at health food stores and some garden centres or online.