Interested in growing microgreens? We have all of your questions covered with this how-to guide. Follow the tabs below for everything you need to know about growing and caring for microgreens.
What Are Microgreens
Microgreens are 'baby plants', growing to only 1–3 inches tall when harvested. Reaching the harvest stage can take anywhere from 1-3 weeks, depending on the type.
Similar to sprouts, they are a concentrated nutrient source packed with beneficial vitamins, minerals and enzymes. Sometimes, the terms sprouts and microgreens are used interchangeably but there are some important differences.
Sprouts are germinated with water (no soil) and have a harvest window of 4-6 days. The sprout is harvested with the seed still attached; they often become a breeding ground for some nasty bacteria. Because of this, more food safety regulations are in place for sprout production. Growers harvest microgreens by removing them from the root and seed, making them less susceptible to waterborne bacterial contamination.
Which is What?
Sprouts–sprouts are defined as plants that have just sprouted their hypocotyl and are eaten with the root attached.
Microgreens– microgreens are harvested once their cotyledons are fully developed or at the first true leaf stage.
Baby Greens– this would be the stage the plants develop to if left to grow in the media for a couple of weeks (sometimes longer) past the microgreen stage. As the name implies, they resemble a "baby" size of the full-grown plant.
Tip: Adjust densities if growing out to true leaf stage versus growing to early microgreen stage.
*Adjust your densities (lower density) when growing out varieties to true leaf.
**Some seeds vary in weight and size depending on the species. Sizes can also vary depending on seed lot. Adjust accordingly.
Microgreens can be grown directly on a shelf under lights, in a windowsill in your kitchen, or in hoop houses and greenhouses. Start wherever your situation allows. Give your plants proper lighting, air circulation, and proper temperatures for the best results.
Your new microgreens will require at least 6-8 hours of light daily. If you can achieve this outdoors or indoors near a window, start there. Supplement this lighting with artificial light as needed. We discuss lighting in depth below.
Each 1020 tray will need a space that is around 1 ft wide and 2 ft deep. Keep this in mind when shopping for shelving or grow tables. Will you be setting up a flood and drain system? Keep the size of the flood trays in mind as well.
Find a space with access to water and power. You may need to add a dehumidifier to the space to prevent mold growth in the space. Fans circulating in the room will also help to minimize this risk. Wherever you decide to set up your growing area, make sure it is a space that is easy to clean and keep dry.
You will want to keep your grow space at around 60º-75º F with humidity levels below 70%. If your space is cooler, it may affect your germination rates and time to harvest. You can get away with growing in a cooler space by using heat mats to raise the soil temperature in the trays for germination. Lights will also help raise the temperature.
Why Use Flood & Drain for Growing Microgreens
A flood and drain system is often constructed using a rack with basic plumbing and a reservoir. Trays can be planted with soil or soilless media for use in a flood and drain. We love this method because it is efficient and can water more trays at once. These can be purchased as a kit or can be a DIY project if you are familiar with the basics of plumbing.
Tip: Ensure any flood and drain system includes filters to protect the pump from particulates. Filters should be cleaned weekly. Clean flood and drain systems regularly with a diluted H202 solution.
What Are the Best Microgreen Trays?
Microgreens can be grown in just about any container. You can start in a take-out container to which you add drainage holes or any other shallow container that is food safe. If you want a more even watering, we recommend you invest in trays with an even distribution of drainage holes. Since the trays will spend quite a bit of time under grow lights, it is a good idea to get trays with UV protection. Without a UV resistant coating, your trays may have a very short lifespan.
Trays specifically designed for microgreens come in several designs:
Mesh- A mesh tray has small holes throughout the entire tray allowing for superior drainage. These are great for varieties that benefit from top watering, ie. peas, sunflowers. They drain so easily that water pooling isn’t an issue. Peas and sunflowers have strong enough stems to handle top watering, not recommended for all varieties.
5X5 Microgreen Tray- these trays are ⅛ the size of the 1020. These work great for subscription sales and for individual use.*Please note: These do not fit well in our 1010 trays. The 5x5s are designed to fit eight within a 1020 tray. Since our 1010 trays are designed to fit two into a 1020 they are slightly smaller and do not fit four 5x5 trays precisely.
When purchasing seeds it is important to consider your market. It is best to start with salad mixes, peas, sunflower, broccoli, radishes, and mustards in our experience. The cost per tray is quite reasonable, they are popular with a larger client base, fast-growing, and ideal for beginners. Because they are all relatively quick to finish, the risk is lower as they haven't taken up valuable real estate in your grow room.
Some microgreen seeds will bring your cost per tray up. Before investing in expensive seed varieties you need to have clients with flexibility in their food budget. When you find a restaurant that wants high impact flavors and is willing to spend, you can experiment with these more expensive and slow growing greens. Examples of these would be Shiso, Red-veined Sorrel, Red Amaranth, Chrysanthemum Greens, Marigold, Orach, and Water Pepper.
Many growers will create a mix and feature a smaller amount of a high-end variety that alone would cost more than their client is willing to pay. This kind of flexibility and creativity will help turn your interactions with your clients from sales into a relationship. It can lead to them seeking you out as an expert and someone they can rely on to bring the freshest, best ingredients to finish their vision for the plate.
Creating custom mixes is a way to offer new products, using seeds that you already have on hand. Chefs love mixes and often want them created using particular colors and textures for specific plates they wish to create. It is crucial to consider the germination times for each seed variety to group those with similar harvest times if growing together on one tray. Bright colored radish microgreens are often paired with arugula for a spicy mix. Check out mixes for sale on seed websites for inspiration. You can also create mixes by harvesting separate trays and combining these varieties together post harvest. Be sure to look into regulations in your area regarding post harvest mixing. In some places this is considered food preparation and requires a commercial kitchen.
How to Store Microgreen Seeds
Microgreen seeds need to be stored in a cool (40-50º), dry place. It is best to keep them out of direct light and in a sealed container. All growers have a different system in place to organize and store their seeds. Make sure your seeds are accessible and easy to locate. Also, consider a tracking system to prevent running out of seeds of your most popular varieties. This sort of tracking is especially important when you have employees. You will want to keep a record of all seed inventory, updated weekly.
Buying higher-quality seeds will ensure that your germination rate will stay viable longer. All good seed suppliers will have a germination rating for their seeds within their catalog. With the right conditions, growers can store microgreen seeds for up to a year. Seeds stored longer than this often have their germination rates cut by at least 50%.
Seed Density For Microgreens
Seeds planted too densely are not able to breathe and drain. The roots will mat up as they grow too closely, preventing efficient drainage. As the tray grows, it often becomes too thick to circulate air through. This lack of circulation creates the perfect mold growing conditions.
Seeds vary in weight and size, depending on the type. Many growers determine the seeding rate by measuring out the weight of the seeds. This helps to keep the planting density consistent. We recommend using grams as the unit of weight for microgreen seeds. Measuring seeds in weight versus volume gives the grower a more precise measurement.
Seeds can also be distributed based on the number of seeds per sq. inch. For smaller varieties, this is 10-12 seeds per sq. inch. For larger seeds, it will be around 6-8 seeds per sq. inch.
Microgreens & Soaking Seeds - When & Why
We recommend using PH balanced water for the soak. This will help speed up germination times. Without digging too far into the science of it all, we do believe it’s important to understand PH (Potential Hydrogen). Water (H20) molecules contain two hydrogen (H) molecules. The PH scale measures the molecule's willingness to gain or lose one of these molecules. This scale ranges from 0 to 14, where a PH of 7 is neutral. This has to do with the balance of hydrogen ions in the solution. Optimal germination happens at a PH level of slightly less than 6. The reasoning behind this? When the water has a slightly acidic PH, the unbalanced amount of hydrogen ions in this solution create a reaction that helps disrupt any germination inhibitors (enzymes) that are in the seed coating allowing it to break down more quickly. It also helps to free up nutrients in the soil for easy absorption by plants.
PH - BALANCING WATER
Test water with litmus strips or solution that will allow a range of 4.0-8.0
At pH 7.0, 2 tsp/gal of lemon juice should take it down to ideal of slightly less than 6.0. Test various readings and ratios using that as your guide.
Be sure to shake well each use.
Many seed varieties require a pre-soak before planting. It is a good idea to add a short soak H202 (hydrogen peroxide) to this regimen.This can help prevent seed-borne diseases that could result in tray loss. Wear gloves and protective eyewear when mixing or spraying H202, follow recommended safety precautions on the bottle.
Some seeds are notorious for being “dirty” seeds such as:
Find a sterile container to soak your seeds. We recommend rinsing before the soak. Soak your seeds for the allotted time, 4-12 hours for most varieties. Rinse and drain the seeds. Then soak in a 3% H2O2 solution for 5 minutes before rinsing one last time.
When sterilizing smaller seeds, diluted H2O2 can be used as a spray to ensure a sterile starting point. After seeding your trays, mist them with a 3% solution. Let it sit for no more than 5 minutes before misting thoroughly with water. The trays are then ready to be stacked or placed under a blackout dome depending on type.
Leaving them in H202 for too long during the soaking process can lead to a warming effect because of the chemical reaction at play. This is not beneficial to your seed germination rates. The H202 also forms an air pocket around the seeds that inhibits water from penetrating the seed.
In addition to soaking, some companies stock split seeds. We've heard of some growers taking a hammer to split their Cilantro. We do not recommend this process as it could cause the seed to lose its viability. Buying them split is the way to go.
Once you have seed density down, it's time to get your tray planted. You will want to decide on a medium. Growers most often use soil, hemp mats, or coco coir. Considerations to have while making that decision are: who is your customer? If you sell to a restaurant that wants live trays, you may want to use a soilless media. If you're going to build up vermicompost, soil or hemp would be a great choice. People tend to have strong opinions about this, but we believe it is different for every situation with no right or wrong option.
Compost mixes/ worm compost
When planting you will want to add your media to your tray and compact it flat using another tray. This will provide your seeds with a smooth planting surface. If using a soilless media, determine if you need to rehydrate or sanitize it before planting seeds. Many growers use a diluted H202 or a geranium oil based fungicide to minimize the risk of mold when using non sterile media. Plant seeds directly on top of your soil or soilless media, lightly water in with the misting attachment for your hose or with a spray bottle. Afterward, stack or blackout your trays. If growing in a colder room, consider using a heat mat to speed germination.
Many growers use a combination of watering techniques depending on the stage of growth.
Bottom-watering Microgreen Trays
Watering microgreen trays from the bottom ensures a more even coverage. Water isn't able to oversaturate areas of the tray, causing mold and rot. This method also prevents damage to delicate microgreens that can occur during top-watering.
Top-watering Microgreen Trays
Keep a spray bottle filled with clean, pure water on hand, especially during the germination phase. Lightly mist trays once or twice a day. You want the trays to stay damp, not soaked. Mold can also become an issue if seedlings receive too much water during the germination process.
Newly formed root hairs and stem growth are delicate and can get damaged during watering. We recommend using the misting setting on a spray wand or a spray bottle to prevent these cotyledons from flattening. Often growers will top-water at planting and early in germination, then switch to bottom-watering when seeds emerge to avoid damage.
Ideally, you want your grow room's environment to stay reasonably consistent, but fluctuations do occur and need to be considered when watering. Keeping on a consistent watering schedule is a great habit, but successful growing boils down to making decisions based on the environment. If your grow room has been unseasonably warm, your plants might need a third watering. If it's late and you forgot to water, maybe you only spray the roots to avoid letting your plants become cold and damp overnight.
A popular method used during the germination process is tray stacking. Growers plant trays on their media, water them in and stack another planted tray on top of it. This method is advantageous as it puts weight on the seed encouraging a more even germination.
Seeds experience a blackout period during stacking. One of the greatest advantages of this method is how much space it saves. Growers stack up to 6 trays at once. Instead of only one 1020 tray taking up precious real estate in your grow space, you can maximize that space.
Most varieties do pretty well with this method, but some tend to stick to the stacked tray's bottom above it. Varieties like cress, arugula, and basil can be tricky. We've heard of growers using plastic sheets and other techniques, but you may want to put those varieties under a blackout dome.
Microgreens And When To To Use A Blackout Dome
Blackout Dome is a term used to describe when the grower flips over a 1020 tray on top of their planted tray to provide the seeds darkness during the germination process. We recommend using them for some varieties, especially slower germinating seeds. You will notice as you look through the “Ultimate Microgreen Cheat Sheet” that we mention blackout domes and stacking, sometimes both processes for one variety.
Using a dome for seed types prone to sticking is a great workaround if stacking does not work for you. You would use both in a case where you are trying to make a specialty product using a blackout technique (i.e., golden pea shoots, popcorn) or if the seed only benefits from stacking early in germination but requires a more extended blackout period. A great example of this is with carrots. Carrots germinate in around 5-7 days. The seeds do well stacked for the first 4-5 days but do better if they have a little time under blackout for the last few days as the new, delicate sprouts emerge.
What Are The Drawbacks To Using Blackout Domes?
Space is one of the biggest downfalls of using blackout domes exclusively. If you are a home grower this doesn't pose as much of a problem. However you will not want to waste precious space if growing at a larger capacity. The other drawback, the roots might not penetrate as well, especially if growing in a soilless medium. The geotropic response helps guide the root direction. Without it, you may notice some sprouts growing sideways or uneven germination rates. Blackout domes left on too long can also be a breeding ground for mold and fungi. It is important to use sanitized trays when growing and for use as a blackout.
Are Humidity Domes Necessary?
Here is the lowdown on thehumidity dome debate whenstarting seeds in cell trays or starting a tray of microgreens. Humidity domes are a useful tool to use during germination, often used in conjunction withheat mats. They help protect the seeds, maintain moisture levels, and create the perfect environment for those seeds to get a great start. While your seeds will germinate without the help of a humidity dome, using one will increase your germination rates.
This cuts down on wasted seed and time. Humidity domes are meant to stay on the tray until the first sign of germination, basically once you begin to see the sprout. After this, remove the dome and start your trays under light, with properair circulation. If brought under light too late, seedlings can get leggy. It is important to keep an eye on your emerging seeds during this step.
How Long Do You Keep Seedlings Under Humidity Domes?
While the seeds are in the germination process they require constant moisture. This is where a humidity dome can save you a bunch of time. Having to mist trays less often is huge! Once sprouted, this same humidity can lead to mold growth, so be sure to get them uncovered once the sprouting begins. Some growers like to wean their seedlings off of the humidity domes by opening the vents to allow airflow before fully acclimating them into the outside air. Sprouted seeds need light and air circulation to thrive at this point
How Do You Prevent Mold When Starting Seeds Using Humidity Domes?
Using domes that have an adjustable vent helps to combat this issue. You will typically see mold issues if you leave the humidity tray on for longer than the recommended time (germination phase). If any mold occurs during the germination process, it will often disappear once the tray has been exposed to proper airflow and light.
It is also very important to clean your humidity domes between uses and only plant seedlings together with similar germination times, ideally the same length as to prevent molding on the first emerging sprouts. Cleaning trays can be done with a basic detergent, a good rinse, and a quick spritz of H202 water.
Tip: Try to keep your growing space's humidity levels under 70% and temperatures below 75.
Other Benefits To Using Humidity Domes
Humidity domes provide protection for your seeds during the germination process. Have you ever had mice or bugs destroy a newly planted flat? Humidity domes seal up at the edges of the tray to help prevent pests from wreaking havoc on your new seedlings.
Another huge benefit to using humidity domes is for transport of fresh microgreens. In a time of contact free sales, customers welcome live trays of microgreens delivered with a cover and the reassurance that it has been protected during transport. From seed to sale, humidity domes can help ensure better germination, proper protection, and contact free transport.
Lastly, humidity domes can be converted into blackout domes using a non-flaking spray paint.You can also purchase ablackout humidity dome.
Mold or Root Hairs?
"Mold or root hairs?" has to be one of the most common questions new growers have when growing their first tray of microgreens. There are some distinct differences to help you become an expert mold spotter.
Root hairs are thin, featherlike cilia that grow out from the roots to increase the surface area of the new seedling to help with nutrient uptake. They will not have an odor and will only appear around the root of the sprout.
Mold, often appearing as spider-web like strands, can overtake a tray of microgreens when given the right conditions. Mold and fungi thrive without proper drainage, air circulation, and lighting.
Here are some key things to look for:
Grows above soil and directly on greens
Slimy to the touch
Will not disappear with rinsing
Can appear as black, purple, blue spots on leaves
Trays can also fall flat due to mold, also referred to as damping-off.
Damping-off In Microgreens
When plants are not receiving proper airflow, soil-based fungi can cause a condition called damping-off. The wet microgreens create an anaerobic environment which usually results in the loss of the tray.
The mold begins to steal all of the nutrients from the microgreens and they fall at the base. The fungi attack both the root and the stem.
Top 10 Ways To Prevent Mold On Microgreens
Plant in trays with drainage holes
Use clean growing mediums that allow for drainage
Control the humidity of your grow space
Provide trays with proper air circulation with the use of fans
Set up proper lighting conditions allowing for 6-10 hrs. daily
Presoak and disinfect "dirty" seed varieties
Avoid seeding too densely
Properly disinfect trays between plantings
Disinfect flood trays regularly with H202
Use the bottom watering method for microgreens
What Causes Mold In Microgreens?
Mold and fungi multiply quickly if given the opportunity. Many times poor drainage is the culprit. Microgreens need frequent waterings to grow, but pooling moisture left in the bottom of containers are often breeding grounds for mold.
The same type of moisture collection can also occur if you are using a growing media that does not encourage efficient drainage. We find that potting soils that include a good ratio of peat moss and perlite promote better air circulation and drainage.
Moisture in the environment can also contribute to mold. The humidity level of your growing space should ideally be between 40-60 percent. Adding a dehumidifier to the space can help to regulate humidity levels.
Lack of proper lighting can also agitate the problem. Mold prefers warm and dark. Afull spectrum light provides adequate lighting for the plants and disrupts the mold's life cycle.
Mold prefers stagnant air for breeding and multiplying. Installing proper air circulation is key! We recommend setting upcirculation fans in your grow space.
What Lights Do I Need To Grow Microgreens?
The good news about microgreens is that they do well under a variety of light sources. This means it is easy to start where you are and add on as your needs and your available funds increase. A few trays in a sunny window for the home grower, up through multiple vertical rack systems with dedicated growing lights for commercial production.
The question of which lights to use can be complex and depends on a lot of factors.
Are you growing for home use or commercial sales?
How many trays are you growing?
Do you have access to sunlight, IE. greenhouse or sunroom?
Are you planning to grow year round?
Do you need reliable harvest times or are you more flexible?
How much money can you invest in your light system?
Here we will go over the most popular lighting options from lowest to highest in terms of cost and list some of the pros and cons of each.
This is, of course, the cheapest and most complete spectrum light source available. For the home grower, any sunny window sill or small greenhouse can be used to grow microgreens. In larger scale operations greenhouses or high tunnels with tables can be used to grow microgreens when limited space is not a concern.
Pros: Free, readily available, no wiring or timers needed, complete light spectrum in the 6500k range on a clear day.
Cons: Inconsistent due to seasons and weather, produces heat that can affect growth, does not work well in vertical rack systems, requires supplemental lighting in winter months.
If you have plenty of table space and some flexibility on harvest times this can be a great way to grow microgreens.
Fluorescent Shop Lights
Fluorescent lights are similar to LEDs in light production but use more power to run and produce more radiant heat so we don’t recommend them here. They also regularly contain mercury which can contaminate your grow area if the bulbs are broken. If you are using existing fixtures we recommend replacing the CFL bulbs with LED.
All of that being said, we know growers that have been using these for 2 years now with decent results. They work fine for the shorter growing cycle crops but micro herbs and longer growing cycle crops need the higher light spectrum available in the LED Strip Grow Lights to reach potential.
LED Bulb Shop Lights
These can be purchased at most big box stores for around $20 a piece. They are a standard 4’ long. These make an excellent trial light when you are ready to try growing indoors or need to go with a vertical rack to increase growing capacity in a limited footprint.
Pros: Inexpensive, easy to find, acceptable light spectrum 2200k-4000k for microgreen growth, produces minimal heat, can usually be daisy chained 3-4 lights, works with 120v household electrical outlets.
Cons: Bulbs are often unprotected from water and dust making them susceptible to damage, brands vary greatly in quality, normally designed to be installed horizontally only, less efficient than strip LEDs, generally last far fewer hours than strip lights, light spectrum too low for longer growing crops (this shows as discoloration in the leaves in later stages of growth or plants becoming too leggy and falling over before harvest).
All of that being said, we know growers that have been using these for 2 years now with decent results. They work fine for the shorter growing cycle crops but micro herbs and longer growing cycle crops need the higher light spectrum available in the LED Strip Grow Lights to reach potential.
LED Strip Grow Lights (T5)
Dedicated grow light strips are usually sold in the same standard 4’ as shop lights. Full spectrum, above 5000k strip lights run from $75 up to $650. Most of these offer a growing area of 4’x2’. They can come with or without the surrounding reflector that gives it the classic shop light shape and helps redirect light increasing efficiency.
Pros:Moderately expensive, can be found in hydroponic stores and online, full light spectrum 4500k and above allows for longer growing periods, produces minimal heat, efficient watt to lumen ratio, the good ones offer lighting surfaces that are protected for dust and water, can usually be daisy chained up to 7 lights, most work with 120v household electrical outlets, some can be installed vertically if needed for your set up.
Cons:Moderately expensive(pro or con depending on your situation), quality, efficiency, and longevity can vary greatly between brands.
These are the most commonly used lights in vertical growing systems. We offer a self contained (light, plug and reflector) option in our store.
LED Panel Lights
These are the top of line growing lights for indoor use. They are generally used in larger scale commercial growing of plants that need to reach full size or produce flowers indoors. The high light intensity could be considered overkill for growing microgreens. Ranging in price from $99 into the $1,000s they can be very expensive for the limited growing area. Growing area covered is typically 3’x3’ for smaller panels up through 8’x8’.
Pros: Come in a variety of sizes, intense full spectrum light capabilities, variable sizes for customized growing spaces, highly efficient watt to lumen ratio.
Cons: Expensive, thick profile limits their ability to work in vertical rack systems, generally require separate ballasts for electricity, must be purchased from specialty suppliers online or in hydro stores if they are available in your area.
How Far Should My Lights Be From Microgreens?
This depends on the light source being used because heat generated by the lights can burn microgreens if placed too close. Most LED strip lights do not generate enough heat to cause problems and do well 6-12 inches from the surface of the growing greens. The farther the greens are from the light source the more they will “stretch” and become leggy.
Panel lights are higher intensity and can be placed farther from the growing surface without too much light loss.
How Many Hours of Light Do Microgreens Need?
There are as many opinions on this as there are growers to have them. General rule is that plants need AT LEAST 6 hours a day of light to grow. If you are using sunlight as your main light source, you are of course limited to the hours available to you. Being aware of shade patterns and light direction when setting up your system can help you get the most from your hours.
Indoors you have the control to experiment with what works best for you. Some growers keep lights on 24/7 to speed growth. Others use a modified daylight schedule of 12 hours on 12 hours off. Some growers use an 18 hour on 6 hours off. Here there is a happy medium between extra light hours to speed growth and allowing the plants “resting” time. Many find that the colors and flavors just seem better when the plants are allowed rest in the growing cycle. Experiment with different light cycles and see what works best for you.
A note on light spectrums- most lights will be labeled between 2000K to 6500k.
The lower end of this scale, color temperatures from 2000K to 3000K, are referred to as “warm white” and range from orange to yellow-white in appearance.
Color temperatures between 3100K and 4500K are referred to as “cool white.” This range will emit a neutral white light.
Above 4500K will give off a blue-white light that mimics daylight.
Because most microgreens are grown for short periods of time the light spectrum is less important than plants grown longer or into a flowering stage. In growing micro herbs or other plants longer than 20 days it is advisable to use lights that produce a color temperature above 4500k.
Lumens to Watts is another phrase you will see in a lot of light comparisons. This refers to the amount of light produced per watt of electricity used. LEDs are the most efficient by far.
Once your microgreens reach between 1 and 3 inches, it is time to harvest. Growers use a few different methods to do this. Kitchen scissors, precision scissors, a clipper, or a sharp knife can all be used to harvest your greens. Whatever method, make sure that you have a clean workspace and cutting equipment for harvest.
If growing for yourself, we recommend harvesting directly from the tray fresh as you want to use them. Greens can be stored in the refrigerator or live on the counter. If you wish to harvest and package, we recommend using a sealed container as delicate stems and foliage are quick to dry out. If cutting to sell, look into your local USDA office for your county’s regulations.
Reusing Soil After Harvesting Microgreens
After your microgreens are cut, what do you do with the spent (harvested) tray? The leftover roots, stems, and growing media can be used to augment your growing or homesteading efforts in a number of ways.
In some areas, you must have a license to compost and reuse growing media on your farm. However, you can still generate worm castings to feed outdoor plants and use the residual root mats and plant matter in other ways.
Planting Spent Trays of Microgreens
Nasturtiums, borage, and chrysanthemums greens can be planted directly into garden beds or grow bags and allowed to grow. They produce flowers quickly and can provide an additional product for sale. A 1020 tray of nasturtiums planted in a larger pot can start producing flowers in as little as 4 weeks.
Radish and bok choy trays planted in the garden will produce full-size veggies in 4-6 weeks.
Using Spent Microgreen Trays as Mulch
Much like straw, the thick root mats generated by microgreens help the soil underneath retain moisture and nutrients when used as mulch. The presence of decaying roots and the protected soil surface draw worms and beneficial microbes upward.
This reduces irrigation needs while providing some of the benefits of companion planting. For example, pumpkin plants mulched with leftover radish micros will receive protection from squash beetles. They also work great in SFG beds to suppress weeds and protect soil between plantings.
Composting Spent Trays
One of the best uses of spent trays is to feed them to your worms. You can remove the spent media from trays to be layered with cardboard or crumpled unbleached paper in a worm bin. The worms make short work of the roots and stems generating usable castings in a few weeks time.
Feeding Spent Trays to Livestock
If you raise poultry or ruminates; spent media and residuals can be pulled from the trays and placed out for animal access. Mamas and chicks kept penned for protection particularly like the fresh food and scratching opportunity.
Seed Saving from Microgreen Trays
Trays used as living mulch can be allowed to grow until they bolt and produce seeds. The limited space allowed each plant stresses the plant and encourages fast bolting. It is best that this be used by home seed savers as there are regulations in place for the production of seeds used for crops in agriculture. Some great resources on seed saving can be found here:
Trays will need to be cleaned after every use. This includes trays used for blackout and bottom-watering. We recommend using hot soapy water with a basic detergent. It is important to clean out all debris as it could cause mold for the next tray. After rinsing the trays, spray down each tray with a diluted H202 solution. Bleach can also be used by adding it to the soapy water, but is a little harder on septic systems and trays. Let air dry and store in a clean, dry place. High-quality microgreen trays will last years if you take care of them.
Microgreens are no doubt nutritious, but we urge you to take caution when giving health advice. There are hundreds of studies out there. We recommend that you do your research. Go ahead and log a couple of ounces of microgreens into a popular fitness tracker; you will probably notice that the vitamin content is huge.
Some microgreens contain standout nutrients that warrant mentioning to your clients, however you should avoid making health claims. In large part because studies show that growing media and use of nutrients significantly impacts the nutrition level of microgreens. Broccoli microgreens in particular have been well researched and regardless of growing method show high levels of calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and zinc. Free radical fighting anthocyanins are highly concentrated in red and purple plant varieties.
We have listed a few notable studies below in the resource tab.
How to Cook with Microgreens
If you are looking for ways to help clients use the microgreens they buy from you, we have included a printable PDF for you to share that includes simple ideas for any home cook. More inspiration can be found below.
Are you looking to step up your culinary game at home with fresh, nutritious microgreens?
Microgreens can bring a surprising amount of flavor, texture, and color to dishes.
If you just grew your first tray or needed some new microgreen recipe ideas to share with your customers, we've got you covered with some great recipe ideas.
Here are a few of the ways we like to enjoy our freshly grown microgreens:
1. Veggie Bowls with Microgreens
These curly pea tendrils added to this vegan bbq bowl add both flavor and protein.
Layer the cooked rice, beans, corn, fresh avocado, and bbq tempeh.
Top with a light bbq sauce and vegan sour cream.
Mixing the fresh greens with warm cooked vegetables, beans, and rice creates a texturally, exciting, playful dish.
2. Microgreens as a Side Dish
A simple beet salad made with broccoli microgreens, roasted beets, sea salt, pepper, and a light squeeze of lemon juice served as a side-dish to beet-loaf and mashed potatoes.
Microgreens can serve as a flavorful side of greens to compliment any dish the same way one would use kale or spinach.
3. Avocado Toast with Microgreens
Avocado toast topped with fresh tomatoes, a balsamic glaze, and broccoli microgreens.
Or try the avocado toast with sunflower sprouts, pumpkin seeds, and goat cheese for a savory flavor.
Tip: For a "spicy" avocado toast, try topping with wasabi, arugula, or radish microgreens.
4. Adding Microgreens to Pasta Dishes
Garnish pasta dishes, like this linguine with hummus cream sauce with sautéed mushrooms and tomatoes.
You can also add fresh microgreens to soups and sauces. Adding microgreens to carb-heavy meals helps to balance the dish while adding loads of nutritional value.
5. Fresh Microgreens Salad
With so many microgreens varieties to choose from, the salad possibilities are endless. Using several different microgreen varieties in one salad adds dimension and the opportunity to layer flavors.
Tip: Drizzle a bowl with salad dressing or oil and toss the salad for better coverage
Microgreens Varieties for Salad
red acre cabbage
For more spice- try adding rambo radish, arugula, curled cress, or Asian mustards.
Easy Salad Dressing
1/2 olive or avocado oil
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp coarse ground black pepper
6. Topping Sandwiches with Microgreens
Microgreens take sandwiches to "deli" quality right in your own kitchen. The fresh greens provide the perfect crunch. Use microgreens in place or in addition to lettuce on a sandwich.
Add spicier microgreens such as leek or radish for added kick!
7. Adding Microgreens to Fruit Smoothies
Microgreens add loads of vitamins and are a great way to add fiber to your morning smoothie. Blend a cup of fresh fruit, microgreens, water/yogurt/or milk, chia seeds, and honey.
Tip: Freeze leftover microgreens from harvested trays to add to smoothies.
Best Microgreens for Smoothies
8. Making Fresh Pesto from Microgreens
Micro Arugula, Basil, Radish and many other varieties can be made into amazing pesto. This is also a great way to use up an unsold tray or can be used as an added-value product for your microgreens business.
Simple Arugula Microgreen Pesto
2 cup arugula micros
3 Tbsp pine nuts
4 peeled cloves garlic
1/2 tsp sea salt
4 Tbsp Nutritional Yeast
2-3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil
4-6 Tbsp wateror as needed for consistency
Combine and blend in food processor, stores for up to a week in refrigerator, or frozen for about a six months.
9. Juicing Microgreens
Make fresh juice from microgreens. Pea shoots, broccoli, wheatgrass, and kale microgreens are commonly juiced. Add lemon to your fresh juice for added enjoyment.
Tip: If you don't own a juicer, blend greens with water in a high powered blender. Strain juice through a cheesecloth.
10. Stir-fry Dishes with Microgreens
Microgreens can be sauteed or added fresh to stir fry and asian noodle dishes. There are some really great Asian green varieties of microgreens that are sure to elevate your stir fry.
What does it take to sell microgreens? Before doing anything else, consult your USDA for licensing and inspection requirements. States vary on how they handle microgreens but make it clear to the agent that you are not growing sprouts. Because sprouts are more prone to waterborne bacteria, they require more stringent inspection and regulation.
After you have all the requirements met, start looking into your market. Is there a local co-op that might be interested in what you have to sell? Are you interested in selling directly to restaurants and chefs? Figuring this out will help you decide on the packaging. Selling live trays is the best way to go, but some clients might prefer greens pre cut into containers. Packaging costs will vary depending on the material and should be figured into your selling price. We will talk about sustainable packaging later on. While they tend to cost more per unit, many customers will appreciate that you choose to use them.
Pricing microgreens really depends on your market and product inputs. How much will each tray cost you to grow?
Consider these costs:
Lighting X number of days under lights
Tip: On average each 48” T5 light (four 1020s fit under one light) will cost around $1 per day.
Media cost per tray
Seed cost per tray
Labor (Number of hr. per tray from seed to harvest) X (desired wage)
Create a website or business page for your new business. This will help get the word out about the fresh products you have to sell. Decide if you want to participate in local farmers’ markets or if direct to clients is your sales channel. Start building those relationships by introducing yourself to clients with samples in hand.
How Do You Approach A Restaurant To Sell Microgreens?
Are you nervous about approaching chefs to sell your greens? Building relationships with chefs is easier and less intimidating with the right preparation. Restaurants are always in the market for fresh ingredients. If you can provide consistent service and quality products, you are a step ahead of the competition.
Before calling or stopping in to talk to chefs, do your research. Get a list together of your top restaurants and take a peek at their menu. Get a feel for their style and commonly used ingredients. If it is something coming off of a food distribution truck chances are, they will opt for your product instead.
Building Relationships With Restaurants
Get some samples and a printed menu with pricing put together to offer during your first introduction. Chefs are busy and if you keep the ordering and payment process simple and reliable, they will continue to use your products.
Staying up to date with the food trends is helpful when building a relationship with a restaurant. Social media is a great way to do this. The food industry is ever-changing and staying current will give you an edge.
Packaging Farm Products Sustainably
Packaging accounts for a large part of the Cost of Goods Sold for a grower. Clamshells are by far the most popular way to package many products like herbs, flowers, and microgreens.
There has been an increasing amount of 'eco-friendly' options available made of plant-based plastic. But the problem with this is it still requires packaging to be created, shipped, and thrown away(or composted) after every single purchase. We think we can do better.
Beyond the necessary inputs needed to grow these products - media & seeds, the labor around harvesting and packaging make up a massive % of the overall costs to growers.
While some of your customers may be used to the harvested product in clamshells, selling live products in reusable grow trays can bring many benefits that far outweigh the plastic option.
Selling Living Product To Customers
When you sell a live product to customers, they can utilize the freshest ingredients with minimal effort on their end. You will need to guide them on how to harvest and care for their greens' trays between deliveries. Many restaurants opt for this style of delivery because it ensures a fresh product on every plate.
Many chefs will request a dirt-free substrate if ordering live trays for their restaurant. We recommendcoco-coir orhemp mats as they are a cleaner alternative for a kitchen.
Keep Clients Coming Back Weekly W/ Subscription & Exchangeable Models
Subscriptions - Auto-delivery, paid upfront, allows zero waste. Leans into current and future trends. Set up an online farm store for easy ordering giving your customers access to your products 24/7. Set up delivery with reusable containers delivered to their door.
Exchange - Swap empty container for $1 off
Cost Savings & Higher Margins With Exchange Programs
Doing an exchange program with recycled, reusable containers is not only sustainable, but it is cost saving for the grower.
Less input costs --> higher margins
Better customer loyalty.
Builds a customer habit of doing business with you (habits being the hardest things to train).
Keep in mind if you choose this route you will need a way to clean, sanitize and store your containers.
Building A Sustainable, Scalable, Habit-forming Business
Selling live microgreen trays in reusable5 X 5 microgreen trays is a business model that we have been following amongst several successful growers that we know. It is pretty simple and we love how sustainable it is.
Customers purchase their orders weekly via ecommerce or CSA. They pay a small deposit on the microgreen tray along with the cost of the greens. The grower is then able to do a contact-free delivery. Customers are able to harvest right from their tray, ensuring fresh greens all week.
Afterward the harvested tray is exchanged for a fresh tray. If the customer decides to keep the tray to grow their own, the deposit covers it. It is a very simple system that works out well for both the grower and customer.
Customer purchases live tray via website- with added tray deposit
No contact delivery provided
Customer enjoys greens cut at their leisure
Customer exchanges old tray for new tray weekly
Reusable Packaging For Restaurant Sales
Ryan Pierce from Fresh Impact Farms requires that the restaurants that he sells to use reusable containers for exchange. He provides them with the containers and only charges them if they go missing and need replacement.
This has led to a huge reduction in waste for them. Cycling through single-use plastics whether they are plant-based or not is often a conflicting thing for sustainable farmers. We as growers have an opportunity to lead the way in changing those habits.
What to Do with Extra Microgreens?
Some weeks as a grower, you may find that you have extra unsold trays. Instead of letting them go to waste, why not create a value added product from the excess. It is sometimes possible to market these products at a higher margin than the original tray would yield. Think about your clients and your local market; what would appeal to them?
Microgreens can be dehydrated to make spices, teas, and for encapsulation. When the greens are properly dried, they add an even richer flavor to meals. The vitamin and mineral content of microgreens are preserved during this drying process, making them a great supplement choice for the health connoisseur.
Fresh microgreens can be processed into scrubs, soaps, bath bombs, or fresh in the kitchen to make pestos and salad dressings. They can also be bagged and frozen for use later in soups, pestos, or as an addition to shakes and smoothies.
These studies contain some of the most up to date and useful information we have found on nutritional content of microgreens, growing practices and shelf-life. They are all academic papers and can be thick reading but worth it if you want to speak from an informed point of view.
“This study examined the mineral concentration of broccoli microgreens produced using compost-based and hydroponic growing methods that are easily implemented in one’s own home. The nutritional value of the resulting microgreens was quantitatively compared to published nutritional data for the mature vegetable.”
“Furthermore, the results highlight that the micro broccoli raab, micro broccoli and micro cauliflower in this study can be considered nutrient-rich vegetables that are able to improve dietary patterns more effectively than their mature counterparts.”
“AllBrassica microgreens are an excellent source of Vitamins A and E (more than 20% of the daily reference value-DRV), as well as a good source of calcium and manganese (10-19% of the DRV).”
This study is complex to read but contains some fascinating graphics on the comparative vitamin and mineral content of different varieties of microgreens. It also contains some great information on post harvest sterilization and shelf-life.
“Broccoli microgreens require approximately 200 times less water and take 95% less time to grow than mature broccoli, and they do not need any application of fertiliser or pesticides . Moreover, broccoli microgreens were reported to have superior levels of Mg, Mn, Cu and Zn compared to the mature vegetable . Furthermore, lettuce microgreens not only contained higher levels of Fe, Ca, Mn, Zn, Se and Mo compared to mature lettuce but also contained lower levels of NO3 .”