Microgreens have been growing in popularity over the years, so there is no better time to start growing and selling your own than now!
I mean, who doesn’t love pea shoots?
I for one, love fresh sprouts so I am very interested in growing our own, and hopefully not eat the profits!
We will be learning from the microgreen man himself, Curtis Stone (The Urban Farmer) for his expertise in growing micros.
Microgreens are very high value and a ton of production can come from a very small space.
However, just beware that seed is a big expense when it comes to microgreens and if you are not selling all that you are producing, these greens can quickly turn into a money pit.
So let’s avoid that and learn how to grow and sell them properly.
Introducing Microgreens To Your Customers
When you are starting to grow micros, it’s best to introduce them to your customer base on a small scale and test the waters.
Only scale up when you see demand growing.
If you are composting a lot of microgreens on a regular basis, you are probably losing money.
Microgreens are still a relatively new phenomenon for the average farmers market customer.
When bringing them to the market, be prepared to do a considerable amount of educating to get your customers to learn how to use them and appreciate their health benefits as well.
How To Grow Microgreens
Curtis grows his microgreens two ways:
- In 1” deep germination flats indoors or in greenhouses.
- Directly in the soil with a technique, he developed called The Board Technique. (We will be learning this method in a future article here.)
Varieties of Microgreens
Curtis grows three main types of microgreen crops:
- Pea shoots: Speckled Pea
- Sunflower shoots: Black Oil Sunflower
- Radish shoots: China Rose Radish
Feel free to branch out and grow different types of micros, there are a ton to pick from in the seed catalogs.
Indoor Greenhouse Growing
Curtis grows microgreens on a multilevel shelving unit equipped with fluorescent grow lights.
With this method, you must take caution to control your humidity levels and heat and make sure you have constant airflow; otherwise, you will encounter fungus issues that can cost you entire harvests.
Curtis grows indoors from November to early April.
There are 9 stages to growing microgreens in flats:
1. Sterilize the seed
Sterilizing seed is most important for sunflower seeds, as they have the greatest chance of fungus developing.
Before Curtis soaks the seed, he mixes 4 tsp of white vinegar and 4 tsp of food-grade hydrogen peroxide in one quart of water and soaks the seeds for 10 mins.
Then he drains and rinses them.
It is recommended by some health authorities that all soaked seeds be sterilized.
2. Soak for 6-8 hours
After sterilizing, soak seeds for 6-8 hours. This can be done overnight, then rinse them in the morning.
For pea shoots, he soaks 12 oz of seed per flat, for sunflowers 6 oz per flat.
3. Drain and rinse
Thoroughly drain and rinse the seeds after they have been soaked, then put them in a clean bucket.
If you can’t plant them right away, you can delay this process by a day or two by continuing to rinse and drain them a couple of times a day and keeping them in a shady cool area.
4. Prepare soil for planting
To prepare the soil for planting, Curtis uses a soil sifter made from ¼” steel mesh held in a small wood frame that is built to fit on a tote.
He shovels new sterile soil mix on the sifter and pushes it through with his hands.
This removes any large chunks of debris to make a very fine soil for planting.
5. Fill the flats and water
Next, fill each 1” deep flat with ¾ of finely sifted soil.
Then Curtis levels out the soil on the flats with his hands.
Next, he takes a small piece of plywood with a handle on top, that is the dimension of the flat, and he presses down the soil to make a firm planting surface.
Then, using a fine watering wand, he waters the flats heavily.
The best way to tell if you have watered enough is to stick your finger into the soil on a corner of the flat, and if it’s wet all the way down, you’ve watered enough.
Depending on how much seed you’ve soaked, spread the seed evenly amongst your flats, then spread it around with your hands.
7. Cover with sterilized empty flats, then stack to germinate
Now, cover the seed with empty flats and stack them to germinate.
It’s important to use flats that have been properly cleaned and sterilized when doing this.
Contaminated flats may cause fungus problems during germination.
Place the flats on the shelving unit with one layer of planted microgreens, an empty flat directly on top of the seed, then a sheet of corrugated plastic on top of that.
Then you can place other layers of flats on top of that in the same way.
Curtis does not stack more than three layers.
On the top layer, he places some books for weight.
8. Uncover after emergence and expose to light
Once the crops have emerged, lift up the flats that were covering them and bring the sprouted seeds into the light.
Wait for a day or half a day to water them, as there is still usually a lot of moisture in the soil.
9. Harvest and Wash
After between 5-7 days of being uncovered (depending on the season), the microgreens will be ready to harvest and washed.
When harvesting micros in flats, Curtis uses a very sharp chef’s knife.
He carefully grabs a handful of micros on the flat with his left hand, then cuts with his right.
In one cut, he is cutting about ⅙ of the flat.
In about 6 handfuls, he is cleanly harvesting the whole flat.
He cuts as low to the flat as he can, to get as much yield as possible.
You may not need to wash your microgreens if they are dirt-free after harvest. However, if you do need to wash them, this is how to do it.
There are three stages for processing microgreens. This is Curtis’s method.
Curtis starts with 3 totes in front of him, on the surface of his washing table.
The tote to his left came from the cooler, it holds the microgreens to be washed.
The tote in the middle is a medium-sized tote ⅔ filled with clean, cool water.
The third tote on his right is a large tote with holes drilled on the bottom for drainage.
He hangs a laundry bag inside this tote and uses a couple of spring clamps to hold it wide open.
He puts the micros into this bag after he has washed them.
To wash, take large handfuls of micros from tote #1 and dump them into tote #2.
Swish them around a couple of times.
When washing sun or radish shoots, as you dump handfuls into your washing tote, stick your hands along the surface of the water.
By splashing away from you, you will notice that the seed hulls will build up on that side of the tote.
Now, if you grab the shoots under the water and pull them towards you, away from the hulls, you will have a handful of shoots with very few hulls, and you can dump them into tote #3.
Every so often use a small colander to scoop the hulls off the surface and throw them into the compost.
From here, the laundry bag full of greens from tote #3 goes into the spinner (usually a modified washing machine).
Make sure the bag is evenly distributed around the circumference of the spinner, so the weight is spread around.
Set the machine for spin cycle and let it run.
Continue your washing process so you have the next bag ready when the spinner is done.
3. Dry and Sort
Pull the freshly spun micros out of the spinner and dump them onto the drying screen.
Spread the micros evenly over the screen, then run the fans at full.
Gently shuffle the greens around on the screen to expose more of the surface to air. Use this opportunity to pick out any bad leaves.
The last remaining hulls should fall through the drying screen as you move them around.
Be careful not to dry the shoots too much, otherwise, they will wilt.
Microgreens can be a fairly profitable crop if you have the market for them.
Start small, build a customer base, and then scale up it is necessary.
We are growing pea tendrils this year to test out our market. We actually tried to order pea shoots but they were sold out.
My advice if you are even considering growing microgreens is to order them NOW! They are becoming very popular and seeds are getting hard to find, as we experienced first hand.
We will be updating you on our microgreen growing experience in a future article, so stay tuned!
Do you grow microgreens on your market farm? Please let us know what your most popular micros are in the comments below.
Kathy & Jon
your friendly neighbourhood growers