How to Grow Your Own Microgreens

A guide to growing your own super greens at home.

Guest post by Ofir Maoz (@TheVutchery)

In this special guest post, Ofir Maoz inspires us to start growing our own microgreens at home and even how to turn it into a small business.

Overview

In this article, I’m going to talk about Microgreens and how to grow them yourself. Hopefully, it will inspire you to grow your own super greens and even start thinking about creating your own microgreens home business if you wish. I will tell you how to utilize the super-fast growth of this Mega Crop.

We will address the nutritional aspect, and explain the differences between strains, seeds, and mediums while focusing on soilless growing.

I will also cover basic Hydroponics/Aeroponics while “connecting the name with a face”, by showing examples of growth, do’s and don’ts, and produce examples.

What is Hydroponics?

Hydroponics is the name of the system used to grow plants in water with no soil.

The roots are soaked in water/solution all day in the Kratky system for example and soaked only parts of the day in another system.

There are many different types of hydroponic systems, NFT (Nutrient Film Technique) for example, DWC (Deep Water Culture) is another one, Kratky also which I mentioned and there are many more versions and builds, if you may. 

The basic idea of all of them is, no soil, usually automation, usually pumps, usually will need a bit of customization.

The soilless option gives the grower many advantages compared to soil growing, some of those advantages are :

  • No dirt. 
  • Better root development and monitoring.
  • Up to 95% less watering needs.
  • Pesticide, herbicide free.
  • Usually, 2-3 times quicker as compared to soil and also better produce in fruits and veggies.
  • Year-round produce, regardless of weather conditions, usually indoor growing, with 99% of the environment automated, monitored and managed.
Image by 41330 from Pixabay

What is Aeroponics?

Aeroponics is a technology developed by NASA. It took the well known hydroponic system and added a twist to it, by hanging the plant’s roots in the air, and sprinkling the roots a few times a day for short time frames, with an automatic sprinkler.

What this does is, it allows the roots to dry up a bit. The plant then craves the next feeding, while all the time keeps it searching for that elusive water source, that exists and does not exist, and feeds and doesn’t feed. That action will make the plant a lot stronger and resistant for its entire lifetime.

Growing Area

The growing area needs to be kept clean at all times, especially in aeroponic and hydroponic systems. Microgreens aren’t actually grown in these systems most of the time, but from my experience, they thrive there. Sometimes even more than on a paper towel tray system, which is the most common way hydro for micros outside soil.

Water reservoirs need to be sanitized and taken care of monthly, making sure no insect has decided to make them his home.

Water (or hydroponic solution) for actual feeding should be added regularly to the reservoirs, in order to ensure smooth flowing of the water/solution. When the water flows (no stuck leaves or roots in our hoses), everything flourishes.

Electricity should be protected anywhere near water, hydro/aeroponic systems can and will fail from time to time, remember to cover any risky areas and make sure you are not barefoot.

What are Microgreens?

Microgreens are post-sprouting micro plants.

Sprouts are grown usually 2-4 days in darkness, while microgreens are 7-25 days of growing (strain dependent). 70% of that time period will be with exposure to light. Now, because they were already exposed to light, photosynthesis already took place, giving the plants their beautiful green vivid colour, as opposed to the not so beautiful sprout which hasn’t been exposed to light. The plants still have only their initial leaves, and that’s how they will be harvested, microgreens do not grow true plant leaves, rather their default seed leaves.

Nutrition

Microgreens are by far the #1 superfood known to humanity.

They contain up to 40 times more nutritional value than the final plant, this is due to the fact that the seed holds everything the plant needs to reach this phase fully nourished and ready to kickoff to higher level vegetative growth phase. We basically harvest it at maximum nutritional density levels as per size grown ratio.

If left to grow post microgreen harvesting phase, the plants will fully develop and form a mature version of themselves, depending of course on the aeration the seeds have and had, to begin with, remember, they were microgreens, hence the density of seeding was maximized. When there’s too less aeration, this will result in less oxygen for the plant, which will trigger root rot, and open the door for other deficiencies and diseases.

Microgreens do not need any nutrition boosts, solutions or any other packaged name big-fertiliser is trying to sell you. They thrive perfectly with good water, preferably reverse osmosis water, fair aeration, and basic light. They will grow in complete shade as well, as long as you will take care of sanitation and over watering issues.

Trending Microgreen Strains

These are the most sought after strains in the markets today. They are all nutrient-rich:

  • Radish
  • Pea Shoots
  • Sunflower
  • Amaranth
  • Red Vein Sorrel
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Cabbage
  • Lettuce
  • Cilantro

Each one of these plants has a different germination period length, harvesting date and growth cycle.

The quickest are the Pea shoots, Radish and Sunflower. All are, as mentioned earlier, very well available market-wide, as they are already known by customers.

The Microgreens Growing Life Cycle

There are  3 phases in the microgreens life cycle ‘seed to harvest’.

Best practice here is to cover the germinating seeds with a dome or such to provide more humidity and try to mimic earth better.

Dry seed

“Planted” in an overly wet dual layer paper towel, folded onto itself to provide moisture on upper seed part as well, for quicker, faster, stronger germination.

Germination

Germination takes 2-3 days usually with most seeds. Some strains can take 4-5 days and some, such as cilantro, can take a week to 10 days to germinate. Then they become sprouts.

Sprouts

Sprouts appear at day 3-4 and will end their phase usually at day 4-6 and turn officially into Microgreens.

They are edible & highly nutritious, very well known from classic Eastern cuisine. The sprouts look less sexy though, but, a very good bang for the buck nutritionally speaking.

This is the phase that we expose our future micros to the light for the first time, don’t worry as they will be yellow, because no photosynthesis has occurred yet.

Microgreens

This is what we’ve gathered here for, our produce is ready, or ready to be ready in a matter of hours/days.

Microgreens are beautiful, tall, strong, highly nutritious mini plants, and because we eat so many of them, (they are so small), we basically get a mega blast of nutrients.

Be Careful, Watch Out For…

Mold

Mold can and will attack you every now and then, but the more professional you become, the less mold you will experience. 

Dealing with mold is very simple. We take the moldy tray and wash it thoroughly with a gentle sprinkler, not direct, we do not want to put pressure on the plants, they are still young and weak.

After washing and cleaning the infected areas, let it dry up, and then re water.

Mold basically appears when you do not drain post watering.

Aeration 

Just make sure to seed with enough space as per seed size for post germination phase.

Remember the bigger the seed is, the larger the space it’ll need for a microgreen plant, for later phases. So you want to give more space to the bigger seeds, for example, red beans, and you can have higher density, with smaller seeds like quinoa, flax, etc.

A larger seed will take a lot of water, be sure to water your big seeds 3 times a day, as they will suck up all that water quick. If you miss the timing, you either make the duration of the process longer or you can also kill the process.

Always check on your daily routine that these parameters are being kept intact when you become more robust, you will stop suffering from mold.

Over Watering

Always drain your trays. Microgreens usually aren’t in an automatic watering timer regimen for the small scale farmer, it’s a flood drain watering system basically, even in soil.

Don’t forget to drain your trays
Lights

If grown in complete shade, the greens will be yellowish but will be edible and alright. In terms of nutrient availability, my opinion is that they will be less nutritious, best DYOR though.

Lights can get fancy and expensive, but usually aren’t needed for micro greens.

The exposure to light, (not direct sun, just the existence of light) should be enough for you to crop beautiful pea shoots and such in a week to 10 days time.

Insects

Some insects might want to come live with your micros, I say don’t let them, if you do, they might contaminate the produce.

In order to get rid of them peacefully, rinse thoroughly, while protecting the plants, they will fly / crawl away at the sight of water.

Birds

Early bird catches the worm. In our case the early bird catches the seed.

If you plant your seeds and don’t cover your tray birds will eat them. Your seeds require complete darkness anyway for the best results. Remember, we are trying to mimic nature as per how the seed would have felt if it was starting its lifecycle in the wild.

So cover your trays, and you can add weight to the top, to incentivize strong root growth, which will result in super plants, micro to grown.

I know many growers that place a brick, yes a brick, on top of the germinating trays, when the micros push the brick. YES, they push the brick, crazy right? It will actually lift the brick, you can play a Rocky Balboa tune when it does.

Harvest and Package

Harvest

Harvesting is done on average at day 7-10. Pea shoots at day 7 are ready to go, so is Radish and Sunflower, different Kales need 8-13 days, Amaranth needs 21 days and Cilantro 25 days for micros. Beans can be fully developed at 6 days! Lentils need 6-7 days as well, black lentils are quicker than red ones, be advised though, that germinating beans stink so bad, just a heads up.

If you did harvest, be prepared with a fridge near by, get good ziplock bags, food approved and lock em up. Put them in the fridge and do not rinse them until you are actually going to eat them. They will lose quite a bit of shelf life if you do. 

Mobilization

If you’re doing this as a business, you want to be able to move your produce and keep it cold while doing so. Microgreens are notorious for their short shelf life, you do not want to shorten that even more so keep them cold at all times. Meeting a client like a chef isn’t great when your produce looks dead.

Always keep them cold. Never rinse until you need them. Try to not harvest if possible, keep them alive, until the last “microgreen phase day” where it turns to a less nutritious/tasty plant.

Most of the chefs that know what microgreens are will ask you to sell it to them alive, in their growing medium, so that they can present them to the customer as they eat it for salads, sandwiches, smoothies and what not.

Lights

If you have access to basic sunlight every day for your trays, you are sorted.

If you are indoors, and heavily shaded, it will still grow very well. However, it will take a bit longer and might not green all the way up like someone using a T5 grow light. Don’t worry though they will still be edible, tasty, and good quality.

T5 Grow Light

If you do decide to add growing lights, do your research. There are a few basic things you would want to know, but for the time being, microgreens will do awesomely with a 65k fluorescent. 

Rack

A rack can be anything you decide is a rack.

I myself am using simple $25 rack with plastic shelves which my microgreens rest unbelievably well on.

My rack

Best to have some places you can hang lighting fixtures for when you do decide to grow faster/more/etc.

Trays

The classic microgreen tray used worldwide is the 1020 (see image above). These are 10 inches by 20 inches with room for roots or soil.

Most of the classic growers use soil for microgreens, but I believe (and I’ve heard it from many growers) that they don’t have the know-how they claim to have.

Growing Microgreens Hydroponically

I believe this is the best way. I actually believe its the only way. Soil makes things complicated in my opinion.

You get dirt. That gets you a lot more insects. Which gets you a lot more work to do. You will need more storage space. More sanitizing areas and this is crucial for small places (many micro growers do it in small spaces). It can make or break your grow.

I prefer to use hydroponics, which is technically right, but I use paper towels/rock wool soaked in the tray. What I mean is – it’s not a fully hydroponic environment with pumps and all the hydromechanics. It could be but it’s simply not needed for early plant phases. I prefer a simple water, seeds and tray system. It’s simple and effective.

So it would be (technically) a hydroponics system because we are not utilizing soil. It’s just a more simple version.

I hope this was a useful introduction to growing microgreens. If you wish to contact me about anything in the article, you will find me on Twitter.


Ofir Maoz is a Systems Engineer, ex HighTech DevOps, who has left it all and today is growing Microgreens for local restaurants and private customers in TelAviv, Israel. He does it all hydroponically on his small balcony, as a part time business, which is scaling as we speak.

@TheVutchery