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Old March 16, 2016   #1
LDx4
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Default Growing Microgreens: My Process

Hi All,

Clkeiper (Carolyn K) has asked me to write a post to explain how I grow microgreens on a small scale for my farmers markets. I only grow about 50 trays a week and sell at two farmers markets. I used to sell to restaurants, but have stopped doing that right now. The microgreens market in San Diego is pretty saturated and there are several really large operations that have tied up the distributors and a lot of the restaurants. Plus, since I'm semi-retired, I'm doing it because I like to grow them, along with my tomatoes. So I'm happy to remain small-scale and sell at two farmers markets. There are others on Tomatoville who have larger operations and different processes: http://www.tomatoville.com/showthread.php?t=27333

Although they look similar, sprouts and microgreens are completely different -- see the above thread for an explanation of the differences.

I started growing microgreens a couple of years ago. I was selling tomatoes and summer vegetables from my very small farm at some local farmers markets during the season. However, since farmers markets operate year round in Southern CA, I would lose my space at the markets and have to reapply each spring. For the more popular markets, there is usually a waiting list to get in. So I was looking for something to grow that I could sell all year so I could keep my space. Microgreens fit the bill.

I started by reading what I could online about them. If you're interested in trying this to sell them, google "microgreens seeds" and you'll see the various websites that have videos on the growing process. My process is a mix of procedures from these websites and a few Facebook groups.

I base what I grow on two factors: price of seeds and popularity. Some of the seeds can be very expensive and the greens really don't sell that well at the market. I usually grow a variety of brassicas (broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage), sunflower shoots, pea tendrils, basil, arugula, upland cress, radishes, hot mustards, and I normally have about 10 varieties at the market.

I grow in sterilized potting soil (basically peat + minimal perlite) that I get at a local nursery. I use about 4 cu ft of soil a week. The soil is not reusable, so afterwards it goes out on the compost pile for later use with the tomatoes.

I use 1020 trays for the larger greens (peas and sunflowers) and shallow cafeteria trays for the smaller greens (everything else). I start a new crop every Friday, which is ready to sell the following weekend at my two markets. One of the things I like about growing micros is the quick turn-around. If I lose a tray to damping off or mold, at least I haven't been growing them for 3 or 4 months only to lose them, which can happen with the tomatoes. Plus, I grow indoors under lights (I have cleared out a room in my house to use as a growing room), so I don't have to worry about pests, like I do with the tomatoes outside.

I take the grown trays to market and sell the greens by the ounce in clamshells. I cut the greens to order for each customer and weigh them in the clamshells. Customers can choose several varieties to mix in the clamshells. I also have mild, medium and spicy mixes in growing in trays. These are very popular. This year my prices are $3.50 for 1 ounce (small clamshell); $6.00 for two ounces (larger clamshell). I also give price breaks if they purchase larger quantities.

At one of my markets I'm the only microgreens vendor; at the other market there is one other vendor, but they only have a couple of varieties along with their regular vegetables. So I have regular customers who come to the market just to get my micros, which is nice.

Tomatoes are still my first love, but growing the micros has proven to be a good addition for me. I hope I covered everything for you, Carolyn K. Let me know if you have any questions. Thanks for reading, everyone, if you've made it this far in my lengthy post!
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Old March 16, 2016   #2
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Thanks LDx4. I honestly did not give a thought to the difference between microgreens and sprouts. I didn't think to do a search for micro greens. Spring is already here, but this would still be a very doable project for me... I think.

When you cut them how do you cut them? scissors?
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Old March 16, 2016   #3
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Beautiful. I like your method. Adding to your sales with a nice new crop offering is filling the time you are waiting for other things. I grow them all winter just for home use and grow in the clam shells using my seed starting area downstairs. A south facing window works well.
Third winter now using Johnny's spicy mix and arugula. (no luck with the cilantro or beet greens yet though keep trying)

The flavor is much more intense in a micro.
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Old March 16, 2016   #4
KarenO
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canola can be grown as a microgreen and the seed is very inexpensive. (free if you know a farmer )
tastes like broccoli sprouts or any mild cruciferous (Brassica) sprout.( and is highly nutritious. good for us prairie folks where it is commonly grown if you can get nice fresh seed for nothing or next to nothing.)
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Your trays of beautiful greens look so inviting I know I would buy them for certain.

Last edited by KarenO; March 16, 2016 at 11:17 PM.
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Old March 17, 2016   #5
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Great post Lyn! I KNOW I'm going to grow some. They'd be good on a sandwich, thrown into soup, and in salad. And potato salad. Oh, and in omelets. Your tables and the whole set up look really nice. Really!
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Old March 17, 2016   #6
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Great. I will give it a shot. I'm sure it will supplement very well my other products
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Old March 17, 2016   #7
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Oh those look lovely! I have a microgreen kit with sunflower seeds and was unsure how long it took to be ready. Looks like mine is nearly two weeks already and I need to use it!
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Old March 17, 2016   #8
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I realize i'm on the Growing for Market section but i have a pic of when i started experimenting...for home use. Success happened so quickly.
My first trial i used a bit too much soils mix. Barely an inch was needed.

I used containers similar to clam shells but with removable lids that i used as a bottom water feed tray with a wicking system using clean t-shirt material. To sprout i used the lid as a mini greenhouse, just a day. I had the spicy mix and the arugula up and on the table in 6 days...8 days was a bit bigger as shown in the fourth from the left. I dd plant thick, maybe too thick but the packs of seed are huge. This was mid-May when outside was very cold and the rhubarb was just barely a knob showing. So nice to have rich greens every day...i had 8 trays going so always had a tray ready.

(Back in NY i grow the same 'clam shell' trays under my grow lights but keep a low fan on them...)
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Old March 17, 2016   #9
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I would assume you have to buy the seeds in bulk to get any return in your investment.
I had no idea sunflower could be used for a micro green.
It seems the cheapest way to get those seeds, 'If black sunflower could be used, is to buy the huge bags of seeds for the birds.
My neighbor lady has an automatic deer feeder full of them and they are coming up everywhere.

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Old March 17, 2016   #10
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Thanks everyone for the compliments!

Micros are easy to grow; any shallow tray or container can be used and the same seed starting mix used to start tomatoes works for growing the greens. Like Oakley showed, you can line the trays up in the window if you don't have a light to use. Just keep them from getting too hot in direct sun. Or use the lights you use to start your tomatoes.

Carolyn, I use fabric shears to cut them off. Long blades and they hold up well. I've tried a knife, which works ok, but I prefer using the scissors. I wear latex gloves while cutting and the customers feel like it's more sanitary that way.

Karen, I've never seen canola seeds for sale at any of my suppliers. I think I need to look for them, especially if they're cheap!

Oakley, have you tried covering the beet and cilantro seeds with a thin layer of soil as a top covering? I agree that they can be tricky and take a little extra time, but they taste great.

Worth, as a matter of fact, Black Oil sunflowers are the preferred seed to use for micros. The husk falls off easier than the gray striped ones, which is why they are good as bird seed. You can pick up big sacks of seeds at feed stores pretty cheaply.

There are several suppliers that cater to microgreen growers by offering bulk seeds at somewhat reasonable prices. Johnny's is usually the most expensive for seeds, unless you want something like edible flowers or a specialty product. I usually buy seeds in 5 lb sacks. I compare the prices at my usual vendors and just order the cheapest. If you're thinking of doing this, google "microgreen seeds" and several vendors will pop up. My operation isn't large enough to make giant orders of seeds (1,000 lbs or more), so I don't deal with the big seed wholesalers.

I'm happy to answer any other questions you might have!

Lyn
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Old March 17, 2016   #11
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wheatgrass is also very popular here in farmer markets. People put it in smoothies. Perhaps it is another Canadian phenomenon as winter wheat (hard) wheat seed is easy to get and inexpensive here.
It looks really beautiful and green in the containers at the market.

pea shoots are my favourite I use regular dried peas from the grocery store as they are far less expensive than seed sold specifically for sprouting or as garden seed. Same with mung beans etc. all are available at the grocery store in 1 lb+ bags meant to be cooked and eaten for far less than what they are sold for as garden or sprouting seeds. I think it's fun that garden folks I know are always very surprised when I tell them I sprout peas etc from the grocery store. They don't seem to think they are seeds Of course they are seeds. Nice dry edible quality untreated seeds.
Sunflower seedlings are very good. I use black oil bird sunflower seed. dirt cheap.
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Last edited by KarenO; March 17, 2016 at 02:39 PM.
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Old March 17, 2016   #12
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I started growing and selling wheat grass this year (photos I posted were taken last summer). People here buy it for smoothies and also for their pets - some cats and dogs apparently love both wheat and oat grass. If I had a license from the health dept, I could bring a juicer and offer wheat grass "shots" at the market. But I don't want to spend the $ on a fancy juicer right now. The grocery store dried peas are more expensive for me than the garden peas. I buy the peas in 100 lb amounts when I need them, so they end up being my cheapest crop to buy. For somebody growing at home, it won't cost you much to start growing greens.
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Old March 17, 2016   #13
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That's awesome. I think they are so delicious.
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Old March 17, 2016   #14
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Thank you Lyn. I am lucky that i did not start with the more difficult seeds as my first trials or i may have given up. I've grown red top beet for greens for years in the garden and get a great harvest....a 3x3' bed...a bit like cut and come again. Then baby beets come Fall. So i knew the potential.

My interest started about 5 yrs ago when i was given a 40b bag of mustard seed...(long story). Started making my own mustard, then micro greens.

Like anything in bulk, the price goes way down. For micro i just order a 1/4lb at a time...once a year. I also use it as a salad blend in the garden. Very loose math for me was 12cents a clam shell, then i rounded it up to 25cents since that 12 did not seem possible...

I do have a new 1/4lb pack of celery seed but i've run out of seed start with everything else i have going.

I've discussed this before on another forum and it seemed a bit flicked off. (just one posting when someone asked and others just can't comprehend). Taking the live flats to market is what i've suggested all along and so good to see you are doing just that. I also use the long skinny fabric shears rather than kitchen shears that have a hard time sliding into the stem mass.

We want fresh. Those packaged salad blends in the grocery are bland and often have a few slimy greens that ruin the whole bag....and expensive.
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Old March 17, 2016   #15
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Oh Karen. I just planted a dwarf grey pea for shoots. I had a salad in NYC last Spring of pea shoots and pea shoot dumplings in ChinaTown. I've always picked some young pea shoots but this low growing dwarf i hope will be a good early crop.

I took early Sugar Ann into work last year and offered nice fresh peas to co-workers...(they buy those processed tiny carrot nubs in little bags, lol)...one said, "um, no thanks"...then "oh, okay"...
turned around and said, "you just changed my life, i had no idea a fresh pea could be so good!"

Support your local farmers market!
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