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Microgreens: the easiest crop for new growers

Microgreens are one of the easiest crops that you can grow. They are easy to grow, grow relatively fast and can sell at a premium.

If you’re new to growing indoors and looking how you can become an indoor grower this article is for you! Learn how you can grow with little experience, equipment and capital.

Microgreens are packed with powerful nutrients and when consumed fresh have an amazing taste. However they have a short lifetime and consumers can be disappointed by the lack of freshness.

As a local grower you’ll be able to provide fresh microgreens to eager customers.

This helps you to build a local customer base, develop some revenue out of little expenditure.

Are you ready to start growing microgreens?

Here’s what you’ll learn

In this article, you’ll learn how to grow, and sell microgreens based on the following topics: 

  1. What are microgreens?
  2. Pros & cons of microgreens
  3. Profit & costs of microgreens
  4. Microgreens crops
  5. How to grow microgreens

 

If you’re eager to learn and try, you can have your own microgreen production at the end of the article.

Get started below!

 

1: What Are Microgreens?

what are microgreens

Takeaways:

  • Microgreens are young plants with leaves
  • Microgreens have some unique characteristics compared to other plants

What are microgreens?

Microgreens are young plants with leaves. You’re be able to grow them like seedlings and in a very compact and open-faced media.

If you’re wondering what media is, well media is a material other than soil on which you can grow plants. Some example media are coco peat, rockwool or vermiculite. Don’t worry you can buy it at gardening shops or online.

Microgreens can harvested when they’re still very young and tender, often before they’ve grown true leaves.

Microgreens have some characteristics that are different compared to other plants:

  1. They grow really fast; from seed to harvest, microgreens can take 10-12 days. This may vary per crop. So make sure that you can sell or use those microgreens when they’re ready.
  2. They grow in a different environment than regular crops. When they’re germinating they need warmth and moisture and as soon as they germinate, they need more airflow and light for their photosynthesis.
  3. Microgreens can grow in a much more densely populated seedling tray, since they don’t get big. You can use an open system.

 

Most microgreens get all of their nutrition from the seed that they germinated with until they create their own food through photosynthesis.

You’ve probably eaten microgreens. They offer a lot of flavor for a tiny plant and they don’t need much to get give you a delicious bite.

Next, we’ll talk about the pros and cons of microgreens.

2: Pros & Cons of Microgreens

 

Takeaways:

  • Microgreens are a great way to get familiar with growing and start building a customer base.
  • Microgreens can be profitable from the very beginning; they’re easy to sell, low cost to grow, and can get a pretty high margin.
  • Growing microgreens can be pretty lucrative, but don’t put all your eggs in one basket

This article will cover the pros and cons of microgreens. A lot of growers are adding microgreens to their farm or are using them as a way to build a customer base. They can start small and once people start to buy and trust their microgreens scale into other crops. There is a good reason to do this; microgreens are really easy to start with.

Pros

They’re easy to sell:

  • The value of the crop is apparent, and you can use them in almost any dish.
  • Microgreens are very healthy—studies show that microgreens can carry up to 10 times as much nutrition as mature crops.
  • They taste super fresh.
  • They’re easy to deliver and pack. Some people grow them in the clamshells that they’re packed in later.

Microgreens can grow at low cost:

  • They need very little space
  • You only need trays, seeds, space, irrigation and lights. In a 12 days timeframe, that’s pretty efficient. 

Cons

Microgreens is full of nutrients and are really tasty. But they’re often an addition to a dish and are never a main course. So the demand for microgreens has a saturation point. If you’re growing too much, there might not be enough friends, family and customers to eat what you’re growing.

The demand for microgreens is typically higher in the summer. So be aware of seasonal influence.

 

3: Profit & Costs of Microgreens

Takeaways:

  • Things like pricing and suppliers vary, so run your own numbers
  • Profit from microgreens vary, but don’t sell too low
  • On the cost side you’ll have fixed and variable costs to consider

In this article we’ll present a quick rundown of the profits and costs of microgreens. 

Make sure you do your own research in what is suitable for your market.

Profit

The main driver for your profit is the price you charge for your microgreen. Don’t sell at costs, but aim to sell at a reasonable price. You are offering something fresh and local probably people will value interacting with you about microgreens. So if someone is creating new recipes you can grow some special microgreens and see if they like it. This is something they can’t get in the supermarket and to get the microgreens freshly grown for them is value.

Don’t compete on the bulk prices in the supermarket or somewhere else.

 

Calculate your revenue as below

Production

0.2-0.3kg / Tray

Pricing

3.50 euro / 100 gram

Revenue

7 – 14 euro

 

 

Costs

You’ll have two categories of costs: fixed and variable. 

Fixed costs are things that you need to get at the beginning such as the trays, lights, and components of the system.

 

Trays: the trays are relatively inexpensive. For a few euro, you’ll be able to find it and perhaps even cheaper if you buy in bulk.

Seedling tray plant propagation

Lights: if you’re using natural lights then you won’t have these costs. However with lights you’ll be able to grow healthier, faster and more consistently. Lights such as the HortiPower Nurser start from 21 EUR and you can expand as you grow.

 grow lights for microgreens

Space/ Shelves: You can put your trays on a table or a rack or shelf. The metal racks are relatively inexpensive and you can move them around. At IKEA they’ll cost around 60 EUR.

seedling shelf 

 

Plant sprayer: You’ll probably have a plant sprayer at home.

Variable costs are things like seeds, media, water, nutrients, electricity, packaging and labor.

 plant water spray

Seeds: the costs of seeds depends on the crop type and the supplier. Try to get consistent quality seeds that germinate well. If you are paying 20% less you’re your germation is 25% less it is not worth to go with the lower price.

Seeds like sunflower microgreens cost around 50 euro per kilogram.

Peas or beets are generally the cheapest, arugula and carrots will be slightly higher and others such as celery or cabbage will be relatedly more expensive.

Media: the cost of media is going to depend on the type of media you use. You could use rockwool or hemp media, which costs us about 1.80 euro per tray.

Soil is widely available and cheaper but it does make harvesting harder. 

Water: water costs are probably going to be a tiny bit of your costs, but if you’d like to keep track of everything you can check the prices of your water supplier and the amount of water that you’re using.

Electricity: if you’re going for more consistent growth and using grow lights then electricity is something that you could factor in. Look at the wattage of the lights e.g. 20W, multiply that with the amount of burning hours e.g. 8 hours, divide by 1000 to get to kilowatt hours and then multiply with your energy rate. the energy rate depends on your supplier, or perhaps you’re generating your own energy with e.g.  solar panels.

e.g. 2 lights at 20W = 40W in total.

At 8 burning hours it is 40W * 8h = 320W

Which is 320W/ 1000 = 0.32kWh

Assume an energy price of 0,22 euro and the cost is 0.32kWh * 0.22Eur = 0,07 eur per day.

 

Packaging: some growers sell their microgreens with the same container as they used to growt it with and others put them clamshells or bags after harvesting. Just make sure that the packaging and processing is handled properly and in a hygienic way, so that the microgreens are safe. 

Labor: You probably heard about ‘If you do what you loveyou'll never work a day in your life’. Yet still you need to factor in the time it takes to plant, harvest and process. Your time is precious and you could try to track the time you need.

e.g. it takes about 5 minutes to plant, about 5 minutes to harvest, about 5 minutes to check on your plants every day. You’ll also spend time weighing and packaging the produce. Record your time on a timesheet to get to a cost estimate. 

 

Lesson 2: Growing Microgreens

Lesson two will introduce you to some of the best crop choices for microgreens and teach you how to grow microgreens successfully.

1: Microgreen Crops

Microgreen crops

Takeaways:

  • Kale
  • Radishes
  • Sunflower
  • Cabbage
  • Cress

 

Kale

kalekale

A trendy and recognizable vegetable which tastes as good raw as it does cooked.

Kale is a very small plant when you first start it. They tend to have pink stems, and a mild, buttery taste. This makes them go great on salads or sandwiches.

 

Kale tends to do best at about 15 gram seed density per 25cmx50cm standard tray, grown for about 10 days.

Sprinkle 2-3 kale seeds in each seed container. Moisten the medium again if it feels dry. Cover your seedling tray and place it somewhere warm.

 

Radishes

Radish microgreen

Radishes are amongst the easiest microgreens to grow. The seeds are large and sowing and planting the seeds is easy. They grow really quick and can be harvested in 7-12 days. With its rich flavor and crunchy texture it is clear why this is such a great microgreen.

 

Sunflower

Sunflower

These microgreens have an amazing nutty flavor with a texture of spinach.  Some people love it, some don’t. The are super easy to sprout and ready to harvest within two weeks.

Findings: the best density is about 30 gram per 25cmx50cm tray and can be harvest around day 12.

 

Cabbage

Cabbage

Cabbage has a vibrant purple color and are delicious. With its color it makes your salads pop. 

Cabbage seeds are small. The best density is about 15 grams and the’re ready in 10-12 days.

Persian Cress

Persian Cabbage

A popular microgreen that is packed with nutrients. It has a light color and an almost peppery taste. They can help to spicy up your dish.

Cress seeds are small oval shaped seeds. Use a density of 15 grams and they are ready in about 10 days.

4: Growing Microgreens

 growing microgreens

Takeaways:

  • Test your system before starting to sell.
  • Do research and ask around.
  • The 5 components that you need

Let’s assume you’re ready to give microgreens a try.

You’ve understood the costs and potential return and want to try it out.

Here are a few tips to help you get started.

1) Test the system. Grow a few cycles before you start to sell. This helps you to get a grip on growing and allows you to find out how long it takes and what harvest you have. Use the produce to send samples to potential customers and make them familiar with your microgreens. Don’t start selling as soon as you got the equipment. If you face any issues in your first batch it will give too much pressure to yourself and also your customers will not be happy.

2) Research. Microgreens are easy to grow. Read about it on this website and ask around with fellow growers.

Growing microgreens

Microgreen systems are available in different shapes and scalability. There are professional systems as well as small scale systems with the essential elements included. Some people even built a DIY system. This guide is for someone that is new and wants to explore. Professional growers need professional equipment and this guide is not really meant for that purpose.

5 components that you need:
  1. The propagation chamber: an enclosed cabinet in which the seeds can germinate. Since the microgreen seeds sit on top of the media, they don’t have the humid they would like. This cabinet aims to duplicate that environment. The humidity in our cabinet is around 80%.
  2. Flood table: this is an easy way to keep irrigation consistent. You can use a timer to water at regular intervals. It will help with your yield and ensure your microgreens never get too much or too little water. Some flood tables simulate ebb and flow which is better.
  3. Lights: lights can either hang on the underside of trays if you have a big system or from a frame or shelves if you end up building your own. Using only natural light can be an obstacle to reach high yield, especially if you’re trying to grow indoor. Consider using HortiPower lights even in a well-lit area. You won’t need that many lights for microgreens, but some real plant centric light will help you.
  4. Sump: the sump is the tank that holds the nutrient solution and the pump. You can place it under flood tables. 
  5. Plumbing: the plumbing setup depends on your system. If you’re using a multi-layered system or shelf you’ll pump the water to the top tray, and then use siphons to drain the water down through the lower tables. Siphons are pretty easy to make with some poly tubing, some elbows, and a few other fittings. Use an easy to clean design to manage hygiene.

Microgreens in shell

Materials

Besides the system you also need to get some material; in particular substrate, seeds, and fertilizers. 

Substrates- there are various substrates available, from felt, rockwook, hemp and other materials. The best substrate is one that retains moisture. Also if it is a bit flexible it helps when you need to harvest. Coco coir or soil are cheaper and reusable that the above substrate, but a bit messier.

Seeds- If you’re using smaller seeds you’re able to have a higher seed density when planting.

 

 

2: Growing Microgreens

Takeaways:

  • Microgreen systems come in all shapes and sizes.
  • These systems contain 5 major components: propagation chamber, flood tables, lights, sump, plumbing and ventilation.
  • Materials include substrates, and seeds.
  • You can put a microgreens system just about anywhere, but the environment is important.
  • Microgreen lifecycles have two milestones; germination, and development of true leaves.

cutting microgreens

Scale

Larger isn’t always better, but with larger scale you are probably able to invest a bit more and have a more consistent growth environment and higher yields. Here are a few options for you to consider.

Small Scale

On a very small scale with 1 or 2 trays, you’re looking for a very small system. Automatic irrigation probably isn’t worth the investment. 

You might need a solid bottom tray with media in it, and a grow light hanging over it. It will be quick to set up and f are some nice things about this—it’s cheap, takes about 10-20 minutes to set up, and easily fits in a corner. However, you may face some challenges, for example, watering by hand does not produce consistent growth, your environment isn’t optimized for growth and you’re not growing enough to sell.

Medium scale

You might look into a flood tray system with rack shelving unit or even shelves in a garage or your spare room. It is a dedicated space and units.

 

microgreens in a box
microgreens shelf
Large scale

If you’re looking for good, consistent yields and you intend to sell your produce, you’ll probably want a commercial scale system. You may choose seedling rack that you can fit out with lights, fans, and in a room in which you can control the climate. It’ll give you consistent growth, and has easier maintenance. 

 

microgreens shelf
microgreens shelf

Professional

Professional growers use a vertical farm or greenhouse. This requires a much more advanced approach to planning and optimization. For HortiPower we provide professional help on lighting design, lighting simulation, lighting system proposal and all other aspects related to lighting. For professional growers we also have a different range of solutions that helps them to achieve highly consistent yield in an optimized light environment.

 

Microgreen environmental needs

Microgreens grow easily, but the environment is still very important. The plants are tender and vulnerable and won’t be as resilient as a mature crop. In general, during germination they need high humidity and consistent warmth. Avoid huge temperature changes too.

 

Propagation chamber

microgreens propagation chamber

The propagation chamber is an enclosed plastic setting that helps retain moisture or humidity. The humidity stays upwards of 80%, and we keep the temperature around 23 degrees Celsius depending on the seed.

Keep in mind that some airflow is important reduce fungus and mold growth. You can fully enclose the chamber, but provide some sort of airflow.

Growing

Microgreen grow time is usually between 10–12 days depending on the crop.

The microgreen’s lifecycle has two milestones:

The first one is when they germinate. Germination is a sign to move them into a system with light and nutrients (flood trays).

The second milestone is when they start growing true leaves. True leaves are the first sign that the seedlings are transitioning into mature crops. The plant’s metabolism shifts and the seedlings start taking up and creating nutrition, and the taste profile changes. 

 

Post-harvest and storage

Don’t wash your microgreens after harvesting, but check with compliance rules. Use plastic containers for storage, since they trap moisture.

If you’re cutting your microgreens manually, consider getting an electric knife. It will make you harvest in seconds.

 

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