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How to Grow Microgreens on the Small Farm

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How to Grow Microgreens on the Small Farm
Photo © Nick Saltmarsh

Microgreens are tiny, edible lettuces, vegetables, herbs and greens grown from seed. Microgreens are typically harvested at one to two inches long, when they have their first set of true leaves. They're known for the intense flavor they pack for their size and often used as a fresh flavor accent in fine dining. Microgreens are easy to grow but have a few unique properties for the small farmer to consider.

Types of Microgreens

Any type of lettuce, salad green, or herb can be grown as a microgreen. Seed companies also sell mixes that are meant to complement one another. Some of the most popular microgreens include:

  • Mustard
  • Romaine
  • Kale
  • Chard
  • Beet
  • Spinach
  • Arugula
  • Radish
  • Endive
  • Tatsoi
  • Radish
  • Chia

Supplies for Growing Microgreens

Flats. You'll want to stock up on black plastic growing flats just like you start seeds in. In farm-scale microgreen production, these are lined up on tables in a greenhouse. You will use additional flats to block light and keep in moisture during germination, so get twice as many as you need for your first planting. Get the flats with long, small rows down the length of them to help you plant your seeds straight, but not the ones with square dividers that pop out like you use for garden starts.

Potting soil. This is the major expense in growing microgreens. However, you can also use a growing medium and grow hydroponically.

Plastic or paper cups, a way to label each flat, a planting spreadsheet (optional). Depending on how much you're growing, you may want to use a spreadsheet to determine how much seed to plant in each flat. You'll use the cups to measure seed for each flat.

How to Grow Microgreens

The basic process for growing microgreens is the same whether you grow a few trays on a windowsill or a massive greenhouse full. But note that you will want to have a greenhouse or high tunnel around your microgreens in all but the mildest climates, and certainly if you want to grow through winter (you may also need supplemental heat in the greenhouse).

  1. Prepare flats. Load the flats with moistened potting soil and press down lightly. Line up all the flats on your surface.
  2. Use spreadsheet to determine how much seed to plant in each tray. Spoon seeds into plastic cups and shake cups along rows of flats. Label each flat clearly.
  3. Leave the seeds on top of the flats; you don't need to cover them with soil. Use a watering nozzle set to mist to lightly moisten and mist the flats evenly until moist but not soaked.
  4. Cover the flats with additional empty clean flats.
  5. Check your microgreens daily. Water them first thing in the morning as needed, making sure to keep them moist but not dripping. Heat should be about 50 degrees F in the soil and 40 degrees F in the air at night (or warmer).
  6. As soon as the seeds begin to sprout, remove the covers.
  7. As soon as the first set of true leaves (not the seed leaves) emerge, the microgreens are ready to harvest. Cut them carefully with good scissors. One good strategy is to hold the flats almost vertically over another flat and snip, like cutting hair close to the scalp.
  8. Wash greens. If farming significant amounts, transport microgreens to washing area and triple wash them in tubs of clean water. Allow to drain and store refrigerated and loosely covered. Bag as soon as possible.

    Selling Microgreens

    The best place to sell microgreens is directly to restaurants and chefs. You can also bring extras to the farmers market. Microgreens are extremely nutritious and microgreens and sprouts are gaining popularity not only for flavor but for extra dense nutrition.

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