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An Introduction To Growing Microgreens
By Superpousse (Insta: @superpousse)
I am one of the original founders of Bear & Bear, and during the confinement what had started as a passing interest in growing my own food became a primary objective. I researched lots of different farming methods and options and became a little obsessed with growing microgreens.
I am not “green thumbed” in the slightest, my plants generally had a less than 50% survival rate, but as I have experimented and developed my understanding of growing microgreens, I’ve improved generally. I now have a little forest of avocado trees alongside tomato, maize, peppers, raspberries and other plants.
There are a few reasons that set growing microgreens apart from other green endeavours for me, and these are the reasons I feel everyone with a passing interest in locally grown food should be getting involved:
- Fast to see results – you can grow delicious food in abundance in 7-10 days
- Delicious flavours – the little green shoots can be eaten immediately and some of them pack a serious flavour punch
- Minimal investment to start and continue – forget the kickstarter projects that sell you a low quality “designer light” and then “pods” – we have the kit to get you going and then you buy cheap seeds directly from a range of suppliers depending on what you like
- Highly nutritious – compared to lettuce, the base nutritional value of microgreens is astounding. Whilst they all differ in terms of vitamin content, there is consistently a huge amount of goodness packed in these gems
When I compare this to my (lack of) success growing tomatoes and peppers, there really is no competition. Growing microgreens has given me the most sustenance, taste and pleasure out of everything I’ve experimented with.
This is a short summary as to how I got started, the steps I took, and the results I had.
The bottom line is that I ended up growing such an abundance of microgreens that my wife suggested I take some to a local café, and they are now my top customer! What started as a personal passion has grown into a little business supplying cafes and restaurants locally, and I want everyone to have a taste of growing microgreens for themselves, and the option to make some extra money from it.
There are some incredible resources for starting a microgreens business and I’ll cover that in another article.
How It All Started: Biodegradable Microgreen Home Growing Starter Kit
Based in Barcelona and running their own successful microgreen business, Instagreen have developed these cool starter kits as a really simple introduction into microgreens. Because I had zero experience growing microgreens and had never even tasted them before, the option to test a lot of varieties cheaply was a perfect entry point.
I really like the fact that all the packaging was plastic-free and biodegradable. It’s also useful that there’s no soil as it’s clean and easy to do in your kitchen without making a mess. These kits are really well thought out as a way to see if growing microgreens is for you.
The pack includes three different groups of seed types, each with three varieties, the instructions are simple and there are some photos of what your microgreens are going to look like.
I was pretty dubious about the potential for success.
The kit is straightforward and simple, you place the cellulose matting in one side of the cardboard container, add some water, then sprinkle the seeds on top of the matting.
For my first set I just placed the cellulose mats on top of each other, but I didn’t like the way they weren’t laying flat, so I then cut one of the mats in half so I could position them all flat in the cardboard tray.
I then put the container tops on as the seeds should germinate in darkness for 2-3 days to get them going. I also marked which seeds were which on the containers so I could reference the tastes. This is very much optional as it’s pretty obvious which seeds are which as they grow!
24th May (3 days)
25th May (4 days)
2nd June (13 days)
In the end all of the varieties grew fairly well, although the peas took a little longer than the others. My microgreens didn’t quite turn out like the ones in the instruction booklet, but it gave me an opportunity to taste some different varieties and add them to a couple of salads.
I really like the radish daikon varieties and the whole experience set me on the path to getting a little more serious. I couldn’t wait to see what difference a real lighting set-up would make.
Researching Kits For Growing Microgreens:
Following the success of the starter kit I researched consumer / professional level kits for growing microgreens. It was a lot harder than I thought to find what I was looking for because commercial grade kits were actually quite cheap, but resulted in larger quantities than I wanted, and consumer kits were over-priced and over-complicated.
The basic requirements for growing microgreens are simple:
Lights / Trays / Water /Soil / or another growing medium / Seeds
There are lots of other useful tools and instrument you can introduce later, but these are the basics.
What I found was that commercial growers typically buy the lights and attach them to rack shelving and then use specialist trays. The cost per light is cheap, but it really makes more sense if you are planning to grow a lot of microgreens as the total cost is over £1000.
Then there are a number of companies who have entered the consumer microgreens space with set-ups that cost around £200 for fairly low-grade lighting and bespoke pods. Their concept seems to be to sell a fairly standard kit and then a subscription to over-priced (and over-packaged) pods once you are tied into their system. I actually tried one of these a couple of years ago and I found the whole experience very underwhelming. Perhaps there are some good ones out there, but for me the point of growing microgreens is to make it easy, cheap and fun with as little packaging as possible.
I contacted Sunblaster, widely considered the best supplier for growing lights, and was ready to buy some lights to rig up my own system when they suggested their partners at Garland who had developed a growing kit that might work.
I’ve found that these kits work perfectly well. They are inexpensive (especially the micro kits) and you can also grow herbs in them should your love of microgreens wane in the future. They are made of 100% recycled plastic in the UK, which is another reason I like them.
Setting up the large Grow Kit:
I went straight for the larger kit as I didn’t think the micro kit was going to be big enough. Having now tested both kits I can confirm that the Mini Kit will provide plenty of green goodness and is a great size for someone thinking about getting into some home cultivation.
Unless you are really serious about providing A LOT of microgreens for your family and friends, or want to grow herbs alongside some microgreens, the larger kit is probably surplus to requirements.
However the set-up for both kits is very similar, taking around 10-15 minutes. I’ve taken an image of the bits you receive with the kit and the finished article. I’ve also included images of the 2 page set-up instructions – it all makes total sense when you have the kit in front of you.
Using the Family Microgreen Grow Kit
Aside from the actual grow light, there are a few additional items you need:
A shover and soil to fill your trays, electricity, water and seeds. A set of accurate scales, a timer plug and a fan are also useful bits of kit, as are additional trays – but none of these are essential day one.
I set-up my trays and fill them with soil, roughly 0.75 litres per tray, or two shovels-full.
I then give the soil a good soak with water making sure the soil is drenched through.
For the seeds the amount of weight really depends on the variety that you are cultivating – for radish daikon it’s around 20g per tray, for mustard it’s 17.5g and red cabbage 12.5g. You just want to get a good covering without getting seeds on top of each other. After a few experiments you will work it out and get better at estimating the weights for new varieties based on how similar they are to the ones you already work with.
Once the seeds are in place, you give them another drench with water, let them drip a bit, and put them somewhere in the dark to germinate.
Step by step
In this example I used the cardboard boxes that the growing kit came in for the germination process as it’s a good size. But over time it’s not ideal to have slightly damp soil sitting in cardboard boxes.
So I’ve since bought some cheap black plastic boxes and drilled some holes in them so that there’s good air flow and they work really well. A tip for getting some good growth and strong shoots is to put the trays of seeds on top of each other and then rotate them once a day during germination. The weight helps the seeds to root and grow strong.
Different seeds germinate over different durations – it can be 2-3 days for radish daikon, and 5 days for coriander, I find peas take even longer. This is something to practice and keep some notes on so that you have some idea of how long your favourite varieties take.
In some cases it’s better to soak the seeds before germination, this is the case for peas and sunflowers, for instance. A little research online should give you a guide, and I always like to test non-soaked vs soaked the first time I try a new variety to make sure I’m not wasting my time with an additional process.
Once those seeds start to shoot, you should get a carpet of little plants poking up. You can keep them in the dark a day longer so they grow a bit before putting them under the lights. Typically the shoots are not green as they haven’t been exposed to any light, so there’s no chlorophyl developed yet, which is what gives them the green colour.
Once you feel that they are ready for the big wide world you can place them under the lights. I wasn’t sure about the capillary matting that comes with the kit as I found that errant seeds were starting to grow on it, but having tested with and without, it’s actually really good for a few reasons – it’s good at managing the amount of water the plants get, you don’t need the kits to be on a completely flat surface for even watering, and you can just fill the kits with water and leave them.
Once the shoots are under lights it should only be a 3-4 days (depending on variety) before they are ready to eat. I like testing them throughout the greening process to see how they change
They can stay under the lights happily for 7-10 days after greening and stay fresh, then you can cut them down and put them in the fridge for another week. It’s pretty amazing quite how much you get from a single tray – I’ve actually found that the small kits should be enough unless you are super keen on your greens or planning to grow some herbs as well, or supply your local café.
The seed varieties contained in the images are:
1x Radish Daikon
1x Red Cabbage (Chou Rouge)
1x Soya Beans (Haricot Mungo)
1x Red Clover (Trefle Rouge)
As you can see, the radish is fast and abundant, which makes it fun to grow! The red cabbage takes a little longer, and is very, very nutritious and tasty. I wouldn’t suggest anyone bothers with Soya or Red Clover as I didn’t like the taste (but you might!).
This is all part of the process, but what’s great is that you can find out quickly what you like and what works, and move on to other varieties.
If you have a passing interest in growing microgreens and are thinking that it could be fun then I strongly encourage you to give it a go starting with the Instagreen starter kit. It is so easy to get started that you’re more likely to go for it and begin the process of tasty homegrown greens.
Once you’ve experienced the taste and success of these simple kits, I’m sure you’ll be motivated to go to the next level and try out one of the more engaging grow kits. These take a little more commitment, but once you’ve done a few grows you will not look back.
You can follow my adventures in microgreens on Instagram: Superpousse
I’ve now scaled up to a number of the family sized microgreen growing kits and I’m supplying a number of cafes, restaurants and vegetable shops locally.
Future posts will feature more information about developing the business and other tips for growing different varieties of seeds plus recipes – follow Superpousse on instagram to be alerted to new information.