It may seem odd that I would share this information due to competitive reasons. However I am not in this business to block out competition but rather to help guide everyone on how to grow nutrient packed food and hopefully be prosperous in this venture. If I can show you how to build a small business doing what I do, nothing would be more satisfying for me.
Should you grow Microgreens?
Step to Step Guide to Building your own Small Microgreens Business for less than $500
The very first thing you will need is an area in your home to grow in. This area should have a floor that is easy to clean, be free of any pet dander and have easy access to water. You want to have an area that can serve as a place to plant, harvest and package. This can all be done on one table or bench as long as you thoroughly clean after each task. The area you choose should have minimal temperature fluctuations and be well suited for air flow from a fan. You will need access to at the very least a single outlet, more outlets are desirable. You may choose to quarantine off a section of a room with panda plastic, creating a makeshift indoor grow room. Panda plastic can be found here Black & White Poly Film 5.5 Mil 10′ x 100′ If you would like to grow outside, I definitely suggest using a greenhouse. This will allow you to limit exposure to insects, keep off the rain and provide a nice area to work. You can easily build your own or get a greenhouse in a box from Shelter Logic Shelter Logic I have a small Shelter Logic greenhouse and have been extremely happy with it.
Materials for Microgreens
To get started on your journey to become a Microgreen farmer, there are a few things you will need. I am going to share with you the basics necessary to get up and running. Pour any profits into expanding, purchasing different seeds or experimenting with ways to become more efficient.
Seeds for Microgreens
In order to grow these amazing little greens you will need a high quality seed. You want seeds that have a high germination rate as seeds that don’t germinate can lead to mold and nobody wants that. Start with just 3 different varieties of Microgreens and expand as you get more comfortable. To start on your trip of excellence I will suggest 3 seeds for you to give a try. Start with Radish (nearly any variety), Pea ( I recommend Speckled or similar) and Sunflower. Consider Sunflower your real introduction to the world of what it takes to do this as a business. They produce a high yield, are fairly easy to grow but you will find some potential problems. The number one issue being the seed hulls sticking to the little shoots, but this is just your first challenge and surely you are up to a little learning as you go activity right? I purchase all my seed from here TrueLeafMarket.com – Microgreens Seeds, Kits & Supplies I have always used this company and am very pleased with them. Purchase 5 pounds of pea seed $16 (Speckled Pea), 5 pounds of Sunflower seed $36 (Black Oil), and 1 pound of radish seed $10 (China Rose). Whatever you choose to do, buy at least $45 worth to get free shipping!
Often the most difficult decision for new growers are the lights they will use to create greatness. Microgreens can be grown under very weak lighting conditions, even simply by a window. But you, you’re not looking to simply grow mediocre little greens. You want to be sure the money you spend on seed translates to maximum yields. In order to achieve the very best Microgreen production, you may be surprised to find you don’t need the very best lights. To start out you will be using simple shop lights, T8 fluorescents with daylight bulbs at a color temperature of 6500K. These can be purchased at Home Depot or many other hardware stores. Here is a link to get you started on the road to glorious Microgreens, the fixtures T8 Shop Light Fixtures $18 each and the bulbs T8 48″ Bulbs $30 for 10 bulbs. I suggest getting 5 fixtures and one 10 pack of the bulbs. If you want to start right out with LED lights, these work great Active Grow LED T8 Replacement these do require bypassing the ballast. Lights can be left on for 24 hours a day or you can save some money and use a timer like this Digital Programmable Timer and run the lights for as little as 12 hours a day.
Trays for Microgreens
The racks and lights are ordered but you still need something to house your soil and Microgreens if you want to start producing a world class product. Trays are the next resource you will need. I like to us the commonly referred to 1020 tray. This is a seed starting tray common to nurseries. I have a local supplier but for you, you can get them here 1020 Plant Trays without holes, 10 pack 1020 Trays without holes these come in packs of 10 for $11 plus shipping, I suggest getting 30 total. If you would like a very high quality tray, these are very durable Microgreen Trays No Holes, 5 Pack, Black Shallow 1020 Trays by Bootstrap Farmer As you get into more advanced microgreens you will want a tray with holes and one without. This way you can stack those trays and only add water to the bottom tray without holes, this prevents knocking over delicate micros like Amaranth during watering …But for now let’s focus on something easy.
The soil you choose is very important and there are some things to look for when choosing a microgreens soil. First off, its a good idea to choose a organic soil when possible but it is not required. As you are just starting out, becoming a organically certified farmer may be a long term goal, but for now let’s focus on a clean, productive operation. Essentially all soils will grow microgreens, you can even grow using nothing but paper towels and water. However when picking a soil these are the things I am looking for.
Lots of perlite, this really helps with watering, allowing you to really soak the seed for stacking without worrying about mold.
Coco coir, I love the way coco coir makes the soil nice and fluffy for good drainage and allowing the top of the soil to dry, preventing mold.
Nutrients, these are not necessary for microgreens but if they are present and organic it is a bonus. Later on when you grow microgreens that take several weeks to mature you will appreciate a nutrient rich soil.
Cost, should always be a concern. I try to keep my soil cost down to about $1.00 per 1020 tray. I typically use approximately 1″ of soil to a tray.
If you don’t have access to a nice soil that fits these requirements, you can start out with Miracle Grow or another popular soil, but I highly recommend finding a soil that meets the above requirements.
Having good airflow is absolutely essential to growing clean mold free microgreens. Any sort of fan will work and you likely already have one. To start out a simple oscillating fan is a great way to go, like this one Lasko 1827 Elegance & Performance Pedestal Fan, Black
Several things that are entirely optional but will make life much easier.
Dehumidifier, I can’t stress enough how much this helps. You never want to harvest wet greens and this really helps prevent that. A dehumidifier is also a lifesaver when growing crops sensitive to damping off such as Amaranth. Here is a dehumidifier I use and recommend Frigidaire FAD504DWD Energy Star 50-pint Dehumidifier
A utility sink will make life much easier, however this isn’t easy for everyone due to the plumbing required.
Dedicated refrigerator or walk in cooler. As you are just starting out you can probably make use of your refrigerator but you will soon want one dedicated to your microgreens. A walk in cooler is the ideal way to go, with that you can put entire flats in there when you need to harvest but don’t have the time. Its also great for when you harvest a large amount but are not ready to package, you can just place the entire bin right in the cooler.
How to grow microgreens
I have a vast YouTube channel that can really help with the procedure. More times than not, watching is better than reading, and soon you will learn that nothing beats doing. Watch some of these videos to get a good grasp on what it takes to grow quality microgreens.
Follow this to grow your first pea shoots, research and experiment to optimize a method you like.
This is a good explaination of my process of growing Sunflower shoots, again do some research and find what works for you.
This is a solid overview on a planting method, watch this and get started!
For now, you can water your beautiful greens with the sprayer from your kitchen sink, a hose or one of those pump sprayers. Radish, Peas and Sunflower are totally fine to are above. When you decide to try your hand at delicate crops such as Amaranth, water from below. This video gives you an idea on how and when to water, it is about under watering but the same is true for above watering.
Watering your greens
Now that you grew your microgreens you need to harvest, package and label them, but how? watch this video to find out.
The racks are set up, you have trays, soil and seed and the lights are ready. You watched the videos above and you are ready to start the journey of growing your very own microgreens! At this point, if you bought the seed I suggested, plant one tray each of sunflower, peas and radish. Stack these on top of each other covering the top tray with an empty tray with a weight of some sort in it ( an old phone book works well ). If you followed the videos above, the radish will sprout first, after 3 days or so they will be ready to introduce to light. Leave the peas and sunflower stacked until they are about to tip over the tray above, then introduce those trays to light. After harvesting those first 3 trays, it’s time to sell.
This is the most difficult part of being a microgreens farmer, though it’s really not that hard if you have a quality product. You can join a local farmer’s market, however that is time consuming. I prefer to go to restaurants and some smaller local stores to sell product. It is important to point out however that selling to restaurants or at a farmers markets will provide a better margin than a store. Stores need to make money too, so you need to balance the benefit of being able to move a lot of greens at a lower price versus moving less at a higher price.
If going to a store, show up with your fresh harvested and packaged microgreens and ask to speak to the produce manager. Explain that you are small and just starting out but would love the opportunity to sell in their store. You might get fortunate enough to have stores that welcome you right in, show you around and invite you to manage your product as you see fit. If you sell at a store it is very important that you go back at least once a week, product that didn’t sell needs to be replaced for free. Do not allow your product to sit in the cooler looking all wilted, always have a fresh supply or customers will develop an unfavorable opinion towards your brand. It’s important to place the greens in an area they will easily be seen, but not directly in light, it’s tricky, light will wilt the greens very quickly, so get creative.
When approaching a restaurant, it is very important to consider a chef’s schedule. Chef’s are very busy but even more busy during certain times. Times to avoid would be lunch prep to lunchtime and dinner prep to dinner time. If you approach a chef when they are busy you are likely to annoy them and nobody wants that. Once you have determined a proper time to show up, say 10:30 AM. Be prepared with samples of your radish, Pea shoots and Sunflower shoots. I suggest giving them a full 2 ounce package of each for free. They may place an order right then or you may have to follow up. If you need to follow up, do it. They are busy and likely will not seek you out. Go back a week later and ask how they liked your product, have more with you for sale incase they are ready to make a purchase.
Second Planting of Microgreens
About seven days after you planted the first 3 trays, plant 6 trays, 2 of each product. This is just incase you were able to gain customers from the first trial trays. Now if restaurants or stores were interested you are ready to provide them with fresh greens the following week. Depending on how sales are going you can now build a planting schedule, delivery schedule and continue to use profits to buy more seed, soil, lights and racks expanding your operation. Now you are a microgreens farmer, you are on your way to providing the community with a delicious healthy product year round.