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  • Microgreens growing guide

    What are Microgreens?

    The term microgreens defines a juvenile or a nascent stage in the life of a fully grown plant. Microgreens are very similar to sprouts, the difference being that they are grown in light, not darkness. They, like sprouts, can be grown on a small scale as a hobby at home or as small or large commercial operations. The basic difference in all the above-mentioned varieties is the duration and method of harvesting. The microgreen phase of a plant is when it starts forming its first set of leaves. Also known as 'vegetable confetti', the tiny, delicate, and very young microgreen leaves are used as an essential ingredient in salads and other foods as garnishing or as a taste enhancer. The tuft-like appearance of microgreens makes them an unusual visual and culinary delight. The flavourful and highly nutritious greens grow up to 2 inches tall within as little as 6 days.

    Microgreens are more nutritionally dense than the regular greens. They are replete with flavour, taste, and nutrition! Scientific evidence has proved microgreens to be 40 times more nutritive than the leaves of the same mature plant, grown using the normal potting and harvesting methods. Microgreens pack in a considerably higher percentage of the following nutrients: Vitamin C, E, and K. Lutein and beta-carotene (even more than the carrots!) can be found in abundantly large proportions in Microgreens. Not just loaded but overloaded with five times more carotenoids and micronutrients, microgreens are indeed a superfood that grows fast and provides a burst of health and beauty all at the same time!

    Seed selection and Sowing

     

    Some common seeds include red amaranth, arugula, beets, borage, cabbages, chards, cress,

    Kales, Mizuna, Mustards, Pak Choi, purslanes, radishes, sorrel, and others. Check Appendix 1 for elaborate seeds list.

    Purchase seeds specifically listed for use as microgreens, as they are not treated with fungicides. Since they are not treated, they may have fungal spores and/or bacterial spores on their surface. These pathogens must be eliminated by surface sterilization to prevent them from causing death of the germinating seedlings. If different seedlings need to be combined in the same tray, select varieties having the same growth rate. Do not combine seeds that germinate quickly with those that germinate slowly. For example, radish is ready to harvest in 5 to 6 d, whereas some lettuce and other greens may take 7 to 10 d. Some useful combinations include purple and Diakon radishes, amaranth and all greens, amaranth and spicy greens, and Komatsuna (green or red) with wildfire lettuce.

    Seeding densities should be thick enough to cover the tray, but not to the point of inhibiting airflow. Both small and large seeds should be sown thickly, then gently tamped into the growing medium/mat/towel. As a rule of thumb, sow small seeds at a density of approximately 10 to 12 seeds per square inch of tray surface, and larger or medium-sized seeds at a density of 6 to 8 seeds per square inch.

    Surface sterilization of the seeds before placing them on the paper towels or capillary matting is critical to success. Use a 10% bleach solution (1 part bleach to 9 parts water) in a plastic cup to swirl the seeds around for 3 to 4 min; then rinse with raw water using a household strainer.

    Key growing information

    Culture

    Microgreens should be grown in a protected area like greenhouse or indoor grow room. Since the growing period is limited to a week or less, they should be given maximum protection as there won't be time for any corrective measures in case of pest or disease like Mold. Mild sunlight or < 30 W LED lighting is sufficient for good growth. They can be grown in a potting mix (coco peat, perlite, and vermiculite) or soilless medium. Shallow trays of 2" deep are sufficient. Grower can purchase capillary or burlap mats and place them on the trays to sow seeds. If not mats paper towels can also be spread on the trays. Cover the trays after sowing with paper towels until germination.

    Watering

    Moisten the paper towels or mat with some raw water and then place the seeds from the strainer into the tray with a spoon and spread evenly around the surface using the spoon or clean fingers. When adding raw water for the first 3 d until the seed germinates, be careful to pour the water slowly along the edge of one end of the tray so that the seeds do not float. Commercial growers choose to either circulate the water to the bottom of the tray or implement a mist spray to provide even moisture.

    After germination and the seeds have grown into the paper towels or mat (usually 3 d), start using a dilute nutrient solution (half the normal recommended strength when growing the same plant for full growth). Nutrient concentrates can be purchased from Hydrilla store. Harvest the seedlings after 7 to 10 d using a pair of scissors to cut off the shoots as the roots are not consumed.

    Lighting, Temperature and Humidity

    Similar to any other germination rules, keep away from light until germination. If using LED lights choose moderate intensity of around 30 W and place the lights about 12 in. (30 cm) above the tray. Operate the lights for 12 to 14 h/d. provide a moderate temperature of around 24 C until germination and then reduce it to 16 C to 18 C. High temperature inhibits germination and also can increase disease after germination. Sufficient air circulation can be provided with fans to prevent pest and disease issues.

    Diseases

    Since Microgreens are densely planted, they are prone to diseases like mold due to damping off, poor air circulation, saturated media/mat, high temperature, and humidity condition.

    Harvest

    Microgreens can be harvested anywhere between 1 to 2 weeks based on the variety. They are usually harvested a couple of days after true leaves appear. They usually reach a height of ½” to 2”.. The majority of vegetable varieties grown as microgreens are ready for harvest in less than 2 weeks, though the brassicas mustard and radish have a faster growth rate and therefore mature faster than beets, carrots, or chard. Herbs grown as microgreens tend to be comparatively slow-growing, maturing in 16 to 25 days. Depending upon types, varieties, and environmental conditions, a production cycle can be prolonged up to 4 weeks and beyond. They have to be cut at the shoots as the roots are not consumed. Use clean sterilized scissors to cut to prevent any disease infection. They can also be sold as live produce without cutting the roots. The weight of the product might increase but this also increases shelf life.

    Packaging and storage

    They can be packed in clamshell boxes and their shelf life ranges from 5 to 10 days under proper storage conditions. They are nutritious best when consumed immediately on the harvest.

    Yield data

    Many factors come into play when evaluating microgreens yield. The two most obvious are seeding density and  plant size at harvest (days to maturity). Even small changes to these factors can alter yield quantities. Then add natural vs. supplemental light, inside growing vs. greenhouse growing, seasonal shifts, variations in equipment and materials, etc. Want a larger plant? Use a bit less seed and wait a few more days. Want to harvest at the cotyledon stage? Sow more thickly and harvest earlier. Always be sure to provide sufficient airflow and appropriate temperatures to support your plants. Give importance to taking good notes. To replicate or alter the results of any given seeding, you need to be able to see clearly what was done before. Sowing dates and quantities of seed sown should be based upon customer demand, delivery schedules, and varietal growth rates. As noted, different varieties grow at different rates. Keep records and modify your system as needed. With some training, good record-keeping, and repetition, a grower can become adept at estimating seed requirements versus project yield, timing production cycles, and forecasting ROI.

    Marketing

    Marketing topic is mostly addressed last in any guide however market research should be given the top priority. Few tips here:

    1. Before going into production, get in touch with potential buyers possibly superstores selling microgreens, oriental restaurant owners or chefs, etc.
    2. Produce few mixed varieties and distribute samples and take feedback. Feedback collected from chefs is very useful.
    3. Once you finalize the varieties, sort them as per their growth period and sow them separately.
    4. Modify your product varieties to keep customers engaged.
    5. Keep your product and deliver it fresh. Keep the nutrition promise.

    Appendix 1: List of microgreen seeds

    1. Amaranth, Garnet Red
    2. Corn Microgreen Seeds
    3. Yellow Carrot Microgreens Seeds
    4. Mizuna Green Microgreen Seeds
    5. Garden Cress Microgreen Seeds
    6. Sunflower Microgreen Seeds
    7. Radish Purple Microgreens
    8. Green Mustard Microgreen Seeds
    9. Wheatgrass Microgreen Seeds
    10. Coriander microgreen seeds
    11. Alfalfa microgreen seeds
    12. Clover microgreen seeds
    13. Peas microgreen seeds
    14. Kohl Rabi Purple microgreen seeds
    15. Parsley microgreen seeds
    16. Kale microgreen seeds
    17. Basil Purple microgreen seeds
    18. Basil Green Microgreen seeds
    19. Kohl Rabi Green Microgreen Seeds
    20. Beet Root Microgreen Seeds
    21. Pak Choi Microgreen Seeds
    22. Amaranthus Red Microgreen Seeds
    23. Radish Pink Microgreen Seeds
    24. Radish White Microgreen Seeds
    25. Onion Microgreen Seeds
    26. Broccoli Microgreen Seeds
    27. Spinach Microgreen Seeds
    28. Cabbage Microgreen Seeds
    29. Cauliflower Microgreen Seeds
    30. Fenugreek (Methi) Microgreen Seeds
    31. Red Chard Microgreen Seeds
    32. Red Cabbage Microgreen Seeds
    33. Red Kale Microgreen Seeds
    34. Rocket Microgreen Seeds

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