Microgreens are a popular ingredient in sandwiches, salads and anywhere else the palate needs a bit of extra flavor. Although microgreens taste great, they’re equally popular for their nutritional value. They have a very short turnaround between seeding and harvest; sometimes, it’s as little as 10 days.
You can grow microgreens year-round, no matter where you live. If you can grow them fast (and well) enough, there’s a lot of money to be made in selling the most profitable microgreens. In this comprehensive guide, you’ll learn about the top microgreens, you’ll get some great ideas that will help you grow microgreen sales, and you’ll learn the 5 keys to success.
What are Microgreens, and Which are the Best Ones to Grow?
Before you can learn how to sell microgreens, it’s important to learn what they are, and to consider the differences between microgreens vs. sprouts. The growth of immature plants can be grouped into three categories:
- Sprouts, which are defined as plants that have recently sprouted a hypocotyl. In most cases, the seed will still be present at harvest time.
- Micro-greens, which are harvested as soon as leaves begin to grow.
- Baby salad greens, which is the stage the plants would develop to if they were left to grow for several weeks past the microgreen stage.
Several plants can be grown and harvested as micro greens. When choosing which types to grow, start with the easiest ones. For instance, arugula, bok choy and chia are great for beginners, while amaranth, basil and cilantro are trickier.
5 Keys to Success:
1. Choose the Proper Growth Medium
Microgreen growth media are grouped into three categories:
- Soil-based: Choose a planting mix that’s clump-free, drains well and isn’t easily compacted. Because you’ll be harvesting your greens when they’re 1-3 inches tall, the soil’s nutrient density isn’t that important. While all microgreens can be grown in a soil-based medium, that’s not always the best choice. The closer you can cut your greens while keeping them clean, the better price you’ll be able to get.
- Soil-free media is composed of different, non-soil components. Perlite/vermiculite blends, coconut coir, and lava rock are all examples of soil-free media.
- Hydroponic media involves using a pad that retains water to keep germinating seeds and new greens wet. When it’s done well, your crops will be simpler to harvest.
All microgreens can be grown in soil or soil-free media. However, some crops, such as chard, cilantro and sunflower shoots, should NOT be hydroponically grown.
2. Choose the Right Light
When you’re starting out as a microgreens farmer, light management is crucial. For some micro-greens, you’ll need to keep the grow area “blacked out” for four to five days after planting. This helps keep the humidity high and the seeds are more likely to germinate evenly. It’s important that the seeds swell with water, and misting the media, seeds and dome (if you’re using one) accelerates the consistency and rate of germination.
After the four- to five-day blackout period, your crops are ready to come into the light. If your growing area has adequate sunlight, you may not need much supplemental light at all. Microgreens have varying light requirements, and your best bet is to research the crops you’re planning to grow. In every case, you only need the crops to start growing true leaves. If the crops are leggy, they need more light. If you’re growing in stacked racks, you’ll need supplemental lighting. Here, LED light bars offer a full light spectrum, and they’re available in varying sizes, shapes and price points.
3. Feel the Heat
Most of the greens you’ll sell through your microgreens business prefer temperatures around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. As you’re choosing your crops, your vendor should provide you with this information and other growing tips. Some micros, such as cilantro, prefer cooler soil temperatures. Be sure to use heat matting if the ambient temperature is be too low.
4. Water Properly
With some microgreen crops, it’s necessary to pre-soak the seeds. In these cases, it’s important for you to follow the recommended soak duration. Crops such as beets, buckwheat, corn shoots, chard, pea and sunflower shoots should be pre-soaked and then grown in soil or soil-free media.
In most instances, especially if you’re using a municipal water source, tap water has too high of a pH. Use a kit that tests from pH 4-8, at the minimum; microgreen water should be at a pH of approximately 6, where municipal water systems have a pH of about 7. When using lemon juice as an acidifier, use two teaspoons for every gallon of water. For other acidifiers, follow the guidelines.
As a rule, your growth medium should be kept moist from planting time to emergence. It’s easy to do this with a mister. Using a watering can may cause soil to splash up onto the plants’ leaves. With hydroponic systems, watering is simple. Just lift the pad, pour enough water to cover the ridges in the tray bottom, and replace the pad. As the greens’ roots develop, you’ll find yourself watering them more frequently.
5. Storing Your Seeds
If you’re just starting your microgreen business plan, it’s best to buy just enough seed for a few plantings. However, if you’re going to store your seeds long-term, keep them in a dark, dry, and cool place, and be sure the package is sealed tightly.
What You’ll Need to Get Started With Microgreens
To experiment with micros, all you’ll need is some Tupperware-type containers, seeds, a growth medium and water. If you’re going to sell microgreens, however, you’ll need at least the following materials:
- Trays are the best way to get your microgreens off to a good start. If you’re using grow mats and growing hydroponically, the trays should have no holes in the bottom. If you’re using soil as a growth medium, drain holes aren’t necessary, but they’re a nice thing to have. While you’ll still need to mist the growth medium to keep it moist, once the crop takes root, it will go surprisingly deep in search of water.
- High-quality water. Tap water isn’t recommended; if you have a water filter, or access to a rain barrel, use that water source instead.
- Soil, soil-free media, or growing pads. Your choice of growth media will depend largely on which micro greens you’re growing.
- A mister to keep your seeds moist as they germinate.
- Lighting for your plants. You don’t have to spend a lot on lighting until you’re sure your microgreens busienss will be successful.
Storage, Handling, and Harvesting Your Micros
Harvesting microgreens for sale is easy. All you’ll need is a sharp pair of scissors that can cut as close to the growth medium as possible. With some micros, simply pull the greens out of the medium and trim the roots at the base. Lay the greens out, remove remaining seeds, and shake away any impurities.
If you’re not going to be selling microgreens immediately, washing is not advised. If the microgreens need watering, do so just before serving. A salad spinner is a good thing to have because it removes as much moisture as possible. Every plant is a bit different. While sunflower shoots can withstand a great deal of handling, basil can endure very little. By handling them as little as possible, you’ll keep them from turning into mush (and you’re more likely to command a high price from your buyer).
Do You Have What It Takes to Run a Microgreens Business?
Yes, you do, even if you don’t think so. Talk to friends, local restaurant owners and corner stores. You just may find that people absolutely love microgreens, and if they’re not sure what they are, give them a few samples. We suggest using sunflower shoots for this purpose; they’re a snack-ready food that nearly everyone likes.
If you’re looking to sell your microgreens as sandwich or salad ingredients, we suggest growing kale, broccoli and arugula. All these are relatively easy to grow, and they have great flavor by themselves or in mixes. Stop by your local grocery store and note the prices of their microgreens, but don’t get them confused with baby green salad blends.
What can you give your buyers that they can’t find anywhere else? Quite simply, it’s freshness. Microgreens have a surprisingly long shelf life under refrigeration or in a clamshell, but most will tell you there’s nothing better than fresh greens. While it’s easy to succeed in the microgreens business, there’s one sure way to fail: not giving your business enough attention. It’s best to think of the process like running a dairy farm; you need to tend to your crops every day. If you skip a day, you (and your plants) will be able to tell the difference!
Start Growing and Selling Your Own Microgreens Today
Because running a microgreens business doesn’t require heavy and expensive equipment, the startup cost is low. In most cases, you can start for less than $200. Even an indoor grower can use inexpensive fluorescent lighting to minimize costs, and an outdoor grower can easily build a simple hoop house for about $3 per square foot. Successful growers everywhere are calling microgreens the best startup idea for urban farmers on a shoestring budget. To learn all about starting your own microgreen company, read the complete guide to growing and selling microgreens. Get those seeds, plant them and get growing!