Microgreens have been used in the culinary industry since the 1980s. While they were initially used as a form of garnish, chefs now realize they also add flavor and visual appeal when included in all types of dishes and recipes.
As with most vegetables, it all starts with seeds, but instead of allowing the plant to grow to its full potential, microgreens are created when the plant is harvested shortly after the sprouting phase. The result is a robust flavor and an ingredient that packs a variety of nutrients and health benefits in a tiny, delicious package. The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry states that microgreens have elevated levels of vitamins, E, C and K, as well as concentrated levels of beta-carotene and lutein. Microgreens have as much as 40 times more nutrients than a mature plant.
A Culinary Delight: Enhanced Flavor & Convenience
One of the most significant benefits of using microgreens in dishes is that they provide an intense experience that will elevate the overall flavor of any dish. Many chefs use them to add depth of flavor and to create complex flavor profiles that transform a meal into a culinary adventure. Another huge benefit of microgreens is the convenience factor – they are incredible easy to cook with! There is no prep and chopping work as with most vegetables, you literally just toss them onto your meals such as soups, sandwiches, stir-frys, omelettes, salads, etc. Our customers tell us all the time “I throw them on everything!” Microgreens are the ultimate healthy convenience food!
One popular form of microgreens is a mix of purple and green radish. It is usually ready for harvest in only 6-7 days and offers a spicy radish taste. The result is a dish that not only tastes more vibrant but one that offers a delectable visual appeal that satisfies the eyes and palate and is incredibly nutritious!
Is Growing Microgreens Difficult?
When most people think of growing vegetables, they envision back-breaking work that takes weeks or even months to yield a viable crop. Traditional plants require an extended amount of time and large amounts of land. Microgreen, on the other hand, are easy! They require very little physical effort and are ready for harvest in as little as one week. In addition, growing microgreens doesn’t require a lot of space, and is typically done indoors with a vertical setup. You can produce $800 or more dollars worth of product from one standard grow rack, and I recently shot a video to further explain the process:
Growing Microgreens: Indoors Vs. Outdoors
One of the first decisions a microgreens farmer makes is deciding whether to grow their crop indoors or “outdoors”. I put outdoor in quotes on purpose, because that usually means growing in a greenhouse, which is really only “kind of” outdoors. Some people do grow microgreens directly in the ground in an outdoor garden, but it can present many additional challenges including back breaking harvests.
Outdoor setups have their pros and cons. One benefit of growing outdoors is the microgreens don’t require an artificial light source, but growing outdoors requires the proper environmental conditions. Many climates provide good conditions to grow microgreens from late spring until early fall, with some challenging periods throughout the summer. Outside of this timeframe, the threat of extreme temperature fluctuations and frost make growing outdoors without supplemental heat nearly impossible.
The disadvantages of growing outdoors are many. If you do not already have a greenhouse, that can be a huge expense – your talking $8,000 – $15,000 for a good commercial greenhouse. And then you are dealing with weather fluctuations constantly, so timing your crops to finish on a certain day in time for chefs or the farmers market can be very challenging. Most greenhouse growers just keep a constant supply of microgreens growing and expect to have quite a bit of wasted crops.
In my opinion, an indoor setup is a better option because it offers greater control over the growing environment and does not subject the delicate shoots to the wrath of Mother Nature. Microgreens are most happy in the same temperature range a human is most happy (approximately 70-80 F), and most of us are already using heat and air-conditioning to regulate our indoor temperature, so if you have room to spare in your home or garage that is already being temperature controlled, that is the perfect environment for growing your greens. And with the predictability of indoor growing, you can keep on a consistent schedule which makes managing the business from day to day so much easier! Our online course called Microgreens Business is focused on teaching all the best techniques of indoor growing and includes daily checklist schedules (and 50+ other downloads) to keep things humming like a well tuned machine! You can learn more about the course by enrolling in our free webinar.
Which Microgreen Seeds Work Best?
It’s important to note that nearly any type of traditional microgreen seed will yield tasty and nutritious microgreens given the right conditions and process. Some beginners like to start with a familiar plant, such as mustard greens, cabbage, kale or broccoli. Or they start with some of the most popular commercial varieties such as radish, peas, sunflower, and mixes. The sky is the limit however! Any leafy vegetable or herb is a viable option and will quickly produce a tasty green that is perfect for garnish and as an ingredient when a punch of flavor is needed.
Many garden suppliers now offer a variety of microgreen seeds, but most people still go online to source their microgreen seeds. There are many suppliers all over the world, and you can read reviews on many of the sites to ensure you are getting good seed quality. I recommend in my Free Quick Start Guide ebook that most people start with just peas and radish as their first two crops, and then expand into others after they dial in their process on those two varieties.
Harvesting Microgreens: An Overview
Mature traditional vegetables are generally harvested 2 to 4 months after they are planted whereas most microgreens are harvested in as little as one week or after the plant has reached a height of about 2-3 inches. This quick turnover means you have a sellable product in record time and can begin fulfilling orders almost immediately. The time it takes for a microgreen seed to reach it’s harvest point depends on the variety and the environment in which they are grown. For indoor growing, we recommend 14-16 hours per day of light per day after your crops come out of the germination phase.
You can decide to grow your crops just to the cotyledon phase or you can continue to grow some varieties to the true leaf phase – it just depends on what you think your customers will prefer or what your local market will allow. When it comes time to harvest, a sharp kitchen knife is simple way to harvest, just be careful not to cut yourself – go slow at first and then speed up as you gain confidence. For some of the taller and tougher stem varieties such as peas and sunflower shoots, you can even use a handheld electric hedge trimmer to make the job go fast!
Microgreens: Popular Uses
As more people become aware of the health benefits and flavors of microgreens, they are becoming a more-popular ingredient in a variety of different recipes. While they are commonly added to salads and other dishes, they can also be an excellent addition to smoothies and protein shakes. People looking to add robust texture, heightened flavor, visual appeal, or enhanced nutrition to anything they consume often rely on these delicate greens to do the trick. The problem is that they are hard to find, and many specialty grocery and health food stores buying from national sources will experience terrible shelf life and a poorly presented product. This is one reason why more and more retailers are trying to find a local grower to source their microgreens, the shelf life is sooo much better!
How Do You Sell Microgreens?
Despite their popularity, finding a quality and steady local supply of microgreens is oftentimes difficult. A microgreens farmer has a variety of options when selling them, and may choose to provide them at a wholesale discount to restaurants or grocery stores or sell them at a retail price at a community farmer’s market or through home delivery subscription sales. If you are already facing stiff competition in your local with restaurant and farmers market sales, their is usually still a massive untapped market in home delivered microgreens. We teach this business model inside our online course, and some of our students are finding great success reaching sales of more than $10,000 per month in home delivered microgreens!
Some health food stores will also partner with local farmers who can provide them with a steady supply of microgreens, but the profit margins are usually pretty low and this can me more trouble than it’s worth. As with most produce, microgreens are most often sold according to weight, and the price depends on the local market and the type of greens being offered. However, you need to set your prices so that you have a sustainable business. Determining the price you need to sell your microgreens for can be challenging for most and requires math and some experience. I walk you through the process in this video below:
Low Start-Up Costs
Many farmers are surprised by how affordable growing microgreens is. An indoor setup requires a few basic pieces of equipment such as a grow rack, LED lights, and a harvest table, but most are simple to find and affordable. I provide links to all of supplies I recommend for beginners in my Free Quick Start Guide. Microgreen seeds can be grown in soil (or soil-less) media or on grow pads, though I highly recommend the former over the latter. They can be grown in any container that provides space for root development, but 1020 trays are the industry standard and what we recommend for those serious about starting a business. Many microgreen farmers choose to open a farm as a hobby or second income source and find they can purchase all the required items for less than $500. This makes microgreen farming an easy and profitable farming operation to get underway!
Is Growing Microgreens Profitable?
People worldwide are more and more realizing the benefits of incorporating leafy greens and microgreens into their diet, which means the demand is continuing to rise. And we are also seeing more and more challenges and crop loss of outdoor grown vegetable, so the future of agriculture really is going indoors. When the low cost of starting up a microgreens farm is factored in, the result is a formula for a profitable business opportunity. I mean you are selling these 1020 flats for $20-$40 and they only cost $3-$5 to produce – that is an incredible profit margin!
People of all backgrounds are choosing to leave their traditional 9 to 5 job to start a business that not only affords them increased financial freedom, but also allows them to feel good about the work they do. The low time investment means even those who are skeptical can start their own microgreens farm while continuing to work. The typical setup requires as little as 8 hours of labor every week. This is a job anyone can do, and is becoming extremely popular as a way to supplement retirement or social security earnings.