There’s a lot of information out there on growing microgreens as a business, but I’ve come to like growing one tray at a time for my own culinary use. Microgreens also have 40 times the nutrients compared to mature vegetables, and there’s more than one reason to grow them. If you are considering starting a microgreens business, it could be well worth it as they have amazing profits at $25-40 a pound with only a 2-week harvest cycle. Whether you’re looking to grow microgreens for personal or commercial use, they’re super convenient to grow and can easily be grown in your own home.
You can start growing microgreens at home by deciding how much you want to grow, planning your growing system, getting all the equipment needed, preparing and starting the seeds, and maintaining their growth until you harvest. Microgreens can be easy to grow if you know what to do and most only take 2 weeks to harvest.
Whether you’re new or you’re getting back into growing microgreens, having a good setup will streamline the process and have you growing at home in no time.
To get started you’ll need:
- 10×20 Growing Tray (and watering tray)
- Spray Bottle
- Growing Medium (potting mix or coconut coir)
- Hydrogen Peroxide
- Certified Organic Seeds
- Outlet Timer (optional)
As you can see, getting started as a home microgreen gardener isn’t very difficult! With that in mind, it’s important to know what to look out for should problems arise. There are also a few things you need to know to make sure your greens are safe for eating, but we’ll cover all of those points in this article.
Can You Grow Microgreens at Home?
Microgreens can easily be grown at home, either indoors or outdoors, and will also thrive in a greenhouse or even on your windowsill. Most microgreens will be ready to receive light after 4 days of growth and are ready for harvest at the 2-week point.
At 40 times the nutrition compared to full-grown vegetables, microgreens are an affordable way to supplement more nutrients into your diet while spicing up your dishes. I personally like growing mustard microgreens since they have a great spicy taste (like horseradish or wasabi). Most varieties usually pair well with burgers and other savory dishes.
Microgreens are easy to keep growing year-round and have an extremely low start-up investment to get started. As they can be grown in small spaces and sell for more than $30 a pound, microgreens can be a great home business venture.
Start Growing Microgreens at Home With These 6 Steps
Some microgreen growers have six-figure revenue streams coming from basement or garage setups, so not only can you grow them at home, you should! Let’s break down the six steps so you can start growing microgreens.
Step 1: Determine How Many Microgreens You Want to Grow
The first and most important step before you start growing microgreens at home is to figure out how many ounces (or pounds) of greens you want to be producing a month. For a single-family, it’s a safe bet that one tray will be more than enough, but if you plan to sell commercially you’ll want a much bigger yield and likely some variety.
A standard 10×20 growing tray is usually around $2 from a gardening store and will produce eight to twelve ounces of greens. Commercially, containers of harvested microgreens are usually sold in two-ounce packaging so you can expect to get 3 times what you would when buying from a supermarket or farmers market.
For personal use remember that microgreens only last about a week after being cut, to avoid wastage one tray is a good place to start. However, if you’re looking to make a profit off of microgreens it is recommended you start with two to four trays.
Once you expand your business and can guarantee demand for your product you can just increase from there knowing each extra tray should give you another eight to twelve ounces of microgreens.
What’s the Cost of Growing Microgreens?
|Equipment||Fixed Cost For One 10×20″ Shelf||Cost Per Tray|
|Outlet Timer and Power Strip||$7||–|
|Soil||–||>$1 Per Tray|
|Seeds||–||>$1 Per Tray|
It costs on average $2-4 per tray to grow microgreens. Your fixed costs will be your trays, lights, fans, and shelving. Seeds vary in cost and popularity but the average is about $15/lb and you will use a fraction of that per tray, making seed cost less than $1 per tray.
Some crops can also produce multiple yields. For example, pea shoots have been known to regrow after being harvested, which means a single set of seeds could generate more value than others with only one crop. Much like the discounts for buying trays in bulk, you should be able to get a discount on seeds if you buy in bulk as well, sometimes as high as 20% off consumer prices.
Your other costs at this point are water, soil, and packaging. While the amount and cost of soil and packaging can be fairly easy to predict, water costs will vary. Fortunately, the cost of water should be extremely low, unless you have an extremely large operation.
Similarly to seeds, the cost of soil is less than $1 per tray, but again, if you’re getting more than one crop a tray that cost goes down.
The cost of packaging is completely up to you. You could opt for minimal packaging and save on plastic, or something a bit more substantial that allows the microgreens to stay good longer and travel better. For most microgreen sellers, this means spending a few cents for each package.
So when you think about it, the return on investment is pretty nice. If you’re growing for personal use you can get eight ounces of greens for less than $4.
If you’re selling the greens, keeping in mind even basic microgreen crops go for around $30/lb, so that’s a profit of $10-$15 a tray and $24-$36 a pound.
Step 2: Plan How Large Your Setup Needs to Be
|Size||Average Monthly Yield||Average Monthly Profit|
|1 Tray (10×20″)||1lb||$12.50|
When starting to grow microgreens at home, you’ll first need a rough idea of the space and requirements of your microgreens setup. For example, most growers agree that soil is a good growing medium, especially if you plan to sell microgreens commercially, but there are some other options as well we’ll touch on here.
Do You Need Soil to Grow Microgreens?
The most common variant of soil-free microgreens is those grown on fiber pads. Fiber pads include coir, jute, hemp, wood, biostrate, burlap, or even paper towels, with the most popular being coconut coir. These pads are popular among personal growers because they eliminate the need for soil in the house and are better for those who don’t have the space to store soil.
Unfortunately, these pads don’t give nutrients to the microgreens the way soil does and they don’t retain water as easily either. Additionally, some fiber pads are made with quite a few chemicals, which the microgreens can absorb (this is why I stopped using coconut coir). Using growing pads usually means paying more attention to make sure your microgreens are growing well.
Tests have also been done with soil and fiber pads side by side and the health, size, and growth rate of microgreens grown in soil is several times better than that of the fiber pads.
So the answer is–no you don’t necessarily need soil, but for the best results, you should consider using it.
How Big Should Your Setup Be?
The best tip for growing microgreens indoors is to take advantage of vertical space. Using shelving to grow your microgreens will save you a lot of headaches in the long run and give you all the space you need to get started and grow.
Luckily, figuring out how many shelves we need should be easy as all we need to do is look at your answer from step one. Let’s consider that you’ve decided to produce 10lbs of microgreens a month, knowing that 10lbs is 160 ounces all we need to do is use this formula.
(Pounds in Ounces Desired Per Month) / (Average Ounce Produced Per Tray) = Trays Needed
In this case, 160(10lbs)/8 gives us 20 trays. Most microgreens can be harvested in less than 2 weeks so really we’ll likely only need 10 trays going at one time to produce 20 a month.
That gives us our space requirements. Since our trays are 10 inches wide and 20 inches long a 50x20inch shelf should hold five trays of microgreens.
For ten trays every two weeks that’s just two shelves on a wide shelving unit or three to four shelves on a smaller one.
Shelving isn’t a requirement though. If you have deep window sills or other areas that work well and give lots of natural light you can certainly take advantage of those spaces too.
If you are aiming for a smaller microgreens set up, my 5-tier shelf holds four trays with fractions of inches to spare on either side. Even the lights fit perfectly. It took a couple hours searching through Amazon and the product measurements to find the right equipment that would all fit together.
If you’re looking to build a rig, stay patient in your search, and even consider custom building your shelves!
Step 3: What Equipment Do You Need to Get Started?
A lot of this will depend on what scale you’re planning to grow and what kind of a set up you have at home. After the blackout period (which we’ll discuss in more depth below) microgreens need a lot of light. For personal use, this shouldn’t be too difficult if you have a sun-facing room or window sill, but for commercial growing, you’re going to want to invest in some artificial lights and outlet timers for automation.
10×20 Growing Trays (Both With and Without Draining Holes)
10×20 growing trays with draining holes are great because they’re inexpensive, can be bought in bulk, and are the standard measuring sizes used when discussing microgreens. In this way, you have a lot of your work done for you in terms of how to price, how many seeds to use, soil, and more. The downside when using other sizes of containers is that you’ll need to do your own math to figure out the cost per tray, along with other calculations.
The other great thing about trays with draining holes is the ability to allow for watering from the bottom. This reduces standing water which means less mold.
To water from the bottom, you’ll need one tray without holes and one tray with holes. Simply place water in the bottom tray (without holes) and the soil and microgreens in the upper tray (with holes).
When you place the growing tray on top of the watering tray, the water gets pushed up and wicked into the soil. Because water isn’t sitting on the top of the soil, there’s much less of a chance for mold.
The other method of watering is to use a spray bottle, but I haven’t had great luck with this lately as my trays have been getting a lot of mold. The watering tray has been working much better for my microgreens set up.
Early on in the growing process, you’ll need a spray bottle. This is used for misting the soil and seeds before the blackout period. Having too much water content in the soil is a bad mix for microgreens especially when they are first germinating so choosing a bottle with a controllable mist is a good idea.
To save yourself a step you can buy sterilized soil from a gardening store, but if you want a specific soil, mix, or simply want to use unsterilized soil that’s fine too, it will just mean some extra steps to make sure your microgreens and their end consumer will be safe.
Microgreens can be grown from almost any type of seed, but to ensure the safety of yourself and or your customers going with a certified organic microgreen seed is always best. They also have higher germination rates and less chance of fungus and contaminants. I get my seeds at True Leaf Market.
Vinegar and Hydrogen Peroxide
Vinegar and hydrogen peroxide are used to disinfect and sterilize your seeds. It is important to make sure you get food grade hydrogen peroxide for this step. White vinegar is the most common but other kinds will likely work as well.
There are a ton of options for artificial light if you can’t use sunlight but the best light for growing microgreens indoors is a 6000K daylight T8 fluorescent light. It is inexpensive, common, and gets the job done. If you have a bigger budget T5 fluorescents work great as well. I personally use T8 LEDs with 6500K.
Microgreens need a wide spectrum of light (like natural sunlight would provide) to grow well and develop the best nutrients.
Shelves and Outlet Timer
These are optional for a personal grower as you may be using natural sunlight and/or not need a full multi-tiered shelf. However, if you will be using artificial light, it’s recommended you put your lights on a programmable outlet timer.
Forgetting to turn your grow lights on or off will disrupt how your microgreens grow and could be a hazard as well, depending on your setup and what type of light you’re using. Using a programmable outlet timer will automate your lights and fans, which is two fewer things you have to worry about.
Fans will help reduce mold and fungus from spreading. It will also prevent spores from growing in the first place. I personally use USB fans since they’re small and fit well above a 10×20″ tray. If you have a bigger shelf or more trays, you’ll likely need a bigger fan.
Step 4: Preparing Your Soil and Seeds
As discussed above, an important thing to consider when growing your sustainable microgreens is what growing medium you choose. Most growers choose to use regular soil as it produces the highest yields and it is usually very easy to work with.
When using soil, there are a few options available. Most large stores and garden centers will carry sterilized soil, but if you’re using soil or compost from outside then you will need to sterilize it before growing your microgreens.
The simplest way to sterilize your soil or compost is by baking it in an oven preheated to 200ºF for 1 hour.
After having bugs in my potting soil, I’ve found this to be the best temperature and time for sterilizing it.
If you have a large batch to sterilize (and you live in a sunny climate) you can lay it out on sheets. Make sure it’s a sunny area and cover the sheet with a layer of dirt up to 4 inches thick, add another sheet on top (ideally clear) and leave for up to 4 weeks. Using baking sheets will also work.
These two processes take care of the soil, but what about the seeds?
Sterilizing the seeds is as important as treating the soil, but requires a different process to make sure that they are safe and free of disease and pests. Treatments used by commercial growers include peroxyacetic acid formulations, the most common being Tsunami 100.
For the rest of us without access to commercial-grade treatments, there are at-home options available.
To sterilize your microgreen seeds, soak your seeds for 10 minutes in a solution made by mixing 4 teaspoons of white vinegar and 4 teaspoons of food-grade hydrogen peroxide with 1 quart of water.
Microgreens vs Sprouts & Bacteria
Taking sanitary precautions will help ensure that the microgreens you grow will be safe for consumption. Although, simply choosing to grow and eat these lovely little plants instead of sprouts is a safer option to begin with. This is because you do not eat the root part of the plant with microgreens, where you would with sprouts.
The reason why roots are such a problematic part is primarily due to the soil used for growing. Even after sterilization, your potting soil will contain a good amount of nutrients for the plants to grow but can introduce mold problems. By not eating the root, this potential risk is significantly reduced right away, and the sanitization methods we talked about above will take care of much of the remaining risk.
The simplest way to ensure the safety of your food is to cook it well to kill off any potential germs, like bacteria, parasites, spores, and fungus.
However, cooking will also degrade many of the healthy nutrients of the microgreens, which is why they are more often consumed raw. This is why proper preparation of your soil and seeds is so important, it goes a long way into making happy and healthy food for you and your family or potential customers.
Step 5: Starting the Seeds
Microgreen Seeds’ Blackout Period
In the process of learning about microgreens, you may have come across the term “blackout period”, but it’s not often talked about in detail. However, it’s an important part to discuss, as the success of your home-grown crop may depend on this often ignored step.
In the most literal sense, the microgreen blackout period is a length of time in which trays of microgreens are covered, or stacked on top of each other, to prevent light from reaching the seeds.
There are many reasons that soil is not used to cover microgreen seeds, some of the main ones are:
- You get less yield due to the extra height the microgreens have to grow through the soil
- The soil surrounding the seeds and infant plants increases the likelihood for fungus and disease
- The soil would be loose in between the microgreens, which would be a pain when trying to harvest
Why Is a Blackout Period Necessary?
The blackout period is a controlled way to recreate the effect of soil being placed over the seeds. Microgreen seeds need to be blacked out to prepare the seeds to germinate, root deeply, and allow them to grow to a point where they are ready to begin the process of photosynthesis.
While we shouldn’t use soil due to the risks involved, other safer methods give your seeds some benefits.
Most seeds require about four days to grow in the blackout period, but some types like cilantro, celery, and borage may need around six days.
The blackout period length can vary heavily based on the species of seed that you have, the soil and air temperature, and the moisture level, in addition to other factors.
The best way to know for sure is to check up on your seeds every 24 hours to determine if they have germinated and if they are ready.
How to Set Up the Blackout Period Properly
There is a lot of conflicting information online about how to set up your microgreen seeds to germinate properly, and while most sources do recommend a blackout period, there are still inconsistencies in how to handle the blackout period setup.
The optimal setup for your microgreen blackout period is to have the seeds laid on top of the soil inside of their container, with a cover (like a tea towel or the bottom of another growing tray) over top of the lid to prevent light, and a small weight placed on top of the cover.
A good way to do this is with another growing tray you prepped. The tray and weight of the soil will be enough to press down on the lower tray’s seeds.
This is the method I use to germinate during the blackout period, and I’ve found it to be the best method.
The reason why we want to apply weight is that it presses the seeds into the soil to help the roots grow deeper and to better anchor the plants.
When growing microgreens, always make sure to look into the specific type of seeds you are planting. Different kinds of seeds will require different blackout periods and slightly different growth conditions. Take the time to research and experiment to find out what works best for your microgreen operation.
For more about why microgreens need weight, check out this video by On The Grow.
Step 6: Growing Your Microgreens
Most microgreens will be ready to harvest once they reach 2 to 3 inches tall. Another way to tell is when the microgreens start to develop their first true leaves (true leaves are usually the second set of leaves). Make sure when harvesting that you use a pair of scissors or shears, and cut the stems just above the soil surface for maximum yield.
At this point, if you are worried about soil being on the greens you can lightly shake them and wash them before use, but only wash them if you are ready to use them immediately. They can be stored dry for up to a week after they have been cut, but not if they have been washed as they will spoil faster.
Review and Growing Tips
We’ve looked at all of the steps to preparing your microgreens to grow safely at home, and now it’s time to review the actual growing process.
To review, below is a quick step-by-step guide for growing from start to finish. Here’s what’s involved, and how to maintain good growth with your microgreens.
- Start by taking your potting soil and transferring it into your growing tray. The growing tray should have holes in the bottom to allow for watering from beneath later on in the process. Make sure to tap your soil gently into the tray just below the lip, and remove large pieces of perlite (white rocks) from the soil surface.
- Get your spray bottle and fill with un-chlorinated water. If you have tap water, let the water sit on the counter for 24 hours to allow the chlorine to dissipate. Then spray the soil until small water droplets show on the surface. From there, it should soak into the soil.
- Once the soil is nicely saturated with water, begin sprinkling the seeds across the surface of your soil. Try to get relatively even coverage without too many seeds clumped up together, but don’t worry if it’s not exactly even, the plants will spread out as they grow to fill in the spaces.
- Now we’ll prepare the seeds to germinate. Start by wetting the soil and seeds gently with the spray bottle until the water can be seen on the surface of the soil. Then take your growing tray cover (if this is a lid be sure to flip it upside down so it doesn’t airlock) and place it over the seeds. Then cover your tray with a tea towel or similar cover, and place a small weight on top of the covered tray. Note that if you are growing more than one tray, you can stack them on top of each other, with weight only on the top level. Limit each stack to 3 trays high.
- Wait for two days. After, remove the weight and the cover. You should see that the seeds have germinated, and they may look yellow or white as they have not received light. If the majority of the tray is germinating properly (you see small leaves and stems), wait another 2 days, or however long the seeds need blackout. After, you can remove the cover and allow the young microgreens (micro-microgreens?) to see light and begin photosynthesis.
- On day 4, if germination hasn’t progressed, check to see if the soil surface is dry. If it is, use the spray bottle and wet the surface again and replace the cover and weight, and let the seeds germinate for another day or two. You may notice small white patches among the leaves and stems don’t worry, those are likely hair roots, not mold or fungus. However, if you have white patches in-between the seeds, then you might have mold starting to develop. In this case, you can spray the combination of vinegar and hydrogen peroxide to combat it. Once the blackout period is over, you can also turn your fan on low to help dry and kill the mold.
- Once the seedlings have taken root, you are nearly there! If the soil surface is dry, give it one last spray of water. This is the last time you will need it for these plants.
- On days 5 and beyond (depending on the type of microgreen and its suggested blackout period), check the soil’s dryness daily. If it’s dry, then it’s time to water. However, you will be watering from below now. Add about ¼ of an inch of non-chlorinated water into the watering tray, and carefully place your growing tray inside of it. The soil will slowly wick up the water, and depending on the dryness of the soil, it may be necessary to add another ¼ of an inch of water to properly water the growing tray. Once the soil is moist, leave the growing tray in the watering tray, place them in the light and let the microgreens grow, while checking the soil’s moisture daily. Make sure that the young microgreens have as much light as you can (natural or grow lights).
- After about 14 days (longer for some microgreens), it’s time to harvest your microgreens! To harvest, hold the top of a small cluster of microgreens with one hand, and with the other, use a pair of sharp scissors or shears and cut as low as possible without getting soil or roots. They can be stored for up to a week. Wash before use.
Are Microgreens Worth It?
I personally think growing microgreens are well worth it. It’s easy to get started and even if you’re growing at home for personal consumption, you’ll quickly recoup the costs.
Growing microgreens at home is a great way to introduce super nutritious food into your life, and it doesn’t take much to get started. Overall, microgreens have a low barrier to entry with both cost and resources (like space, time, and sunlight).
Installing a microgreen setup is also a straight-forward way to start a profitable business from home with minimal start-up costs.
Contrary to what some might think, you don’t need a lot of space or equipment to start growing microgreens. If you have a room in your home that gets a lot of sun you could have your first crop in a couple weeks. By following the tips and tricks outlined in this article not only should you be well on your way to having your first microgreens harvest, but you’ll avoid some of the problems beginner growers (including myself) encountered when they got started.