Microgreens are, as the name suggests, young vegetable greens that are relatively smaller in size, usually 1-3 inches in size, but they are packed of nutrients and are attractive in colour with an aromatic flavour. They are grown similar to seedlings, and harvested while they are still really young (when the cotyledons or the first set of leaves develop), before even the true leaves have fully developed. (Note that the cotyledons are different from the first set of true leaves)
Microgreens are a great crop to grow hydroponically, because they have a very short harvest cycle, usually between 10 days to a month. They also don’t require a lot of space, which makes them logistically efficient as well. However, they have slightly different needs than a normal crop. They need high levels of light and ventilation, along with low humidity.
Most people use microgreens and sprouts synonymously. However, they have very different characteristics. Microgreen seeds are a lot denser than sprouts, and the seeds less moisture as well. A microgreen that is ready to harvest consists of a stem, cotyledon leaves, and the first few young true leaves. Sprouts on the other hand, comprise seed, root, and shoot.
Types of Microgreens
Now there are many types of microgreens, all which vary slightly in growth patterns. But, if one is attempting to take up microgreen farming in India, there are some staples to start with.
Herbs and vegetables
- Amaranth (Red and Green)
- Bok choi
- Radish (Red, Purple, White daikon)
Benefits of Microgreens as a business in India
- Market Entry- There are not too many growers in India. It makes it easier to connect with chefs as they love working with new produce. Hence, selling micro-greens is simple. They can also provide as a value addition to existing growers and suppliers of vegetables. Also, Microgreens are packed with nutrition, even more, some studies say, than their mature, fully grown counterparts. When grown hydroponically, the disadvantages of soil are also eliminated, thus affirming their nutrient content.
- Ease in growing- Microgreens provide for efficient faming, as they require very little resources and space. With a few essential materials, a healthy crop can be harvested.
- Time-saving- Since microgreens have a fairly quick cycle, the entire process rarely takes more than a month. And so even if the crops don’t work out for some reason, a turnaround can be put in motion fairly quickly.
- Less water usage- Whether grown hydroponically or otherwise, microgreens require less water than their mature counterparts.
- Good market presence- Microgreens are already known in the market, as either a garnish or an addition to healthy meals. So there is opportunity to gain customers and make a good profit.
Where to market your micro-greens?
- Commercial spaces- Restaurants, hotels, and other eateries which lean more towards trendy/healthy cuisine are great as customers for microgreens.
- Retailers- Apart from going directly to restaurateurs, wholesale retailers who have access to a bigger network may be able to push your microgreen crop much better.
- Individual consumers- Building a network of people who are willing to invest in healthier ingredients could very well work in favour of your sales.
- Online- As online retail grows, e-tailing your crop is a quicker and maybe cheaper way to sell your microgreens, provided you have a logistics in space to ensure the crop is still fresh when delivered.
Growing Micro-greens in India
Factors to consider while growing microgreens in India
Although microgreens don’t require a great deal of maintenance, there are some points to keep in mind if you want to grow a healthy crop, especially with regard to Indian conditions.
- Environment- Microgreen crops thrive best in low humidity, ideally between 40-60% and at moderate temperatures of 20-25o If they are grown in places with high humidity, its best to plant them indoors near a dehumidifier. (Note: Seeds germinate in an environment of high humidity. Once they germinate they need to be exposed to air flow as they prefer low humidity then). If you plan to grow them in indoor spaces, make sure that you have sufficient air-flow.
2. Space- Like is been said before, microgreens don’t require much space to grow. They can be stacked on racks under strong lighting – LED lighting, if it is indoors. A space of 500-1000 sq ft should suffice to grow about 75-100 kg of crops.
3. Seeds- High-quality seeds are key to a healthy crop. With the right seed, mold and fungal attacks can be prevented. Make sure that when you buy seeds you stock them in small batches. It is easy for seeds to get infected with fungus, hence working with smaller batches is more recommendable. You can check out www.allthatgrows.in for high quality Non-GMO seeds.
4. Growing materials-
Coco peet- The medium is the material in which the seeds are submerged. Coco peet is cheap and one of the best media to use, provided it is bought from a trusted supplier as they are susceptible to fungus and mold as well.
Hydroponic Matting: This is a convenient medium, but is relatively expensive.
Trays: Rectangular plastic trays are the most suitable for use, ideally 10*20 inches, although smaller trays can be used for trials. Trays of the correct size can be found in many online stores.
Process of growing microgreens
- Preparing the water- The water used for microgreens should ideally be pH balanced, in the 5.5-6.5 range. RO water is preferred to tap, and any nutrients should be added now.
- Readying the growth medium- The medium should be cut to size and soaked with the prepared water. Excess liquid is drained off and the medium is fitted into the tray.
- Planting the seeds- The seeding density varies from crop to crop. It is important to sow the right amount to avoid problems. You could check out the seeding density here:Microgreens seed density chart The seeds should be sprinkled as evenly as possible – to avoid fungal/mold growth – across the medium. They should then be compressed before being watered. The water should be sprayed across the seeds twice a day.
- Covering the seeds- The seeds should be covered to germinate. Incidentally, the seeds require high temperature and humidity to germinate, which should then be lowered as they start to properly grow.
- Growing the crop: It is important to uncover the crop at just the right time, to avoid fungus and mold. The tray is then exposed to fluorescent lighting, and more water is added to the growing microgreens, from the side rather than sprayed from above.
- Harvesting- After the crop has grown to the ideal, healthy size – which usually happens in 10-12 days – it is harvested for use. The stems are cut cleanly near the base of the stem, and the plants then cleaned and readied for use.
Common problems of growing microgreens in India
- Fungus/mold attacks- Fungus and mold are attracted to microgreens if the temperature or humidity is too high, or if the crop has been over-watered. If the seed density is too high, or if they or any other material is too old, fungus issues are possible.
– Seeding density: If the seed density if too high there will be a lack of air-flow within the seeds that will lead to fungal issues. To know the right seeding amount, check out: Microgreens seed density chart
-The right amount of water should be used. The medium should be moist, but without and stagnant water.
-The humidity problem can be solved with ventilation or growing the crops indoors. Dehumidifiers are suitable only if it’s a commercial operation.
-1-3% solution of hydrogen peroxide act as a disinfectant when sprayed on the seeds and the medium, and is safe for consumption later.
2. Slow or uneven growth- The seeds should typically start to germinate in 2-4 days, anything longer is unusual. The growth could also be uneven across the tray.
Solution- Slow growth could mean that the seeds are dry or not watered as enough as they should be. Spreading the seeds as evenly as possible also lowers chances of variation in growth.
3. Pale colour/spindy stems- Once uncovered, the growing microgreens may be yellowish in colour or have weak stems. This is a symptom of not having enough sunlight.
Solution– Ensure that the seeds are covered for just the right amount of time, and introduce LED lights if sunlight is inadequate.
NOTE: The most useful practice while growing microgreens would be to use a log sheet with the correct measurements and time noted.