The old saying Small is Beautiful definitely applies to Terry Plummer’s backyard micro green business. She grows the tiny veggies in a 12 by 20 hoophouse her husband built for $600, selling them to local restaurants and grocers for just as much as $30 a pound. The tiny microgreens, harvested when they’re just an inches or two high, are utilized by chefs as a garnish or as part of a gourmet salad. Not only are they tender and spicy, but nutritional researchers have found they’re loaded with Phytonutrients, or natural chemicals found in foods that provide health advantages. Terry grows a dozen types of microgreens in her backyard greenhouse, including mustard, beets, broccoli, cabbage and basil.
The colorful varieties, like Dark Opal basil and Ruby Queen beet, are popular with restaurants chefs, as their vivid purple and red colors add a spicy splash of colour on the dinner or salad plate. New microgreen growers, particularly in areas where the high end restaurants are located, are finding a ready market for their microgreen crops, which may be ready to harvest in under fourteen days. Microgreens can be grown in a spare room, basement or garage under lights and in winter season, and several growers are earning a tidy income with as few as 100 sq legs of growing area.
Startup costs are very low compared to most field crops, as the basic equipment, like growing trays and fluorescent lights, aren’t expensive. Many growers have started a micro green business with only a few hundred dollars. Additionally to micro greens, growers are adding baby greens to their production, as they’re more affordable due to their size, and appeal to more cost conscious buyers. Baby greens are young plants that have reached about 3 inches in height and may be utilized in salads. Baby greens can be cut and packaged just like micro greens or sold in the growing tray with their roots on for longer life.
This allows chefs to serve a truly Fresh picked salad by just harvesting from the tray. Popular baby greens include arugula, beet, mustard, mizuna, rainbow chard and tatsoi. Most microgreen growers grow in cheap nursery trays on a bench or table. Since the greens can be grown with less intense lighting than most crops, cost effective T5 fluorescent lights are commonly used for indoor growing. The water for the plants is filtered to remove chlorine along with other chemicals, and a liquid algae extract is added to the water to provide a micronutrient boost. The micro green seeds are germinated in the dark, and are moved to a sunny spot or under lights after sprouting. Most small microgreen growers use a potting soil blend in the trays, but hydroponic growers use a fabric mat, like burlap, to hold the seeds in place.