The old saying “Small is Beautiful” certainly applies to Terry Plummer’s backyard microgreen business. She grows the tiny vegetables in a hoop house her husband built for $600, selling them to local restaurants and grocers for as much as $30 a pound.
The tiny microgreens, harvested when they are just an inch or two high, are used 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 are loaded with “phytonutrients,” or natural chemicals found in foods that provide health benefits.
Terry grows a dozen types of microgreens in her backyard greenhouse, inkling mustard, beets, broccoli, cabbage, and basil. The colorful varieties, such as Dark Opal basil and Ruby Queen beet, are popular with restaurants chefs, as their vivid purple and red coloring add a spicy splash of color to the dinner or salad plate.
New microgreen growers, especially in areas where the high-end restaurants are located, are finding a ready market for their microgreen crops, which can be ready to harvest in under two weeks. Microgreens can be grown in a spare room, basement, or garage under lights and in winter, and many growers are earning a tidy income with as little as 100 square feet of growing area.
Startup costs are very low compared to most field crops, as the basic equipment, such as growing trays and fluorescent lights, is not expensive. Many growers have started a microgreen business with just a few hundred dollars.
In addition to microgreens, growers are adding baby greens to their production, as they are more affordable because of their size, and appeal to more cost-conscious buyers. Baby greens are young plants that have reached about 3 inches in height and can be used in salads.
Baby greens can be cut and packaged just like microgreens 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 inexpensive nursery trays on a bench or table. Because the greens can be grown with less intense lighting than most crops, low-cost T5 fluorescent lights are commonly used for indoor growing. The water for the plants is filtered to remove chlorine and other chemicals, and a liquid seaweed extract is added to the water to provide a micronutrient boost.
The microgreen 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, such as a burlap, to hold the seeds in place.
Commercial microgreen growers find their best repeat customers are restaurant chefs, upscale grocers, and retail buyers at the local Saturday market. Terry Plummer says,
Anyone who appreciates these zesty, flavorful micro treats is happy to pay a premium price for our freshly harvested micro greens.