A few months ago, Chris got in touch with me about writing something for the blog about microgreens. As you may have realized by my obsessive tendencies around my balcony garden last year, I love growing things…especially things I can eat. I haven’t dappled much in hydroponics yet, but those microgreen pictures are causing some serious drooling…color me inspired!
Chris is an urban hydroponic hobbyist who uses hydroponics to maximize his 400 square foot yard and extend the short Chicago growing season. Chris blogs about his hydroponic experiences at HealthSmartLiving.com. Without further ado, I’ll leave it to Chris!
Microgreens and hydroponics are two growing trends in gardening and what better way to explore them then to combine them into one super exciting project. In this project, I’ll outline what supplies you need, give you a step by step tutorial, and of course explain just what microgreens and hydroponics are all about.
So just what are Microgreens and Hydroponics?
Microgreens are tiny vegetable greens that fine dining chefs and home foodies are using today to add visual and flavor enhancement to dishes. The greens are harvested at the root as whole plants at the young seedling stage when they have just few leaves.
Hydroponics is the practice of growing plants without soil. In Latin, hydroponics literally means “working water”. People have devised many different systems but they all have a few key components: Growing Tray, Medium (replaces the soil), Reservoir, and nutrient rich solution. An ideal medium is inert with the ability to retain water while still allowing oxygen to the roots. If you are interested in greater detail about hydroponics check out my hydroponic library.
Getting Started. The supplies you’ll need.
- pH testing kit
- pH adjuster
- 2 black growing trays without holes (10’ x 20’)
- Growing media – Coconut Coir
- Spray bottle
- 5 gallon bucket
Microgreens can be grown with the standard seeds you typically use to grow full sized plants which makes this project very approachable for the first time. A few common seeds to consider are arugula, chard, cress, and spinach.
If you want to be more adventurous, you can purchase seeds from a specialty store. The specialty stores will be a bit more expensive however they will provide a wider selection including pre-mixed seed packs that will produce wonderful mini-salads from a single planting.
pH testing and adjuster
pH is the measurement of acid or base in a liquid. The scale goes from 1 to 14 with 7 being neutral. Scores below 7 are acidic and scores above 7 are base.
Pure water (and hopefully your tap) is pH neutral. Microgreens like their water a bit acidic so you will need to test and likely adjust downward your pH level.
Growing Microgreens: Step by Step
Step 1: Hydrate the coconut coir
Place the brick of coconut coir in a 5 gallon bucket with the amount of warm water recommended on the packaging. Occasionally stir and mix by hand to help the hydration process. After 30 minutes, drain any excess water out of the bucket.
Step 2: Prepare the grow tray
Evenly spread the expanded coconut coir approximately 1 inch deep across one of the black growing trays.
Step 3: Test and adjust your water’s pH
Growing microgreens do not require much water due to their short lifecycles however it’s still a time saver to complete this step in bulk. Adjusting 1 gallon of water should provide you enough to complete this project a couple times over.
Follow the directions of your pH testing kit to test 1 gallon of water from your local tap. Based on the results, adjust the pH level of the water to approximately 6.0 following the directions of your pH adjuster.
There are dozens of kits and adjusters on the market and most will do just fine. I personally use General Hydroponic’s pH control kit which includes testing and pH adjuster in one box.
Step 4: Water your medium
Evenly pour 3 to 4 cups of your pH adjusted water on your tray of coconut coir medium. Smooth out any large bumps on the surface to simplify your future harvest.
Step 5: Sow your seeds
Evenly spread your seeds across the entire growing tray. The seeds should be sown thickly to maximize your yield per square foot. Remember each seed will only grow to a small seedling before harvest so you can really bunch them together.
Step 6: Water the seeds
Generously spray the growing tray with your pH adjusted water.
Step 7: Let them grow!
Microgreens need a warm dark place to germinate. Turn the second growing tray upside down and place on top of the first tray creating a mini dark room for the seeds. Move the tray to a location that is 75 – 85 degrees Fahrenheit (24 – 29 Celsius) and keep their environment moist by spraying them every 12 hours until they sprout which should be about 3-4 days.
Step 8: Move into the light after germination
Remove the covering grow tray and move to a location that receives a reasonable amount of light and some air circulation to reduce the risk of fungus or mold. Continue to mist the grow trays twice a day until harvest.
Step 9: Harvest
After about 2 weeks your little microgreens should be ready to harvest. Using scissors cut the small greens off just above the medium.
I hope this simple outline will help and encourage everyone to try growing microgreens this next season with the help of hydroponics. If you are interested in learning more about hydroponic techniques, I blog at HealthSmartLiving.com. Happy growing!
There you have it! Anyone else dreaming of greens? Check back next weekend for a review and run through of what I did with all of the items I received from Keimling and a giveaway!