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Growing Microgreens Indoors During the Winter (Tips and Tricks, etc)

 
Posts: 3
Location: Southern Vermont
forest garden trees bee
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I am getting set up to grow microgreens in my kitchen for the winter. We have very long winters in Vermont, and are pretty far out in the woods. I work from home and most often leave to get fresh vegetables from the store (around 1x/week in the winter), so I'm hoping that the small electricity cost of growing greens indoors is more than made up for by the fuel and shipping savings (my understanding is around $.20/tray of greens in electricity plus energy cost of purchased coir and perlite that cannot be reused). Also, my sense is that growing greens indoors is a healthier option for food during the winter, as most produce in the store is fairly old by the time it gets to us and is also really expensive (our Co-op is notorious for its $8 cauliflower). My understanding is that microgreens are also significantly more nutrient dense than their adult counterparts- the rate I've heard thrown around is 40X.

I have 48" lights from when I've grown seedlings before. I've left room to add another shelf with another set of 48" lights if needed. My understanding from listening to Brian Faulkner's Microgreens podcast, is that I can probably take out two of the four 32 Watt fluorescent bulbs to save on electricity. I bought reusable supplies (growing trays with drainage and lids, baby blanket- soilless growing medium that can be dried/sterilized/reused, and lids for sprouting jars), perlite and Coir (1:4) for non-reusable medium that can be composted, seeds (wheat berries, buckwheat, sunflower, speckles peas, and spring salad mix) from Mumm's Seeds. I have a wheat grass press and plan to store pressed wheat grass in ice cube trays in the freezer, which has worked well in the past (getting the press out, pressing, and cleaning is time-consuming).

Has anyone had great success growing a significant amount of their food under lights in the winter, and if so, can you offer any tips or tricks? I'm especially looking for tips and tricks from people who've stuck with pretty much the same setup for a number of years. Also, I see that there are many books about microgreens, so if anyone has a title that has been very helpful I would appreciate a recommendation. I am a single mom with a 9 month old baby, I work in the evenings (as a therapist online) while my daughter is asleep. My time during the day is pretty limited, so ideally I'm hoping to spend not more than 20 minutes a day keeping this setup at work.

Thanks in advance for advice and reccomendations!

Isabelle and baby Abbey
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master gardener
Posts: 3252
Location: southern Illinois.
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I have shelves with a reflective tent covering it .... similar to a space blanket. I use LED grow lights.  I have had moderate success. I have 4 grow light panels. I clearly need a couple more.  I have attached a picture of the light with enough of the tent to give you the idea. It is not in use now.
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Posts: 515
Location: St. George, UT. Zone 8a Dry/arid. 8" of rain in a good year.
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I just bought twelve 20w led 48" long single lights off amazon yesterday (prime deal on them $5 per light which is pretty reasonable).  I've been using the lights in my garage for the last year and am super impressed with them.  Here's the link for the six pack set.   https://www.amazon.com/Barrina-Integrated-Fixture-Utility-Electric/dp/B01HBT3BVM/ref=sr_1_5?dchild=1&keywords=barrina&qid=1602802070&s=hi&sr=1-5
I have two food safe racks from costco that I'll hang them on.

I mention them because I watch a yt channel called "on the grow".   They're the mad scientists of microgeens.  They've done experiments with all types of lights, growing media, varieties of greens, etc.  Pretty much everything anyone could want to know.  Here's a video of their basics to growing.  https://youtu.be/D3vnBEvYDZo  Good for simple home grows, or more advanced.  Easy going couple that are very informative.
Anyway, they use the same lights, and have had great results with them.
Yes, I would guess removing two of the four lights from your existing lights would be fine.  With microgreens, you want them to "stretch" for the light.  More light is going to keep them shorter which is not ideal for harvesting.

Trueleaf is the place to get seeds if you don't already have a source.

I've only grown sunflower, and pea shoots so far, but it was super simple.

I'm going to experiment growing with cheesecloth as the growing media and a little bit of nutrient solution.  No soil/perlite/coir etc.  Super sanitary if it works.

Good luck, it's not hard to do at all.
 
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Hi Isabelle,
if you go to the forum search and type microgreens, you got some valuable threads on the topic, e.g.:
https://permies.com/t/94155/growing-microgreens
https://permies.com/t/108081/Sprouts-microgreens-ideas

My go-to book would still be Peter Burke's but I don't know if there are any more recent.
Good luck!
 
Posts: 546
Location: Richwood, West Virginia
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John F Dean wrote: I use LED grow lights.  I have had moderate success.



I was thinking about what Su Ba sais about overcrowded roots and am wondering if perhaps the pots are not large enough.

Su Ba wrote:
When I first started gardening, I often crowded my crops falsely thinking that by using fertilizer teas I'd be able to produce more food per square foot that way. The veggie plants were poor producing......few beans when crowded, few beets though plenty of greens, thin spindly carrots, small broccoli heads, etc. I also saw that in beds where I didn't have the time to control weeds that grew back, the veggies did just as poorly...

...I'm no agricultural scientist, but I'd venture to say that competition for root space was a major factor.

 
Burl Smith
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Joshua Bertram wrote:

I'm going to experiment growing with cheesecloth as the growing media and a little bit of nutrient solution.  No soil/perlite/coir etc.  Super sanitary if it works.
.



After telling Dean his pots may be too small, I'll be interested in your results.
 
Joshua Bertram
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Location: St. George, UT. Zone 8a Dry/arid. 8" of rain in a good year.
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Burl Smith wrote:

Joshua Bertram wrote:

I'm going to experiment growing with cheesecloth as the growing media and a little bit of nutrient solution.  No soil/perlite/coir etc.  Super sanitary if it works.
.



After telling Dean his pots may be too small, I'll be interested in your results.



I thought I came up with the idea a few months ago, but I googled it and this video came up.  It worked for her.  https://youtu.be/fNq7Rm9QVWk  Cheese cloth is kind of expensive, so coco-coir mats might be better for not much difference in price, although I have not price compared them.

and if you want to go really cheap some things will even grow on paper towels.  https://youtu.be/730wqH_9mJw  (same yt channel I originally linked).

I would think that old white 100% cotton sheets/shirts/fabric would work as well.  As long as they haven't been bleached recently?  I'm just guessing, it seems logical they would.
 
Joshua Bertram
Posts: 515
Location: St. George, UT. Zone 8a Dry/arid. 8" of rain in a good year.
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So I finally got around to starting some microgreens after building a small room for them inside my bedroom!  lol  I also bought a small dehumidifier, and four heating mats off of amazon.  

I bought a few pounds from True Leaf's site (broccoli, basic salad mix, and a spicy salad mix).  I haven't tried those yet.  I also got a gift of some seeds from my sister, so I tried those first.

I've only ever grown pea and sunflowers before, and only a few 10/20 trays of those.  They turned out great, so I was/am fairly confident my current batch will be fine.

Going back to the cheesecloth post I made before, okay, I don't think the cost of cheesecloth makes it viable to use as the base for the grow media.  I'm fairly confident it would work, but I just don't think it'd be worth it cost wise considering how much it would take to line a tray.

I did come up with the idea of using a double layer of cheesecloth over seed starting mix!  I think this is a great idea to keep the soil out of the tops of the greens, and so far it is working just as expected.  

I really like the small sprouting/microgreens trays off of amazon.  

I keep thinking about maybe trying to make some money on the side selling them, but I have two dogs that shed tons of hair, and they literally sleep six feet away from the racks I have set up.  I don't think I'd be able to keep their hair from getting on the greens, and I'm pretty sure that would kill any possible future sales if someone were to get hair in their order.  I know I wouldn't buy from that person again anyway.

So here's some pictures of the Rainbow Radish mix I started on December 29th.  I think I used 10g of seeds per tray (1 Tbsp), pro mix (that I got for free), and food grade cheesecloth from wal-mart.  I also put worm castings in the bottom tray under the soil where the water reservoir is in two of the trays.  About 4 Tbsp worth of castings per tray.  In the last tray I used some old Fox Farm nutrient solution instead of the worm castings, just to see if there's a difference.

I had them weighted until this morning January 3rd and in total darkness, that's why they're yellow.  They'll go under two 20w led lights from here on out.  I'll run them 17 hours on, and 7 hours off.

Happy New Year!
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I literally just sprinkled about 1 Tbsp. of dry radish seed over all the trays. Here's the cheesecloth up close.
I literally just sprinkled about 1 Tbsp. of dry radish seed over all the trays. Here's the cheesecloth up close.
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Three trays of Rainbow Radish mix, all exactly the same other than the cheesecloth on top of the soil in the one tray.
Three trays of Rainbow Radish mix, all exactly the same other than the cheesecloth on top of the soil in the one tray.
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Here they are today, they've been in total darkness so they're not green yet. Cheesecloth I'm pointing at.
Here they are today, they've been in total darkness so they're not green yet. Cheesecloth I'm pointing at.
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Close up of cheesecloth separating the greens from the soil below. The other trays have soil on some of the greens.
Close up of cheesecloth separating the greens from the soil below. The other trays have soil on some of the greens.
 
Burl Smith
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I purchased that light system you recommended but was a little taken back by the quality of the mounting clips, always being afraid they're going to fall if I nudge one, so if I decide to expand I think I'll try the T8's:



These are only 6000K versus 6500K so I might have to be satisfied with the addition of some string.



 
Joshua Bertram
Posts: 515
Location: St. George, UT. Zone 8a Dry/arid. 8" of rain in a good year.
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Burl Smith wrote:I purchased that light system you recommended but was a little taken back by the quality of the mounting clips, always being afraid they're going to fall if I nudge one, so if I decide to expand I think I'll try the T8's:



These are only 6000K versus 6500K so I might have to be satisfied with the addition of some string.





I know what you mean by the mounting clips being very light duty.  That being said, from my experience with them installed in my garage for about a year or so is that they are rock solid mounts.  The lights literally weigh a couple of ounces, so they don't really need anything beefy to hold them up.  I actually found it really difficult to remove a light to reposition it in the garage.  
I didn't even use the mounts for the grow racks.  If you look in the pictures you can see I just zip tied them directly to the rack.  Again, they're so lightweight I can't imagine them ever falling off.

Yeah, that light system you showed looks like a good deal.  I'm sure those will be awesome for you.  

That channel I recommended before is always testing lights side by side to see what the best light for the money is.  They've used high quality, high dollar led's, and although they do perform better and give a bit more weight of greens per tray, they aren't really worth the small gains in growth vs. the cost of the lights/the amount of electricity they consume/and their lifespan.  Especially for a home grower for personal consumption.  From the testing they've done, it looks like the lights are fairly negligible when it comes to microgreens.  The best light with the most output isn't much better than the cheapest light.  More isn't really all that better.  I'm not saying that, I'm just regurgitating what I've heard/watched from them.  

Here's another video where they compare t5's against the lights I bought/linked above.  
"All the details about the lights are in the video! We tested T5 HO Fluorescent's - vs - 18watt LED's - vs - 300watt LED's... The results are worth the watch!"

 
Joshua Bertram
Posts: 515
Location: St. George, UT. Zone 8a Dry/arid. 8" of rain in a good year.
147
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I'm going to give an update because everything went really well.  I really liked the way the cheesecloth prevented the soil from getting on the greens.  I'm going to do that from now on.  I think it's a great to keep things a bit cleaner, although I admit it wasn't that big of a deal keeping the soil out of the greens without the cheesecloth.  I found I could cut much further towards the base of the stem with the cheesecloth, thus giving more actual greens per tray, but it's not much.

Interestingly, the cheesecloth greens grew the best out of the three groups.  I harvested the nutrient solution tray first, and it was growing the slowest of the bunch, maybe the nutrient was no good, it was probably close to eight years old or so, or maybe I needed to make it stronger.
Again, of the two where I used worm castings, and everything was identical in general, the cheesecloth greens grew faster/taller.  I don't think it should have mattered, and it was probably just a coincidence.

I just harvested the cheesecloth tray this morning, and took some pictures of it.  At no point have I washed any of the greens, they've been cut and I sprinkle them all over what I'm eating straight from the tray.

Started three new trays last night with a thicker amount of cheesecloth.  About three to four layers thick this time instead of the two layers I used the first time.  Broccoli, superfood mix, and salad mix.
I'm just using 4tbsp of worm casting in the bottom of the trays where the water reservoir is.  I'm not mixing the worm castings with the soil.  It seemed to work well enough last time.  Makes sense to me when the roots are long enough they can get directly to it.

Pictures of it all.

Oh yeah, I'm only using two 20w lights for this.  In the videos I've linked they recommend three per tier, but I found two to be fine.  Maybe with a longer 10/20 tray it would make a bigger difference.
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Bottom of radish w/cheesecloth tray with 4tbsp of worm castings in the bottom. Looks healthy to me.
Bottom of radish w/cheesecloth tray with 4tbsp of worm castings in the bottom. Looks healthy to me.
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Cutting the radish greens w/cheesecloth liner. No soil got on anything I cut.
Cutting the radish greens w/cheesecloth liner. No soil got on anything I cut.
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Cheesecloth on the left, no cheesecloth on the right. Cheesecloth grew taller/fuller. Same taste.
Cheesecloth on the left, no cheesecloth on the right. Cheesecloth grew taller/fuller. Same taste.
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Trays I'm starting with.
Trays I'm starting with.
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Potting soil I'm using. I get ripped bags of soil free from where I work. Got three huge bags of this a month ago.
Potting soil I'm using. I get ripped bags of soil free from where I work. Got three huge bags of this a month ago.
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4tbsp of Worm Gold Plus castings on the bottom of each tray.
4tbsp of Worm Gold Plus castings on the bottom of each tray.
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Putting the cheesecloth on top of the soil. Cheap walmart cheesecloth.
Putting the cheesecloth on top of the soil. Cheap walmart cheesecloth.
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Three different types of seed, 1 tbsp used per tray. Misting the seeds with tap water.
Three different types of seed, 1 tbsp used per tray. Misting the seeds with tap water.
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The thee trays stacked with another empty tray on top so I can weight the seeds down for a few days. Water was handy...
The thee trays stacked with another empty tray on top so I can weight the seeds down for a few days. Water was handy...
 
Joshua Bertram
Posts: 515
Location: St. George, UT. Zone 8a Dry/arid. 8" of rain in a good year.
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The cheesecloth is working out perfectly.  I think it's worth the extra effort/expense to keep things clean.  

I only have bottom watered out of both of these grows.  No additional spraying or anything.  I just water them twice a day about 12 hours apart.  I lift the white perforated tray a bit, and pour about 1/4" worth of water into the green reservoir.  100% success, and good solid growth from what I've observed.

Pics of the three trays of different seed types from the last post, and how they looked about four days ago (snap peas in the last tray for planting out in the garden).  They are now gone, and in my belly.  I think I might start mixing them in my dog's food too.

Super simple.

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