Untangling the Secrets of Microgreen Production: Part I
This week, we will be sharing part one of our microgreens research editorial series. The following article discusses the research and experiments that our Greenhouse Specialist, Matt Denten has been working on while producing microgreens. The goal of this project is to gain a better understanding of microgreen production as a whole, in order to spread beneficial knowledge to our customers and develop a system that provides an ideal environment for microgreen production.
If you’ve ordered a salad at a high-end restaurant lately, you may have noticed that it was adorned with miniature greens. It’s possible that you’ve confused these greens with sprouts. However, they might not be sprouts; they could be microgreens, and there’s no doubt that although many may not be able to identify them, those in the growing and culinary industries are closely monitoring their popularity in the United States.
Mircogreens are a growers dream. With low start-up costs, little required space for production and the ability to retrieve high profits, growers from rural America to urban centers are looking to capitalize on their recent surge in popularity. Unfortunately, as the microgreen craze continues to pick up, there is very little information and research on how to maximize production and successfully grow healthy, delicious microgreens. Although there is some general information on the proper temperature and humidity, this is still considered proprietary, and there is certainly a gaping hole in the information on the proper lighting and nutrient regiments. Due to this lack of information, Growers Supply, the industry leader in hydroponic and greenhouse systems, has started a continuous trial to find the ideal growing environment for microgreens, and they hope to eventually develop the premier microgreen system that can be used by growers everywhere and on any production scale.
A simple search on the internet reveals the lack of quality information. Many of the articles online are copycat how-to articles that use potting soil and unsophisticated materials, like kitchen storage containers, to produce microgreens on your windowsill. These techniques reduce the grower’s control, and they generally lead to a less than ideal harvest. The plants grown in these states are low in vigor and have a short shelf life. They also lack the powerful flavor that is sought in the microgreen market and are more susceptible to diseases and mold.
To combat this lack of information Growers Supply has assigned Greenhouse Specialist Matt Denten to the task of cracking the microgreen code. “The goal of my trials is to develop advanced growing strategies that we can teach at our schools and to our microgreen producers,” he said. Denten, located at Growers Supply’s Technology Center East in South Windsor, Conn., researches in a professionally designed hydroponic grow room and uses the lights, nutrients and systems created and sold by Growers Supply to ensure the highest-quality and most-accurate results.
The number of variables included in this study make it a lengthy process, and while Denten has yet to dive into how nutrients can affect production, he has begun to test lighting. “Every single microgreen customer I speak with asks about lighting. We don’t yet know the precise levels. We know general levels that work, but we can do better,” Denten explained.
The seemingly endless LED set ups provide Denten with dozens of trials to explore and study. While many growers use lighting for flowering, LED lights can also be used to manipulate growth and get the desired shape and size. Denten has been able to produce shorter, stockier mircogreens that have a longer shelf life, and then by simply altering the lighting he’s produced taller microgreens that may be more appealing when used as a garnish. He has even manipulated the colors found in some microgreens, and has been able to make the natural reds and purples pop with a more vibrant shade. Denten was careful to not divulge too much information and stressed the fact that it is still early in the research process.
He concluded, “Some varieties require lots of light and nutrients. Others require little light and no nutrients at all. We are trying to figure out the best condition for the most popular varieties. This way we can design one ultimate microgreen system with proper lighting and proper nutrient recirculation.”
Be sure to check back in the upcoming weeks for part two of our series. We will be revealing what Matt has learned from his research and give a prediction as to what the future may hold for specialized microgreens systems.