When you start to know microgreens, and dig more deep on how to grow them, one of the most common questions that we get is should I use soil or sow on some growing medium or should I go with hydroponics? In this blog post we will try to answer the question and make a comparison between both.
Let me start with the basic growing medium, soil. Almost six years from now, when we started growing microgreens for a profit, we didn’t even find anything on hydroponics. All information that we found on the microgreen topic was related to some growing medium, preferred soil. And the couple which had a microgreen business, that we followed, were also growing in the soil.
We have tested several soils that we were able to find in Slovenia, and the one that we are using now, did perform the best. And we still are growing on this soil. We just love the feeling that the soil arouses in us. You literally can feel how you are growing something and the plant itself will do her best, to bring you the best grown microgreens as possible. With all the nutrients and fantastic flavour, to brighten your daily diet. Read more about in this blog post.
Touching the soil is something so relaxing.
It is always good and fun, if you can try or test something new, something that excites you to do it. And this is exactly how it is with growing microgreens in a way that is different from ‘standard’. Growing microgreens hydroponically means that you don’t use any granular growing medium for growth, but mostly just moving water, many times enriched with nutrient solution or some thin mat that will retain moisture for seeds to germinate and hold them in one place.
You can start with simply placing seeds on some bamboo mat or hemp mat. Specially practical for home growing. But you can go just with water. And if you want to go with some more advanced technique, you can build a hydroponic system. Some more complex aeroponics or nutrient film systems (NFT). On Amazon US you can find those, or shop here: http://www.bloomshydroponics.co.uk/hydroponics-grow-systems/NFT-Kit-Spares.
Very simple. You can use premeasured mats (like 1020 trays) or buy more and then cut it in your preferred dimensions. Some materials can leave a mess behind, and some can be a little bit harder to cut it with regular scissors. But the end product will be a basis for roots of the seeds, to stick to the mat, and this will encourage microgreens to grow straight and healthy. But have in mind, that those mats are more appropriate for smaller seeds, and for fast growing ones. Like broccoli, kale, red cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, … Because if you compare growing on soil vs. mats, then growing on mats is slightly slower, and the yield it’s also smaller. They don’t require additional nutrients up to 14 days. But if you will want to grow let say, basil, then it would be necessary to add nutrients. You can see in the picture below, what happens if you don’t use any nutrients.
Choose from wide range of mats.
You can use some mesh and a tray to put mesh into. And then provide enough water for seeds to germinate. The major factor for successful germination is humidity (water). This is like growing sprouts. Rinsing is very important.
To best describe aeroponic ways of growing plants is growing without any medium to support plant growth. You basically just need an air and misting environment. This method uses a nutrient enriched spray mist as a method to sustain hyper plant growth. The system itself is misting roots in a chronological order, for example on each 20 seconds. This principle is used in a closed or semi closed environment. The idea behind this is to keep the environment free of diseases and pesticides for healthier and quicker growth.
Growing just with water.
Stands for Nutrient Film Technique. And the best is to use it for fast growing plants. And those are microgreens. This is a hydroponic system that does include components as Ebb and Flow but with different configurations. This system can be your next DIY project or you can buy a finished one.
Are hydroponic farms profitable?
We think it’s all about location (area), time, volume and crop that you choose. Location (area), where are you located and if the market demands what you are selling. So microgreens are itself a very profitable crop.Time is also important. Because how fast is a turn around of your crop, that fast you can sell it and it’s directly related to your profit. But what really puts hydroponic scale on the profitable side is volume. How much did you invest in the system and how much volume are you ready to produce and eventually also sell? I know that bigger hydroponic farms can be very profitable.
What hydroponic nutrients (fertilizer) should I use?
Perhaps to start with a few words on nutrients. Well, as we said, if you are using very rich soil, then this is not for you. But if you grow long growing microgreens on some mats or using hydroponic methods, then yes, additional nutrients are essential for you to grow healthy, vibrant and tasty microgreens. Fertilizer can come in nature or in synthetic form. But here we could talk so much more about it, and I think I will prepare a separate blog post on this theme.
Or buy at True Leaf Market:
I did ask directly to company who is producing this nutrients and the perfect combination for microgreens would be Root·Juice + Bio·Grow + Alg·A·Mic. About 2 ml/L of each product in every watering should be enough.
However, not all of the Biobizz products can be used in hydroponic systems. The ones that are suitable are: Root·Juice, Bio·Bloom, Bio·Heaven, Top·Max, Biobizz Calmag, Bio·pH+, and Bio·pH-.
If you wish to give them a try, please remember that these products are 100% organic, so they start decomposing as soon as they are in contact with water and air. Ideally, this decomposition should happen in the substrate, but the products can be used in a hydro system as long as it doesn’t involve air pumps (which would accelerate the decomposition) and aren’t left in the reservoir for more than 2-3 days (after that you need to make a new batch).
Some you can get on amazon US: https://amzn.to/2CHwNqM, https://amzn.to/2CLq3I9
Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/2ZCB1sQ
BioBizz – organic starter packs
A fine powder mined from a volcanic ash deposit that contains a myriad of rare earth elements and trace minerals.
Amazon US: https://amzn.to/2CHyxjO
Some other providers of hydroponic equipment US/Canada:
Some other providers of hydroponic equipment Africa:
Some other providers of hydroponic equipment UK/Europe:
Comparison Soil vs. Hydroponics
Let me put together Pros and Cons of using soil compared to hydroponics.
|cheaper||More preparation work|
|Better growing||Mess around|
|Even if they drain out, overwater them and they will stand back||Daily watering|
|No additional nutrients||Extra work|
|Fast decompose||It has to be sterile|
|Feeling of grounding||possibilitie of flies|
Well to answer your question rather to use soil or hydroponic method, ask yourself questions that have answers in the table upper.
How much money are you willing to invest from the start of microgreen business?
For soil, just buy a few bags for the start, but for a hydroponic or aeroponic system you should have in mind that those need more investing money.
And are you familiar with the systems, how they work?
I don’t think that this is too hard to learn, especially if you are already buying a finished one. Then everything is basically automated. But there are ways that you can create your own watering system. So, if you are a little bit handy and have a passion for doing this, then go for it. Otherwise stay with the purchased one.
How much time are you willing to invest in the beginning and afterwards?
Microgreens are a dedicated crop. What I mean by that is, that they require daily presence. If you are using soil, daily watering is a must. With some systems, you can save a lot of time for manual tasks.
Do you want to use additional nutrients also?
When you grow on soil, forget about extra costs for additional nutrients. Soil is sufficient enough for all growing cycles of each microgreen variety. But with hydroponics, you put nutrients in the water and plants will absorb nutrients. So this creates additional costs for you.
How much is compost important for you?
We are gathering all our ‘waste’ on compost and then use it once again for our edible flowers on the outer field. So we use it over and over again. When you have mats, some of them are also compostable, but require more time to decompose, but some are not compostable at all. You have to look for that, And for hydroponic with water you basically don’t have any waste just reusing water.
Do you want to feel ‘grounded’?
This comes with creating-doing with soil. It is a pleasing doing and it helps you to calm down and focus your mind on your wishes.
So, soil or hydroponic?
At the end it is only your decision, which way you wanna go, but honestly, both methods are good to go. We choose soil, because we are more familiar with it. And we love how microgreens grow on the soil. But if you have a passion for automatization, the systems and everything that goes with hydroponics, then you should listen to yourself and go for it. I hope that I did help you with the answer in which way to go, soil (medium) or hydroponics. You can send us an email with your way of doing and growing microgreens. We will be very happy to receive it, and we will share it with others if you will want it. If you would like even more information on this topic, our online course is a way to go, just click HERE.
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