Planning • Sowing • Production • Harvesting • Marketing
Micro greens are trendy, vibrant, nutritious, and versatile, adding panache to nearly any culinary presentation — gourmet salads, sprinkled over entreés, or used as a garnish.
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Venturing into micro greens production offers the grower an opportunity to expand existing markets and open new ones. Micro greens can be marketed as individual components or in signature blends, combining a number of varieties with different flavors, colors, and textures. When grown in a greenhouse with supplemental heat or indoors under lights, micro greens can be produced year-round, even at high latitudes through the depths of winter. In addition to their versatility and potential profitability, they're nutrient-dense, intensely flavorful, and simply beautiful.
While micro greens are relatively easy and quick to grow, and start-up costs relatively low, there are some important points to micro greens production to know up front. Here are some of the basics of planning, sowing, production, harvesting, and marketing, to help get you started.
Seed selection is a key component to production strategy. You may want to start with a few straightforward varieties or a professionally premixed selection of micro greens, then diversify later on. Johnny's currently offers two premixed options — our Mild Micro Mix, a balanced combination of mild brassicas; and our Spicy Micro Mix, a complement of sharper-tasting varieties. Both are precisely designed to produce a range of colors, flavors, and textures with compatible growth rates.
Micro greens have a quick turnaround time, but there are differences in growth rate between different types and varieties. For example, mustard and radish have a faster growth rate and therefore mature faster than beets, chard, or carrots. The majority of vegetable varieties grown as micro greens are ready for harvest in about two weeks. Herbs grown as micro greens tend to be comparatively slow-growing, maturing in 16–25 days. Depending upon types, varieties, and environmental conditions, a production cycle can be prolonged up to four weeks and beyond.
Use our Micro Greens Comparison Chart to become more familiar with the fast-growing and slow-growing groups, along with other distinguishing features, and to help you choose varieties to grow concurrently. With practice, sowing times can be coordinated to produce a mix of varieties, all ready for harvest at once, at optimal size and flavor. With some trialing and good record-keeping, a grower can become adept at production cycle timing.
Equipment and space are two other planning considerations. Before you get set up, you will need to calculate how much space you need and gather together a few supplies — many of which you may already have on hand: sterile growing medium such as soilless mix; trays and domed lids; and a sheltered growing area. In addition, heating mats, lighting, and fans may be required for off-season production systems.
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Seed for micro greens is often sown into standard 1020 flats or 20-row seed flats containing 1–1½" of a light, sterile, soilless mix. When getting ready to sow, take seed size into account, as this will determine the best method of planting. Seeding densities should be thick enough to cover the flat but not to the point of inhibiting air flow. Both small and large seeds should be sown thickly, then gently tamped into the soil. As a rule of thumb, sow approximately 10–12 seeds per square inch of smaller seeds, and 6–8 seeds per square inch of larger seeds.
Small seeds can be covered with a layer of paper towels, or finely sifted vermiculite, or a small amount of soilless mix. Large seeds should be covered with a light layer of the grow mix. Sifters and colanders can be used to help to sort seeds by size.
Once the flats are sown, gently water them; use a slow, steady mist to avoid washing away the seeds. Cover the flats with either a clear or white plastic dome to retain humidity and aid in germination. Take care to remove the lid or ventilate during sunny, warm conditions. If using paper towels to cover the seed, gently remove the towels within just a few days. Most of the seed coats will adhere to the towels upon removal, which greatly facilitates the washing process.
Micro greens are most often grown in greenhouses or other protective structures due to the fragile nature of the product. Growing on raised platforms or tables eliminates frequent bending over to tend the plants. Sufficient air circulation can be provided with fans to prevent disease and mold issues. The flats of micro greens need to be kept moist but not overly wet. Many growers utilize bottom-watering methods to minimize soil splashing, which also helps to produce a cleaner finished product.
Because of the one-cut nature of micro greens, succession planting is necessary to produce a steady supply of this crop. Sowing dates and quantities of seed sown should be based upon customer demand, delivery schedules, and varietal growth rates. As noted, different varieties grow at different rates. Keep records and modify your system as needed.
Growing micro greens off-season indoors or in a greenhouse requires additional attention. As noted, lights, fans to circulate air, and heating mats are usually needed. Many plants respond differently to artificial light than they do to natural light. Take note of light duration, intensity, and distance from the crop, factors that will determine the growth rate and quality of your finished product. If the light source is positioned too far from the crop, stretching or leginess may occur. Crop color may appear washed-out when the light intensity is insufficient.
Some growers find that fertilizing is needed to prevent yellowing of the micro greens. A soluble fertilizer in the mister or bottom-feed water supply can resolve this. Producers should take care to prevent any "off-flavors" that can at times be derived from fish-based production materials.
Micro greens are tender and need to be handled with care. Harvest by cutting handfuls with scissors, or cut entire flats with an electric knife. Depending on your market requirements you may opt to cut the product directly into its final packaging, such as a clear plastic clamshell or tote, for mixing and/or washing. Refrigeration is generally necessary to maintain freshness and quality after harvest. Packaging can be selected according to the primary end-users in your market, whether sold in an individual-serving size or in bulk, based on weight or volume.
If you're not already routinely surveying your buyers and chefs for input and feedback, add that to your checklist, too, so you can continually modify and improve your product line. Customers stay more engaged when offered novel varieties and combinations, particularly when they're confident your products are consistently fresh and of the highest quality.
These are simple guidelines from Johnny's Research Team to help you get your micro greens program up and running. Produced efficiently and marketed successfully, micro greens can elevate your operation to a whole new level. For additional information about year-round micro greens production, refer to the following resources.
- Top Picks for Getting Started with Micro Greens Article »
- Micro Greens Seeding Tips Watch Video »
- Customized Micro Greens: Simple steps for transitioning from premixed to customized product Blog »
- Johnny's Micro Greens Comparison Chart PDF »
- Printable version: Johnny's Guide to Micro Greens Production PDF »
- Johnny's Herb Varieties for Micro Greens Product List »
- Johnny's Fast-Growing Micro Greens Varieties Product List »
- Johnny's Slow-Growing Micro Greens Varieties Product List »
- All Johnny's Micro Greens Product List »