The traditional family farm is changing, as more people move to cities. According to recent census numbers, over 80 percent of Americans now live in urban areas. As urban populations grow, innovative solutions to feeding all those people are being fine-tuned on vacant city lots, in abandoned warehouses and in the basements and backyards of city-dwellers across the country.
Local growers are experimenting with hydroponics, aeroponics, aquaponics and other intensive food production systems, with the goal of providing food that does not need to be shipped long distances.
Many urban farmers are also finding low-tech growing techniques still make sense with many crops such as baby greens and microgreens. Because these crops can be easily grown indoors, without expensive growing systems and equipment, they are just right for growers on a budget. Here’s what you need to know about growing microgreens:
Microgreens are tiny plants, larger than sprouts, grown to just an inch or two in height, then harvested. The flavor of microgreens is much more intense than that of full-grown plants, which makes microgreens ideal for garnishes and a tangy, spicy addition to salads.
Microgreens can be grown from the seeds of most salad greens or herbs, but the spicy and colorful plants are most widely grown, such as beets, arugula, mustard, mizuna, kale, radish, endive and tatsoi.
Most micro green growers use the standard plastic nursery trays, spreading them out on a table or rack. The seeds are started in covered trays until they germinate, then moved under lights to grow to harvesting size. Most small growers use potting soil in the trays, as that allows the plants to be grown and harvested as either microgreens or baby greens, which are more affordable because of the larger size and weight.
Most microgreen varieties are ready to harvest in 10-14 days, and are sold to restaurants, grocers and individuals at local Saturday markets. Microgreens are an ideal crop for an urban farm, as there are so many potential customers close by, which helps keep delivery costs low. To ensure freshness, most growers harvest a crop in the morning and deliver it to a restaurant the same day, so it is at the peak of freshness when it reaches the plate.
Because microgreens can be grown in far less space than traditional row crops, they have become a popular choice for urban farms that have limited growing space. In addition, the growing cycle is short, less than two weeks for most micro green varieties, and a grower can easily produce up to two dozen crops per year. For maximum return, microgreens make economic sense for urban farmers. To learn more, read Growing Microgreens For Profit.