Farming in a Construction Zone Part 1: Microgreens!

Updated: Apr 19

Makeshift Microgreens

Once our greenhouse main structure was in place and warm inside during the day, I got really antsy to get something growing. If we had a house, of course we could have been harvesting microgreens all winter, but when you cook wearing down coats, and sleep in knit caps, it isn't really conducive to indoor gardening... Chip willingly took on the lion's share of construction work, while I split my time between building and farming.


My initial thought, back in October, had been that we'd finish the greenhouse in January and start out with a 50-day cover crop of the huge daikon radishes throughout to break up the soil and compost in place (after taking a hearty harvest of course). So I did have a pound of daikon microgreen seeds. I knew the greenhouse wasn't set up for growing yet, but we were already months behind where we thought we'd be. By this time we could even have been growing cool crops outside, if we were willing to take time out from the greenhouse to get an outdoor garden bed going (we weren't -- if only we had taken that time out last year, we could be eating our own overwintered veg right about now).


Other than that bag of daikon, we didn't really have anything for growing microgreens, and we'd never done it before. I read a bunch online, grabbed various recycled materials, and dug through camp for other ideas. In addition to the radish seeds, I tried chia and flint corn, both from our food stores. I didn't know if they'd be viable, but figured it wouldn't hurt to try. I pre-soaked all of the seeds. I set the corn up in dirt, and chia up in water on egg carton lids -- my best approximation of a chia pet! I put some of the daikon seeds on a section of nylon dipped in water as a wick, and the rest in dirt. I set these up on the high north bed of the greenhouse, out of the way, and started spritzing them with water several times a day to keep them moist. So far, so good!


Starts & Fits

Chip was building the end walls when I set up the beds, so at night we just covered the ends with tarps. Our temperatures were still in the 30s at night and over 100 during the day. (Our max temp so far has been 128 -- even higher than my Australian bike trip max of 122.) Our north and south garden beds were still open to the outside -- they had the inner sheathing on loosely, but we still needed to insulate, add the vapor barrier, and berm the outside to seal it. We also needed to get the ventilation and geothermal systems running, but for power we only had a generator at the build site (our solar setup was at our campsite). Given all this, we weren't terribly shocked that our greens struggled.

The daikon microgreens had sprouted nicely, but the hydroponic attempt was a fail -- the "wicking" nylon never kept the seeds moist enough, and they moved around on the unstable surface. The corn never sprouted at all, but it did attract mice who came in through the back wall to chow down. A couple of chia seeds sprouted on the sides of the container, so maybe the others were too wet, or too old, or whatever. I gave up on the chia and corn, and moved the daikon-in-dirt next to the south beds.


They thrived there for a couple of days, until I covered them to retain humidity -- the hot temps and double-greenhouse-effect rotted the greens and melted their plastic containers within a few hours! End of initial microgreen experiment!


By this time we were placing lots of online orders to pick up in our rare COVID-19-era trips to the Gallup UPS store to pick up trees. Among those orders were microgreen planting trays and seeds. It turned out to be kinda tough timing, since suddenly many more people were wanting to start microgreens, to feed themselves at home! We think this is a great thing, and one of the silver linings of the pandemic... food sovereignty for all! But this, added to the fact that one of the big microgreen companies (True Leaf Market) suffered in the Utah earthquake, meant that we had a much more limited choice of microgreen seeds. No worries; at least we managed to find a few bags!


While waiting for our shipments, I gathered some sand from the arroyo that we've been crossing daily between our camp and the greenhouse. I screened it out to make a finer bed for the seeds.

When our shipment came in I put real microgreen seeds into real microgreen seeding trays. In addition to the daikon we got broccoli, an Asian mix called "Eastern Sun," and a brassica mix called "Superfoods." Kind of redundant, but that's what I could find! The new seeds were all from Rainbow Heirloom Seed Company, although I had to track them down on Amazon from various vendors, since most seeds were out of stock on their website. (The original daikon seeds were from Handy Pantry via Amazon -- I just now learned that Handy Pantry is now part of True Leaf Market!)

I was concerned that the river sand (which I thought would seem sandy) became a hard block when wet. It seemed almost like a non-Newtonian solid. To be safer, I planted two trays each: one with straight river sand, and the other with a mix of river sand and fermented bokashi sawdust.


The trays with sand sprouted quickly. The Bokashi trays were running several days behind. Then one day, panic! All of the trays were covered in mold!

Thank goodness for the internet -- it took five minutes to determine that it wasn't mold at all, but root hairs. Nice!


I babied these greens! Not enough sun? Too much sun? Not enough water? Too much water? I was on it! They spent the cool nights in a cooler, and cold nights in a cooler with a Little Hotties hand warmer.

The Bokashi greens seemed really stalled. A few had sprouted, so after a week I did go ahead and put them in the light even though most were unsprouted seeds. They seemed to quickly fry and I had pretty much given up on them. I then sort of started them over in the dark again, and three of the trays seemed to have a resurgence. The weird thing is that the surface of the sand/Bokashi was very broken up, as if the seedlings had busted through. Not sure what that was about! In any case, we're glad to have our "second" crop of microgreens on its way spaced nicely after the first, without having to replant. Hopefully this time they will progress! We won't be using Bokashi in a seedling mix again.


The first pic below shows three of the microgreen trays grown with sand alone. The second pic is a close-up of the re-emerged Bokashi greens, and the last shows the three re-emerged Bokashi greens with a little dirt over the top of the naked sprouts. We are hopeful that they will come into their own about the time that we finish eating the in-sand greens!

And here is our so-far harvest! We had an initial taste test to accompany our breakfast veggie-eggs the other day. Then when we found a forgotten container of marinated pork in the bottom of our freezer, we had sweet-potato-noodle ramen with chashu pork and Eastern Sun + daikon microgreens.

When we set up new trays (we have two new bags of seeds coming after their COVID-delayed ship time -- red clover, and a bean mix), we will try a lighter growing medium, and hope that the greens will grow taller. I'm not sure if our intense sun or the density of the planting bed held down the growth, or if we just need to give them more time, or what.


Now, we know that some of you are much more expert at microgreen growing than we are. (Maybe even some of you who picked up the habit recently thanks to the pandemic!) As always, we would love to have you school us!


There's always room to grow!


Here's wishing you all stay healthy, stay safe, and stay at home!

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