Commercial Sustainable Micro-green Production in a Northern Climate

Project Overview

FNC15-1004
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2015: $7,500.00
Projected End Date: 02/15/2017
Grant Recipient: Morning Sun Farms, Inc.
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Janet Marsh
Morning Sun Farms

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Agronomic: sunflower
  • Vegetables: greens (leafy), peas (culinary)

Practices

  • Production Systems: hydroponics

    Summary:

    Our project is to determine if soilless, organic micro-green production in a hydroponic system can be a profitable, year-round farm enterprise in Northern climates.

    We began working on our grant project in May of 2015.  First we purchased supplies. We then replaced the grow-bed media we were using. Next, we began testing a variety of grow pads and soilless mixes. We identified and corrected several problem areas in our growing system early in our research, resulting in a very positive outcome. Because of this, we were able to make adjustments to our original grant application. Instead of installing the water system outlined in our grant proposal, we are now, with approval, redirecting those funds to greenhouse insulation, allowing us to further cut costs and increase potential profitability.  This change is still in process.

    Introduction:

    We planned to conduct our experiments through late summer, fall and winter 2015-2016.  However, with implementing modifications and still maintaining our scale of production, we continued to run tests well into 2016. This had the unplanned advantage of seeing the benefit of our changes throughout all four seasons.
    We tested:

    Commercially prepared soilless mix

    Homemade peat/vermiculite/perlite/compost mix

    Micro-mats

    Coir

    Perlite

    Vermiculite

    Sand

    Felt grow pads

    Due to unforeseen circumstances, we have not completed all of the outreach we had hoped to do.  Currently most outreach has been verbally, through small tours, and responding to email inquiries. We have reached out to our past extension agent in an effort to complete this piece. Originally she was to help by contributing to publications she worked with. We do not know if this will be possible in her new position.  

    Project objectives:

    Accomplishments/Milestones:

    As stated in our previous report, we removed the rock base from the grow-beds, cleaned the water tanks and beds, replaced the rocks with pH neutral Bio-media balls or clay balls and refilled the tanks with clean water.  The clay balls were clearly the best product for our application.  We eventually replaced all rock and Bio-media balls with the clay balls except in one small area used exclusively for watercress.

    This change immediately solved the pH problem and we have continued to maintain a pH of 5.8-6.3 without any additional water treatment to this day.

    Our previous report also discusses our finding in growing micro-greens with commercial and homemade peat based mixes, coir and micro-mats.

    Since that time we have also tested various combinations of sand, vermiculite and perlite.  These were all a definite fail.  They were messy, the wet sand was heavy and cumbersome to work with, and none produced the rigorous, healthy plants we were looking for.

    Initially we planned to test Sure-2-Grow mats.  However, these became very obscure and if found were very pricey. Instead, we tested Biostrate Hydroponic Felt Grow Mats.  When we did our test, the felt was only available in a large roll.  This required additional labor to cut pieces to fit the 10×20 trays.  Though the results were better than peat mixes, coir, and most other products we tested, the felt mats did not compare to the superiority of micro-mats.  The felt was more expensive and required the extra cost/step of cutting the roll into pieces.  We also found the germination rate to be less (perhaps 20%) and the growth rate was slower, adding several days to the cycle before our micro-greens were harvestable.  Also, with the micro-mats, we are able to put the spent mats with the remaining stem and root pieces into our chicken pen to be consumed by our egg-layers. There, the micro-green remains can be eaten and the mats are completely broken down within a day or so to become part of the following years’ compost. The felt pads however did not break down for weeks.  This was not something we wanted to incorporate into our farming practices and conflicted with our core values.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.