Hi, my name is Dirk and I'm the farmer at Junction Microfarm. This is my blog, my first ever. I hope to cover a range of topics related to urban farming and our experiments to create a viable and innovative farm in the Junction. For a brief intro to the ambition, please see the About Us page on this website.
They say growing microgreens is easy, and its true. For this happy fact we can thank billions of years of natural selection: seeds are optimally configured to grow. Likewise, their design is robust – they grow under a range of environmental conditions with only two essentials ingredients, water and light.
What is much less easy is farming microgreens on a commercial basis. Ask any farmer and they will never tell you its easy. To consistently generate high quality, high yield harvests requires a real understanding and application of optimal growing conditions for each species. Most farmers grow a handful of species at most. A microgreen farmer must master 20 or more different ones. Helping greatly in this is the ability to control environmental conditions indoors. There is no weather on a microgreen farm. Just optimal levels of light and water over-specific time cycles, all of which vary by species. This is the secret knowledge of a microgreen farmer.
My favorite microgreen is sunflower. These shoots are substantial in the mouth, have a delightful crunch, and offer flavours that are not at all ‘vegetably’ but instead nutty. No surprise– sunflower is a large seed-producing flower, not a vegetable or fruit. So, my favorite to eat, but not to grow. Simply, sunflower microgreens are a pain in the butt. They grow rapidly and need less light that other species but have some bad habits. First, the large seeds lift grow medium up with them as they rise from the soil surface. This means the shoots need to be washed – we triple-wash to get them 95% clean. Sunflower also tend to retain the seed hull on the cotyledon leaves as they grow. This means elaborate techniques to encourage them to shed the hull during the first days and then too much time removing stray hulls and still-hulled shoots during harvest and preparation. If I can find a process to fix this, I’ll be a happy man with a lot more time on his hands. 😉
Nevertheless, black oil sunflower along with speckled pea are the farm’s ‘base’ crops. These are large microgreens and grow quickly, which means for a given investment in time and materials these species will delivery more than twice the yield. We therefore make our mixes with one or both of these two to give substance, then add lower-yielding ‘other’ microgreens from our Gourmet range to provide a variety of tastes, textures and nutritional content.