Growing A Microgreen Business

Growing a Microgreen Business

 Year-round production

Offering your community this year-round resource can be a great way to diversify your operation

 Short growing season- typically 1-3 weeks

With a 1-4 week growing season, microgreens offer the ability of quick farm income.

 Potent nutrition

One of nature’s greatest superfoods, microgreens appeal to both restaurants and the consumer market.

 Minimal initial investment

Most varieties cost less than two dollars per tray for seed and soil



Q.1. Why Microgreens?

    • Year-round production
    • Offering your community this year-round resource can be a great way to diversify your operation.
    • Short growing season- typically 1-3 weeks
    • With a 1-4 week growing season, microgreens offer the ability of quick farm income.
    • Potent nutrition
    • One of nature’s greatest superfoods, microgreens appeal to both restaurants and the consumer market.
    • Minimal initial investment
    • Most varieties cost less than two dollars per tray for seed and soil

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Q.2. Is it a Sprout or a Microgreen?

    • Sprouts are the first stage of a plants development, microgreens the second
    • Sprouts are grown hydroponically and without medium, and are keep moist and at room temperature until they germinate
    • The entire sprout is consumed, including the root
    • Microgreens are grown in a medium (soil or otherwise). They are harvested after they have established roots and opened their cotyledons. Only the stems and leaves are consumed; they are harvested above their roots.

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Q.3. Mediums- hydroponics vs. soil

    • Many microgreens can be grown without soil
    • Hydroponically grown and soil grown wheatgrass have virtually the same level of vitamins and minerals
    • It is generally agreed that most of the nutrients at the early microgreen stage come from the seed itself.
    • The root systems aren’t mature enough to pull a significant amount of nutrients from the soil.
    • That said, there is a lot of microbial activity happening in the soil that scientists are just becoming aware of.
    • In general, microgreens will be more vigorous and taste better if grown in a high quality soil- the sweetest taste often comes when the soil includes some vermicompost- delivering bioavailable minerals in soil= sweeter taste
    • You can still get a really beautiful harvest from a good hydroponic system
    • Use a medium that you’re comfortable with.
      • Soil
        • Use a high quality organic potting soil
        • Poor quality soil can often have molds and fungi that can cause yield issues
        • A rich, fertile soil is teeming with the biological and mineral interactions necessary for vibrant, nutrient-rich plants
        • It’s best to trial a few varieties of soil to see which works best in your environment
        • The very best is to create a high quality vermicompost from your harvested trays and incorporate this into your system
      • Hydroponic mediums
        • Coir pith (coconut fibre)- Waste product of the coconut industry, and is the husk of the coconut itself. Difficult to cut. OK water retention capacity. Large oxygen capacity. One word of caution about coconut fibre- there is a commonly available, lower grade of coconut fibre that is high in sea-salt and is very finely grained. This lower grade coconut fibre will produce disappointing results
        • Perlite- Has been around for years. Used as a soil additive to increase aeration and drainage. It’s a mined material formed from rapidly heated volcanic gas. Commonly mixed with vermiculite. Inexpensive. Poor water retention capacity. Dust is harmful, so best to wear mask.
        • Vermiculite- another mined material. Often used 50-50 with perlite. Inexpensive. Drawback is that its water retention capacity is too high to be used alone. Will drown the roots of the plant. Use a mask.
        • Soiless mix- often a combination of Sphagnum moss, perlite, Zeolite and vermiculite. Most soiless mixes have a good combination of water retention and aeration
        • Sawdust is tolerated by some microgreens. Depends on which tree it comes from, how fine a texture and how thick. Possible to mix in soil.
        • Felted jute grass (Baby Blanket)- Very easy to cut and work with. Great water retention capacity and aeration. My family’s favorite non-soil medium. Disadvantage- expensive if not re-used. Can be re-used by sterilizing in boiling water.

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Q.4. Equipment

  • a. Trays

    • Any shallow receptacle will work
    • Standard is the 10x20” colored plastic greenhouse trays- gardening supply stores for $2.00/ tray
    • In the spring, ask at your local nursery to see if they have any trays that would otherwise be thrown away
    • Shallow, homemade wooden containers with a liner or painted with food grade finish so they can be sanitized
    • For running trials on new varieties of seed, cut a milk carton plastic or paper in half lengthwise and staple shut the end. Reuse the berry or lettuce plastic clam shells
    • Drainage is important. If you make your own plastic trays, make slits or holes to allow excess water to drain.
    • Possible to use trays without drainage, but will have to monitor soil moisture very carefully
    • Lack of or poor drainage can result in stunted growth, rot and mold in your greens.
    • For easy clean up, line your trays with unbleached paper towels.

    b. Soil or Medium - See Section 3

    c. Soil press (optional)

    Soil press is tamping down the soil making it more even and seeds spread better. This can be done in a few ways:

    • Heavy duty cardboard cut to the size of your trays works for the short-term
    • Building a wooden press is another option, or using the bottom of a flat tray
    • Back of a spoon for smaller trays

    d. Towels

    • Rather than using a layer of soil to cover the seeds moist and in position. Most growers use cloth, plastic, newsprint or an unbleached paper towel to keep the seeds . Soil covering leads to a lot of extra work during harvest and washing.
    • If using a cloth towel, use a thin, lightweight cloth. You’ll have to sterilize the towel between uses.
    • Use heavy duty unbleached commercial quality paper towel
    • Can be incorporated into a compost system (great addition, since most composts are low in carbon)

    e. Spray nozzle/ watering can/ spray bottle/ pressurized portable sprayer

    • If growing outside, use a hose with a spray nozzle set to light spray
    • If growing indoors, you’ll need a watering can or heavy duty spray bottle.

    f. pH Meter

    • Some crops are sensitive to pH
    • Check for more detail in Question 15

    g. Lids for Germination

    • If you’re not growing in a greenhouse, you’ll need clear plastic lids to create a “mini greenhouse effect” to keep temperature and moisture at a more consistent state. Adjustable ventilation holes nice.
    • Can also use a sheet of clear plastic placed loosely over the tray

    h. Scissors or Knife for Harvesting

    • Use a sharp, quality pair of scissors
    • A clean cut through the stem is important to the longevity of your microgreens- the less cell damage done during havest the longer they’ll keep
    • You may notice discoloration or deterioration at the bottom of the stem if you’ve used dull scissors to harvest

    i. Scale

    j. Fan  for air circulation in your growing environment, as well as for drying greens prior to storage

    k. Storage Containers Food-grade resealable bags or plastic clamshells work best

    l. Lights – Sunlight or indoor

    • Hanging fluorescent from the shelf above or down the side of a shelving unit. Must have a shatter proof cover over bulb.
    • Lights generate heat, keep them above the heightof the mature crop and away from spraying water
    • Keep direct sun away from growing trays
    • New LED blue and red spectrum lights are becoming more common.

    m. Water Must be potable, cold and fresh. Cistern water not advised.

    • Must have ways  to disinfect water delivery systems
    • Check/test quality, Ph, regularly

    n. Growing benches or shelves that allow air circulation. Use stainles steel, plastic, painted wood or any sanitizable surface.  Some inspectors are not in favor of wood.

    • Adjust shelf height for easy accesses for watering and handling
    • Build your own portable multi shelf cart from plastic plumbing pipes. Build a frame that the 10x20 flats fit into and join them above each other

    o. Closed in shelving units Plexiglass closet with steel/plastic rods to support trays with automatic watering above each shelf. Curtain rod & shower curtain in front

    • Building Plastic secured around a stainless shelving unit
    • Lighting outside the unit

    p. Seeds

    • Factors that affect seed viability include storage, humidity, handling, age, and seed source
    • Seeds are incredibly variable. Seeds grown on the same farm can be completely different year to year depending on growing and harvesting conditions.
    • It is always a good idea to purchase a sample of any seed before buying in bulk

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Q.5. Basic 10-Step How To Grow Process

    1. Fill Trays With Growing Soil

    Fill the trays with 0.5-1.5” of soil. Using a block, a piece of wood, or your hand, smooth and flatten the soil. Don’t press too hard, as compaction can result in slow growth.


    Dampen medium

    Dampen the grow medium and place in tray.

    1. Soak the seed

    Soaking the seed accelerates the germination process.

    Generally, the larger the seed the longer the soak time.

    Peas and sunflowers can be soaked overnight. Many growers soak larger seed in a 5 gallon bucket covered with mesh secured with bungee cord or tourniquet and drain, tilting the bucket at an angle so excess water can drain out. They then allow the seeds to sprout for 1-2 days or until a small tail appears. Rinse and drain twice a day. This is generally done to save space so fewer trays are in use at a given time.

    Smaller seed will absorb water through the hull in 2-4 hours

    Seeds from the brassica family can drown if oversoaked, so generally shouldn’t be soaked for more than 2 hours.

    Gelatinous and very tiny seed shouldn’t be soaked

    1. Sow the Seed

    Sprinkle the seed evenly over the entire tray. The seeding density depends on the stage at which you’re planning to harvest. Sow the seed quite thickly (one thin layer with the seeds touching one another) for small 1 week microgreens; leave a bit more space between the seeds for 2-3 week microgreens.

    Mixes: As we know, diversity is important in any agricultural system, including a microgreen operation. We’ve found over the years that sprouts and microgreens will generally grow better when mixed with other seeds. Creating your own mix is a great idea. Just be mindful of only mixing seeds that can be harvested at approximately the same time.

    1. Press seeds

    Lightly press the seeds into the soil.

    1. Cover the Seed

    Traditionally, seed would be covered with soil, but this leads to a longer harvesting process, and it takes time to rinse the soil from the small leaves and stems. I prefer covering the seed with a layer of unbleached paper towel. Another advantage of the paper towel cover is that it stays moist longer than a soil cover. This is a great addition to your compost. If using cloth towels, be sure to sterilize between uses.

    1. Water

    Give the seeds a generous amount of water, using a spray bottle or a garden spray nozzle set to light/medium. Don’t worry about overwatering during this initial watering, since the soil will absorb much of the water. Underwatering can cause the seed to dry out and the germination process to stop.

    1. Stack or Cover with Lids

    At this stage, some growers choose to stack the trays to allow the roots to set deeply into the soil. If you choose to stack the trays, you may want to put an empty tray on the very top of the stack and put a light weight on top. The trays typically remain stacked for 2-3 days. Check twice a day to see if the trays need water. (The soil should be moist, not wet.) After 2-3 days, cover with lids (see below).

    If choosing not to stack, simply cover the trays with clear plastic or dome lids. Check the trays twice daily and water if necessary.

    1. Water the Germinating Seed

    Check the seed twice daily and water as needed. The soil should be moist, not wet. After 2-3 days the paper towel will start to lift off the seed. This is an indication that the microgreens are ready to be exposed to indirect sunlight.

    1. Expose to Indirect Sunlight

    During the initial germination process (the first 2-3 days) the sprouts don’t require light. After 2-3 days, the microgreens should be ready for indirect sunlight. Be careful not to expose the plants to direct, hot sunlight as this can damage the delicate microgreens. Another option is to use florescent or grow lights. If the microgreens begin to get quite tall and leggy, this is an indication that they may need a bit more light.

    1. Harvest!

    Typically, microgreens are harvested at 1-3 weeks. Scissors are a very effective tool for harvesting microgreens. Wash and dry well. A small fan is an effective means of drying. 

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Q.6. Wheatgrass

  • Genus & Species

    Triticum aestivum


    Hard Red Spring (most commonly used)

    Hard Red Winter (traditional wheat for wheatgrass)

    Seeding rate:

    200-350 g per 10x20” tray

    Days to harvest:

    10-12 (as tall as possible for greatest yield, but harvest before grass goes to second stage- 2 blades per grain rather than 1)

    Ideal temp:

    67 F

    Possible Challenges:


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Q.7. Pea Shoots

  • Genus & Species

    Pisum sativum


    Speckled Peas (most commonly used) - grows fastest and tallest

    Dwarf Grey Sugar Peas - bit more leaf with less height

    Yellow Peas - shorter and tendrils

    Green Peas - tendrils

    Maple Peas

    Seeding rate:

    300 g per 10x20” tray

    Days to harvest:


    Ideal temp:

    67 F

    Possible Challenges:

    Mold, stem rot, stem rot

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Q.8. Sunflower Greens

  • Genus & Species

    Helianthus annus


    Black oilseed

    Seeding rate:

    140-150 g per 10x20” tray

    Days to harvest:

    10-12 (prior to second stage)

    Ideal temp:

    70 F

    Possible Challenges:

    Mold, stem rot, dehulling


    Loosely cover the greens with clear plastic during the last 2-3 days of growth. This should trap enough moisture that the hulls will fall off or brush off easily. Increasing light may also help with dehulling.

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Q.9. Specialty Microgreens

  • Buckwheat

    Genus & Species

    Fagopyrum esculentum

    Seeding Rate per 10”x20” flat

    120 grams

    Days to Harvest


    Ideal Temperature

    20 C (68 F)

    Possible Challenges

    Stem rot


    Genus & Species

    Brassica oleracea (Italica)


    De Cicco

    15-18 grams

    Days to Harvest


    Ideal Temperature

    20 C (68 F)

    Possible Challenges

    Low germ, seed drowning, damping off


    Genus & Species

    Raphanus sativus


    Daikon, China Rose, Red Daikon, Triton, Hong Vit

    Seeding Rate per 10”x20” flat

    72 grams

    Days to Harvest


    Ideal Temperature

    20 C (68 F)

    Possible Challenges

    Fuzzy roots are the fine root system, this is not mold

    Beets & Swiss Chard

    Genus & Species

    Beta vulgaris cicla


    Seeding Rate per 10”x20” flat

    60-70 grams

    Days to Harvest


    Ideal Temperature

    20 C (68 F)

    Possible Challenges

    Dehulling, falling, using too much water

    Other Microgreen Ideas

    Basil 14.8g



    Arugula 15-18g

    Coriander 72g


    Garlic Chives


    Cabbage 15-18g


    Kale 15-18g

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Q.10. Gelatinous seed

  • You’ll need a medium, such as soil, unbleached heavy-duty paper towel, unglazed clay pot bottom, an unbleached coffee filter, or Baby Blanket.

    Here are the directions for growing arugula, or any other gelatinous seed such as cress, chia, basil, or flax:

    1. Sprinkle your seeds onto the growing medium. Leave enough space so that most of the seeds aren't touching. 
    2. Spritz the seeds with water. They should be damp, but not too wet. 
    3. Loosely cover the seed with clear plastic, so they don't dry out. (Plastic wrap or a clear produce bag work for this.)
    4. Spritz the seeds twice a day, or as needed. Try to keep them damp, but not wet.
    5. Once seeds are stuck together and to the growing surface, pour water in to rinse and pour out extra water. 
    6. Harvest with scissors when they reach the desired height. 

    Using the above method, you should be able to grow a 4-12 day sprout or microgreen. If you want to grow longer, you may have to use soil or a fertilizer such as liquid kelp.

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Q.11. Mould & Rot

      • Seasonal Change
        • Ideal temp is 67 F (wheatgrass, peas), 70 F (sunflowers)
        • Ideal humidity is 50%
        • Ex: Growers in Ontario will have to tweak their methods to reduce humidity in the summer
      • Spring wheat- We’ve seen evidence that 3 weeks during spring, wheat undergoes a change where it will do strange things. This happens in the East first, and then the West. After approx 3 weeks, returns to normal.
    2. SEED
      • Lot # of seed?
      • How old? – both new and old seed can be problematic
      • How was it stored?
      • Is this the first time you’ve sprouted it?
    3. SOIL
      • again, use a high quality soil loaded with beneficials- mycorrhizal fungi, bacteria, protozoa, etc. The ‘bad guys’ will always be present to some extent, but the key is to maximize the amount of healthy microbes in your soil. Soil is really important- we’ve seen growers run into big problems with a lot # change in the same brand of soil they’d been using for years.
      • Try new soil- If you're not using organic soil, try changing.
      • Try a different company or a new lot #
      • Was the same soil working before? Check lot # of soil to see if it’s actually the same.
      • Where is soil stored?
      • Any changes to soil additives?
      • How deep is the soil in the tray? Closer base of sprouts are to top of tray, easier for air to circulate and prevent mould.
      • Do you put soil on top of seeds, or some other soil amendment?
      • Make sure you're storing your soil in a relatively cool, dry place. Container away from air/pest/environmental contamination
      • Filters clogged or need changing? Change all filters in system
      • Filter incoming air
      • Should have fans or some method of air circulation
      • Are windows open or shut?
      • Basement windows- if using open basement windows for ventilation, there’s a chance fungus, etc. can come in with the air.
      • Have dirt close to top of tray- this allows for better air circulation
      • If trays are stacked on shelves, make sure approx. 8 inches or more between top of grass and top of shelf for proper ventilation. (If using lights, will need more space so grass doesn’t get too warm.)
      • Room temp- 67F for wheatgrass, 70F for sunflowers is best
    5. WATER
      • During spring time of year, both municipal and well water may change. Try a different source of water if you suspect your water might be the problem. Water changes in spring as municipalities add more chlorine, etc
      • Plants hate chlorine
      • pH level – nutrients that would normally be available to plants get locked up and become unavailable. Average pH is 6.5 but varies with variety
      • Some growers find that lifting the soil/root mass up and watering from below creates less mould because then the top not constantly wet. Typically you’d water from the top until the grass is 1” in height, and then water from below. – Hippocrates method
    6. SOAK TIME
      • How long soak?
      • How much seed soaked at a time?
      • How are you draining?
      • How long are you draining?
      • Do you soak seed with anything in the water?
      • What temp is the water when you start the soak?
      • If you are using hydrogen peroxide, we suggest 1 litre of room temp water, 20 milliliters vinegar, 140 milliliters hydrogen peroxide (5%) or 20 ml 35% hydrogen peroxide. Pour over seed and let stand 5 minutes. Make sure all seeds are in contact with the solution. Drain solution and rinse seeds several times.
      • How long have you had your hydrogen peroxide?
    7. TRAYS
      • If possible, try trays with drainage holes, or drill or poke holes in your existing trays. Once you've done this, try using more water when watering the microgreens. Less water= more mould. However, your soil cannot always be wet, trays should have drainage so that you can water well and it can remain damp but not wet. 
      • Try watering from the bottom. Once the roots have matted into the soil, lift the root/soil bed and put water directly into the bottom of the tray
      • Make sure you're sanitizing all of your equipment well, especially the trays. Must wash with soap and a brush or rub with cloth to remove biofilm. Clean inside and out. Rinse. Sanitize.
      • Try seeding more sparsely. Less seeds in middle.
      • Are they stacked at any point during sprouting process? If so, how many deep? Try rotating from top to the bottom during this period. Stack less trays on top of each other.
      • Is the soil near the top of the tray?
      • If stacked, do you use plastic or towel between trays?
      • Do you use a mini-greenhouse (clear plastic top or lid) at beginning? (Do you cover the trays?)
      • How many days do you leave them stacked?
      • Are the trays new or recycled
      • Seed coats by nature are loaded with bacteria. The key is to have lots of beneficial bacteria and minimal bacteria that cause mold and rot.
      • Hydrogen Peroxide/Acetic Acid - Try soaking the seed in hydrogen peroxide. Add 140 ml of 5% hydrogen peroxide (20 ml if using 35% peroxide) and 20 ml of vinegar to 1 litre of room temperature water. Pour the solution over the seed, and let it stand for 5 minutes. Make sure all of the seed is in contact with the solution. Drain and rinse the seeds several times to ensure that all of the solution has been removed. Next, soak as usual.
      • Grapefruit Seed Extract – experiment with # of drops that work
      • Thyme Oil- same as above
      • Oil of Oregano- 3-4 drops per litre water. Apply after 2 days of growth and continue to apply on a daily basis until 3-4” height.
      • Chamomile Tea- 2 tsp or more per 1 litre cold water. Spray on mold areas
      • Any antimicrobial herb known to work for inhibiting microbes – turn it into a tea and spray on mold in varying concentrations to see what will work
      • Remember that any sanitization solution, including peroxide, vinegar, grapefruit seed extract, etc. will strip all of the bacteria and fungus from the seed coat, including the beneficial bacteria. Therefore, only sanitize the seed if necessary.
    9. CLEANUP
      • What do you use?
      • Soap, scrub surface, rinse, disinfect tray
      • How often do you clean floor, walls, shelves, trays?
      • Do you keep a record of sanitation?
      • Do you keep a record of lot #s, harvest dates/lot # used, sanitation, etc.?
    11. LOCATION
      • Basement, greenhouse, room, etc.
    12. LIGHTS
      • How close to growing trays?
      • Covers on? Unprotected glass?
      • Mung and corn = no light

    Try 3 trays done 3 different ways and label each. For instance, 1 would have different soil, one might have something else changed. See what helps.

    EVERY lot will be different. You’ll have to tweak your growing methods for each lot.

    *Many roots, especially the brassica family, produce tiny fuzzy white root hairs during the germination process that are easily mistaken for mold. Once the tray is watered, this white fuzz should disappear.

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Q.12. Poor germination?

  • Seed- is it relatively new seed? (Keep in mind that many seed varieties can be dormant when recently harvested.) How has it been stored? How long has it been soaked? (Brassica’s, especially broccoli, can drown if soaked for more than 2 hours)

    Moisture- Underwatering is more of a concern than overwatering during the germination process. Never let your towel and seeds dry out. At the same time, avoid oversaturating the soil because you can leach important nutrients.

    Temperature- you can get good germ rates from most seeds at temps between 55-75 F. Extreme heat or cold is best avoided. Warmer is better except for wheat. Maybe the seed would do better unsoaked if a herb seed or very tiny

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Q.13. Uneven germination?

  • Are you seeding evenly?

    Quality of soil or how well its mixed. Environment- same amount of water, light and air ciruculation across tray

    Sometimes seeds may be the issue- wave germination. Rare

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Q.14. Tall, leggy greens?

  • Light! Tall, spindly, light colored greens are putting all their available energy into finding light. Move to an area with steady amounts of indirect sunlight or use florescent or grow lights. Turn the trays end for end each day to even light exposure. Add organic fertilizer or worm castings to soil

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Q.15. Increasing yield- pH, soil amendments, etc.

  • pH- Some plants are sensitive to pH levels. Many Asian greens like a really alkaline (high pH – around 8), while other plants like more acidity. The easiest way to control this is via your water. Lower pH (increase acidity) – add a touch of lemon juice to water Raise pH (increase alkalinity) – add a bit of baking powder to water

    Kelp- We have noticed slight improvements in growth, but they aren’t significant. Does give a nutritional boost. Typically added to the soak water. Also added to soil

    Vermicompost- high quality worm casting should benefit your growing environment. Our trials on exact yield increases are in the works.

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Q.16. Safety

    • Follow basic food safety requirements
    • Inform local CFIA inspectors about your operation. They will schedule an inspection
    • Growing and packaging need to be in separate rooms or designated areas
    • Must have clean up sink in growing area or separate sinks for cleanup and hand washing
    • Worker hygiene for those involved in packing (good hand washing practices and sanitary knives, scissors etc.)
    • Sanitize equipment
    • Seed safety- keep records of supplier’s pathogen test results
    • Control of birds, rodents and flies
    • Proper cleaning and sanitation of harvest and packing tables, scale tops, and any reusable containers
    • Water quality (test water)
    • For water testing, each Public Health Unit in Ontario will except water samples and provides bottles and information on sampling. The municipal water test is a basic test for potability of drinking water ( non-municipal water) and is a free service (you have to take the water sample and bring it to them). Here is the link
    • For more comprehensive water testing or other purposes (e.g. surface water testing for irrigation water) a number of private labs are available for water testing.


    • CFIA’s Code of Practice for the Hygienic Production of Sprouted Seeds -
    • OMAFRA’s Sprouted Seeds Good Manufacturing Practices Guidebook – available in print only - contact Bengt Schumacher -
    • SSFPA’s ABCs of HACCP - Register for "A BC HACCP Plan" home study program, complete a training program for food processing workers, watch a video series on how to develop a recall plan, and learn about about the critical role of traceability in modern food safety management systems.
    • For more info visit

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Q.17. Marketing

    • Concentrate on supplying greens that aren’t available locally, or that aren’t availably organically grown. Always strive to have fresher microgreens that the competition
    • Give Demos and offer samples it will improve your sales
    • Share recipes
    • Reach out to local chefs ask them what they are interested in or what is trendy
    • Investigate value added --Add your microgreens to a tabouli salad and sell both if your kitchen meets regulations
    • Survey your customers what do they want?
    • Encourage customers to buy by the tray – less processing for you
    • Sprout in smaller trays

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