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The Birth of Efficient Farmer
We’ve been growing microgreens for about 10 years, and having started with next to no farming experience at all, we certainly made all the mistakes that new farmers or microgreen growers can make. We also have a seasoned perspective since we’ve lived the dream of starting, growing, and scaling a successful microgreens business.
Firstly, getting into the microgreen business with no capital was a challenge that I'm sure many of you can relate to, so doing things affordably was one of our number one values. We had no idea of the demand that would beget our product or the many sales venues that we would open up once we fully committed ourselves to the purpose of growing high-nutrient food for others, so we had no idea how quickly our microgreen business would grow.
We started out with one hoop-house that was 100' long that we bought relatively cheaply off of a farmer nearby that was closing down his potted plant production because of the recession in 2008-2009. We only had a few shelves and tables in it because the rest of the space was used for in-ground greens production which was the other half of our business. I remember that we'd plant 10 trays at a time and it would take half the day! The varieties we planted were always random until we started seeing the sales trends from our local farmers market emerge. It seems that customers were very excited about the Pea Shoots and the Sunflower Microgreens that we grew. Broccoli Microgreens were also very popular though a little harder to grow and a lot more expensive if we had a crop failure. Slowly we learned how to seed microgreens by hand as fast as we could and how important it was for the density to be correct. Which was hard because it depends on the season and ambient conditions. Since the seasons change all the time, the density had to also, otherwise, we'd get root rot or leaf spots, or they'd be too wet or dry out. Or in the case of wheatgrass, all of the above.
We tried everything from planting with a tablespoon to measure out the seed, to small cups, to sharpie marks on a plastic cup. We tried to evenly distribute the seed with fingers, by shaking with the proper wrist technique, to using the wind to blow the seeds into a dispersed place as they are gently shaken from a scoop, crossing our fingers that they don't all pool up in one place!
And then the wait for even germination... What was the secret to even germination??? We tried covering, stacking, paper towel, lots of water, little water, and then we tried vermiculite! It turns out that a nice generous layer of vermiculite coating the seeds, keeping the moisture in contact with the seeds, gives them the edge they need to germinate better and more evenly. Getting a nice even coating however was another problem altogether!
After a while, we needed to plant 20 trays, then 50 trays and before you knew it we needed to seed 200 trays three times a week and we were working all day with a team of people and 2 greenhouses full of microgreens and more orders coming in then we could fill. Efficiencies needed to be built in! We needed to save up to buy an automated broadcast seeder and a vermiculite dispenser. This would increase efficiencies of course but it was $15,000 which was the equivalent of selling a LOT of packages of microgreens!
If only there had been an intermediary solution that we could have looked at during those months of saving up for the new machine. We probably would have chosen to use some easy hand tools before spending a huge lump sum on a machine that we had to jerry-rig anyway so that it worked just right. Plus there was the downtime of the machine. Fixing a machine with a circuit board can be both intimidating and time-consuming, and sometimes downright morale killing. There must have been an easier solution to transition from a small-microgreen-farm to a slightly-bigger small-microgreen-farm without spending either all of your time planting or all of your money retooling!
It is with people like us in mind that we’ve designed and built a set of microgreen growing tools that meet our needs of reliability and functionality. If you’re a farmer, you know that you buy commercial-grade tools because they do the job required every day and do it to a higher standard than consumer tools can. So we thought, why not build our tools to a very high standard, but make them truly affordable. On our website - efficientfarmer.com - you’ll find our Seeder, Tray Roller, and Top Coater. They are all easy to use, simple to operate, and built to last for years. These new and revolutionary tools are built to withstand the rigorous and fast-paced production environment that’s the norm on most farms. Farming is physically demanding, and you never want to have to replant a crop and absorb the costs of a failed crop, so you need your tools to work consistently, day in and day out.
So let’s take a quick look at the tools we offer:
Here’s the Efficient Farmer Seeder. Its small, light, affordable, and tough. Its hopper is built using super tough acrylic and the seeding cylinders, handle and internal parts are built using strong and long-wearing PLA plastic. All the metal hardware is chromed to resist rust and makes adjusting brushes and supports easy with a standard hex key that comes with your Seeder.
Simply select the seeding cylinder appropriate to the seed you’re planting, make sure the supports are secured in the right place so that the right amount of seed is being deposited on your trays, and start planting!
We find the Seeder gives us consistent, reliable results every single planting. Changing the seeding cylinders is quick and easy - just remove the cotter pin and washer from the handle axel, carefully pull out the axel, put the cylinder on the axel, slide the axel through the center of the cylinder and through the hole on the hopper body, then replace the washer and the cotter pin.
Now, before you start seeding your trays, it’s a good idea to create the ideal surface for the seeds to germinate on. This is easily accomplished by using our Roller. It’s made of strong and long-wearing PLA plastic that’s lightweight and won’t be damaged by soil or water. Simply position the roller at the leading edge of the tray roll about two thirds across, then roll back towards yourself from the outer edge. Very easy and you’ll see that germination rates are maximized as water now settles evenly across the whole tray, instead of flowing to the low point on the tray.
Now, once you’re done seeding your rolled trays, you’ll want to topcoat those trays to ensure the moisture in the tray is evenly available to the seeds. You can do this by applying vermiculite, an inert mineral that retains some moisture, similar to putting a moistened sheet of paper towel over seeds to start them germinating. The Topcoater has a gate that can be adjusted using two fly nuts. Create an even gap, fill the hopper, and then tilt the Topcoater forward to start the media flowing out the bottom of the hopper. When you’ve finished coating, just tip the hopper back towards yourself and the flow stops.
Our tools will help you create an efficient and consistent seeding process. We know that the market for microgreens is growing year over year and that the general population is increasingly looking for healthy foods when they go shopping or head out their local farmer’s market. We feel that now is the time to get into this market and that our tools are the most affordable way for your business to start growing smarter!