A Micro-Farm for Microgreens

After a whole summer of planning, testing, number-crunching, and preparing, I’m finally ready to begin offering my first farm crop for sale. It’s November now, our growing season is almost over, and I have no greenhouse. But that’s just fine, because I’m going to be growing this farm crop right inside my kitchen!

Microgreens are one of my all time favorite crops, and I’ve been growing them for years. They take up very little space, require a low-tech setup, and they are ready to harvest within weeks. They’re also very delicious, exceptionally nutritious, and I have never seen them for sale at the grocery store. I usually grow a few trays on my window sills, but I need much more growing space if I want to grow enough to sell. So today I built these shelves to increase my window growing area. This new system will hold 30 trays of microgreens (a tray, for me, is a loaf pan).

How To:

To build these shelves, I used two 1x8x10 boards, and fourteen 15/8 length screws.

I measured the inner width of my windows (16.25″) and cut ten pieces of that length. Your cut length and number of pieces will vary based on the size of your window. These pieces will be the shelves.

I then cut fourteen 1.25″ pieces from the remnant board to serve as supports for the shelves. The number of support pieces you will need is equal to the number of shelves you intend to build that are positioned above the window sill.

The bottom shelf lies flat on the window sill, so it does not need any supports. I chose to do this instead of placing my trays directly on the window sill as protection from any water or stains that may dribble downward.

The higher shelves each rest on top of two support pieces. First, measure from the shelf below to reach a height above the tallest plants you want to grow. I give 13″ of vertical space to taller greens like peas and sunflowers, and 8″ of vertical space to shorter greens like broccoli and cabbage.

Once you find the height of your shelf, make a mark using a grease pencil or chalk. Use a box level or a ruler to make an identical mark on the other side at the same height. Secure one support piece to each side of the window frame along the mark you made with two screws each. Place your board to rest on top, then check to make sure that the shelf is level enough for your purposes.

I chose not to attach my shelf boards to the support pieces. They feel pretty sturdy resting on top, and I think the whole system will be easier to clean and maintain if the shelves are removable. However, if I find that they need to be more securely attached, I can always use an extra screw or two to attach them to the support pieces, or attach extra support pieces above the shelf boards.

Repeat adding additional shelves in this manner until your window is full or you have as much shelf space as your growing needs require.

Growing The Microgreens

I may write my own tutorial on growing microgreens someday, since I’ve been growing them for years now and I have developed my own style over time. But meanwhile, if you’re interested in learning how to grow your own, check your library for Peter Burke’s book “Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening”. That’s the book I used to get started.

And here are photos of some of the delicious microgreens I’ve already grown in my kitchen!

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The Kitchen Clothesline

We really can’t get away from plastic waste, and it hasn’t gotten any easier in the COVID-19 era. When ordering groceries for curbside pickup, there’s no option to skip the plastic shopping bags. And while frozen veggies can help to simplify our increased meal planning and prep work, they all come wrapped in plastic. It’s so important to steward the plastic that enters our lives in a responsible way, which is why I continue to try to limit my plastic consumption when possible, and recycle all the plastic I can’t avoid. A big part of this effort includes ecobricking, because most plastics aren’t recyclable. It also includes washing and reusing things like ziptop bags until they wear out. Rinsing out used plastics is easy, but drying plastic bags for storage or ecobricks is awkward and takes up valuable counter space. Well friends, I finally have the solution! Hang a mini clothesline over the kitchen sink. This is one of the easiest DIY projects. All you need is a couple of eye hooks, maybe a pair of drywall anchors, and a length of string. Add a few clothespins, and you’ve got yourself a state of the art dryer! I love the look of mine, and I think it’s going to be quite the conversation topic whenever I start inviting people into my home again.

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DIY Recycled Seedling Pots

Life on our home planet looks rather alien right now. Our sense of normalcy has been disrupted by the tiniest of creatures. And right now, like many of you, I find myself at home, newly unemployed, and a little shaken. But even with the stock markets in free fall, nature remains a constant and steadying force. Seedlings still grow towards the light. Hens still lay eggs. Flowers still bloom. And seedlings still outgrow their starter pots.

I didn’t plan this project just because of the recession, or because I’m tightening my own budget due to my recent change in income. I’ve been collecting cans for months with this project in mind, and I’m especially glad of that preparation given the current circumstances. But if you don’t have all the materials shown here, that’s ok! Exercise your creative muscles and think about the materials you do have, and what you could make with them. People make planters from juice cartons, milk jugs, origami newspapers, yogurt cups, and pretty much any container imaginable.

My Materials: Potting Mix, Worm Castings, Water, Power Drill, Empty Tin Cans

Step 1: Eat the soup, tomatoes, green beans, or whatever is inside of the can. Ideally, you would do this at your leisure. The point is not to eat 16 cans of whatever in one afternoon so you can make this project.

Step 2: Clean the cans in the dishwasher, or in whatever manner you usually clean your dishes. Smooth the cut edge of the can if it is sharp. I have a fancy can opener that cuts a blunt edge, so I didn’t need to take any further action on these cans. However, you could probably use a metal file or maybe even a sanding block to smooth them. Please be careful not to cut yourself on any sharp edges.

Step 3: Drill holes in the bottom of the cans. It is a good idea to wear protective gear during this step, like a dust mask, eye protection, and gloves. It may also be a good idea to clamp the can in place or brace it against something so it doesn’t run away from you when the drilling begins.

Empty Soup Cans with Drainage Holes Drilled In The Bottom To Be Used As Planters

Step 4: Prepare your planting mix. Start with a neutral substrate, such as peat. Add a small amount of the worm castings if you have them, or whatever fertilizing ingredients you prefer to use on your plants. If you’re using the worm castings, aim for about 2-4 tablespoons per gallon of potting mix. A little goes a long way, and too much can overwhelm your delicate plants. If your potting mix is dry, rehydrate it before moving on to the next step.

Step 5: Plant something in the cans! If you’re planting a seed, then fill the can almost to the top with soil mix. Pack it down gently, and then plant your seed according to the directions on the seed packet. If you’re transplanting a small plant, then start with just enough soil to cushion the plant inside the can. Place the plant inside, and gently fill in soil around the plant. I labeled mine simply with Sharpie on Masking Tape. Another option could be to make these recycled plant markers.

Jalapeno Seedlings Planted Into Recycled Soup Cans

Step 6: Nurture your plant every day. And, enjoy!

Tomato plants growing in recycled tomato can planters

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Operation: Planter Rescue

Many things in life are temporary by nature.  Fresh food spoils, newspapers become irrelevant, and cardboard boxes weaken with use.  For these things, we do our best to take only what we need, and to recycle them into the best possible second life.  But other things were meant to last.  What do we do when one of those things breaks?  Too often, they’re thrown out with the trash or the recycling waste.  New things replace them, packaged in plastic and shipped from overseas.  But what of our old things?  Could they be repaired or re-purposed?  Could they be given a second chance to fulfill their potential?  Many times they can be, and it’s easier than you might think!

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DIY Recycled Plant Labels

Growing plants from seed is such a hopeful, optimistic thing.  Every year, when I see my first pair of cotyledons, I envision their potential so intensely that I can almost taste the summer’s garden.  Of course, those baby seedlings have a long journey ahead before harvest day comes.  They will battle weather, insects, disease, and hungry herbivores.  If they win all of those battles, only then will I taste the sun-warmed, juicy potential I see in my day-old seedlings.

DIY Plant labels / markers made from recycled soda cans

My first year of gardening, I tried to make plant labels out of popsicle sticks.  At first, it worked well.  But as the weeks went by, water caused the wood to swell and the ink smeared beyond recognition.  I ended up with about a hundred unmarked plants!  I could of course discern the peppers from the broccoli, but I never did sort out all the varieties of tomatoes I had planted.  The next year I purchased plastic plant markers.  They were expensive, but I thought at least I would be able to reuse them.  However, the summer sun baked the plastic until it became weak and brittle, and their broken pieces will probably haunt the local landfill for centuries to come.  Finally I came across this technique of cutting labels out of empty soda cans.  The writing is etched into the metal, so it’s completely permanent.  They are reusable, they can be cleaned in a dishwasher, and ultimately recycled when the garden has no more use for them.  I cut fancy shapes, engraved with decorative designs for my perennials.  When I’m starting dozens (or hundreds) of seeds, I love to make simple rectangular labels.  The creative and useful possibilities are endless!  Best of all this project is:  FREE!  ECO-FRIENDLY! CRAFTY! and PRACTICAL!  A set of beautifully embellished aluminum plant markers could even make a great gift idea for gardeners.
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DIY Plant Stand: How to build a convertible plant stand, potting bench, or boot bench

When I moved into a newly rented house, I had six subtropical trees to fit in my kitchen.  I wanted a storage solution that fit into the space I had, elevated my plants to window height, and had a top bar from which to mount grow lights.  I came up with a sketch for a 2′ x 2′ x 4′ bench with one tall side.  It was easy to build, cost less than a bookcase from Ikea, and looks beautiful in my kitchen.  In the future if I no longer need a potting bench, I can easily convert this to a boot bench with a coat rack by simply installing a few hooks on the top bar and adding some decorative boards to the base.
Continue reading DIY Plant Stand: How to build a convertible plant stand, potting bench, or boot bench