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Say you’re growing field crops, but after one thing or another, you ventured into growing microgreens. How do you handle the transition from field crops to a high-intensity crop like microgreens?
Today we’re talking to farmer Max Becher whose farm holds microgreens as an integral crop, and longtime microgreens grower Chris Thoreau. We’re going to talk all about microgreens and how growing it compares to growing other crops—when to add them to your farm, when is too much, when to cut back, when to slow down, and when to stop.
Today’s Guest: Max Becher
Max is a husband, father, farmer, and owner of First Steps Farm in Ohio. Primarily grown field crops, the forest fires that ravaged his region pushed him and his farm to focus more effort on growing microgreens. Although it hasn’t all been smooth sailing, growing microgreens on top of some field crops has improved their farm’s revenue.
First Steps Farm – Website | Farm Store | Instagram
Chris Thoreau’s Microgreens Business Course – Website
In this episode of Farm Small, Farm Smart
- How microgreens helped the business during struggling times (02:30)
- Burning out with growing microgreens (04:10)
- Repetitiveness and sustainability of microgreens (07:05)
- Strategies to combat the challenges of growing microgreens (11:00)
- Adding varieties of microgreens when it makes sense to do it (13:40)
- Managing knowledge and skill sets for the different aspects of the business (18:00)
- For vegetable farmers who want to start to grow microgreens (21:50)
- Requests and the wheatgrass market (26:45)
- How to quantify if a new crop is successful and profitable (32:00)
- Growing microgreens purely in peat moss and finding the right soil mix (36:45)
- Adding compost in the soil mix and contributing to regenerative agriculture (46:05)
- Consumers can never tell the difference in taste the same way farmers do (48:55)
- Shelf life and benefitting from cold water baths (53:00)
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Diego: [00:00:00] Can you successfully grow micro greens in a one ingredient medium? One of the topics we're talking about in today's episode with farmer Max Becher and microgreen grower, Chris Thoreau coming up. Welcome to Farm Small, Farm Smart. I'm your host Diego, DIEGO. Today's episode is brought to you by Paper Pot, Co., your number one source for all things, paper, pot, transplanting related in full disclosure.
Paper Pot, Co. is a company that I co own with Curtis stone. And it's a company we created to make a change in the small scale farming space we wanted to make people's lives easier. We wanted to make life on the farm easier. We wanted to make work faster and allow you to get things done in the field quicker.
So you can move on and do other things within the farm business or other things, not related to the farm businesses at all. spend some time with your kids or go on a date with your partner to learn more about all of the time- and labor-saving tools that we carry, visit PaperPot.co. That brings us to today's episode.
Today's episode is say three way conversation between myself. Farmer Max Becher. Who's been on the podcast before in micro green grower, Chris Thoreau. Who's been on the podcast many times before. Given that Chris's specialty was growing micro greens and given microgreens are such an integral part of Max's farm.
The subject today is micro greens. We're going to cover a wide span of topics around micro greens, everything from comparing micro greens to field crops, to adding on new crops of microgreens when you might want to do that and how you should think about doing it. And when is too much, at some point there's too many varieties in the mix. When do you cut back? When do you slow now? And when do you stop? It's microgreens as an add-on for field crops with Max Becker and Chris Throeau.
You know, Max, we had talked about podcast. You faced a lot of trouble when the Ohio region was hit with forest fires, and one of the crops that really helped your farm, really stay solvent was microgreens. Can you talk about the role that Mike arenes played last fall when things were challenging in the world of veg farming for you?
Max Becher: [00:02:34] Yeah, sure. First of all, my scenes were part of the problem because we depend on them every week for, cash that helps cash flow of the farm. And when we evacuated, we had, a whole week's crop of microgreens ready to be harvested in a few days in the greenhouse. And, we left and came back and it was a bunch of peat Moss and burn greens on top. So we lost that. And then we were, we didn't have access to the greenhouse for the week after that.
So the next crop we planted was a week behind. Basically I harvested it a week later than I would have expected. Cause it just germinated so slowly. But the flip side of that is that, once, once they got that crop harvested and obviously there's planning another one behind that we were able to get cash rolling again.
And it was a different story in the field because we had lost a bunch of starts from the nursery that we were planning on putting in. And those would have been at least four weeks to get started again, even to just get them transplanted into the ground, let alone harvesting them, one to two months later, depending on what they are.
So just the fast, the, the fast cycle of microgreens the nine day cycle that they're on, enabled us to get some cash back into our business right away.
Diego: [00:03:49] And it's ironic that, on one hand with microgreens you have this ability to generate cash flow pretty quickly. But one thing Chris and I were just talking about was balancing life with business. And one thing you had mentioned in the previous, I guess we did was you found yourself getting sick of microgreens and just the repetitiveness of them, but they provided a big source of cash for the farm. So you kept doing them.
One thing I don't think people expect when they get into doing something is like that automaton described it of doing something over and over. On the negative side of micros. What was it with microgreens that you just got burned down on?
Max Becher: [00:04:30] It's funny because going right back to the beginning, I was reluctant to start growing microgreens. if you remember, from the first episode we did, I actually bought a microgreens business from a friend who was moving away and selling all his equipment and his accounts.
And initially, he approached me and I didn't want to do it because I just wanted to be in the field. And I didn't want to be perched over a table with little trays. And, I had heard he had been doing it on his college balcony and that just wasn't really what my heart was yearning for. I wanted to be in the field. That being said, I bought the business and I'm very glad I did.
And there really is something I enjoy about just the sheer life that you see growing out of that flat and knowing some of the nutritional facts behind the crop you're growing really makes me feel good about growing it in that way. But on the other hand, it is something which, you have to be in a field or in a rural setting at all. And know both Dierdre my wife and I were really longing to be in more of a rural setting as are our workspace. And we have that now on the farm. And, we grow the microgreens there on the farm.
And it can be tedious. it's planting flat after flat weekend and week out. And if you do depend on it for your, for your livelihood, this, we do, you really can't miss a week. so they have to be watered every day. They have to be cut every week. it's a lot of little, scissor knife motions to harvest them.
So I guess what was hardest for me about it, not, It's not farming in the way that people think about it. You're not out there in the field. You're not necessarily surrounded by nature, or if you are, you're staring at a little tray while, the whole field lives around you. and one thing I would add to that too, is that there's nothing really to be proud of on the microgreens front from a regenerative ag standpoint especially if you're buying in, peat moss for your medium, And it's a little different if you're growing them in the ground, which we've done too, I'd say those are the two big downsides for me is that you're buying in organic matter. That's in mind from peat, bogs, at least if you're using a peat based mix and it is a little tedious to be seeding and cutting trays one day after the next.
Diego: [00:06:50] Chris, what are your thoughts hearing that? Either on the getting tedious with all the repetition after a while, or the sustainability of microgreens, which we touched on in a past podcast?
Chris Thoreau: [00:07:02] Yeah. I've used the word automaton so many times in these podcasts and some people love that. In our last consult with John he's yeah, I can put on a podcast and cut microgreens until the cows come home.
And generally I can not to do that stuff, but for some reason with this, I could maybe, because it was a business that I had developed and was really happy with it. but it is a lot of repetition and, it's another advantage of having a team, having doing something with somebody else helps or a couple other people.
Whereas if you're saying that basement by yourself, cutting microgreens for a few hours, that's a bit of a different thing. So going back to some of the stuff we've talked before, trying to integrate, engagement and social time into some of those activities is helpful. And we learned that over time.
There's. One or two activities at the food paddler's that are like, okay, only one person does that. It doesn't make sense or two people to do it, but if two people could do an activity, we would have two people doing any, usually it's more efficient but also because it gives you someone to talk to at least have somebody there with you in terms of yeah.
Regeneration in terms of, which is a big part. I think of the small scale agriculture movement or world, microgreens contribute very little to that. I think in a model like you have, Max, what's great about it is you can these trays and take that soil and put it in the ground in you.
Whereas that was a big plus big gap and food Pedalers model where we're bringing this stuff in and we really weren't set up to use it again and other people would use it, which is great, but we couldn't capitalize on that. People try to do different fabrics and different ways of growing them, but basically every growing medium has an impact and you're not regenerating that growing medium, like you are with your farm soil, through cover cropping and additions of organic matter and improving the biological activity. You just don't do that in a 9-day cycle.
So I think it's important to look at microgreens not as a key to the puzzle about how to make agriculture more sustainable. I've always looked at more as a unique, small scale intensive business. So the food paddler's model was built on how do we do, profitable or, close to profitable culture business in a city. this is how you do it doesn't mean it's going to change the world and make things sustainable and use less resources, but it's not an entrepreneurial way of growing food city. And, you're actually growing something that's healthy for people. So there's lots of positive to it, but it's not a big piece in sustainable agriculture.
Max Becher: [00:09:33] Yeah, one, one thing that I think microgreens do contribute to the sustainability movement is that it is like you say, it's a unique entrepreneurial type of business and it's very conducive to running on a farm or alongside a farm. And for us, it really helps us cashflow the farm. And it was part of what launched us into farming. And without farmers, there is no sustainable ag movement. And so any, I say any kind of enterprise, which can help keep farmers in business is good on that merit alone.
Chris Thoreau: [00:10:07] No, that's a great way to look at it, actually. It really is.
Diego: [00:10:10] And in with the microgreens that you're doing now, one thing that you've done is you've scale back to just a few crops because you ran into a lot of troubles, right? Not just around the fire, but you were having rodent infestation in your greenhouse with crop loss, birds were getting in what's your current strategy now just to deal with some of these challenges that you've had within the environment of raising microgreens.
Max Becher: [00:10:36] There�ve been a number of them realizing now a few years into it. And I'm sure everyone who's a few years beyond me is just going to chuckle when they hear me say this, but I just tried to do too much stuff. There was way too much fun stuff to be getting into. And we were doing. Too many field crops and too many microgreens and then taking on the olive orchard and trying to do pastured poultry and trying to run this website or trying to have two kids in a stable marriage at the same time too much.
And we. We cut out all the small micros except broccoli. I stopped doing broccoli, I stopped doing kale. I stopped doing cabbage, just stop doing, cilantro and basil and onion and all these other ones I was doing. And, when we spoke last about microgreens, I think I was doing, I think I was doing four. It was sunflower radish, pea, and broccoli. And I might've been including some amaranth in the broccoli. I certainly did that for a while. And then eventually I cut down to only broccoli. Most recently broccoli and pea had to go. I was having germination trouble with the pee and they were on way too different of a schedule than the other microgreens it was just hitting everything.
And they were taking up too much space on the shelves that I had because I would have, basically it was a whole extra week to harvest the peas compared to the other crops I was growing. And, it was just happened to have been mold issues and I couldn't really figure it out. So I cut the peas, I cut the broccoli and sunflower has always been our best seller. We basically can't grow enough of it. We always sell out of it. We get a good price for it and it gets good weight out of the flat, it's my personal favorite. So if we end up with extra, it's easier for us to eat through them in the course of the week.
I'm doing some and radish right now, and that is it. It�s one mild, one spicy. Some customers do miss the broccoli or the approval, but. You know what, for the most part, the ones that were buying those are now buying either sunflower or radish. And I just have to stay sane, thrill and focus on what's really profitable.
Diego: [00:12:35] What are your guys' thoughts on this of a lot of people I've interviewed in the past who have raised microgreens exclusively in done a lot of crops, variety like 20 or 30 different types of microgreens. They're only doing microgreens they're not doing fields crops. Is it that much more complex to do that many more variety plus do field crops?
I would think if I'm doing this and I'm already raising field crops, there's a lot to know there's a lot to manage there. And now I have to learn how to grow 20 different micros. That's intense, where you have a strategy like you have. You're just growing too. Now you can focus on two and then focus on the field crops and the other things you do well without having a specific person dedicated to micros.
Max Becher: [00:13:24] I would say right off the top, every new crop you add is just another layer of management. what, whether it's micros or field crops, and everyone's got their little ins and outs that have to be learned and I would be reluctant to. To recommend piling on tons of varieties of micros alongside a diversified market garden.
Chris Thoreau: [00:13:46] Yeah. This is stuff we've talked about going probably a way back to some of our earlier podcasts, Diego. And I started, I did one crop. I did sunflower my whole business in year one was selling sunflower shoots at the market. That's all I did. Now that would sell $500, a one crop at a market.
The next year I introduced the second crop. The next year I introduced a third and a fourth, and I realized after a while, okay. A crop a year maybe is a little too slow to build on to, but that was part of the strategy was I could add more crops, but that's going to take away from just learning the systems.
You need to add a crop when it makes sense to do it. if you were getting demand for a crop in every market, you should consider growing that if you're getting bored with your crops, because you know that they're there, they're super easy. You've got them dialed and that's the time of day had another crop.
But I think another piece about. Micro is that maybe that varies a little bit from field crops is out in the field harvesting beats. You can get pulled away and go back to harvesting beats and events. micros are like when you cut them in there and while you gotta get them out of the water right away, when you get into a routine, if you keep getting pulled from that routine.
It's very difficult. So the importance of staying with that and doing that as your core task really important in the efficient I see. And so that's, what is really difficult is you can't do your micros and be called off to do other things. And this goes back again to having a team of people. So when it comes to harvest day, you're the field crew and you're the microgreens crew.
You guys are harvesting microgreens today. And if you get behind, maybe the field crew come on, it helps comes and helps you. Or if you guys, when you're done, you go help the field crew. You've got to split up those tasks. and that gets back into with the micros again, going through your routine and making sure you're following all the steps, doing the hygiene, doing the sanitation.
When you get busy, you want to cut corners. And that's the that's when things are going to start to go wrong. And I had a text from a business today saying, Hey, Have you seen this in wheat grass before Browning, the trays are dying. All our other crops are fine. We think it's this. And right away, I thought to myself, a you're probably over-watering and that's causing it.
But B I bet you, your hygiene and sanitation is slipping because you're trying to rush through things. And so SREs are only getting washed every two harvests instead of every harvest. And once you start, Taking tasks out of a process. There's actually a bit of lag before you see the effects. And then there's a bit of a lag before those effects go away.
So I think that the nature of microgreens means it needs a lot of attention and it doesn't quite have that same level of flexibility. And that's one of the things that can make the balance.
Max Becher: [00:16:30] Yeah. Our farm suffered because of that. The microbiome is such a rigorous schedule. That, I wasn't going to leave my crop of microgreens, come Friday. I was going to harvest them no matter what, whereas, I leave stuff in the field and, you can always leave it in the field another day, you can always wait one more day to weed or whatever, and then the day that up and they didn't make a difference in the end.
Diego: [00:16:52] How do you find, out of curiosity, managing, just growing field crops with also managing the web store in the previous podcast, we talked about all the different things you're trying to do to get customers for the web store and grow that. All the management that goes with that, like that in and of itself is really its own job, its own specific knowledge set.
And then on top of that, you got to know how to grow. Micros, know how to grow well, know how to grow field crops. How do you find that? Just balancing both those knowledge sets out.
Max Becher: [00:17:26] It's a real challenge and I'll be really honest and just say it's stressful. I really, if I can go back and do this again, I don't know what I would have done. I would have taken on a quarter acre instead of an acre of vegetables. I probably would have done some flour and radish alone from the beginning, instead of trying to. I do 10 or 15 small micros. With the store, that takes a lot of innovation because with micro greens, I had Chris to talk to with the market garden. I had John Martin's book to model it off of, but the web store is something which I don't want to say we invented it. But with the whole combination of systems that we use. It took a lot of innovation and a lot of, lot more creativity went into that then into the systems for the micro greens in the farm.
So it is more than I can manage literally, which is why I said, the field crops tend to suffer the most because they're the most forgiving in terms of time. I'm not going to miss a week in the web store and I'm not going to miss a week of micro greens. Cause that will just hurt the bottom line too much.
That's really what cash flows, the farm. I've never wanted to give up the field crops and they do. they contribute a good bit and we've gotten much better at them too. Especially since we stopped trying to grow our own transplants. I know since hiring that out to the nursery, that's made my management load a lot easier.
And now my greenhouse is a microgreen greenhouse and I'm not trying to shave the microgreens and this half of it, and then maximize light. So the transplants don't grow leggy and the other half of it. that's an issue. If you're doing micro greens on a farm and you're trying to use for propagation greenhouse, they have very different light requirements and micro greens need more shade.
And if you're, if your transplants get shaded, to the extent that the micros like it, they're going to grow tall and leggy, and they're not going to do well on the field. So the bottom line is it is a lot of management. It's more than I would definitely recommend to anyone, but. here we are in the situation, we're just trying to make the most of it.
And that's why I scaled the micros down as much as I did. I was just trying to hang onto the ones that worked the most and in the field too, we did the same thing. Scale down to a few crops that just worked the best they were selling. they're fast, they're popular. most of Curtis has his whole five point, profitability.
No criteria for crops that tend to meet a lot of those that we're still doing. And then in the web store too, we scaled back on the products we were offering for a while. and I've deliberately put off innovating in certain other areas of the web store, doing multiple days per week delivery or things like that, just because it is a lot to manage.
Diego: [00:20:04] Chris with your knowledge of growing the micros. If there's a vege farmer, just growing row crop right now. And they want to start dabbling in micros. What do you think is the one. Most sure thing that they could start on, start out on. is it sunflower? Is it P is it something else? when sunflower and P I'm thinking, you can at least mix those in with salad mixes to beef those up. But from an ease of growing standpoint, learning curve standpoint, fitting into a system standpoint, what are your thoughts?
Chris Thoreau: [00:20:37] Yeah, there's two things to consider. these two things coming to mind, one is the actual, the growing of the crop and some crops are easier than others. So once you get the hang of a crop, they all tend to be about the same, then the second part, actually.
So there's three parts. The second part is actually the harvesting and packaging of the crop. So the more, The more fine and delicate. Your microgreen is the slower. In essence, you have to cut it because the risk of damage is quite high. Whereas with P and sunflower, man, I can manhandle a tray of those things and they're not even going to have, they're not if you're going to feel it there's so they're so hearty.
But the other part of things is what is the process you need to go through to get that product from the tray, growing in the tray to packaged and ready to sell. And while, the third component being marketing and the thing with Sonny's like Sunday's are so many people's favorites they sell well, if there's leftovers that the grower's happy to eat them, they present, there's so much going for them.
But they're one of the most time consuming ones to harvest because they do really well with a cold water bath really extends their life and give some, much better, like overall texture. And so the time that goes into harvesting them can be quite intense, with the food pedaler system, if half our trays.
Our micro microgreen or our sunflower and half of our trays are all other crops. It takes twice as long to harvest a sunflower as all the other crops combined. So the time that goes into it is a lot, and it requires a, a wash ban, usually a secondary wash beaner requires a spin. So there's a lot that goes into that.
Pea on the other hand, it grows very well. It grows in warm and cool conditions. the seed is relatively cheap. It's easy to, so it's very forgiving. As long as it doesn't get super welted and you can cut it and package it without, without washing and spinning it. as long as you get refrigerated really quickly.
You can cut it in about a quarter of the time that you do the sunflower. if not a sixth of the time and all you need is a nice and a table and a packing area, you don't need the water bath. You don't need the, you don't need the spinner. So in terms of going and getting into a routine, something like.
Pea or radish, which is not quite as hardy as pea and sunflower, but more Hardy than the brassicas are good balances. And they're also good mixes and salads as well. So you need to think about the growing that basically the harvesting and packaging, and then what's the most market.
Diego: [00:23:11] When you look at your far max, one thing you mentioned in the email that you sent me is you're also now looking at trying buckwheat, trying wheat grass. Given that you scaled back, what are your thoughts? And now moving forward, adding more crops, like what's the why behind it?
Max Becher: [00:23:29] there was a customer at the market a couple of weeks ago, who was saying it's really hard to find good buckwheat sprouts. And, she gets a pound of sunflower from me quite regularly.
And, the short answer is I saw some potential to bring some more money in and they, yeah, I guess I'll say this, when I first talked to Chris Ferris, I think you were doing sunflower P radish buckwheat and wheat grass. Is that right? A couple of years ago.
Max Becher: [00:23:56] Yeah. I seem to remember it was those five and I was thinking, huh. just from what I had heard of buck wheat and wheat grass, and them being a slightly larger seed, you at least midsize to larger seed crop, I thought, huh. Interesting. he's doing. He's doing the ones that really seem like the biggest easiest ones to grow.
And he's not even bothering with all these ones that I'm trying to do, like broccoli and arugula and everything. And, the stock crossed my mind and know like, why don't you do wheat, grass and buckwheat? And the main reason I've avoided wheat grass up to this point, there's another market vendor who sells wheat grass on the other side of the farmer's market.
And I just, I didn't want to ruffle her feathers and, I just trying to keep peace with all my. fellow vendors at the market, but I don't know, it's a free market. It's an open market. I've had a lot of customers asking me specifically for wheat grass and for buckwheat, more recently buckwheat wheat grass.
Wasn't asked for a long time. And, I thought, Hey, I'll buy five pounds of each. Johnny's seed two trays a week for a couple of weeks and just see what happens. So that is. That is literally as of the last couple of weeks, I've been even thinking about that and I'm just going to do a couple of flats and see how it goes. If it's easy and it works and it flows, awesome.
I'm going to do more of it and I'm leaning towards selling it by the flat instead of harvesting it. I think I'm going to see 10 by 10 flats and just sell it that way and probably require a standing order just to make sure that I get it all sold. I am just trying to think of the simplest way I could possibly go about it, but really the short answer is it sounded like a way to bring in a little more money and bring it in quickly.
Chris Thoreau: [00:25:34] Yeah. we cross as a relatively easy one to grow. It doesn't like the heat too much. That can be a problem where you are, but as you've got good shade cloth, that'll help. the other thing with wheat grass, which is unique is there's a very, and I can't remember how far you are from a major center max, but there's a very niche market for wheat grass.
And when people find wheat grass, they like, they really like it. there's a whole, there's a whole wheat grass, juicing cult, for lack of a better word that they, that we grasp as part of their daily routine. And when they find wheat grass, they like they're in heaven and they will come back to you time and time again.
And then there's juice bar. there's, I don't know how it is down there, but, we go, we've gone through a pretty good phase of juice bars here in Vancouver and the wheat grass that they get in there. it's a lot of it's grown, under lights, no natural light. It's bitter it's pale. And when people come to the market and try food, Pedalers wheat grass, they're in heaven.
it's like drinking green sugar. And so when you can bring a product that just blows everything else out of the water, that makes a big difference. And you're right. It's actually, I love hearing you say that I'm not going to bring it to market because there's another vendor's selling there and that I want to be respectful of that.
And I actually really appreciate hearing that. But at the same time, It is a competitive market. It's a free market. And as long as you're able to bring that product, what might turn out is, you're growing a better product than that person and offering at it at a comparable price. So you're going to take some of that business.
Lots of people sell beets and carrots and rhubarb and garlic. So why can't more than one people sell, micro greens and wheat grass, basically.
Max Becher: [00:27:11] It's really true. Yeah. there's plenty of other things that she's growing that I'm not growing. And, I feel like. I do try to be respectful to my fellow vendors. We ran into this with our olive oil too, cause there's someone selling olive oil right next to us. And then I realized, you know what, they're selling, microgreens, they're selling lettuce and they're selling all the same stuff that I'm selling. And they came into the market after me. There's no reason I can't bring my olive oil.
I go back and forth on that. I do think it's good too. To keep the whole market in mind, but I'm really excited about wheat grass really. literally the only reason I've avoided up until now was that other vendor, I would have been all over it. It even hurts sometimes to think that I wasn't doing wheat grass and yeah, we've got juice bars galore here.
we're in, I think I could sell quite a bit to juicers and honestly the idea of selling it in the flat and not harvesting it is just. it just makes me smile like a human. I don't have to cut tray after tray. Tray harvesting is probably what I hate most about microgreens, especially harvest and sunflower, and then picking out the seed holes.
You didn't mention that as part of the process, Chris, but man, that is the part I hate the most. I'm not, I mean that anything it's torture for me, anything but picking sunflower seed whole, how can you be the prospect of being able to sell flats of wheat grass and just having someone take it off?My hands sounds pretty good.
Chris Thoreau: [00:28:36] Yeah. And one of the limiting factors for the food Pedalers has been the peddling part. we have a trailer that carries trays, a wheat grass, but it's difficult. because a big part of what we do is still like, how do we keep things, hygienic and sanitary when we're cycling through the city, we don't want stuff kicking up from the road and getting on our trays and things like that.
So there was a piece of that limited. what the food Pedalers was doing. So if that's not even a factor, if you've got a good way to stack them in your van and do deliveries like that makes it easy. And yeah, if you build a reputation now, I think we there's some good potential that wheat grass, the seed is cheap.
It's easy to grow. You get good yield. And if you're growing in sunlight, you're going to get a sweet crop and that's going to make a difference. It's going to give you some really loyal customers.
Max Becher: [00:29:20] I'm really excited. if it doesn't work, I have no problem with dropping it as fast as I picked it up.
Diego: [00:29:28] when it comes to determining if it works or not. you're a busy guy, max, you've got a lot going on with the web store. How do you quantify success for a new crop like this? what are you going to need to see out of this before you decide, yes, this is worth it or. This is good, but it's not great. It's just another thing to do. I'm going to ditch it.
Max Becher: [00:29:51] I don't really have a formula to tell the truth. It's almost more emotional, if it's, obviously I have to see that as making money. I obviously have a certain, certain benchmark there, if it's not, if it's not making enough money for the time that I'm putting into it, I wouldn't consider it.
But, even if it were to be, Basically, if it were to be selling well and everything was going but it was really stressing me out. I would just drop it. Cause I've learned that, this, the sky that I listened to a lot, he had a class on running your own business and he said, when you're in business, you are your business's greatest asset.
And if you don't take care of yourself, your business is just gonna suffer in one way or another. And if I'm stressed out. I know some of my business, somewhere else is going to fall short and it's fail and I'm just not going to have the same energy and enthusiasm to pump myself through it.
So that's, I'm basically 100 or that, provided, I don't want run into some weird pest issue or some, I dunno, some greenhouse issue or something like that. Provided, I don't have a lot of crop loss. I'm sure wheat grass is going to make money. stressing me out. if it's, I don't know if it's pulling me away from the field more than I want to be pulled away.
if I'm neglecting what I've started out there, that would be the sort of thing that would make me want to just say, what enough focus your energy elsewhere? focusing on the web store, grow some more sunflower. No, I still haven't really maxed out my sunflower sales. one, one side of me says, don't try anything new.
Just keep, keep growing sunflower until you really max out your potential sales there and meet all that demand. I don't know if it's a weekly determined process. I really don't have a formula for it.
Chris Thoreau: [00:31:36] Knowing what's making you money and what's selling. but it's also, whether it continues to do that. And we found this interesting thing with buckwheat is that we would introduce buckwheat. It would sell really well for a while that would have a good run and then it would just drop off. And so we decided a certain point, like we only grow buckwheat at this time and this time, and we do it in little periods because if we did it all the time, for some reason, Like it just wouldn't sell.
So I think, crops do go through phases, some stuff I find and it's another reason the food pedalos grow some peas, sunflower radish, they're fairly consistent, but other crops that people go through phases with them. They're there too. Maybe peculiar, from eating buckwheat, there's just something about it.
That's different than other food that the texture flavor, there's too many unique things about it that just make it too, almost too specialized. And then we find that with some of the mini micros as well. It's like they go through phases. People really liked them. We get these waves of people asking for popcorn shoots.
They buy them once or twice and they're like, yeah, I'm popcorn. Shoot it out. It's just too intense. so that's a big thing to her to be able to like, we're going to do a crop. Yeah. We're going to drop it. And then we'll do a couple of specials, then we'll drop it. So you're using up the seed, but not everything has to be part of your regular routine.
And so once you know how to grow a bunch of different crops, what you can do is you have your core ones and you can rotate through others. And that's the way you bring in diversity to the market. Hey, this week's, feature. Sure. Microgravity is a Rhodiola and this week I mustard kale mix.
And this week it's basil and that stuff is seasonal. and you can actually, play that off other stuff. That's at the market. So your season, there is obviously way different than the season here. We do basil shoots in the winter. They sell really well cause nobody's doing basil in the winter, but it's a very, it's a favorite crop. Knowing when to introduce something as well as a good strategy.
Max Becher: [00:33:33] Interesting. Yeah. I'm excited to see how it goes. And, basically I see nothing to lose in growing a couple of flats and trying it out. Yeah. If for nothing else, if I choose not to do it, at least I'll know why, instead of always wondering if I could have done it,
Diego: [00:33:46] one other thing you're doing, I think that's interesting, or a little bit unique is the issue you ran into on your farm, where you couldn't have soil mix brought to your farm because of the fire.
And now you're just growing your micros. In straight up peat, Moss, nothing else, no other additives. Can you talk about your experience with that? And then Chris, give your thoughts on what you hear about his experience. Cause we've talked about soil mix a lot.
Max Becher: [00:34:15] Yeah. part of the, part of our fiscal recovery after the fire was, I literally didn't have two to $3,000 to pay for a, a load of 20 yards of soil to be dumped at the farm and.
The delivery costs something like two or $300 and it's flat rate. So it wasn't really didn't really seem worth it to buy, four or five yards to have to pay the delivery fee. I just tried, I almost think I tried earlier growing salmon, straight Pete, and actually notice, Hey, actually worse doesn't seem to have any issues.
So I just went to home Depot and bought, 12 or so bales of a peat Moss and took them back to the farm and. Yeah, opened up and I had to inject some water and it's pretty dry in the pack and it's good to have more replanting. Whereas, it's more time intensive, we didn't have the money for a big soil pile and we did have the money for Pete fails and it worked just fine. So we're still doing that right now. I'll probably buy a soil pile in the next month or two, but for now the Pete's working just fine.
Chris Thoreau: [00:35:19] I'll tell you my initial reaction. It pisses me off when people say that they're growing up eat, and it's just fine all day, because, I did my degree in soil science and I developed this mix for the micro greens in the beginning, and I tried all these mixes and it was all really science-based and experiments they'll based.
And then people just keep saying, Oh, I just use peat or I just use Quora. It's fine. So it makes me feel like a writer, Dumbed down. and why it's interesting in your cases, because you've grown them in a soil mix, so you have something to compare to. And I think, what happens is people grow micro greens.
So yeah, pretty good. My mix is fine. And then they grow it into a good mix and they're like, Holy, wow. Like they're twice the size or they're twice this or the twice that, Knowing that you're growing in a completely different mix, which is a very simple mix, and getting good results.
it does make me rethink the, of that soil mix. even though I know I've tried other mixes and there's clearly performance differences, but it could just be the peat that peach that I have available locally. I've got a particular, they get soil mix. There's all these things to consider. which is why I'm always talking about what does, what are things like in your region?
Your seeds, your soil, your climate, your water quality, the pH, all that stuff plays in into your, your production and the quality you get out of it. So it's actually, despite my diatribe, it's great to hear that you can just get local peats, go simple and still be getting good results.
Max Becher: [00:36:44] I think the first ingredient I would leave out of the mix if I buy a pile again, would be the perlite just cause it's the most expensive. And I just haven't noticed drainage issues with the peat. Now, once I add compost into the mix, I don't know. Maybe once I had compost back in, I�d need to put perlite in and last time we did a podcast conversation.
I was experimenting with doing 50% compost and 50% peat. If you remember that was a freaking disaster. I have such poor germination that I, Oh, actually, yeah, this is what I figured out that peat works by itself because I had this big soil pile and I really foolishly bought, I think it was 15 yards of 50% compost and 50% peat.
And I was like, yeah, Ben Hartman doesn't 100% compost, I'm sure it�ll work. Give me 15 yards. So then I had 15 yards delivered and it was like, Oh crap, these machines are not growing that well. So then I bought in Pete by the bail, and then I was mixing up mixing peat into that pile bit by bit just to bring the compost percentage down and still I was having trouble.
And then I think out of frustration, one day I just planted into straight peat and it was like, Oh, Hey, this works so clearly there was too much compost in that mix or the compost was too rich. And, I remember looking at the, I think it was the salt content on the test they gave me and I feel like it was within the range that you had told me would have been okay. But for whatever reason, that was way too much compost. And, I dunno, I don't know how Ben Hartman 100% compost, like you say, it's differences in the peat and the water in the compost.
Chris Thoreau: [00:38:25] Compost, there's a lot of different types of compost and it's really going to depend what your input materials are. There's a product here that a lot of people use on Vancouver Island and the lower mainland called sea soil. And it's a beautiful product. And it's made from basically ground forestry waste mixed with fish waste. And they've just done a really good job. They thermophilic composted it since for one to two years.
It goes through this really long process and it's a really nice product in the end and it doesn't have, a high, salt content. the electrical conductivity is relatively low, so it's not super nutritiously rich. it's got some Woody chunks in there, so it's got some drainage built into it and that kind of compost probably would do fairly well.
And actually when I. First started doing micros years ago. My mix was that compost with perlite and in my mind, I just need it for a light of it, for the drainage. One of the things, yeah. One of the things with the different types of compost and the different types of material, including different types of peach and teat versus quar is how they hold water.
So you would say, Pete holds water well, and composts holds water and mushroom and manure holds water well, but they hold it differently. and I've learned that a few times, like really rich, imagine a worm castings, you probably would never even consider growing in straight worm castings that are way too rich and holds onto water and doesn't let it go.
A mushroom manure is the same thing and holds onto water and doesn't want to let it go. So you risk, over-saturation and losing oxygen. Your disease risk goes up and yeah, once roots get into the soil, they need to breathe. And if there's no oxygen in there, the plants are going to stop growing. Whereas peat holds water, but releases it. And that's going to be in it's ability between defense of peace as to probably other factors in there as well that I'm not even considering.
As you use different materials, you're going to learn, what you really need to learn is what works and what doesn't, but the more you can understand why it works and why it doesn't can help you with custom mixes when you're using different mixes or you're in a different region and you've got different sources, you can start the suss it out. So you get that mix work he first time.
Max Becher: [00:40:36] It was really an emergency procedure for us. They're tickled to find out that it worked. But, I promise standpoint, in my opinion, the higher, the compost percentage can be the better, we can generate compost and pull, keep CO2 out of the atmosphere by composting instead of just ripping organic material out of.
Chris Thoreau: [00:41:00] Yeah. I tell you the other thing, I, I like the idea of using Quora as well as an alternative to Pete. but I know, and I don't know where things are at currently, so I speak carefully here, a lot of the peats coming into North America was coming from Sri Lanka in the past and working conditions there for workers were not ideal.
And For choir. And okay. Like people were saying, I don't want to use peat because it's being harvested and it's not sustainable. So I'm going to use Quora instead because it's a byproduct of the coconut industry. But what you're doing is saying this ecological issue with a social issue.
Okay. we're not just this ecosystem anymore, but now we're actually contributing to the exploitation of these people over here in a country very far away. Whereas, the thing I like about peat and I don't really like a lot about peat, but a lot of peat comes from Canada. And so I'm not exporting my damage to another country. I'm keeping that damage in my home country. And as much as I want to minimize that, I feel we're taking a bit more responsibility by using a more local resource in that way,
Max Becher: [00:41:59] On this topic. What really makes me even more excited than including Compost in the mix is growing them in the soil, directly in the bed. And that actually that would contribute to regenerative agriculture because you are, you would be using the soil that's there and leaving more organic material behind essentially. It's like a cover crop and cash crop combined, and that's got its whole its own set of challenges. And. And difficulties, but we were trying to do that in the greenhouse for awhile, and I just had too many rodent problems in there that I had to get things up on shelves.
And now lately I've actually, I'm not even growing the sunflower in my greenhouse anymore. I've moved that back to my house and I'm germinating in my van. That's a whole other story, but I still really want to, In the future. I really want to look more into growing the microgreens, especially the sunflower, right in the ground, maybe in a raised bed in the greenhouse to give it climate protection, but still using the soil, the native soil right there.
Chris Thoreau: [00:43:05] I haven't talked a lot about this in workshops or anything because our, where our operation is, we don't have the option of even growing anything in the soil. There's no soil, they are basically contaminated ground. And so I liked the idea. I know Curtis has done it as well, and others have grown it in the ground.
The reason I don't like it is because I do not like to bend over. And when I think about how many trays of sunflowers we�d cut and how tedious that is the idea of having to bend over and cut those, I've, maybe it's an age thing again, but it's ah, there's just no way I can do that.
Max Becher: [00:43:39] That's true. Although, we found, we were able to use the greens harvester for the sunflower.
Chris Thoreau: [00:43:44] I was thinking that as I was saying that would be a great solution for that job.
Max Becher: [00:43:48] The few times we got it to work. I planted something like, I don't know, 30 feet by two and a half feet of sunflower and harvested it with the green powder. It was so fast. It was so easy. The microgreens shed their holes so well, because it was such a large stick shoot because it was no, the root was just going as far down as it wanted to in the bed. Yeah, there was, I didn't have enough good things to say about it. The problem was gophers, and squirrels would discover it.
I'd be growing in one bed and then I moved, I have 75 foot bed, so I'd do roughly a third of it. And then another third. And, by the time I did two or three crop cycles, some rodent has discovered and I uncover my boards and it's just this maze of tunnels and all the seeds are gone.
It's just a mess under there. And, I lost several weeks of doing that. And then I started going back to the trays, just having insurance policies should the field micros fail, and then the rodents got worse and now the roads are in the greenhouse. It�s been tough on the rodent front, but it was harder in the field.
Diego: [00:44:56] Anything else what you're doing? And in just thinking soil mix. When you guys mentioned, say a superior product coming from crop, grown in soil or a crop grown in a good soil mix versus a crop grown in peat, do you think you can actually taste the difference, can the average consumer taste the difference when for the non-hardcore micro consumers out there. A lot of these products, they don't have a big taste database in their head to compare it to?
Chris Thoreau: [00:45:28] consumer will never tell the difference that you can tell. And I've had this conversation with people at the market, people who make crepes. It's yeah, I experimented with different buckwheat flowers and mixes, and I wasn't happy with them.
It's like the customers, they don't notice that they can't tell the difference and it's just a, it's just a crepe and even the regulars, but when you're analyzing it, you really get a sense of the differences where it could, where you can notice differences is more probably in your seed quality than anything.
and we've definitely had it where we've gotten a lot of seed that we don't like. it just, it's not uniform is just not great customers. Notice it. they still like the micros, but they're not the same as they used to be. And then we get the good seat back and people are head over heels. that probably is the biggest factor.
Or if you have a, what I would call a bad soil mix and I've grown stuff in soil mixes, sat. Yeah. like your situation there, max, like stuff just doesn't grow in it. Whether it's holding water too much or the electrical conductivity is too high stuff doesn't grow. And so you're eating and you notice that you really do.
Max Becher: [00:46:30] Yeah. It seems like those two things you just mentioned, the electrical conductivity. And brain injury essentially see, those would be in my opinion, the two biggest factors that really contribute to a sick plant at that stage in its life. if you growing it later by start worrying about it, whether it's out of your life, Peter, and what its nutrition needs are, but I feel like it doesn't really it's really drainage.
And then I was surprised by the effect of the electrical conductivity. I'm presuming that's what it was in the compost that gave us such crappy germination and. I wish I had compared more of the actual taste of the micros that came out of that soil to ones that didn't, I didn't, I never compared those side by side on a tastes basis, but, that would, that'd be interesting.
Chris Thoreau: [00:47:19] Yeah, where do you might notice a difference may be more than tastes say it's texture. but once again, that often has to do with, how long your growth cycle is, how much you're watering them, how much light they have, things like that. yeah, I'd be curious about soil and taste. I've never noticed it though. Definitely not anything that stood out.
Max Becher: [00:47:39] One thing that came to mind and I'm eager to hear what you have to say about this. When you were talking earlier about harvesting the different crops and how sunflower really benefits from a cold water bath, there is no green that I can think of that I ever could feel for a microgreens that has benefited both in appearance and in shelf life from a cold water bath, and a spin. And I include radish in that. I know you have a very dense pea. We've noticed in both in the field and with the microgreens. Giving it a truly cold. It can't be lukewarm. I'm talking. We sometimes even ice our water in the summer. When the water coming out of the hose is warm.
I'll buy a bag of ice and dump it into the wash bin. And, I've noticed chilling them instantly like that with the cold water and then spinning them, with a mesh bag in the washing machine on a full cycle, just. Every single time, but you have a different experience for radish, right?
Chris Thoreau: [00:48:40] The amount of effort we go through to not get water on a radish leaf is, is extraordinary because it just really holds onto that water. Once it gets wet. And it doesn't spin dry. Like you can soak peas and you spin it. And there they come out, bone dry it's quite amazing. Sunflower with a few spins, they dry off enough to package. but radish, we just found it held onto the water too much. And once we got it into the package, there's too much moisture in there. So the shelf life went down that it does bring a freshness to the product. And if we knew that radish was being eaten in a day or two.
That would be fine, but the lack of storability because of that, was something. Yeah. For the last three days of its life cycle, they don't ever see water from above all the water. It comes from below with stuff like pee. P is a good one and you can actually wash it and spin it fairly quickly because you're not picking holes and you can get through it fairly quickly.
We found that in general, the quality was pretty close. and so we're just like, that's, it's close enough. It's still better than what everyone else is doing. And that's the standard you need to meet. At least it doesn't have to be years and years above everybody else, it just needs to be better. Like the amount of time and energy that saves us and efficiency. We're happy to just cut that, package it and get it in the fridge right away, because you still need to remove that field heat, really. You are growing stuff to be mature the evening before harvest day, and then you take that stuff and you put it into your walk-in cooler.
And so when you cut it's already cold when you cut it and then you package it and then it would be, if I was starting this again, and we could invest in a walk-in cooler, that would be the method I would go with it. I would think that's going to work pretty well for most crops.
Max Becher: [00:50:34] Yeah, it's interesting. I should add, we do on the radish comes out of the mesh bag and the spinner. I do leave it, exposed to the air and fluff it up. Or even I'll leave it maybe five or 10 minutes before sealing it. And I find that does take care of any residual moisture. we, I harvest radish on Saturday.
There's one restaurant that I don't deliver it to until Wednesday. And she used it all week. it does, like whatever's happening to it, after that water bath, at least it doesn't affect our shelf life. I don't know if it's that exposure to the air or what, but. Yeah. I would love to not have to wash them, but, and one factor might be that we don't have refrigeration on the farm.
We're off grid there and we have a little solar setup, but our culotte trailer is at the house and I can't be running home with every crop as soon as it's cut,
Chris Thoreau: [00:51:35] No. so what's interesting here and this is again, the idea of you need to know what's going to work in your region. Half of the year, it's cold and down here. So we did that. We did that with, for a while, we tried to develop a system where we would wash them, we would spin. Then we've been sent them out to dry and then they had to sit for it, least an hour to dry and a lot of days because it was too humid.
And the other thing is we just didn't have the space because we were doing so much and our harvest space is so contained. We couldn't all the radish and have a dry and still keep it hygienic. there was just no way it wasn't going to get contaminated with. And so we, this was a big, one of our biggest crop challenges.
What do we do as radish? the drawing method works, but it's too many steps. we cool it, we spin it, then we warm it up again and then we cool it again when we package it and put it in the fridge. And so we basically, once we got to the, keep a dry method and just didn't package that tended to work the best for us, but I imagine climate and atmosphere, Africa, moisture, and stuff would play a role in that. And you might just have that advantage there that we don't have. Is that it just dries really quick.
Max Becher: [00:52:45] Pretty low humidity environment.
Chris Thoreau: [00:52:48] Yeah. So that's why with a lot of these things, like there's very few absolute rules that I would suggest to people. And this is yeah. Okay. this is what worked for the food. Pedalers in this coastal moist climate with minimal sun sunlight, a good portion of the year. If you're in an inland climate that's dry and Hartford, lots of sun. Are your conditions are going to be different and that's the stuff you need to adapt for
Diego: [00:53:13] there. You have it. Max Becher and Chris, the row on micro microgreens. If you want to learn more about max, check him out at the links listed in the show description for this episode.
And if you want to learn more about Chris and learn more from Chris, be sure to check out his growing your microgreens business firstname.lastname@example.org slash microgreens. That course is a base principles approach to starting a microgreens business. It's everything that Chris learned in his experience of running a very successful micro greens only operation over 10 years.
It's an operation that eventually was producing over $250,000 in annual revenue for Chris, all grown out of a very small shipping container. In Vancouver, if you want to start a microgreens business and learn from somebody who's done it and done it check out Chris's course, growing your microgreens business email@example.com slash microgreens.
Or just click on the link below in the show notes for this one. And if you're currently growing micro greens and you're looking for some microgreen growing supplies. I can help you out and by, me through my site paper podcast, because we sell nursery trays for people who want to grow microgreens whether you want to use the larger size, more durable, more rigid paper, pot, nursery flats, or the very conventional 10, 20 nursery flat, both with holes in without holes we have you covered and they're pretty darn good.
10, 20 trays. They're much more durable. Then the Tio plastics brand, which I think a lot of people out there might be using. Those are thinner. They're flimsier, these are the same sizes, those trays, but they're thicker. And they're going to last a longer than Tio ones. We're actually selling them at a better price than you can probably find most Tio trays listed at for more information on all the trays that we carry.
Visit paperpot.co. That's all for this one. Thanks for listening this week until next time. Be nice. Be thankful and do the work.
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