Please welcome Chris Wimmer, a hydroponic grower. We talk about side hustles a lot in the personal finance community. I’ve asked Chris to investigate a business idea that might be of interest to everyone as it has low start-up costs, doesn’t require too much space, and could be a nice source of side income: starting a microgreen farm. Let’s see what he found out.
Today I want to introduce a couple topics which might be new to some of you, and pose the question: is an area worth investigating as a possible side or even full-time business? I believe running your own mini hydroponic microgreen farm could be a perfect first home business. Let’s dive into just what a hydroponic microgreen farm is and run a few rough numbers to see if it could work for you.
What are Microgreens?
Microgreens are those little vegetable greens top chefs tend use to top their dishes. Chefs use various types of microgreens to add extra visual, textural, and flavor notes to their dishes. While they may look complicated, microgreens are simply vegetables harvested between the baby stage and sprout stage. There isn’t an FDA or legal definition of a microgreen, but they are usually about 1.5” in size and have grown just large enough to have the first 2 or 3 leaves growing out from the stem. This stage is reached in about 14 days for most plants.
What is Hydroponics?
Hydroponics is gardening without dirt or soil. In Greek it actually translates to “working water” because the ancient Greek hydroponic systems enabled them to divert water over their dirt less crops in an automated fashion.
Over the centuries and especially in the past 20 years, growers have created many different types of hydroponic systems but they all have a few common principles: grow tray, medium (dirt replacement), nutrient rich solution, and a reservoir to hold the solution. Today, the most commonly used media are clay pellets, perlite, peat moss, and rockwool. The perfect media should keep the plant roots moist but still allow the plant to breath.
Benefits of Hydroponics
• Uses 90% less water compared to soil gardening
• No weeds to pull
• Less fertilizer. Up to 75% less. Most fertilizer applied to soil is lost in water run off.
• Plants can grow closer together which is perfect for my small urban setting.
• Easy to grow inside by simply adding a grow light. (Chris made his own for $10.)
Why Hydroponics & Microgreens are a Perfect Match
Microgreens are a perfect hydroponic crop as its simple short growing cycle actually makes hydroponics easier than growing plants to full size. Given their super small size you can pack hundreds of microgreen plants into just a few square feet of planting space. Microgreens also don’t need external nutrition as the seeds themselves have enough nutrients to fuel their growth to the microgreen stage which lets you eliminate the traditional hydroponic reservoir and nutrient solution.
The 30 Second Guide to Growing Microgreens
Growing hydroponically is super simple. You sprinkle the seeds over the grow trays filled with your media and moisten with a spray bottle. Keep the tray covered until they germinate and then expose them to light for about another week. You should expect to mist your trays every day once they sprout. So did you get all that? No worries. I know that was a shotgun blast in just a couple of sentences. Hopefully that gives you the conceptual idea. If you want to see how to do it step-by-step along with some pictures check out my post last winter about hydroponic microgreens. Even if you don’t start your own business you can at least grow a few greens to impress your friends without breaking the bank!
Running the Numbers on a Microgreen Farm
Let’s first start with a caveat. These are estimates and assumptions. They aren’t perfect but they should be directionally correct. If you would like to explore this more you will need to complete a lot more due diligence.
Here’s a rough guide of what you should expect to invest before you can start seeing a return. This assumes you will have indoor space already available (greenhouse or basement).
- 50 Growing Trays @ $2.00 = $100
- Initial Seed purchase =$
50$200* (This will provide you enough to grow about 50 sq feet of crops)
- 10 CFL 150Watt Lights @ $5 each = $50
- Media = $30
- In-depth Guide = $50 (Optional but a wise investment)
Up Front Total = $430
Every square foot planted should yield 20 pounds of greens per month (10 pounds, twice). Lighter microgreens may yield as little as 4-5 oz. Those of the pea variety tend to be heaviest. The average price of greens is about $20/pound.
10 square feet = $250*-$4,000/month of revenue
- 1 pound of seeds costs about $30 and will plant 20 square feet*
- 10 square feet of seeding costs = $30.00 (remember you plant every 14 days)*
- Soil replacement, lighting, and other plant care is about $4 per square foot each month.
- Cost of growing 10 square feet = $40.00*
Total Monthly Growing Costs for 10 square feet = $70.00*
Net Profit/month after First Month= $180*-$3,930
10 square feet of microgreens will require about 10 hours of work each week = 40 hours per month
Selling & Delivering:
- Restaurants = 10 hours per month
- Farmers Market = 12 hours
Total labor hours = 62 hours/month
$180/ 62 hours= $2.90 hourly wage
$3,930/ 62 hours = $63 hourly wage
(Research the average weight of the microgreens you’ll be growing before you start as this will drastically affect your hourly wage. After the first month, you won’t have start up costs and your hourly wage will improve no matter what weight class you’re in.)
Microgreens are a high margin product and is a very good option to start a side or full time business. The key to success is to avoid product loss, minimize time required to sell the product, and ensure you have a consistent distribution channels.
Hey, it’s FF again. I’m just wondering if anyone else’s jaw is on the floor right now? And seriously considering starting a microgreen farm in my living room. Many thanks to Chris!
*UPDATE: I feel like it’s important to direct readers to the comments below. Dissenting opinion is important, and Chris has been absent for a while, so I did some of my own research and modified information as appropriate. While many microgreens only yield 4-5 oz, there are success stories of business owners getting one pound yields. I’m assuming they’re of the pea variety as those tend to be the heaviest; a quick gram to pound conversion would support this theory. Seed costs may be higher than the author suggested, whether due to the passage of time, geographic price differences, or misinformation. From my research, you can expect to spend about $200 to seed a microgreen farm of this size.