Winter Markets Keep the Cash Flowing

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK

My operation in zone 3 Canada has been a year round one for many years. Now I’m starting to hear from other SPIN farmers who are usually trading their tillers for a snow blowers about now, that winter markets are booming, and that they, too, plan to keep production going.

For instance, a nursery owner in Minnesota is setting up a room to do 36 10×20 trays indoors under lights, and is planning to provide microgreens to his customers from November to May. He wants to know what kind of yield to project from each 10 x 20 tray, and the pricing he should set.  Here’s what I suggest:

  •  Try doing about 10 trays per week for starters.
  •  Think about adding micro radish to the peas for a salad mix. Very popular. Can also sell them as stand alone greens.
  •  I get about 1/2 lb. of micro radish per tray. About 1 lb. of pea greens.
  •  Stay with SPIN’s mix and match pricing of $3.00 2/$5.00, and unitize accordingly, with the idea of targeting at least $20 of revenue per tray. [Note that in some markets SPIN farmers are reporting they have been able to push SPIN’s pricing benchmark to $4 or 2/$8].  
  •  To see if you can save on costs, try growing without lights initially, just room light.
  •  Add lights, say to a max of 8 hours per day, and observe what it does for your production, and determine whether you need them.
  • Some commercial growers grow pea greens/micros in darkness, to get a yellow looking product, which chefs like.

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There are many ways SPIN farmers can continue to make hay while the snow flies. Here are the SPIN guides that can give you some more ideas on how to keep your cash flow going during the winter months:  Indoor Farming with MicroGreens  Four Season Marketing


Indoor Grow Tables Inexpensive Setup for Winter Production

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon, SK

You don’t need an expensive greenhouse to keep going through the winter. I use  grow tables in my basement. Advantage: you don’t need to pay to heat it. There is a small cost for lighting, but it’s a fraction of what you can make from this type of setup. I can fit 16 trays per table.

This week Gail and I are ramping up indoor winter greens production. A chef’s event coming up means I have to deal with 30 trays of micro greens. We will lay them out on the table and shelves, and cut before Nov. 8. We’ll be doing a winter salad mix, which will be pea greens and a variety of micro greens. Pea greens might seem a little foreign to many people, but when you make them a part of a salad mix, then it is an easy sell. Micro greens are a luxury item at winter markets, and you can charge luxury prices.

SPIN photo grow table in basement 2

Indoor micro greens production is easy to ramp up

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon, SK

Outdoor work has ended here in Saskatoon, and can now focus on indoor micro greens production. The advantage to this type of crop is that it allows you to ramp up production very quickly. Case in point, I got an order from a local chef who works for a large multi-national hotel chain. He has a standing order for bi-weekly deliveries of six .15 lb. bags of micros and one cut tray of pea greens. Micros are $7.50 per bag, and peas are $17.50 per cut tray.

This week he told me he wants 26 bags of micros and four trays of peas for Nov. 8. That’s about a $250 order. Ramping up is easy. That means about 9 trays of micros, which are not a big deal to produce. So I’ll be planting soon for this order.

SPIN photo crop micro greens on scale

Learn how to set up and make money with an indoor micro greens operation in the Indoor Farming with Micro Greens guide in the SPIN-Farming learning series. 

Pushing the Limits of Micro Greens Production

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon, SK

I am finding that I can barely keep up with my quick greens production i.e. pea/sunflower/micro greens. Right now I have outdoor production on about 400 sq.ft. at my home plot, as well as a few dozen trayed indoor production units per week. This area here allows for five 20 ft. beds, each worth about $100 in less than two weeks. Beds are replanted to more quick greens, all summer. That’s about $500 every two weeks, or $1000 per month from about a 1/2 segment ( 1,000 sq. ft.) The math on this goes through the
roof. I think I will be expanding my outdoor quick greens production.

SPIN photo quick greens $1000permonth400sf

Learn how to grow and sell a new class of micro greens called Quick Greens in Dig Deeper guide # 3 in the SPIN-Farming learning series.   


New Product Line: Quick Greens

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon, SK

I’ve been developing a new product line called Quick Greens. Greens figure prominently in SPIN-Farming because of their quick days to harvest. So they are great for relay cropping  because different crops can be planted either before or after them. Thirty to 50 days from planting to harvest are common time frames for greens such as lettuce and spinach. But Quick Greens have even shorter days to harvest – 10 – 14 days.

Quick Greens include sunflower greens, grown in soil. They can also be planted in containers  on parts of your land base that would not usually see production, like decks patio or driveways. No specialty structures or systems are needed.  Dry seeds are broadcast into the plots. Days to harvest is under 14 days. This two row bed here is worth around $100.

SPIN photo sunflower greens in soil

I will be targeting steady weekly production of two to three beds. Harvested greens need to be washed, and a bit of time needs to be spent picking out any hulls, though most of the hulls will pop off before harvest if you brush the plants by hand or apply a gentle spray wash.

These are proving to be a great niche product for me, and a real draw at market. I recently bagged off $80 worth into .10 lb. bags. and sold them for $3.00 each, or 2/$5.00. I bagged another six .15 bags and sold them to restaurants for $7.50 per bag.

SPIN photo sunflower greens in bin

If you want to grow and sell Quick Greens, here’s the guide that tells you how.

Fast Track Farming

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon, SK
It’s the time of year when I get inundated with URGENT!!! messages from those who are suddenly motivated to begin their farming careers this season. While planning is the hallmark of SPIN-Farming, I can’t resist a challenge. How do you fast track farm startup? Well, you need to know the difference between mission critical and distractions. Distractions are double digging, high tunnels, and designer rain catchment systems. Below is the information I’m requesting of a late starting first year SPIN farmer in
Ottawa ON to get him focused on what is mission critical.

  • What is the current size of land base you plan on putting into production.
  • Is the land ready to plant?
  • Do you have access to water?
  • Do you have/have access to a rototiller?
  • Do you have garden tools and a seeder?
  • Do you live in the city, or on the outskirts?
  • Describe your ” home base.”
  • Do you have post harvest cooling capacity?
  • Can you get potato seed/onion sets/garlic quickly?
  • Where will you be selling? A farmers market?
  • Have you considered restaurant sales for crops such as pea greens/sunflower greens?
  • Have you considered indoor tray production of pea/micro greens?

Note: if you want to get into the game really quickly this season, Quick Greens (Dig Deeper guide 3) and indoor production (Dig Deeper guide 5) explains this type of “fast track” production.

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Winter Growing of Micro Greens

Courtesy of Brenda S., Thompson Street Farm, Glastonbury CT

For winter sales of micro greens, I’m doing about 20 trays a week to start. I have a winter market through December 22nd,so I will see how demand is. If I can control the temperature in the greenhouse I will do more. Yesterday I started 5 trays on heat mats in the greenhouse. The rest of my trays are in a back room in my house on racks. If the trays in the greenhouse survive the overnight lows, I will start more using some kind of alternative heat source. I’m focusing on heating the trays instead of heating the air.

For mats I’ve purchased reptile heat pads/mats. I’m turning on the mats when the sun goes down. The greenhouse is warm enough during the day, and they don’t need additional heat. The product I’m using is Zoo Med ReptiTherm Under Tank Heater. is selling them for $13.71 for a small mat. I’m also using a large seedling mat as well. I realize if I’m going to do a lot of trays this wont be practical.

Another cheap idea I’m toying with for protecting the greens overnight is putting the trays on an electric blanket.

In addition to growing micro greens on shelves in the greenhouse, I will also be growing arugula, lettuce and green onions in the greenhouse beds. I also have several of my outdoor raised beds growing arugula and lettuce. My leased SPIN field has turnips, carrots and tatsoi, all unprotected at this time.

Turnips and tatsoi I harvest every week. The carrots are just coming up now. A local farmer suggested I just leave them there for winter and see what happens. Long story as to why I’m growing carrots this winter. Short version – I hired a high school kid to help me plant a 1/4 acre. Yup – he seeded an entire segment with carrots instead of arugula.

Micro Green Menu:
sunflowers (indoors)
popcorn shoots (indoors)
pea shoots (indoors)
purple radish
chia (indoors)