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Cultivating Solutions

The Intensive Microgreen


The Powell Scholars

University of the Pacific

Copyright 2016 The Powell Scholars Program

All rights reserved

ISBN-13: 978-1530567928
ISBN-10: 1530567920
Ashley Abraham
Lauren Anderson
Courtney Banh
Kelly Baucom
Shelley Buford
Ricardo Estrada, Jr.
Sean Hilken
Sarah Jenkins
Brandon Lindner
John Livingstone
Sarah Lutz
Danielle MacArt
Aimee Mahoney
Connor Morales
Colleen Motoyasu
Nasser Saleh
Liana Stoddard
Cynthia Wagner Weick, PhD

Alyssa Rodriguez
Cynthia Wagner Weick, Ph.D.

Celja Uebel

We would like to acknowledge the benefactors of the Powell Scholars Program,
Robert and Jeannette Powell, whose support and inspiration have allowed
this project to be conceived and implemented. We would also like to
acknowledge our partners in this project, whose encouragement and input
along the way has made sure the project was successful: Jeannie Hayward and
Joe Tobin of the San Andreas, California Food Bank, and Kevin Hesser
of the Calaveras School System.



CHAPTER ONE Renewable Natural Resources Shelley Buford
CHAPTER TWO Biodegradable Materials Aimee Mahoney
CHAPTER THREE Recycling Ashley Abraham


CHAPTER ONE Concepts from Geometry Liana Stoddard
CHAPTER TWO Light Sean Hilken
CHAPTER THREE Electricity and Electric Circuits Brandon Lindner
and Connor Morales


CHAPTER ONE Photosynthesis Kelly Baucom
CHAPTER TWO Planting Media Nasser Saleh
CHAPTER THREE Water Sarah Lutz
CHAPTER FOUR Growing Plants Organically Lauren Anderson


CHAPTER ONE Microgreens: The Basics Ricardo Estrada, Jr.
CHAPTER TWO Classification of Microgreens Colleen Motoyasu
CHAPTER THREE Growing Microgreens Courtney Banh


CHAPTER ONE Invention and Innovation C. Wagner Weick
CHAPTER TWO Patenting in the United States John Livingstone
CHAPTER THREE Experimentation Nasser Saleh

APPENDIX I. Instructions for Fabricating and Assembling the

System p. 72
APPENDIX II. Instructions for Growing Microgreens p. 79

The Powell Scholars Program is the premier academic merit program at
University of the Pacific. Endowed by Robert and Jeannette Powell in 2009, it is
made up of academically talented students in majors throughout the university.
Thanks to the Powells, the Program provides much more than funding. It
provides opportunities to engage in a progressive community of students who
value leadership, scholarship, creativity, and service. This book and the project
it surrounds are exemplary of the sorts of inter-disciplinary and original
activities the Powell Scholars embrace.

The project has spanned nearly two years of planning, designing, testing,
iterating, and implementing an intensive system for growing microgreens. The
original challenge the Powell Scholars posed to themselves in fall, 2014 was to
create a novel intensive growing device for providing fresh food year round,
which is environmentally sustainable, water efficient, portable, durable,
scalable, cost effective, productive and intuitive to use. The project was
undertaken with two clients in mind who would benefit from the system: the
Food Bank in San Andreas, California, and the Calaveras Schools. As of April,
2016, multi-unit growing systems, called VerdevisTM, are in use at the Food
Bank and Toyon Middle School. Details on how the VerdevisTM invention can
be built and used to grow plants are provided in Appendix I and Appendix II.

This book was crafted as a way to broaden the educational impact of the
project. It encourages readers to understand various aspects of microgreens
and the VerdevisTM invention itself, and also to consider implications to
resource sustainability. With hope, the book will inspire others to experiment
both with the system and growing methods. The Powell Scholars, however,
have an even more ambitious goal: that the project and book will galvanize
others to create their own innovative ways of addressing the many problems
we face in our world.




Renewable and Non-Renewable Natural Resources

Natural resources are raw materials - including minerals, energy, soil, water, and
biological resources - which occur in nature and can be used for economic production or
consumption. Yong, Mulligan, and Fukue (2006, p 337) classify natural resources as non-
renewable, renewable, and sustainable. Non-renewable resources can be exhausted. These
include fossil fuels, metals, minerals, and water from deep seated aquifers. In contrast,
renewable natural resources have the ability to regenerate, replenish, and renew
themselves, either naturally or with human intervention. Renewable natural resources can
be living, like animals and plants, and non-living, like water and soil. Sustainable renewable
resources can be totally regenerated and replenished. These encompass crop plants,
forests, and algae that can be grown repeatedly. Examples of renewable resources that may
not be sustainable include over-utilized groundwater and over-fished water habitats.

Non-renewable Resources: Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuels are the basis for the bulk of energy used in the commercial, residential,
and transportation industries. Fossil fuels provide the raw materials for products such as
plastics, pharmaceuticals, and synthetic fibers. Fossil fuels were formed from the remains of
plants and animals that lived millions of years ago. They exist in solid, liquid, and gas forms.
The solid form is coal, the liquid form is oil, or petroleum, and the gas form is natural gas, or

Americans in particular consume a lot of non-renewable resources. According to the
U.S. Energy Information Administration (2015), the U.S. consumes about 18% of the worlds
energy production, yet represents only about 5% of the worlds population. As shown in
Figure 1.1.1, about 80% of U.S. energy consumption is based on fossil fuels. Beyond the U.S.,
the demand for energy and materials will rise as other countries develop economically.

Figure 1.1.1

Fossil fuels are non-renewable and therefore will eventually be depleted. It is

challenging, however, to determine when this will happen given unpredictable consumption
patterns, conservation measures, and discovery of new reserves. Oil and natural gas
resources may be depleted within the next few decades. Coal appears to be plentiful,
although it is not necessarily readily available. Extracting and burning coal also has serious
environmental and health consequences related to air emissions, water use and discharge,
solid waste generation, and land use. While new fossil fuel resources may be discovered, it
is increasingly necessary that renewable alternatives to fossil fuels be pursued.

Renewable Resources

Renewable resources are generated as fast as or faster than they are consumed.
Alternatives to fossil fuels for use in energy production include solar and wind power,
alcohol derived from corn, sugarcane, grass or trees, and oils derived from microorganisms
and plants. Additionally, geothermal energy can be produced from heat stored in the earth,
and flowing water can be used to provide hydroelectric power. Renewable substitutes to
fossil fuel-based materials can also be derived from plants (Sarnacke and Wildes 2008).
Soybean and corn-based bioplastics currently on the market - tableware, adhesives, and
packaging - can replace petroleum-based products. Algae is also being studied as a source of
plastic products.

Conserving and Recycling Natural Resources

Both non-renewable and renewable resources can be used more wisely through
conservation. Conservation means using less energy, water, and materials. This can be
achieved through improved fuel efficiency in cars, trucks, and mass transportation. Water
usage can be decreased through the implementation of efficient watering systems for
residential lawns, as well as industrial and agricultural operations. Reusable grocery bags
and delivery packaging can conserve plastic. Recycling of non-renewable metals and plastics
in existing products can decrease the amount of new material used in products. Recycling
paper products allows forests to grow because less trees are cut down. Plant matter can also
be composted to create natural fertilizer with nutrients to help future plants grow.


Sarnacke, Phil & Stephen Wildes 2008. Disposable Bioplastics. Michigan: United Soybean Board.

U.S. Energy Administration. 2015. Monthly Energy Review, Table 1.3 and 10.1, March, 2015. .

Yong, Raymond N., Mulligan, Catherine N., and Masaharu Fukue. 2006. Geoenvironmental Sustainability Florida:
CRC Press.


Biodegradable Materials

A biodegradable material is a material that is capable of being broken down into

simpler substances by microorganisms or microbes (EPA 2013). Biodegradable materials are
better for the environment because they will eventually decompose into the earth, instead of
landing up in landfills.

Defining Biodegradability

According to the Science Encyclopedia (2015), the term biodegradable is used to

describe materials that decompose through the actions of bacteria, fungi, and other living
organisms. Other factors, such as temperature and sunlight, influence the decomposition
rate of biodegradable materials. Although biodegradable materials break down and are
absorbed into the land naturally, many factors affect the ease in which this occurs. For
example, microorganisms tend to reproduce faster in warmer conditions that are well
lighted, well moisturized, and have plenty of oxygen (Science Learning Hub 2008). The
terms biodegradable and compostable are nearly the same, except that composted materials
typically refer to solids, as opposed to liquids.

Misconceptions can surround the term biodegradable, as some manufacturers label
products as biodegradable or compostable when it is only partially true. This can cause
problems since compost piles differ substantially from landfills. Non-biodegradable
materials in compost can sink into the ground and still be very difficult to remove
(Biodegradability Products Institute 2015). Distinguishing between what should be
composted or not composted is therefore very important. Generally, materials that are
composted should be natural, including paper, leaves, grass clippings, and vegetables.
Materials such as glass, aluminum, and plastic should not be composted (EPA 2009).

Many materials, especially those that are considered to be technologically advanced,

take an extremely long time to decompose. Some substances may never be completely
broken down. Scientists are creating increasingly advanced materials that are durable and
long-lasting in order to allow the consumer to use the items for a long time (Science Learning
Hub 2008). This longevity might be great for consumers, but these resilient materials cause
problems for the earth. Such advanced products do not break down naturally and cannot be
absorbed into the land (Gunther 2015). On a molecular level, many innovative plastics also
remain non-biodegradable. A few researchers have developed non-petroleum based plastics
that can be broken down more readily, but these plastics are still expensive to produce
(Science Encyclopedia 2015). In the future, biodegradable plastic may become more
affordable but, for now, plastic is generally considered to be non-biodegradable, along with
glass, nylon, aluminum, and many more materials which are listed in Table 1.2.1.

Table 1.2.1 Biodegradability of Materials (Source: Science Learning Hub, 2008 and
Matson, 2008)
Vegetables 5 days 1 month
Cotton Rags 1 5 Months
Paper 2 5 Months
Rope 3 14 Months
Cotton T-shirt 6 Months
Orange peels 6 Months
Tree Leaves 1 Year
Wool Socks 1 5 Years
Cigarette Butts 1 12 Years
Plastic Coated Paper
5 Years
Milk Cartons
Leather Shoes 25 40 Years
Nylon Fabric 30 40 Years
Tin Cans 50 100 Years
Aluminum Cans 80 100 Years
Glass Bottles 1 Million Years
Styrofoam Cup 500 Years Forever
Plastic Bags 500 Years Forever

The Role of Landfills

While biodegradable materials will decompose on their own or in a compost pile,

landfills are not created to support biodegradation. In fact, many products that are normally
biodegradable will not decompose in landfills because of the lack of light, water, and
bacterial activity (Science Learning Hub 2008). The Environmental and Plastics Industry
Council has found that in a landfill incoming solid waste typically has 25 to 30 percent
moisture. However, it takes a 65 percent moisture to foster biodegradation. Microorganisms
also need oxygen in order to consume waste, and landfills cannot be stirred to allow
oxygen to permeate them. Landfills simply do not have the proper balance of nutrients,
light, and water that organisms need to biodegrade materials (Environmental and Plastics
Industry Council). Even if they did, these microbes cannot decompose the non-
biodegradable materials in the landfills.

According to Dukes Center for Sustainability and Commerce (2015), approximately

55% of 220 million tons of waste generated each year in the United States ends up in one of
the over 3,500 landfills. The EPA studies waste removal in the United States each year and
in 2013 the amount of total trash thrown out by Americans was 245 million tons. Only 87
million tons were either composted or recycled (EPA, 2015). Table 1.2.2 displays a
breakdown of the materials disposed of in 2013, showing the room for improvement in the
biodegradability of materials, as well as the need to increase recycling in the United States.

Table 1.2.2 Materials Disposed of in the U.S. (Source: EPA, 2013)


Biodegradability Products Institute. The Science of Biodegradation. 2003-2015.

Duke Center for Sustainability and Commerce. How Much Do We Waste Daily? Last modified 2015.

Environment and Plastics Industry Council. Biodegradation Wont Solve the Landfill

EPA. Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2013 Fact Sheet. June 2015.

EPA. Backyard Composting. Last modified October 2009.

EPA, EPA Vocabulary Catalog. "Waste and Cleanup Risk Assess.". Last modified February 2013.
do?details=&glossaryName=Waste and Cleanup Risk Assess.

Gunther, Michel. Biodegradable and Non-biodegradable Materials. World Wildlife Fund. Last modified 2015.

Matson, Erin. "Facts and Figures." Recyclaholics. Last modified 2008.

Science Encyclopedia. "Biodegradable Substances. Last modified 2015.

Science Learning Hub RSS. "Measuring Biodegradability." June 19, 2008.



Recycling refers to the conversion of waste into reusable material. It is often

symbolized by a circle of three arrows:

This logo was originally designed by a student at University of Southern California in 1970
as a part of a competition, with these arrows representing the three stages of recycling
(Engelhart 2012). The first stage is collection and processing, in which goods that can be
converted to new uses are obtained. The second stage is manufacturing, where these goods
are sold and altered for a new usage. The final stage is purchasing of the newly created
goods by consumers. Once the products have been used to fulfill their purpose, the entire
process begins again.

Plastic products have a detailed set of recycling codes, which are described in Table

Table 1.3.1 Plastic Recycling Codes (Derived from
Material Description Uses Recyclability
PET is clear, tough, and has Plastic soft drink, water, sports Recycled through
good gas and moisture barrier drink, beer, mouthwash, ketchup most curbside
properties. and salad dressing bottles. Peanut recycling programs.
butter, pickle, jelly and jam jars.
Polyethylene Ovenable film and ovenable
Terephthalate prepared food trays.

HDPE is used to make bottles Milk, water, juice, cosmetics, Recycled through
for milk, juice, water and shampoo, dish and laundry most curbside
laundry products. It has good detergent bottles; yogurt and recycling programs.
chemical resistance and is used margarine tubs; cereal box liners;
High Density for packaging many household grocery, trash and retail bags.
Polyethylene and industrial chemicals.

In addition to its stable physical Clear food and non-food Can be recycled but
properties, PVC has excellent packaging, medical tubing, wire typically not often
chemical resistance, good and cable insulation, film and recovered for
weatherability, flow sheet, construction products such recycling by curbside
Vinyl (Polyvinyl characteristics, and stable as pipes, fittings, siding, floor tiles, programs.
Chloride or PVC. electrical properties. carpet backing and window

Used predominately in film Dry cleaning, bread and frozen Not often recycled
applications due to its toughness, food bags, squeezable bottles, e.g. through curbside
flexibility and relative honey, mustard. LDPE is also programs. Plastic
transparency, making it popular used to manufacture some flexible shopping bags can be
Low Density for use in applications where lids and bottles and it is used in reused or returned to
Polyethylene heat sealing is necessary. wire and cable applications. stores for recycling.

Polypropylene has good Ketchup bottles, yogurt containers Recycled through

chemical resistance, is strong, and margarine tubs, medicine some curbside
and has a high melting point. bottles. PP is found in flexible and programs.
rigid packaging to fibers and large
Polypropylene (PP). molded parts for automotive and
consumer products.

Polystyrene is a versatile plastic Compact disc jackets, food service Recycled through
that can be rigid or foamed. applications, grocery store meat some curbside
General purpose polystyrene is trays, egg cartons, aspirin bottles, programs.
clear, hard and brittle. It has a cups, plates, cutlery.
Polystyrene (PS). relatively low melting point.

Use of this code indicates that Three and five gallon reusable Traditionally not
the package is made with a resin water bottles, some citrus juice and recycled.
other than the six listed above, or ketchup bottles.
is made of more than one resin
Other. listed above, and used in a multi-
layer combination. Includes
polycarbonate and acrylic.

In the United States today, recycling is often focused on paper, plastic, metals,
batteries, glass, and electronics. However, many more materials can be recycled, including
water, paint, tires, and even crayons. In addition to decreasing waste and preserving natural
resources, recycling generates jobs in recycling and manufacturing industries while also
reducing greenhouse gases and environmental pollutants.

Recycling Trends in the United States

As shown in Figure 1.3.1, 34.3 % of the 254 million tons of municipal solid waste
(MSW) generated in the United States in 2013 was recycled (EPA 2015). States and cities are
responsible for creating their own recycling programs, and have a variety of approaches.

Figure 1.3.1 Municipal Solid Waste Recycling Trends (Source: EPS, 2015)

In Seattle, for example, fines are imposed if certain recyclables are placed in the
regular trash. In Wisconsin, types of food and beverage containers, paper, cardboard, yard
materials, automotive items, appliances, and electronics are all banned from landfills and
incinerators (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 2015). In California, monetary
incentives encourage consumers to return recyclable beverage containers. With all these
approaches to increase recycling, the nationwide per capita recycling rate and total amount
of recycling continues to grow. Not all recyclable goods are recycled at the same rate though.
For example, 99% of paper is recycled, while only 34% of glass containers are recycled
(Figure 1.3.2).

Figure 1.3.2 Recycling Rates of Different Products in the U.S. (Source: EPA, 2015).

One of the challenges the recycling industry faces is finding economically effective
ways to recycle. Although collection (the first step of recycling) is fairly simple,
manufacturing can be an expensive. In some cases, recycling products is more expensive
than simply creating new products. The Fortune 500 company, Waste Management, lost
money recycling in 2013 (Kanellos 2013). Despite these drawbacks, recycling is still
worthwhile: recycling avoids using new resources from the environment, and thereby helps
protect the global environment. However, at present, the expense of recycling means that
sometimes products formed from recycled goods are more costly.

The recycling industry has also struggled with recycling electronic substances that
contain harmful materials like lead, mercury, and bromide. Not all companies claiming to
recycle electronic waste do so safely. According to a story reported on National Public Radio
(2010), many of the United States electronic waste is shipped overseas to developing
countries including China, Nigeria, Ghana, India, Vietnam, and Pakistan. Workers who then
dismantle electronic waste may not be protected from toxic materials in the processing of
breaking down. In response to these concerns, manufacturers are increasingly using less
toxic materials, but electronic recycling still remains a concern.


Engelhart, Katie. 2012. "First Person: Gary Anderson." Financial Times Magazine. May 12.

EPA (2015) Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2013 Fact Sheet.

Kanellos, Michael. 2013. "Profits Become Elusive in Recycling." Forbes. November 12.

National Public Radio. 2010. After Dump, What Happens To Electronic Waste? December 21.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. 2015. "Wisconsin Waste Reduction and Recycling Law."
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.




Concepts from Geometry

Mathematics is a very broad topic, which is often divided into various subtopics. One
such subtopic is geometry. Geometry is the study of all shapes, angles, lines, and points and
their relation to each other. For example, geometry can explain what makes a square
different from a rectangle or how one side of a triangle relates to another. Because geometry
is such a broad topic, it is a crucial device for many careers, including construction work,
engineering, medicine, and architecture.


One of the most important uses of geometry is measurement. Measurement means

anything from finding the distance between two points to calculating the area inside of a
square. Measurements can be as simple as a single number, such as how many inches tall a
person is, or can be more complex and include multiple numbers, such as the dimensions of
a cake pan. As important as measurements are, they mean nothing without units. A unit is a
defined standard that is able to be used universally and will not change depending on the
user (Serway and Jewett 2014). Units are what enable scientists across the world to
communicate their findings to each other, even if they do not speak the same language.
Inches, feet, pounds, gallons, centimeters, meters, kilograms, liters, and degrees are all types
of commonly used units of measurement.


Angles are located at the point where two lines meet on a shape. For instance, a
square has four angles and triangle has three angles, but a circle has no angles. Angles are
classified by their size, measured in degrees from 0 to 360. A 90 angle means two lines
meet perpendicularly and form the type of angles seen in a square, and is called a right
angle. If an angle is smaller than 90, it is called an acute angle; if an angle is larger than 90,
it is called an obtuse angle.


Triangles are one of the simplest shapes and one of the most common in geometric
problems. Triangles are defined as a shape with three segments and three angles joined
together in a nonlinear pattern. They also have many classifications depending on the
relationships between the length of its sides and size of its angles. The following diagram
displays the seven different types of triangles (Larson and Boswell 2001, 194-195).

Pythagorean Theorem

The Pythagorean Theorem describes the relationship between the three sides of a right
triangle. Because of this theorem, we now know that the hypotenuse of a right triangle (side
c) is equal to the square root of the sum of the squares of the other two sides. A simpler
way to understand this is by looking at the formula for the Pythagorean Theorem:

Solving this formula requires knowing the lengths of two sides of the triangle. These
numbers are then plugged into the formula, which allows for calculation of the remaining
variable. For example, if Side A measures 3 centimeters long and Side B measures 4
centimeters long, the solution is as follows:


Circles are defined by the length of their radius (r), diameter (d), and circumference
(c). The radius is the length of a line drawn from the midpoint of the circle to any point on its
edge. The diameter of a circle is the length of the line drawn between two points of the circle
and the midpoint. Finally, the circumference of a circle is the length of the entire edge of the

Each of these properties of a circle is related to each other using two different formulas. For
example, if the radius of a circle is known, the diameter and circumference can be found.
This equation states that the diameter of a circle is equal to twice the radius.

The next equation states that the circumference of a circle is equal to twice the radius
multiplied by pi. Pi ( ) is a Greek letter used to represent the infinite number 3.1415926,
which is often used in geometry, especially when dealing with circles.

For example, assume a circle has a radius of 5 centimeters. If the diameter is given using
, then the diameter must have a length of 10 centimeters. If the circumference is given
by , then the circumference must be 10 centimeters.


Larson, Ron, and Laurie Boswell. 2001. "Triangles and Angles." Geometry. Evanston, IL: McDougal Littell.

Serway, Raymond A., and John W. Jewett, Jr. 2014. "Standards of Length, Mass, and Time." Physics for Scientists
& Engineers with Modern Physics, 3. 9th ed. Boston, MA: Brooks/Cole.


When you think of light, you probably envision something that brightens up your
surroundings and allows you to see. Light, however, is really much more.

The Light Spectrum

Light is constituted of waves of electromagnetic radiation. These waves span a wide

spectrum, from gamma rays to radio waves. The light that can be seen by the human eye is a
sliver of these waves called visible light. White light contains the entire colorful spectrum of
visible light (see the diagram below). When white light strikes a green leaf, the entire
spectrum of visible light is absorbed into the leaf except for green light, which is reflected off
the leaf and into our eyes. This reflection of light is what gives objects, such as leaves, their


Light Sources

Light can come naturally from the environment, such as from fire or the sun. It can
also be produced using man-made light sources, which make it easy to see when the
environment does not provide natural light. The most common light sources in a typical
home or school are incandescent, fluorescent, and LED ( 2015).

Incandescent light sources shine when electricity flows through a small piece of curled
wire, called a filament, inside of a glass encasement. The electricity causes the filament,
which is often made of the element tungsten, to heat up and begin to glow. Incandescent
light sources produce the most heat of the three sources listed above, which can be a
downside when trying to conserve energy.

Fluorescent light sources are glass tubes filled with a mercury gas and a phosphor
inner coating. When electricity is sent through these tubes, the mercury gas reacts by sending
out waves of ultraviolet light, which cause the phosphor coating to glow. Fluorescent lights
are more efficient than incandescent bulbs, and have been adapted into compact fluorescent
lamps (CFLs), which can be screwed into a normal light bulb socket to replace incandescent

LED stands for Light Emitting Diode. An LED is significantly smaller than both
fluorescent and incandescent bulbs, and because LEDs are so small, lighting sources are
often made using tens or hundreds of them wired together. LEDs come in all colors of the
rainbow, and some can even be programmed to change colors. LEDs require the least
amount of energy to produce light and produce very little heat, and are therefore the most
efficient and cost effective.


Luminous efficacy measures how well a light source converts energy to light we can
see. It therefore helps to measure how efficient light sources are. Ranking the three sources
of light, LEDs have the highest luminous efficacy, followed by fluorescent lights, and finally,
incandescent lights.

Different light sources are measured in different ways. Incandescent and occasionally
fluorescent lights are measured using watts, while LEDs and fluorescent lights are measured
with lumens. Watts are the total energy used to light the source, while lumens are a
measurement of the total amount of light given off.

LED bulbs are much more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs, so they require
much less energy to produce the same amount of light. Running the same number of watts
through an LED and an incandescent light would cause the LED to be about six times
brighter than the incandescent source. A 60 watt incandescent bulb and a 10 watt LED bulb
both emit roughly 800 lumens of light (Eartheasy 2015).

The three sources of light are compared in the following table and figure (Table 2.2.1
and Figure 2.2.1)
Table 2.2.1 Comparison of Light Sources
Incandescent Fluorescent/CFL LED
Fragility High High Low
Heat Given Off High Medium Low
Efficiency Low Medium High

Figure 2.2.1 Comparison of Light Sources


References 2015. Incandescent Bulbs.

Eartheasy. 2015. Energy Efficient Lighting.


Electricity and Electric Circuits

Electricity is a term that refers to any of the many physical manifestations caused by
the existence and flow of electric charges. These can range from mundane effects such as
static electricity to monstrous forces of nature such as lightning.


Electric charges are measured using the SI (Systeme International) unit of coulomb
(C). Charges can either be positive, negative, or neutral. Neutral charges have a value of 0
C, which means that they do not interact electrically with other charges. Positive and
negative charges interact as described by Coulombs law.

In simple terms, Coulombs law states three things:

Like charges repel each other
Unlike charges attract each other
The closer the charges are, the stronger the force between them is

Electric potential energy is a measure of how much energy a charge at a specific
location contains. Electric potential is a measure of how much energy a specific location
would impart on an arbitrary charge. Voltage, which is also known as electric potential
difference, is the difference of electric potential between two points, and it has the SI unit of
volts (V), which is a combination of two other SI units: joules (J) and coulombs (C).

Electric current is the movement of charges over time. The SI unit for current is the
ampere (A), which is also a combination of two other SI units: coulombs (C) and seconds (s).

Electric power is a measure of how quickly electric potential energy is transferred.

The SI unit for power is watts (W), which is once again a combination of two other SI units:
joules (J) and seconds (s).

When dealing with voltages and currents, electrical power can be calculated with the
following equation:

where P is power, I is current, and V is voltage.

Electric Circuits
The concepts of voltage, current, and power can be applied to electric circuits, which
are used to power devices such as light bulbs. Circuits consist of a power source (battery or
electrical outlet), one or more electrical components (light bulb) and wires to make electrical
connections. In order for current to flow through a circuit, and thus provide it with power,
there must be a closed loop from one end of the power source to the other (+ and - on a
battery). If there is no closed loop, current does not flow at all.

There are two types of electric circuits: Direct Current (DC) and Alternating Current
(AC). These terms describe the flow of current in a circuit. In a DC system, current only
moves in one direction, which is indicated by the (+) and (-) on a battery. In an AC system,
current switches directions multiple times a second. In the United States, a wall outlet uses
AC current that changes direction 60 times a second.

AC is mostly used for transmission, or carrying electricity long distances. Most

devices that plug into a wall outlet convert the AC into DC, but there are some large devices
that use AC without converting it.

Energy Consumption

Most devices that require electricity have labels that state the amount of voltage and
current they use. For devices with external chargers, such as phones and laptop computers,
this information should be printed on the charger. Devices with batteries should have the
information printed near or inside the battery compartment. Other devices with inseparable
power cords may have the information printed on the bottom of the device or somewhere
generally out of sight.

When determining the amount of electricity used by a device, look for a series of
numbers each followed by a V or A, indicating the voltage and amperage, respectively.
Sometimes, the power consumption, or wattage, of a device may also be listed, followed by a

Energy companies use kilowatt-hours (kWh) to determine how much energy has been
consumed. This value can be calculated for each device by multiplying the given wattage by
the hours of usage, then dividing by 1000 (to convert from watts to kilowatts).

If a device does not display the power consumption, it can be calculated from the
voltage and current, as was discussed above.


Dorf, Richard C., and James A. Svoboda. 2010. Introduction to Electric Circuits, 8th Edition. New Jersey: Wiley.

Jaeger, Richard C., and Travis N. Blalock. 2010. Microelectronic Circuit Design, 4th Edition. New York: McGraw-
Hill Education.

Schmidt-Walter, Heinz, and Ralf Kories. 2007. Electrical engineering a pocket reference. Boston : Artech House.





Photosynthesis is the manner in which plants create food for themselves by using
water and carbon dioxide gas in the presence of light. It is a two-step process that utilizes six
water molecules (H2O), six carbon dioxide molecules (CO2), and light energy to form six
oxygen gas molecules (O2) and one glucose molecule (C6H12O6), as shown in the following

6 CO2 + 6 H2O C6H12O6 + 6 O2

Although light does not serve as a true ingredient in photosynthesis, it provides energy that
is vital to the process; therefore, plants cannot live without light.

No matter the species, the predominant color of a plant is usually green. This is due to
the presence of chloroplasts, which are tiny organelles that reside inside the plants cells.
Chloroplasts are unique to plants, meaning animal cells do not have chloroplasts. Although
most plant tissue contains these chloroplasts, photosynthesis occurs most significantly in a
plants leaves.

The Two Stages of Photosynthesis

There are two main stages to photosynthesis: the first stage, referred to as light
reactions, requires the presence of light to occur, and the second stage, called the Calvin
Cycle, does not.

The light reactions are the processes by which solar energy is converted into energy
stored within chemical products, which go on to be used in the Calvin cycle. In the light
reactions, water molecules are split into their components: hydrogen ions and oxygen. The
hydrogen ions are used as an energy source for the Calvin cycle while the oxygen gas (O2) is
released from the cell as a byproduct (Reece et al 2005).

The Calvin Cycle is where the carbon dioxide gas is used by the plant. The single
atom of carbon in each molecule of CO2 is first incorporated into already-existing
compounds present in the plant. Then, with the help of the hydrogen ions created in the
previous light reactions, a simple sugar molecule is synthesized, which will later be
compounded into glucose (C6H12O6). Glucose serves as fuel for the plant (Reece et al 2005).

The chemical formula of photosynthesis is almost the exact reverse of the cellular
respiration formula. Cellular respiration uses oxygen and glucose to make water and carbon
dioxide, just as photosynthesis uses the same ingredients in the opposite direction. Because
of this, both processes rely on the other to continue successfully. While respiration
continually uses oxygen in the atmosphere and replaces it with carbon dioxide,
photosynthesis continually uses carbon dioxide and replaces it with oxygen. It is a very
important balance which ensures life on earth (Reece 2005, 184).

Light and Photosynthesis

How is light utilized in the plant? The answer is again found within the chloroplasts
that contain the unique pigment chlorophyll, which gives the plant its green color.
Chlorophyll is what allows the light reactions to proceed. When a beam of light, referred to
as a photon, enters the plant cell, it is received by various chlorophyll pigments. The energy
absorbed from the photon causes each chlorophyll molecule to achieve a higher energy level
in which it contains more potential energy, a process called excitation. This energy is the
driving force of photosynthesis.

However, not all light is equally productive for the plant. Light exists among a
spectrum of various energy levels, each of which corresponds to a different wavelength.
Higher wavelengths indicate a photon with low energy, while lower wavelengths indicate
higher energy. Visible light, that is, the colors of light which humans are able to see without
assistance, is between wavelengths of about 400 to 700 nanometers (one nanometer is equal
to one billionth of a meter). Each photon consists of light of all wavelengths, but not all of it
is absorbed by the plant. Higher energy light, between wavelength 400-500, which
corresponds to a violet or blue color, is very well absorbed by the plant, as well as yellow
and red light (wavelength 600-700). The color that is least absorbed by the plant is green,
which is why the leaf appears green; the color is reflected rather than absorbed (Reece 2005

The main difference between light produced by a Light Emitting Diode (LED) versus
natural sunlight is that, while sunlight contains a large amount of different wavelengths of
light, including infrared and ultraviolet, LEDs are designed to produce only visible light.
LED lights have been shown to be an effective radiation source for plant growth, serving as
an appropriate replacement for incandescent and fluorescent lighting systems (Bula et al
1991). Moreover, the directionality of an LED allows for a more concentrated beam of light,
making more efficient use of the light emitted. Most other lighting systems emit light in
many directions, wasting that which is not used by the plant.


Bula, R.J., R.C. Morrow, T.W. Tibbitts, D.J. Barta, R.W. Ignatius, and T.S. Martin. 1991. Light-emitting Diodes as
a Radiation Source for Plants. HortScience 26:203-205.

Reece, Jane B., Lisa A. Urry, Michael L. Cain, Steven A. Wasserman, Peter V. Minorsky, Robert B. Jackson. 2005.
Campbell Biology. San Francisco: Pearson Education, Inc.


Planting Media

A growth medium can be any substance that allows the plants to take root and
supports them as they grow while allowing for nutrients to be delivered and absorbed.

Soilless Growth Media

Microgreens are versatile and can grow in a number of different media. Large
commercial growing methods recommend using a hydroponic growing system with an
alternative growth medium such as a sterile fiber-like seeding mat (Coolong 2012). A
fibrous seeding mat - such as cloth made from coconut fibers or burlap - helps the roots of
the microgreens attach to the fibers while allowing for water and nutrients to flow between
them (Braunstein 2013). Synthetic foam pads can also be used as a growth medium in
hydroponic systems.

While using a hydroponic soilless growing medium works well in large commercial
microgreen farms, the increased risk of mold requires the medium to be cleaned regularly,
thus making it more labor intensive for smaller growers versus using traditional soil.
Additionally, artificial growing mediums require liquid fertilizer or nutrient solution to
provide plants with the necessary sustenance for growth. This makes small scale soilless
microgreen growth a costly and high maintenance option (Braunstein 2013).

Using Soil as a Media

With this in mind, most small-scale and home growers use soil as their growth
medium. Some growers recommend buying expensive organic soils supplemented with
oceanic ingredients like kelp, crab meal, and shrimp meal and other natural additives
(Franks & Richardson 2009). This route is recommended mainly for small commercial
growers whose profit requires a much denser yield of microgreens. For household use,
microgreens can be grown in simple, inexpensive soil that can be purchased at home
improvement or gardening stores. This commercial soil comes already sterilized or
pasteurized and contain[s] perlite or vermiculite, which granulates and breaks up the soil,
and peat moss or milled sphagnum peat, which makes the soil light and spongy, allowing
the roots to breathe (Braunstein 2013). If a person wishes to grow microgreens using their
own soil, it must first be baked in the oven to destroy all bacteria, fungi, weeds, and insects.


All plants require nutrients to grow and thrive. These can come from a variety of
natural or artificial sources. Seventeen main nutrients are essential for any plant to grow.
Three of them- carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen- are naturally supplied by air and water
(Reeder et al 2013). Other nutrients are provided by the soil either though fertilizers or
naturally. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are the primary nutrients used by plants in
large amounts, and are often provided through fertilizers. Calcium, magnesium, and sulfur
are the secondary nutrients and, while they are also consumed by plants in large quantities,
they are often present and available in the soil. The micronutrients include iron, zinc,
molybdenum, manganese, boron, copper, cobalt, and chlorine and are only needed in very
small amounts (Reeder et al 2013).

Deficiencies in any of these nutrients can lead to stunted growth and sick plants.
Microgreens, however, require very little nutrients due to their extremely quick harvest time
(Braunstein 2013).

In order to naturally increase the nutrients present in soil, compost can be added to it
( 2002). Compost is broken down organic material with a content called humus
that is dark brown or black and has a soil-like, earthy smell ( 2014). While compost
can be useful for growing some kinds of garden plants, due to the close proximity of
microgreens to the soil, compost is not recommended for use when growing microgreens.


Braunstein, Mark Matthew. 2013. Microgreen Garden. Book Publishing Company.

Coolong, Tim. 2012. Microgreens University of Kentucky 2014. Composting for Facilities Basics.

Franks, Eric and Richardson, Jasmine. 2009. Microgreens. Utah: Gibbs Smith.

Reeder, Jean; Whiting, David; and Wilson, Carl. 2014. Plant Nutrition. CMG GardenNotes. Colorado State
University. 2002. Composting Information.



Importance of Water

Plants, like all forms of life, require water to survive. Water typically accounts for 80-
95% of the mass of growing and mature plants. Even different forms of plant tissue contain
large amounts of water, such as woody plant tissue that typically has around 50% water, and
herbaceous tissue that ranges from 70 to 95% water. This high water concentration is
important to the structure of the plant as it provides stability through turgor pressure. In
addition to maintaining plant structure, turgor pressure is vital for cell enlargement during
plant growth, gas exchange within the leaves, and transport of sugars and nutrients
(Clemson Cooperative Extension 2015).

Water is also crucial to the production of energy in plants via photosynthesis. Recall
that photosynthesis is the combination of water and carbon dioxide that creates the
carbohydrates necessary for plant survival and growth. Assuming that a plant has access to
air and sunlight, the amount of water in the soil is the limiting factor of photosynthesis.

Despite waters importance, it is possible to overwater a plant. A happy medium
between under-watering and over-watering is required for optimum plant growth. Wilting
or drooping of the leaves on a plant is often regarded as a sign that the water content of the
soil is insufficient to meet the needs of a plant. Often this interpretation is correct, but it is not
necessarily cause for alarm. Throughout the day, plants lose water through transpiration, a
process in which energy from the sun enables water to leave the plant in a vaporous form.
Most of the water absorbed by a plant is lost through this process. During hotter periods of
the day, the rate of transpiration increases, often causing plants to wilt slightly. However this
does not necessarily mean the water content in the soil is insufficient. It merely means the
plant could not absorb water as fast as it was lost. In the above scenario, the plant would
replenish its water content during the night (Israelson 1980, 223-238).

What Influences Water Requirements?

Different plants have adapted to have different water requirements, but these
adaptations are not the only factors influencing how much water a plant needs (Israelson
1980, 223-238). The type of soil used for instance is very important, as water drains from
sandy soils much faster than it does from heavier, clay-rich spoils, and plants growing in
sandy soils therefore require more constant watering in order to replenish this faster
drainage. Other environmental factors, such as heat and amount of direct sunlight, will also
influence the water needs of a plant. In hotter climates, water evaporates from the soil
quickly and will need more frequent replenishment. The same applies to plants growing in
direct sunlight rather than in shade or partial shade.

Another factor of water that affects plant growth is salinity, or salt content. A low
concentration of salinity is present in most water unless it has been purified through a
distilling process. Plants have adapted accordingly, storing the salt ions in vacuoles. These
vacuoles are located in the cytoplasm of the plants cells and store nutrients or waste,
however, the vacuoles provide insufficient storage for water with higher saline
concentrations. When this occurs, the salt ions will accumulate in the cytoplasm and
dehydrate and shrink the cell. This process can be observed with the naked eye as the leaves
show injury and yellowing before eventually dying. The older leaves will wither first as they
have been transpiring and accumulating salt ions the longest. The survival of the plant will
depend on whether new leaves are produced faster than the saline can kill the older leaves.

Another variation of water that affects plant growth is pH, or the concentration of
hydrogen ions. A neutral solution has a pH of 7. In basic, or alkaline, solutions the pH is
higher than 7 and in acidic solutions the pH is lower than 7. The greater the deviation from
neutral, the stronger the solution is. While soil is typically kept around a pH of 5-6, some
alkalinity is necessary in water to provide a buffer and prevent sudden changes in pH levels
(Roosta 2011, 717-731). Despite this, plant growth is optimized when the waters pH is very
close to neutral because pH can affect nutrients in the soil. When the pH drops too low or is
raised too high, it creates an environment more conducive to chemical reactions between
nutrients in the soil. These reactions result in less soluble compounds, meaning plants face a
decreased availability of usable nutrients (Valdez-Aguilar 2009, 1719-1725). Additionally,
higher pH can inhibit root growth, further stunting the potential of the plant (Tang 1993, 517-

Water Conservation

The earth is a closed system in regards to water, meaning that the amount of water on
Earth is always constant. The concentration of usable water fluctuates, meaning that areas
lacking sufficient usable water reserves, such as California, must implement measures for

In plants, water is inevitably lost to the atmosphere in one of two ways (Israelson
1980, 223-238). The first is through pure evaporation: the water evaporates from the soil
before the plant can absorb it. The second way is through transpiration: after the roots have
absorbed water, it moves through the plant and can be evaporated off the leaves. This water
loss is inevitable since plants need light to grow but that same light will cause evaporation
and transpiration.

There are ways for plant growers to conserve water. The primary method is to control
water quantities so that plants receive enough water, but run-off is minimized. Additionally,
the run-off that drains from the bottom of plant containers can be collected and reused.
Other water conservation methods include watering in the morning or evening and covering
the soil with mulch.


Clemson Cooperative Extension. 2015. "Why Plants Need Water." Horticulture.
Israelson, Orson W. and Vaughn E. Hansen. 1980 Irrigation Principals and Practices. New Jersey: John Wiley &
Sons Inc.

Roosta, Hamid R. 2011. "Interaction between Water Alkalinity and Nutrient Solution pH on the Vegetative
Growth, Chlorophyll Fluorescence and Leaf Magnesium, Iron, Manganese, and Zinc Concentrations in
Lettuce." Journal Of Plant Nutrition 34:5.

Tang, C. 1993. High pH in the Nutrient Solution Impairs Water Uptake in Lupinus angustifolius L. Plant and
Soil 155:1.

Valdez-Aguilar, Luis. 2009. Salinity and Alkaline pH in Irrigation Water affect Marigold Plants: I. Growth and
Shoot Dry Weight Partitioning. Hortscience: A Publication of the American Society for Horticultural Science. 44:6.


Growing Plants Organically

Organic food and fiber is grown without the use of pesticides or man-made fertilizers.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it also means that the seeds
used to grow the food are not genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In short, organic
growing means that nothing synthetic is used to enhance the plants growing ability, and a
plants genetic makeup is not altered through genetic engineering.

U.S. laws provide definitions, regulations, and standards for organic growing. The
first law in the U.S. surrounding organic farming was the Organic Foods Production Act
(OFPA) of 1990, which defined the standards for organic food and required the government
to start a certification program for food before it could be labeled as organic. Many agencies
now certify foods as organic in compliance with the OFPA standards.

Trends in Organic Product Consumption

Organic food sales represent only 5% of total U.S. food sales; however, U.S. consumer
demand for organically grown products increased from $3.6 billion in 1997 to over $39

billion in 2014 (OTA 2015). In 2014, about $36 billion was spent in the U.S. on organic food,
which was an increase of 11% over the prior year (Figure 1). A Consumer Reports National
Research Survey (2014) showed that 84% of American consumers purchase organic food.

Source: OTA Fact Sheet. State of the Organic Industry: 2015

The advantage of organic products over non-organic ones is a subject of scientific

research and public debate. Regardless, consumption of organic products is clearly
increasing in the United States. Proponents of organic products cite dangers of synthetic
chemicals and GMOs to the health of humans and other animals, as well as harm to the
fragile global ecosystem.

Growing Organic and Non-Organic Crops

According to the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF), there are many ways
that farmers can grow food without the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. One way
is by building healthy soil through the use of composting, cover crops, and other biological
treatments. Cover crops are used to disrupt the soil so that weeds do not grow with the
plants and take the much needed nutrients from the ground. Cover crops are also tilled into
the soil, giving nutrients to the crops being grown. In turn, the crops are able to resist
bacteria, insects, and other creatures. All this can be done just by nurturing the soil and

managing ones plants. Other ways that organic farmers keep out pests is by using insects
and birds that are beneficial to the plants. The insects keep away or eat other bugs that could
be harming the plants. Birds also eat harmful insects so the plants can keep growing well
throughout the season.

The National Agricultural Statistic Service of the United States Department of

Agriculture reported that an estimated 3,000 farms in the U.S. are transitioning to organic,
and there are nearly 19,500 certified organic farms and processing facilities (USDA 2014).
Still, only one percent of U.S. farm acreage is dedicated to organic crop production, partly
because non-organic growing typically costs less than organic farming. Synthetic chemicals
tend to be cheaper than other natural ways of keeping away pests and fertilizing crops,
which is also why organically grown crops normally lead to higher priced food at grocery

The use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers became widespread because of the
increasing need for affordable food and fiber. The world population has been expanding
rapidly over the years and people need ways grow crops faster, better, and at a lower cost.
Pesticides were introduced to help farmers keep away harmful insects and microorganisms
from their crops. Synthetic fertilizers help plants grow faster and give them the nutrients
lacking in the soil. For this purpose, GMO plants have been developed to be more nutritious,
have increased resistance to pests, or be able to grow in challenging conditions such as
drought. Other GMO plants have been developed to be resistant to synthetic pesticides,
which means that farmers can more easily broadcast chemicals to kill weeds without hurting
crop plants, therefore keeping costs low.

The Future of Organic Farming

While organic products currently represent a small proportion of agricultural

production, growing consumer interest in improving health and the environment is likely to
drive change. As more farms turn to growing food organically and as new ways are
developed for creating healthy and environmentally friendly food and fiber, these products
will also become more economically attractive to produce and purchase.


Consumer Reports National Research Center. 2014. Organic Food Labels Survey.

Organic Food Research Foundation (OFRF). Organic FAQs. (

Organic Trade Association, 2015. OTA Launches U.S. Organic Industry Survey. OTA, Washington, D.C.

USDA, National Agricultural Statistic Service. 2014. Organic Survey.




Microgreens: The Basics

Chefs in fancy restaurants often use small, delicate greens in salads and as garnish for
a main course. These microgreens have been used to add flavor and texture to food since
at least the 1980s. Back then they were typically referred to as vegetable confetti, as the
term microgreen was not documented officially until 1998 (Heritage Prairie Farm 2014).
Fast-forward to the present, and the days where microgreens were only seen at upscale
restaurants and farmers markets are a thing of the past. While their usage has increased,
microgreens still tend to be underestimated because of their small size. What people do not
yet appreciate is that microgreens actually pack a nutritional punch.

Microgreens have made their way into mainstream grocery stores. Farmers are taking
note, and are finding that growing microgreens requires much less water to grow than hay.
In a study done by the Sustainable Livestock Nutrition Group, it was observed that
microgreen growing systems used 95% less water than traditional hay growing systems
(Dorband 2012). Due to the severe drought in California and similar trends in other states
across the United States, some farmers are growing and feeding microgreens to their
livestock. In addition to being eco-friendly, microgreens have a higher moisture content and
more consistent nutrient distribution than hay.

What are Microgreens?

What exactly are microgreens and what makes them special? Microgreens are
seedlings harvested between the time they have developed their cotyledons (also called seed
leaves) up to and including their first set of true leaves. Cotyledons, which are the
embryonic first leaves to grow, provide nutrition to the young seedling. Once the true leaves
appear, plant growth is supported by the process of photosynthesis.

Microgreens differ from sprouts in that microgreens germinate in soil and require
natural or artificial sunlight for growth, whereas sprouts germinate in water. Microgreens
are normally harvested when they are 6 to 14 days old and are about 1 to 3 inches tall.
Sprouts tend to be harvested when they are smaller, after 4 to 6 days. Only the stem and
leaves of the microgreens are consumed, but the seed and the seedling of sprouts are eaten.
Microgreens also differ from baby greens. Although baby greens are also harvested and
consumed in a relatively immature state, they are harvested and eaten at an older stage than
microgreens, when they are about 3 to 4 inches tall.

The Health Benefits of Microgreens

Vitamins, which are organic chemical compounds, are essential to cell growth,
function, and development in human beings. However, the only vitamin the human body
can synthesize is vitamin D, which takes place when bare skin is exposed to sunlight.
Humans lack the necessary enzymes to synthesize the other essential vitamins, which
therefore have to be obtained from food intake (Vitamin D Council). Plants are a great
source of vitamins, and microgreens are an especially good source because their vitamin
content is concentrated. In a study performed at the University of Maryland, researchers
found that microgreens tend to provide more vitamins than their mature counterparts (Xiao
et al 2012). The variety of microgreens available not only provides different flavors, but also
different vitamins. Of course, it is still important to maintain a balance of the sorts of greens
consumed in a diet. Even though microgreens are loaded with vitamins, their more mature
counterparts tend to have more fiber, which makes digestion easier.

Not only do microgreens have nutritional benefits, they also have advantages over
sprouts in the way they are grown and consumed. In the past, sprouts have been linked to
several foodborne illness outbreaks. Since 1996, there have been more than 30 cases of
outbreaks related to raw or lightly cooked sprouts, most caused by E. coli or Salmonella,

which are often found on the seed of the sprout itself (FoodSafety.Gov). Since microgreens
are grown in soil, and in relatively normal growing conditions, they tend to carry less risk of
illness. Unfortunately, even though they are less subject to bacteria, they do tend to have a
short shelf life. It is recommended that microgreens be eaten fresh or within a few days of
harvest. And as with any fresh vegetable, they should be washed well before eating!

Types of Microgreens

There are many types of microgreens to choose from (see Table 4.1.1). They can be
divided into three groups: lettuce, herbs, and vegetables. From the lettuce group, the most
common include red chard, mustard, cress, mizuna, pak choi, and brassicas. These tend to
be the easiest to grow, and would probably be the best start for a beginner. The herbal group
includes basils, chives, sorrel, stevia, and purslane. The vegetable group is composed of
oriental and traditional offerings such as choy sum, Japanese parsley, amaranth, minutina,
leeks, radish, and celery. The varying types of microgreens thrive in different environments,
so there is a lot of opportunity for experimentation.

Table 4.1.1. Different Types of Microgreens

Lettuce Microgreens Herbal Microgreens Vegetable Microgreens

Red Chard, Basils, Chives, Sorrel, Choy Sum, Japanese
Mustard,Cress, Mizuna, Stevia, Purslane Parsley, Amaranth,
Pak Choi, Brassicas Minutina, Leeks, Radish,


Dorband, Wayne. 2012. What are the Water Needs of These Fodder Systems? October 12.

FoodSafety.Gov. Sprouts, What You Should Know n.d. Accessed July 19, 2015.

Heritage Praire Farm. Microgreens: A History Lesson. May 14, 2014.

Vitamin D Council. N.d. How Do I Get the Vitamin D My Body Needs? Accessed July 20, 2015.

Xiao, Zhenlei, Gene E. Lester, Yaguang Luo, and Qin Wang. 2012. Assessment of Vitamin and Carotenoid
Concentrations of Emerging Food Products: Edible Microgreens. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 60:
7644-7651 (


Classification of Microgreens

Microgreens can be classified as both living organisms and also as foods.

Taxonomy of Living Organisms

Taxonomy is a scientific discipline that focuses on classifying and naming living

organisms (Reece et al 2011, 537). For example, the scientific name for human beings is Homo
Sapiens, and the name for house cats is Felis Catus. This format of naming organisms
requires two words to describe these mammals, and is referred to as binomial. The first word
is the genus of the organism and the second word refers to the unique species.

The following inverted triangle shows how living organisms are classified into
increasingly smaller groups. There are three domains of organisms: Eukarya, Bacteria, and
Archaea. These are the most basic divisions of organisms. However, within each of these
domains, there are kingdoms; within each kingdom, there are phyla (plural of phylum),
classes, orders, families and, as discussed above, genus and species.

Figure 4.2.1. Living organisms are classified with increased specificity from domain to

Classifying Plants

Within the domain Eukarya there is the kingdom Plantae. This kingdom contains
plants - multicellular organisms that have eukaryotic cells and carry out photosynthesis.
Microgreens belong to this kingdom and can be further classified using the other sub-
categories. An example of the classification for a microgreen commonly called Japanese
mustard is as follows:

Domain: Eukarya
Kingdom: Plantae
Phylum: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Brassicales
Family: Brassicaceae
Genus: Brassica
Species: rapa

The term variety is used to classify plants beyond their genus and species.
Varieties usually occur in nature and are true to type, meaning if a seed is grown from the
variety, the new plant will have the same distinguishing characteristics as the parent plant
(Haynes 2008). Words that come after the binomial name for plants tell us if a plant being
grown is a variety. For example, the microgreen Raphanus sativus L. var. longipinnatus is the
green daikon radish (Xiao et al. 2012). Raphamus is the genus, sativus is the name of the
species, and var. indicates that the next word, longipinnatus, is the variety. Continuing the
above example of Japanese mustard, Brassica rapa var. nipposinica, Brassica is the genus, rapa is
the species, and nipposinica is the variety.

Classifying Foods

Microgreens can also be classified in terms of their use as food. For years the United
States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has used the food pyramid shown in Figure 4.2.2
to educate people about nutritional needs. In 2011, First Lady Michelle Obama and United
States Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack introduced the new federal food
icon, the MyPlate, pictured in Figure 4.2.3, which has replaced the food pyramid (USDA).
MyPlate encourages people to recognize the five food groups that are the building blocks for
a healthy diet: fruits, vegetables, protein, grains, and dairy. The amount of food in a
persons recommended diet varies based on factors like gender, activity level, and age.
However, vegetables such as microgreens should make up over 25% of a diet.

Figure 4.2.2 USDA Food Pyramid

Figure 4.2.3 MyPlate icon from USDA

Why are microgreens vegetables and not fruits? According to UC Davis Vegetable
Research & Information Center (2014), a vegetable is the edible portion of a plant, like stems,
leaves, roots, and flowers. A fruit, however, is the mature ovary of a plant and contains the
seeds. Microgreens are vegetables because they are the immature stems and leaves of plants;
the only difference between microgreens and their fully grown counterparts is they are
harvested much earlier.


Haynes, Cindy. 2008. Cultivar versus Variety. Horiculture and HomePest News.

Reece, Jane B., Lisa A. Urry, Michael L. Cain, Steven A. Wasserman, Peter V. Minosky, and Robert B. Jackson.
2011. Campbell Biology Custom Edition. San Francisco: Benjamin Cummings.

United States Department of Agriculture. About Us.

University of California, Davis, Vegetable Research & Information Center Department of Plant Sciences. 2014.
Frequently asked questions. Last modified Dec. 16, 2014.

Xiao, Zhenlei, Gene E. Lester, Yanguang Luo, and Qin Wang. 2012. Assessment of Vitamin and Carotenoid
Concentrations of Emerging Food Products: Edible Microgreens. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 60:
7644-51. Accessed July 29, 2015. doi: 10.1021/jf300459b


Growing Microgreens

Microgreens are simply plants that are harvested before they reach full growth.
Therefore the varieties of microgreens include many common vegetables and herbs.
Different types of microgreens include (but are not limited to) cabbage, radish, turnip, carrot,
beet, chard, pea, broccoli, kale, bok choy, celery, sesame, amaranth, cress, lettuce, endive,
arugula, mustard, sunflower, alfalfa, clover, sorrel, canola, chia, flax, fennel, dill, basil,
cilantro, and chervil. Just as microgreens differ in plant species, they also vary in taste.
Microgreens can be sweet, spicy, flavorful, herbal, and a myriad of flavors in between. As
with growing full-sized plants, there are varying levels of difficulty when it comes to
planting and raising different microgreens. Table 4.3.1 shows examples of microgreens that
are easy to grow as well as those that are more difficult to grow.

Table 4.3.1. Microgreens for Beginners and More Advanced Growers
For beginners For those willing to make the extra
Chinese cabbage (napa cabbage) Sweet basil
Radish (red or daikon) Sunflower (black oil)
Turnip Sorrel
Bok choy Marjoram
Sesame Fennel
Cress Dill
Lettuce Cilantro
Asian greens (e.g. komatsuna) Carrot
Endive Beet
Mustard greens Chard
Broccoli Pea
Red Russian kale
Thai basil
(Microgreen Garden 2015)

Growing Requirements

Different microgreens also have different growing requirements. Some, for example,
grow best under indirect sunlight, such as particular herbs, lettuces, brassicas, and amaranth
(Microgreen Garden 2015). Some microgreen seeds germinate best when they are pre-
soaked prior to planting, while others do not (as shown in Table 4.3.2). Slow-growing
varieties can take up to four to six weeks before harvest, whereas fast-growing varieties only
require six days to two weeks to grow. Knowing the specific requirements for growing
different types of microgreens is important to successful cultivation.

Table 4.3.2 Microgreen Seeds

Pre-soak Do not pre-soak
Alfalfa Arugula
Beet Basil
Broccoli Canola
Cabbage Chia
Cauliflower Cress
Clover Most mustards
Collards Flax
Kale Other mucilaginous seeds*
Radish *Mucilaginous seeds refer to seeds that produce gel
Sunflower sacks around themselves when they come into
Turnip contact with water
( 2015)

Microgreens are planted with the same seeds that are used to grow their full-sized
counterparts. The basic concept of growing microgreens is harvesting the plants while they
are young. After the seeds are planted in the soil, the soil is kept moist. While not required,
some growers place a moist paper towel over the seeds for up to three days before exposing
the germinated seed to high light conditions and good air circulation at room temperature.
Once the initial cotyledon leaves are fully expanded, the microgreens are ready to be
harvested: their stems are cut above soil level and the roots are left behind (Fresh Origins

Because the seeds-to-harvest time for most microgreens is so short, growing

microgreens can be very productive. Sowing seeds every few days and growing several
batches at different stages can provide a constant supply of fresh microgreens (Lear 2014).

Eating Microgreens

Once harvested, microgreens can be prepared in the kitchen in a number of ways.

They can be eaten fresh, sprinkled atop a salad or a meat dish for added flavor, nutrition,
and beauty (Franks and Richardson 2009, 130). They can be creatively incorporated into a
diet by using them as a burger topping or even blending them into a healthy smoothie.
Microgreens have already made their way onto the dining scene as restaurants and their
chefs boast about their own unique dishes that include microgreens as a special ingredient.
When looking for ideas, inspiration can be drawn from restaurants as well as the multitude
of recipes available online. Try searching microgreen recipes. The possibilities for using
microgreens are vast, extending as far as ones creative imagination can reach.


Franks, Eric, and Jasmine Richardson. 2009. Microgreens: A Guide to Growing Nutrient-Packed Greens. Layton:
Gibbs Smith.

Fresh Origins. 2014. Microgreen Facts. 2015. How to Grow Microgreens in Containers at Home.

Lear, Jane. 2014. Jane Says: You Can Grow Your Own Microgreens. TakePart, February 26.

Microgreen Garden. 2015. Light for Microgreens.





Invention and Innovation

Solving the many problems in our world related to the environment, health care,
energy, food and water demands constant innovation. A simple model of the innovation
process is provided below. Innovation requires much more than thinking of new ideas. An
idea is a concept. It is something in our minds and, though it may sound plausible, until it is
developed and tested it remains abstract. An innovation is also more than an invention. An
invention may indeed show that an idea can be made to work, which is important.
However, for the invention to be an innovation it has to be implemented in a way that
creates value.

New Idea Invention Innovation

A novel concept A novel concept A novel concept
that works that works and
creates value

The value that innovation creates is not only economic, it can also lead to
improvements in social conditions. The best innovations create both economic and social
value, as these innovations are likely to be the most sustainable in the long run. Innovations
that create social improvements but are not economically feasible are less likely to last, and
innovations that lead to large profits but harm social conditions will not have longevity

The innovation process is often associated with for-profit companies like Apple,
Google, Facebook, General Electric, and Tesla Motors. In the business world new ideas are
implemented in the marketplace with the ultimate goal of profiting financially from
industrial or retail customers. But creation of value with new ideas is central to the success
of all types of organizations, including public sector organizations and government agencies
(Kohli and Mulgan 2010; Hay Group 2011). For example, educational institutions need to
find new effectives ways to encourage learning. Hospitals need to implement novel ways to
serve patients. Transportation agencies need to find new ways to help people travel.

Innovation is also typically associated with tangible devices: things we can see and
touch. But innovation is much broader than that. Computer programs can be innovative
even though they are not tangible. The way something is produced or manufactured versus
a product itself can be improved though process innovation. Innovation can also have little
to do with technology. The manner in which a service is delivered can be innovative.
Starbucks approach to marketing coffee is an example. Their product is a caffeinated
beverage. However, it is the unique experience in buying and enjoying that coffee that
customers have come to value most, and even pay a premium price for.

Keys to Successful Innovation

The definition of innovation - the creation of economic and social value through the
implementation of new ideas makes the innovation process sound simpler than it really is.
First of all, when something is new, its importance usually needs to be explained well, as the
benefits may not be as obvious to others as they are to the inventor. The newer the idea, the
more this is usually the case. Secondly, as was mentioned before, innovation implies that
something is more than a concept. It actually has to work and create value. Shepherding an
idea from concept to working product or process and then to an application requires not
only a creative imagination, but also skills in data gathering, analysis, integration, and

communication. Innovation also requires persistence. Most new ideas are never
implemented and those that are implemented often do not meet with success. Innovative
people test boundaries and have to get used to failing a lot. They must learn from their
failures instead of becoming discouraged.

There is no foolproof route to innovation. Seldom, however, does it just happen.

The management scholar Peter Drucker (2002) referred to the discipline of innovation,
which harnesses the power of new ideas without stifling them. As stated by Nobel Laureate
Linus Pauling, one key to success is the recognition that The best way to have a good idea is
to have lots of ideas. Innovative individuals and organizations are also guided by a formal
or informal process in which new ideas are continually created, developed, and applied. The
process is iterative, which means new ideas are constantly evaluated along the way. In this
way ideas can be improved on, transformed or even discarded.

A basic five phase model of an innovation process is provided in Figure 5.1.1 (Weick
2015). It begins with idea generation, and then continues through screening of multiple
ideas, the feasibility study, scale up and implementation. The arrows in the center emphasize
the importance, again, of iteration. The innovation process is not an algorithmic process that
moves from Step A to B to C. There are phases that are present formally or informally in
successful circumstances. The phases inform each other, and the process can go in reverse as
well as forward. It is a cycle that encourages learning and, with hope, continual creation and
development of new and better ideas. With practice the step by step process is internalized
and used in a flexible manner.

Figure 5.1.1. Steps of An Innovation Cycle (Source: Weick, 2015)

Each of these phases deserves deep and thorough treatment. It is tempting to go
straight from a nascent idea to a full-fledged scale-up, business plan and implementation.
Innovation, however, will be better served if adequate time and thought are invested in the
early stages. Multiple ideas should be considered prior to moving on to the costly phases of
piloting, scale-up, and eventual launch. Attention to the early stages of innovation increases
the probability of success later on. Think of the innovation process as envisioning and
painting a picture of something that does not yet exist. The painting process and picture
itself are dynamic they change over time until you have something that makes sense not
only to you as an inventor, but that is also understandable and eventually useful to others
(Weick 2015).

Advice for Becoming More Innovative

How can you become more innovative? Think about problems related to the realms
that genuinely interest you, and which you know something about or want to learn about.
Immerse yourself. Inventor and author Steven Paley (2010) notes that the art of invention
requires that we become the child again, that we see the wonder in all things We see what
is and envision what could be. Anyone can harness the creative power to solve problems in
new and unique ways, and in so doing create value. Also learn to embrace solutions that are
both incremental and radical. Some innovations are improvements on what already exists,
such as a toothbrush with an ergonomically designed handle, or a new generation of
computer chip (think Intel) or software application (think Microsoft). Other innovations
create entirely new markets or involve radically different ways of fulfilling an existing need.
Hand held calculators and the Sony Walkman created entirely new markets. The Tesla
electric car is a novel approach to the existing need to replace fossil fuels in transportation.
Incremental and radical innovations are both important. For most people it is easier to think
along the lines of incremental innovation. To think radically ask yourself to intentionally
generate ideas that are absurd and ridiculous. As Virgin CEO Richard Branson recommends
"Dream big by setting yourself seemingly impossible challenges. You then have to catch up
with them." (Buchanan 2012).


Buchanan, L. 2012. Richard Branson. Inc. Magazine. October 31.

Drucker, P. F. 2002. The Discipline of Innovation. Harvard Business Review. August: 96-103.
Hay Group. 2011. Leading Innovation in Government. Partnership for Public Service HayGroup. Washington DC

Kohli, Jitinder and Geoff Mulgan. 2010. Capital Ideas: How to Generate Innovation in the Public Sector.
content/uploads/issues/2010/07/pdf/dww_capitalideas.pdfWashington: Center for American Progress.

Paley, S.J. 2010. The Art of Invention. Prometheus: New York.

Weick, C. W. 2015. Handbook of Science and Technology based Innovation. ISBN: 978-1494878627

Patenting in the United States

Patents are one of the core legal protections for inventions in the United States. Issued
by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), they provide exclusive rights for
manufacturing, selling, and using an invention to the patent holder. Very simply, a patent
allows someone to protect their invention from being stolen and exploited for profit without
their express consent. However, a patent is far more than a simple protection of a new
widget. The patenting process is a complex and often expensive endeavor protecting more
than just physical inventions. The rewards for completing this process can be very lucrative,
but the expenses associated with its maintenance can also be high. Patents are as much a
business endeavor as they are a legal endeavor and any potential patent seekers need to be
aware of this.

History of the Patenting in the U.S.

The idea of issuing patents is not new in the United States. The first recorded patent in
North America was issued in 1641 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The patent was for
Samuel Winslows new method of creating salt (Niiler 2015). Patenting is even mentioned in

Article I of the United States Constitution. In the list of Congressional powers it is stated that
Congress has the power to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for
limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and
discoveries (The Constitution of the United States: A Transcription). Since the ratification of
the Constitution, the US government has issued over 10 million patents to US citizens and
foreign nationals.

The Patent Office, a predecessor to the modern USPTO, was first established in 1802.
This office not only mandates, enforces, and arbitrates patent law within the United States,
but also helps to maintain compliance with international treaties on patents. Two key treaties
are the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property and the Patent Cooperation
Treaty (USPTO 2014). It is important to recognize that the USPTO does not enforce the
patent itself; this falls to the holder of the patent. On average the office receives over a half a
million applications for patents each year and issues approximately 150,000 patents annually
(USPTO, Office of Patent Technology Monitoring Team 2015).

Types of Patents

Patents can be issued in three different forms: utility, design, and plant patents. Utility
patents are the most prolific form of patents, issued for, as stated by the USPTO, any new
and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new
and useful improvement thereof. Design patents are issued to those who invent new,
original, and ornamental designs for an article of manufacturing. In other words, utility
patents protect the way something is made and used while design patents protect the way
something looks without improving the object in any way. The third form of patents, plant
patents, is the newest form of patenting. These patents can be issued to anyone who invents
a new and distinct variety of plant and then successfully asexually reproduces these plants
(USPTO). In order to successfully apply and receive any of these patents, the correct
application must be filed since the process for each type of patent is slightly different than
the other.

The Patenting Process

The first part of the patenting process is research. With so many issued patents and
pending patents, researching whether or not an invention has already been patented,

marketed or publicized in some manner anywhere in the world is crucial before embarking
on the process. The second step is determining which form of patent to file for: utility,
design, or plant. Once the type of patent has been determined, either a specialist patent
attorney or the individual applicant can apply for the patent. Following this application, the
USPTO begins the long and extensive patent application examination process. The USPTO
can then either reject or accept the patent. Should the Office reject the patent application, the
applicant can appeal for reconsideration and then appeal to the federal courts (United States
Patent and Trademark Office 2014).

If the patent is accepted, the applicant must pay patent fees and publication fees
before the patent can be issued. Similar fees are due after 3, 7, and 11 years in order to
maintain the patent (USPTO 2015). Should the patent not be maintained, the information
automatically lapses into the public domain (United States Patent and Trademark Office,
2014). The final cost for a patent can vary quite significantly. If the inventor chooses to file
the patent themselves, the total cost including the maintenance fees can run over $4,000.
Most of the time, however, use of a patent attorney is advisable, and then the cost can run
well over $15,000 (Quinn 2015). This cost is simply for preparing and filing the patent, and
covering maintenance fees. The cost for enforcing the patent also falls to the patent holder,
which can be very high.

Reading the Fine Print

The protection offered by patents is extensive but does eventually end. The holder of a
utility patent owns the exclusive right for 20 years past filing to develop the patent into a
marketable product, but a patent holder can choose not to develop the patented idea at all.
Less than 2% of all patents active today are actually commercialized, despite the fact that
over the last 25 years, companies in the United States have invested over $5 trillion in their
development. After the 20 years of protection, the information protected by the patent enters
into the public domain and can be used by anyone.

Patents can also be bought and sold like any other business asset. These two facts
have led to what are known as patent trolls. Companies purchase patents from bankrupt
companies or companies attempting to raise money quickly and then sue another company
for infringing on their new patent. Ironically enough, these companies have no intent of ever
developing the patent for manufacturing; they simply want to make money off of the

lawsuit. This is why some inventors choose not to bring their patent to commercialization,
especially since these patent disputes are inordinately expensive to settle and patent trolls
have deep pockets when many inventors do not (Fisher and Walker 2014). While the patent
process is still an effective way of protecting an idea, design, or invention, the resulting costs
to maintain the exclusive rights that come with it may outweigh the potential gains.

Potential Gains

The amount of time, money, and effort necessary to complete the patent process can
seem daunting. However, the rewards of completing it can be even greater. They can afford
the holder protection unlike any other. The rights to an idea or invention can be extremely
useful to any company or inventor and can be a lucrative business endeavor. Before
considering the process however, extensive research is required including market feasibility
studies and consultations with patent attorneys. Should these feasibility studies and
consultations result in positive outcomes, the inventor should consider embarking on the
patent process. When they do so, they will join the many inventors worldwide who have
undertaken this important step towards furthering the process of innovation.


Fisher, Daniel, and Jay Walker. 2014. The Real Patent Crisis is Stifling Innovation. June 18.

Niiler, Eric. 2015. 10 Suprising Facts About Patents. January 20.

Quinn, Gene. 2015. The Cost of Obtaining a Patent in the US. April 4.

n.d. The Constitution of the United States: A Transcription.

United States Patent and Trademark Office. 2014. General Information Concerning Patents. October.

USPTO. n.d. Types of Patent Applications/Proceedings.

2015. USPTO Fee Schedule. July 1.

USPTO, Office of Patent Technology Monitoring Team. 2015. U.S. Patent Statistics Chart Calendar Years 1963-



Experiments allow scientists to answer questions and explain observations. A series of

steps known as the Scientific Method is used by scientists to structure their experiments and
ensure the best possible result (Science Buddies, 2015). Figure 5.3.1 lists the steps of this

Asking a Question

The first step of the Scientific Method is to ask a question ( A

measurable question about an observation establishes the topic to be tested, so it is important
that the question is something that can be tested. If this is not the case, an experiment cannot
be performed. The next step is to do background research and gather information related to
the question. This allows a researcher to learn about what is already known and to discover
the most appropriate way to structure the experiment itself. Then, keeping the background
information in mind, a hypothesis is formed. A hypothesis is an educated guess that can be
tested in an experiment in order to answer the original question (McLellan 2006). It is
important to make sure that a hypothesis can be proven wrong: otherwise there is no reason
to test it (Bradford 2015). Hypotheses usually come in a cause-and-effect form, such as: If
cause, then effect. An example follows:

IF the LED grow light is kept on for 14 hours a day, THEN the microgreens will reach at least 1 inch in
height within three days of planting.

Conducting an Experiment

An experiment must be conducted to either support or refute the hypothesis. It is

important to only change one variable during an experiment and to keep all others constant
so that there is only one cause for any desired effect. This will allow the experimenter to
confidently attribute the effect to that specific cause. For example, to test the hypothesis
provided above, all other growing conditions except the use of the light would have to
remain constant. If multiple factors are changed, it will be difficult or even impossible to
determine what exactly caused the effect. It is also important to have a control group in the
experiment, meaning a group where nothing is changed. This way the experimenter can
determine what is normal and what is dependent on other variables (Bradford 2015).

The experiment must also be repeatable, so the results of the experiment are
confirmed and not a fluke. Each repetition of the experiment is called a trial. There should
be multiple trials each time a new variable is changed in order to create confidence in the
result. A key part of this replicability is a detailed procedure and materials list for the
experiment. This ensures that everything is done exactly the same with the same conditions
for each trial, allowing other scientists to duplicate the experiment and check for errors
(Science Buddies 2015).

During the experiment, observations should be recorded in a notebook and

measurements should be recorded in a premade data table. If, while performing the
experiment, any mistakes or deviations from the procedure occur, they should be recorded
so anomalies in the results can be explained.

Data Analysis

Once all the experimentation is finished, the final steps are to analyze the data and
form a conclusion. The data should be collected in a graph or chart when possible, and this
data and observations should be able to support or refute the hypothesis. If the hypothesis is
refuted, scientists will often create a new one and redo the experiment based on it. If the
hypothesis is supported by the data, the experiment should still be repeated to confirm the
results. After the results are confirmed an attempt should be made to provide a scientific

explanation for them. Once a desirable conclusion is reached, the final step is to
communicate the results. This is often accomplished by publishing an article in a journal
and/or presenting findings at a scientific conference. As a result other scientists can
perform the experiment themselves, learn from their results, and apply the knowledge to
their own research.

Figure 5.3.1. Steps of the Scientific Method (derived from


Bradford, Alina. 2015. Science and the Scientific Method: A Definition. LiveScience.
TechMedia Web. 29 Feb. 2016. http//

McLelland, Christine V. 2006. The Nature and Science and the Scientific Method. The Geological Society of

Science Buddies. 2015. Steps of the Scientific Method.


A VerdevisTM growing unit is easy to make and assemble. The parts include:
Four poles
Two shelves
A holder for the light socket and light.
An LED light and a socket with electrical cord.
Four feet
Four optional caps, which finish off the unit.

The fully assembled unit looks like this:


Four Poles

The 17 long poles can be easily created out of various materials. We use 1 inch Schedule 40
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) pipe, which has an outside diameter of 1-5/16 (1.315 in.). The
pipes do not come in the desired length so we cut them into 17 long pieces using a hand
saw and miter box. The PVC pipes can be ordered from a vendor such as
where they come in clear, white, and various colors. Plain white PVC is also typically
available off the shelf from hardware stores.

Different materials can be used for the poles, such as wooden dowels or even bamboo.

Two Shelves for the Top and Base

The two shelves are 15 x 15 square, and can be made from a variety of materials. We use
thick high-density polyethylene (HDPE) smooth plastic from our local plastics shop (Tap
Plastics: and have the squares cut there. The thickness provides
optimal rigidity and the white color reflects light, aiding plant growth. HDPE is also food
safe and is water resistant.

We make sure that any rough edges are sanded to ensure smoothness and safety.

The next step is to drill the holes in the four corners of the system. As mentioned above, 1
inch Schedule 40 Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) pipe has an outside diameter of 1-5/16 (1.315
in.). Therefore the holes need to be 1 3/8 in diameter (1.375 in diameter). The center of
each hole should be positioned at exactly 1 away from each edge of each of the four
corners. We have the holes cut at the shop.

Light Holder

The holder supports the light socket and light. It can also be made of various materials. We
chose to have it made out of HDPE, like the shelves.

The holder is 21.21 long, 2.5 wide, and is tapered on the ends. The precise measurements
for the holder, including placement of the hole for the light and holes for the poles, are
provided below. The size of the hole for the light provided is specific to the light socket we
have used (see below). The holes at ends of the holder are 1 3/8 in diameter, just like the
holes in the shelves.

The points on the ends are sanded or blunted for safety.

LED Light and Light Socket with Cord

The unit uses an LED light and a socket with an electrical cord. We tested many lights and
chose the Mudder E27 (shown below) because of its high luminous efficiency, color
distribution, energy efficiency, longevity, and low cost. It is readily available and works
with a standard light socket. Different lights can be used.

Mudder E27 5W LED Grow Light

The light socket and cord we use is the IKEA Hemma Ceiling Pendant Lamp Light Cord Set
with Bulb Socket. It has a 15 foot cord, which offers flexibility in placing the unit. (Note:
The cords can become somewhat unwieldy when a multi-unit system is created, but tying up
any excess cord with twisty ties solves this issue.)


Four feet, which are placed at the end of each pole below the bottom shelf, stabilize the unit
and give it a clean look. We use 1.5 in by 1 in Schedule 40 PVC pipe fittings. These can be
purchased on-line or at most hardware stores.


Four caps can be placed on the tops of the poles to give the unit an even cleaner look. We
use 1 in. Furniture Grade PVC Internal Domed End Caps caps from


O-Rings are placed on the poles to hold up the light holder (2 rings), to hold up the top shelf
(4 rings), and to support the bottom shelf (4 rings). For the poles we use, standard O-Rings
of the following size work well: 1 inner diameter, 1 7/16 outer diameter by 3/32 wall.

Couplings for Multi-Unit Systems

When multiple systems are joined to create a second level, couplings are placed on the tops
of the poles to allow another pole to be added. We use PVC couplings, specifically a 1 in.
Schedule 40 PVC coupling, and insert a pole into either end.

Note that when creating a multi-unit system, horizontally adjacent units share poles to the
side, and vertically adjacent units share shelves (the upper shelf on the lower unit is the
bottom shelf of the upper unit.) This saves material.


(1) Place the four feet on a flat surface.

(2) Place a pole in each of the feet.
(3) Using the holes as guides, place one shelf on top of the feet.
(4) Place O-Rings on top of this lower shelf on each pole to stabilize the shelf.
(5) Place an O-Ring on two opposite poles, 3 to 4 from the top of the poles.
(6) Place the HDPE light holder on top of the O-Rings.
(7) Place an O-Ring above the light holder on each of the four poles, 1 to 2 from the top of
the unit. Place additional O-Rings above the shelf on each pole.

(8) Unscrew the band around the light socket, and place the part with the cord on top
of the center hole in the light holder, and then secure it in place by using the band on
the bottom of the light holder (i.e., screw it back into the socket).
(9) Screw in the LED bulb.
(10) Place the top shelf on the four O-Rings, and adjust as needed to accommodate the
light cord.
(11) Place the caps on the top of each pole.

Note additional O-Rings can be used to stabilize the unit, but this is usually not necessary.


Multi-unit systems are assembled by joining individual units horizontally or vertically. In a

multi-unit system, poles are shared, as are shelves. For example, a six unit system (as shown
below) requires: 16 poles; 9 shelves; 8 feet, 8 end caps; and 8 connectors. If these six units
were set-up individually, 24 poles, 12 shelves, 24 feet, 24 end caps, and no connectors would
be required.


Microgreens are easy to grow. The materials needed include:

Soil, ideally a high quality fine grain potting soil, which can be easily flattened prior
to seeding.
A shallow container to put the soil in. This can be a container that is recycled from
another use. An off the shelf container (such as peat pots) also works well.
A tray to put the container in and dome to cover the tray. The dome should be
perforated with several holes.
Seed. Seed can be obtained from a variety of sources. It is best to purchase it in bulk
as it is less expensive.
A plastic teaspoon for spreading the seeds.
A cup for use in watering the seed.
Paper towel to cover the seed right after it is planted.

Specific suggestions for these materials are provided below.

Steps to growing a crop of microgreens.

(1) Put soil up to the top of the container.

(2) Pour water on the soil so it is damp throughout, and add more soil if needed to reach
the top of the container. A simple cup can be used to add the water.
(3) Flatten the soil as much as possible, as this makes for a good seed bed. Putting a dry
paper towel over the soil and tamping it down works well. Add more soil if needed.
(4) Spread seed densely on top of the soil the seeds can be touching one another. For a
single container that is 4 by 10, about two teaspoons will provide adequate coverage.
(Tiny seeds such as red amaranth may require more.)
(5) The seeds do not need to be covered in soil, but it helps to push them lightly into the
soil using, for example, the dry piece of paper towel.
(6) Place the planted container in the tray.
(7) Soak a paper towel in water and place it over the container.
(8) Place the dome on top of the tray (make sure the dome has holes in it).
(9) Place the tray on the shelf of the unit.

(10) Turn on the light, which should be placed about 7 above the top of the soil level.
Manually, or using an automatic timer, turn the light on for 14 hours and off for ten
each day.
(11) Allow the seed to germinate for 2.5 to 3 days.
(12) Keep the soil and the paper towel damp. One cup of water poured over the 4 by 10
container should be okay and normally this is needed only once every one or two days.
(13) After 2.5 to 3 days, carefully remove the paper towel. As you remove it, if needed, use
your finger or a knife to gently make sure the seeds are removed from the paper towel
and left in the growing container.
(14) Water the seedlings carefully (one cup of water should do), and place the dome back on
the tray (without the paper towel).
(15) Place the tray back on the shelf.
(16) Keep the soil damp as needed, but the seedlings do not need to be overwatered the
dome will normally retain water efficiently. If watering is not planned over a period of
more than a day, extra watering ahead of time is usually adequate to maintain growth
(for instance over a weekend).
(17) The microgreens are typically ready for harvest as soon as four to six days after
planting (or 1.5 to 2.5 days after the paper towel is removed).
(18) Harvest the microgreens by cutting them with a clean scissors about to 1 below the
(19) As with any leafy vegetable or garnish, carefully wash the microgreens before they are
served. They are best used right away, but can be stored in a plastic bag and
refrigerated for 3-4 days.
(20) Clean the tray and dome before reusing. If the container is reused it should also be
cleaned. It is recommended that new soil is used for each crop, as even in several days
the root structure of microgreens is quite well developed. Soil can be reused, but care
should be taken to sterilize the soil by, for instance, putting it in a microwave oven (see,
for example ).

Specific Sources of Materials

Soil. Any soil can be used. A fine grained potting soil that is easy to work with is
Miracle Gro Moisture Control Potting Mix. One 8 quart bag is enough to grow about ten

Seed. Microgreens are simply young seedlings of vegetable seeds they are not a special
species or variety. Seed can be obtained from various retail and online vendors. has a good and well-priced selection. Even as little as 1 oz of
seed plants many microgreen crops only about two teaspoons are needed for each crop.
Larger sizes result in less expensive seed per unit.

Containers. Any container that can hold soil and is of the right size can be used to hold
soil and grow microgreens. Egg cartons work well. If pots specifically designed to grow
seedlings are preferred, Jiffy Strip Peat Pots can be purchased in the garden section of
Home Depot.

Tray and dome. Any tray and dome that fit in the unit will work. Consider recycling
containers used for salads or some airline meals. If you wish to use an actual planting
tray and dome, has durable trays and domes that are well suited to the

Perma Nest Plant Trays 12x8x 3/4 inch; and matching Humidity Domes.