Growing microgreens is something anyone can do. We can all grow microgreens at home – but can we grow in burlap?
Burlap is an eco-friendly, natural material that can be definitely used as a substrate for growing microgreens. However, not all burlap will be appropriate for use – especially if it is a reclaimed material. Moreover, it may also take some trial and error to get the same results obtained in soil.
Choosing eco-friendly substrates to grow microgreens without soil can be a very sustainable choice. But getting it right will take some work. Read on to avoid common pitfalls and discover how you can grow microgreens in burlap.
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You might wish to grow microgreens without soil because
- You are using a hydroponic system (growing plants in water rather than soil).
- You might also be growing indoors without access to a garden, so soil-based growing mediums might not always be easy to source.
- You may also simply want to do away with the dirt and hassle of a soil-based system. Using a non-soil substrate can keep plants clean, and may make harvesting easier.
To begin looking at why we might grow in burlap, it is useful to consider what we are looking for in a substrate. We need something:
- To which microgreen seedlings can anchor their roots.
- Which has an acceptable pH level?
- That can soak up water through capillary action.
- Which won’t promote mold growth.
- With no harmful contaminants.
When it comes to the first three items on this list, burlap ticks all the boxes. It is also a natural and eco-friendly material, which can be a great choice for our planet.
But when we look at the ability to avoid mold and being contaminant-free, we may potentially run into problems. These two things will depend on where the burlap comes from.
Here be careful
First, if you need to know that “reclaimed burlap” is burlap that has come from old sacks or any other contains used before for other purposes. In this case, you need to think carefully about what it was previously used for. Before using it to grow microgreens, you need to be absolutely certain that it does not have residue that could promote mold growth or lead to damping off or other fungal infections.
You also need to be absolutely sure that the burlap did not come into contact with any harmful contaminants (pesticides, herbicides, etc.). Pollutants might not only affect plant growth. They could also potentially harm your health when you eat the microgreens you grow.
If you are using new burlap, of course, these will not usually be an issue. You can use it perfectly successfully and safely as a substrate to grow your microgreens.
The best growing medium for microgreens, especially if you are growing them for the first time, is a sterile seed starting mix. If not, even a good quality potting mix would be fine. For environmental reasons, it is best to choose a peat-free option. Peat is a valuable carbon sink and should be kept in the ground.
Coconut coir and hemp matting are two other common substrates that are used. You may be surprised to learn that you can also grow microgreens in other waste materials from around your home, such as paper towels, paper pulp, or organic cotton wool.
Unlike potting soil, burlap will not provide nutrients to plants. Microgreens don’t require much, but they will grow best when they receive a certain level of nutrition. Potting soil delivers enough nutrients.
Nutrients can be added through homemade, organic liquid plant feeds. In an aquaponics system (which can be a fantastic, eco-friendly, closed-loop solution for food production), it comes from the fish.
If you are considering using burlap, I would not recommend its use if you are a beginner. You need to be able to control temperature and humidity quite accurately to get the best results. Perfect conditions are 72 F and 50% humidity. It is only when these conditions are met that the best yields and quality can be achieved.
As mentioned above, you will also need to supply fertility for the best microgreens possible, and finding the right nutrient mix can be challenging if you are new to the process.
If you do plan to use burlap, it is best to choose crops with large seeds. These will usually offer the best results. I would opt for pea and wheatgrass. Their large seeds, in the temperature mentioned above conditions, can produce one of the largest harvests per area (12oz per 10x20inches per area as discussed here datasheet).
Unfortunately, trying to reuse burlap in your seed growing can lead to mold and fungal development. Hence, use burlap only once.
Since burlap is fully biodegradable, it can simply be added to a composting system. But this can mean that it can be a far more expensive way to grow than soil-based solutions or other hydroponic or aquaponic setups – especially if you make your own potting mix at home.
Burlap is one of the more affordable substrates to buy. If you are buying burlap, new is around a quarter of the cost of a good potting mix if you buy it.
But remember, soil can be sterilized and reused, while burlap can only be used once before it is composted. You should also consider that you can make your own homemade potting mix that can work out even cheaper. So other options work out cheaper in the long-term.
You also have to consider the potential costs of a nutrient feed for your microgreens, to supply the fertility that a burlap substrate will not provide.
Burlap from food bags that have not been used for any hazardous materials might be sourced for free. But of course, it is important to sterilize these before use to prevent mold or fungal infection.
If you are buying new, you can source burlap from garden centers.
Is burlap waterproof? Burlap is generally not waterproofed. However, a durable water repellent coating (mainly based on fluoropolymer) can make the burlap at least partially water-resistant (although not totally waterproofed).
Is burlap flammable? Burlap is an extremely flammable material as produced from jute. Care should be taken in avoiding their presence in areas with high temperatures and/or flammable gases.
Is burlap biodegradable? Natural burlap is biodegradable as made of jute, a material from a few plant species from the Corchorus genus (like white jute and tossa jute).
Can burlap protect plants? Natural burlap is used to protect vegetables and herbs during winter from snow and hail. Indeed, not only act as a physical shield to the element but also is a decent insulator and allows the plant to breathe through because of the features of the large and rough jute fiber size.
Is burlap compostable? Natural and untreated burlap (with no chemical or paint) can be easily composted as any other organic material.
- Burlap can be used to grow microgreens.
- It has a range of characteristics that make it eco-friendly and useful as a substrate.
- However, it is important to check where it came from carefully.
- It is also more challenging to use well, especially for beginners.
- Should not usually be reused, since this can lead to fungal problems.
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