Introduction to Growing Microgreens for your Finches
By Gregory Parker
Microgreens are small edible plants that are grown from seeds. They are grown to a few centimetres high. Popular microgreens include wheat grass and buckwheat. A US Department of Agriculture published a study on 25 commercially available microgreens and found that they have up to 5-10 times the nutritional content of adult plants (1). This includes amino acids, proteins, vitamins A, C, E, K, trace elements, minerals and carotenoids. Our family grows our own microgreens for personal consumption using a “grow matt” system. This includes broccoli, kale, mustard and red cabbage. If it is good enough for me then it may be it is good for my finches?
What is a finch diet? The answer to this question needs a lot more study. Observation and logic tells us that finches in the wild would eat a wide variety of foods to balance their nutritional requirements. Seasonal availability also dictates the types of foods consumed. Science has assisted with many studies published via the poultry industry but very little work has been published about what sort of foods finches eat and their nutritional content. Work conducted by Dr. Sarah Pryke and related University researchers are the exception.
Around my local area I have observed Red browed Finches and flocks of Rainbow Lorikeets feeding on clover, so there must be something in it! I adapted the process of growing my successful crops of microgreens with the knowledge of what other aviculturists were doing and knowledge from the hydroponic industry. In my garage I produce a high quality crop every time. Success is in the detail!
Almost any seed can be grown as a microgreen for finches. As mentioned, they provide a fresh and nutritious addition to the finch’s diet. But what sort of microgreen is best? Cost is probably one of the most important factors in choosing a seed. In my case red/crimson clover is a freely available seed at the local rural store. A fellow aviculturist Mike Fidler has also published nutritional data on red clover (2). Red Clover contains amino acids, vitamins, carotenoids, trace minerals and isoflavenoids (dietary antioxidants).
Equipment and Materials
To start your crop off you will need (see photo 1):
- clover seeds
- fine sieve and bowl
- basic pH kit or litmus paper strips
- white vinegar for adjusting pH
- hydroponic trays
- Rockwool cubes, these cost around a $1each.
- spray bottle
- Rhizotonic or similar root stimulant
- LED grow light. Buy these online from reputable Australian resellers only (around $250- $399).
I also also built a frame from aluminium square tubing which raised the light to approximately 40 cms. off the cubes (see photo 2).
1) Materials necessary for growing micro greens.
2) LED Grow Light setup Use a teaspoon and fill a fine sieve with the required amount of seeds. This is approximately 1 teaspoon per Rockwool cube. I add one or 2 extra teaspoons per tray to be sure. The seeds are then soaked for 2 hours. Once soaked, drain the seeds of water and set aside. In summer I use a small amount of Virkon S to prevent growth of fungus and pathogens. Microgreens grow best in a slightly acidic environment (see photo 3) Check the pH of your water with a pH kit or litmus paper and adjust with a cap full of white vinegar as indicated. Fill a 10 litre bucket with pH adjusted water. I also use a small amount of a hydroponic growth root stimulator (Rhizotonic). Soak the rock wool cubes in the water for a short time. Shake to remove the excess water and place each cube in the hydroponic trays.
3) Slightly acidic water is best for growing microgreens.
Carefully spread the soaked seeds evenly over the cubes (see photo 4). Mist the inside of another hydroponic tray. Do not over spray the inside of the tray as this will encourage mould. Water should not drip from the tray. Place the tray over the top of the cubes to create darkness (see photo 5). Leave covered for 2-3 days. Check each day and ensure the inside of the top tray is slightly moist.
4) Soaked seeds on Rockwool cubes.
At the end of day 3 you should have brown looking microgreens 3-4 centimetres high (see photo 6). Take the tray top off and place under the LED lights. The LED lights are left on for approximately 14 hours per day. Longer exposure will reduce the production time of the crop. Leave for 3 days and allow the crop to green up. Check the dampness of the cubes. In warmer months it will be necessary to add a small of water in the base of the cubes daily. By day 5 or 6 the crop (see photo 8) is suitable to feed out when about 4-5 centimetres tall.
Place a cube or two in each aviary for feeding. I place the cube in a small round plastic container. This prevents soiling of the bottom of the cube and it is possible to add a small amount of water in thebased to keep the cube moist and stops the microgreens from wilting in summer. The crop is usually “mowed down” in just a few days,The enemy for growing successful crops is fungus. Having too much moisture at the dark stage and spraying the top of the crop will promote fungus growth which is toxic for your finches. depending on the number of birds in the aviary and whether they have young to care for.
Clean- up and Recycling
5) Cover soaked seeds for 2-3 days.
6) Microgreens at the end of day 3.
Once the microgreens are consumed the cubes can be reused around 3 times. Clean the top of the cube from any debris and place in the sun to dry out. The top 2cms can be removed with a fine tooth saw ready to be reused.Every 3-4 days a crop can be produced by planning the seed soaking and covered darkness stage. Each tray holds 16 cubes, so 32 cubes can be produced every 6 days in my system which more than enough for my needs.
Growing fresh greens for your finches is relatively simple and rewarding. Outlined above is a simple way to grow red clover microgreens indoors. It is also possible to use a similar process in a greenhouse or near a window using natural sunlight. Growing microgreens under LED lights however allows for more control over crop production in a small area and is very cost effective. The process I have developed is fail safe so long as all the steps are followed properly.
My finches enjoy the microgreens especially in the breeding season and soon strip the cube bare. Fresh is best for our birds! I wonder what my neighbours think of the glow of red and blue LED (see photo).
7) Light coming from the garage. No raids yet!
7) Red and Blue LED lights.
- “Specialty Greens Pack a Nutritional Punch” Jan. 14 US Department of Agricultural Research online magazine.
Acknowledgments : Thank you to Claire Parker and David Myers for editing and ideas. Thank you to JP Frames (Justin Parker) for photography.
8) The final product