Microgreen Blackout Period for the Home Grower
You may have come across the term blackout period in articles about growing microgreens, or seen the term in seed catalogs, or product listings in online stores.
Blackout period is a nebulous term in that it's talked about but never explained in any detail; authors assume the reader has an understanding of its purpose and how to go about it.
The microgreen blackout period is a length of time in which trays of microgreens are either stacked or covered to exclude light from the seeds.
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The Microgreens Podcast Episode 011
What is the Purpose of the Blackout Period?
The blackout period mimics placing soil over the top of your microgreen seeds as you'd typically do when planting in an outside garden.
There are several reasons soil (this includes soilless potting mixes) isn't used to cover microgreen seeds. Below are some of the main reasons.
- The seeds are sown so tightly that the emerging leaves would "throw" soil everywhere when they sprout. Reducing the soil support for the plants.
- The soil around the young plants would increase the likelihood of disease and fungal growth.
- Soil would stay on the tightly growing plants making for a dirty crop.
- After germination, the cover soil would be loose, which would make harvesting messy and dirty.
The blackout method and equipment we use on newly planted microgreen seeds have additional purposes in the growing process. These purposes will be discussed further below in this article.
Microgreen Blackout Materials
There are a lot of options available to you when it comes to blackout materials.
Here at Home Microgreens, we use the lid that came with the planting tray as a foundation. The lid helps keep all of the seeds in contact with the planting medium (we'll deal with the opacity below).
You can also use a spare planting tray if the bottom configuration is the same size as the top of the tray.
We've also cut down sheet plastic to the same size as the top of the planting tray to cover the seeds.
Yes, we do need to blackout or darken the microgreen tray. As you can see in the above photo, most tray lids allow light to penetrate or reach the seeds along the edges.
We use tea towels to exclude all of the light or cover the tray lids with a cardboard cutout to block out the light.
Using dark plastic planting trays with similar sized top and bottoms work great. However, most of those type of trays are large, like 10- by 20-inch trays, that are usually too large for home use.
Smaller trays usually have narrower bottoms than tops, so this is why we use the lid on top of the seeds and soil.
Whatever you use, as long as it covers the majority of planting area and greatly reduces the light reaching the seeds, it will work just fine.
Is the Blackout Period Necessary?
This is a great question!
So great in fact, that we've tested it. Not only did we examine the effects of light and darkness on microgreen seeds, but we also tested the need for weight to be added to the top of the tray of newly planted microgreen seeds.
Below is a teaser photo of the test.
The results of that test, without a doubt, showed that at least radishes need to be covered or blacked out, and have weight added to the top of the tray. For more information, and to see the test results read Should You Cover Microgreen Seeds?
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The short answer is that yes, the microgreen blackout period is beneficial for optimal germination and growth.
We've read that some microgreens, such as basil, don't need a blackout period. We will test that in the future and edit all of the relevant posts with the outcome.
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Dual Meaning for Microgreen Blackout Period
In reality, the blackout period is more than keeping light away from the seeds.
As you saw in the pictures above, when we plant more than one microgreen tray, we usually stacked them on top of each other and place a weight of some sort on the stack.
We use anything laying around for weights. Whether it's a 2.5- or 5-pound weight, a rock, or sometimes even a fossil. We haven't tested if there's a preferred weight range, but that experiment is in the planning stage.
Microgreen seeds love (well most do) the weight on top of them for the following reasons.
Besides holding the blackout material on the trays, the weight helps keep the seeds in contact with the moist planting medium.
Also, the weight forces the tiny seedling to anchor itself in the soil. This produces a stronger and better-rooted plant.
Don't worry, the plants are strong and can deal with the weight. Think about weeds that can grow up through asphalt.
Five pounds is like nothing for the hundreds of plants growing below the tray cover.
In fact, if left long enough, the plants will push the weight right off the tray!
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How Long is the Blackout Period?
There's no set answer for this question.
The microgreen blackout period lasts as long as necessary for the seeds to germinate, root deeply, and grow to a point where they're ready to start photosynthesis.
There are many variables to consider, such as:
- the microgreen variety;
- soil and air temperature; and
- moisture level to name a few.
In general, you should check the seeds after 48-hours to see how well they have germinated and what their stage of growth is.
For some varieties such as radishes, turnips, mustards, broccoli, and kohlrabi 48-hours is long enough. For other types like cilantro, celery, borage, and others, the blackout period might be as long as four to six days.
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In the literal sense, the microgreen blackout period mimics covering seeds with soil.
We don't cover microgreen seeds with soil for the following reasons:
- It would increase the possibility of fungal diseases;
- the seeding density would cause all of the soil to be lifted off the surface of the tray when the seeds germinate; and,
- harvesting the microgreens would be more of a mess.
To cover up, or blackout the seeds, we use a stiff material, such as a sheet of plastic, tray lid, or the bottom of a similar sized tray.
If the plastic is transparent or opaque, you can use a cardboard cutout or a tea towel to cover and completely darken the tray.
Additional Reasons to Cover Microgreen Trays
In reality, there are other reasons we use a blackout period when we plant microgreens.
A plastic lid or tray bottom is used to keep the microgreen seeds in contact with the moist planting media.
The plastic lid or tray also helps to keep even pressure over the seeds and tray when weight is added to the top of the tray.
Weight is added to the tray, forcing the seeds to root deeper and grow stronger after they germinate.
The weight also keeps the planting surface compacted during and after germination reducing loose soil during harvest.
How Long Are Microgreens in the Blackout Period?
There are too many variables to give a definite answer, but check the seeds after 48-hours and see their condition.
Some varieties will be ready to place under light after 48-hours. For others, it may take several more days in the blackout.
In general, the seedlings should be pushing the top off the tray. Don't worry if the microgreens appear white or yellowish, they will green up as soon as they are under the lights.
Have a Question?
If you have any questions about the information in this post or microgreens in general, please leave a comment below or reach out to me using the Ask a Question page.
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We'd love to hear your option on how long you leave microgreens in the blackout period.
Frequently Asked Questions - New!
There have been some many questions on the blackout period that I decided to publish a series on the methods I use to grow microgreens.
The articles are linked below.
The How to Germinate Microgreens Series
Part 1: The Weighted Blackout Method
Part 2: The Buried Blackout Method
Part 3: The Domed Blackout Method
Part 4: The Hybrid Blackout Method
How to Start Microgreens: All my articles on germinating microgreens and the blackout period.
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