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Microgreen Grow Mats Verse Soil: Which is Better, Hemp, Bamboo, or Soil?

This article and video below show how well two microgreen grow mats grow microgreens compared to our best soil.

The first of the microgreen grow mats is made from hemp. We have shown that this hemp grow mat will perform reasonably well when watered with an organic liquid fertilizer

The second grow mat is made from bamboo fibers. We have not worked with this type or brand of microgreen grow mat before, and we hope it performs well. 

vegbed microgreen bamboo grow mat

The soil is Home Microgreens Potting Mix. This potting mix has outperformed all of the professional grower potting mixes sold in garden centers we have tested so far

Listen to an Audio Version of the Article

We don’t just read the article word for word in the audio version; it’s a stand on its own piece of content that includes more details on the topic. These can include more tips, opinions, details, data, and information on this and related topics. 

The Microgreens Podcast Episode 015

Why We Are Testing Microgreen Grow Mats

There are several reasons we are testing grow mats.

home microgreens sells seeds

FREE Home Microgreens Grow course that teaches you the basics of growing microgreens in your home! There are 12 video lessons (over 120 minutes), downloads, and more written information and tips!

  • We are curious about which type of grow mat performs the best.
  • People don’t want to deal with soil; they want an alternative.
  • Grow mats will reduce the weight of the package and cost less to ship.
  • Storing grow mats takes up much less space than pallets of soil.
  • I’m old and don’t want to move 1,000 bags of soil yearly.

However, any microgreen grow mat we sell will have to grow microgreens as well or better than the best potting mix.

There lies the problem. 

Microgreen Grow Mats in the Test

Terrafibre Hemp Mat®

hemp microgreen grow mat

Here’s what the TerraFibre website says about their product (The spelling changed to U.S. English version). My thoughts are in parentheses.

  • Strong fibers to support rooting (agree).
  • High water holding capacity, can hold 1050% weight in water (does hold water, not sure about the %).
  • Promote sustainable growing practices (maybe renewable).
  • It is fully biodegradable and compostable (yes, but it takes a long time – see the image in the video).
  • Cleaner to use than soil or coco (I would disagree – discussion below).
  • It is made from natural, sustainable fibers (natural, yes, renewable, yes, sustainable, no).
  • Promotes high germination rate (seems to germinate seeds well).
  • Sustainable alternative to rock wool, peat moss, or coconut (yes, I’d agree).

My thoughts are that companies get carried away with the word sustainable. 

Merriam-Webster says this of the word sustainable:

of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.

Hemp is an annual plant and needs to be replanted every year. So, they’re using something that would only decompose in the field. So I’ll give them that, but fuel and fertilizer are still needed to grow a hemp field.

Not so with bamboo or coconut fiber. They will continue to grow after harvest. We are harvesting peat moss faster than it is forming, regardless of what the Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association says.

Hemp Microgreen Grow Mats Make a Mess

There is no way anyone can put a hemp grow mat in a tray without hemp fibers flying everywhere. Soil, if handled properly is so much cleaner than hemp grow mats.

Hands down, I’m afraid I entirely disagree with Terrafibre’s statement that it is cleaner than soil or coco.

VegBed Bamboo Microgreen Grow Mats

vegbed microgreen bamboo grow mat

Here’s what the VegBed website says about their product. My thoughts are in parentheses.

  • Outstanding water retention holds 9.5 times its weight in water (it seems to hold water well).
  • Eco-friendly (generic statement).
  • Naturally biodegradable (we shall see, but I don’t see bamboo rotting very fast).
  • Incredibly easy to use (except for the slight depressions that hold seeds).
  • Leaves no mess or residue – easy clean up (yes, for sure).
  • No nutrient solution or pH adjustment is needed (We will see, but I think it will require fertilizer to keep up with soil).
  • It won’t alter microgreen taste like other mediums, e.g., hemp (I didn’t know hemp alters microgreen taste, but it may?).
  • Made in the USA (made into mats in the States or grown? I’ll email them and update them).

Bamboo Microgreen Grow Mats Are Clean

I will give them mats the cleanliness star. They are easy to put into the trays and come out just as easily leaving no mess behind. You can cut them and not make a mess. 

I enjoy that about this product.

The question is can they grow microgreens. After all, that’s what we are trying to do.

Microgreen Grow Mats Test Video

Below is the video of the process we took to test how well hemp and bamboo microgreen grow mats perform compared to the Home Microgreens soil. 

I discuss my observations as I plant, water, and manage the test. 

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Summary of the Microgreen Grow Mat Test

Equal amounts of seed are placed on (from left to right) a Terrafibre® hemp grow mat, two VegBed bamboo grow mats, and a Home Microgreen potting mix tray.

There are two trays for the bamboo fiber. One will be watered with tap water and the other with Ocean Solution fertilizer.  We have already shown that the hemp grow mats need fertilizer to grow microgreens, similar to the potting mix (Part 1 and Part 2).

Planted Microgreen Grow Mats

It was easy to plant the mats, but due to their fluffy texture, we found it hard to level the surface of either grow mat. Because of this, the seeds tend to roll into the depressions on the mats.

microgreen grow mats with seed

Grow Mats in the Blackout Period

We covered all trays for 3-days to allow the seeds to germinate. The weight gives a better seed to media contact. A couple of kitchen towels are also placed over the trays to exclude light. 

Placing the Microgreen Trays Under the Light

blackout period

On day 3, the microgreens were removed from the blackout and placed under the lights. Note: the lights do not look that purple to the eye. That is an effect of the camera. However, the image was darkened, so the microgreens showed better in the photo.

microgreens under the lights with both microgreen grow mats and soil

At this time, the microgreens were also bottom watered. The two left trays (hemp and bamboo) were watered with an Ocean Solution of 1 oz to a gallon of water. Regular tap water was added to the watering trays of those to the right. (bamboo and HM soil) 

The three left trays are on lids to bring the plants closer to the light. A bit higher than the soil tray but closer to the same height.

A commenter on the hemp mat article mentioned the lower position of the hemp tray might affect the final results. I want to eliminate that variable from this test. 

After 5-days Under the Lights

I forgot to mention that the lights are Barrina 24-watt LED grow lights. There are two light bars on the shelf. 

microgreen grow mats under the lights

The Purple Vienna Kohlrabi microgreens grown in the Home Microgreens Potting Mix are taller. The leaves are much bigger than both grown on the hemp mat (far left) and the two grown on bamboo mats. 

In fact, the ones grown on the bamboo have some yellowish-brown leaves.

Day 10 – Final Results

The microgreens were removed from the trays and set at the same height to better view the results.

As you can see, the Kohlrabi microgreens grown in the Home Microgreens Potting Mix (far right) are much taller, and wider, and the leaves are bigger than any of the other grow media. 

microgreens grown on grow mats

The second-largest microgreens are grown on the TerraFibre® hemp grow mat (far left) and are watered with Ocean Solution organic fertilizer

Of the two VegBed bamboo grow mats (middle two), the one watered with Ocean Solution (leftmost) is a bit taller, but not by much.

The seeds germinated well on all three of the media. But the HM potting mix outperformed the other two microgreen grow mats. 

My Thoughts, Possible Issues, What’s Next

Growing Microgreens on Soil

I am a believer that microgreens grow better in a good potting mix. Time after time, the results of my tests show this.

I find soil easier to use, plant, water, and care for the microgreens. However, it does have some negatives too. It’s heavy to lift, and a good potting mix is hard to find and hard to store.

Growing Microgreens on Hemp Grow Mats

The hemp mat is an excellent alternative to soil if you use a liquid fertilizer. You can see the difference in using a fertilizer with hemp in this two-part article

I find sowing seeds on the hemp mat harder, especially in smaller trays, than with soil. A larger planting area gives you more room to spread out the mat. More on this below.

I didn’t get a photo of this, but when I looked closer at the hemp and bamboo mats, I saw that the weave on the hemp mat is looser and more open than the bamboo mats. This gives the roots an easier time getting established in the hemp mat.

The one negative, and it’s a big one, is all of the loose fibers that the hemp mat drops when you touch and move it around.

As I mentioned in this article, I rarely spill soil, but I’d rather clean up some spilled soil than the hemp fibers. They stick to everything. 

Growing Microgreens on Bamboo Grow Mats

The quick short answer is I’m not giving up on them.

The microgreens didn’t start out very well. The plants didn’t look as good as those on the other media. The result produced sturdy, full trays of microgreens. However, they were short and had much smaller leaves.

On the positive side, the bamboo microgreen grow mats are clean, and easy to cut to size. There are no fiber issues. I only wish they grew microgreens better.

The bamboo mats didn’t perform as well as the hemp mat. But I learned a few things from this test and will be changing up how I grow them. More on this below.

Next Testing Cycle Using Bamboo Microgreen Grow Mats

My takeaways from the testing are these.

The sides of the trays could affect how the microgreens grow on the mats. So the small trays must go. Maybe the HM tray is not built for grow mats.

The next test will use a 1010 shallow tray, so most plants on the bamboo grow mat will have more light available to them.

We Did the Test!

You can read about the results by clicking the link below.

Bamboo Grow Matting – A Possible Breakthrough for Better Microgreens

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Recommendations

We will still be using Home Microgreens Soil when we grow microgreens. It has outperformed any grow media that we have tried so far. 

As much as we like how clean and neat the bamboo grow mat is and dislike so much how messy hemp grow mats are, we will not be placing bamboo grow mats in the Home Microgreens Store at this time.

If you have a product or brand of grow media you would like us to test, please leave a comment below or reach out to us on the contact page, and we will try it.

We want to provide all the microgreen home growers with the best products.

Author

  • Todd

    Todd is the founder of Home Microgreens & the Home Microgreens store. He also writes for several other websites, including MyViewFromTheWoods.com. Todd worked at a large farm market, garden & nursery center for 20 years. Somehow he snuck off to become a geologist and professor before coming back to his senses to write & lecture about microgreens and gardening. When not at the computer, he can be found in the garden, trout stream, or mountain trail with his new Springer Spaniel Caden.

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