Growing Hydroponically             

This month, we are introducing a new organic, hydroponic growing pad by Handy Pantry: Micro-Mats

micro mat hydroponic grow pads

For thirteen years now we have been selling kits to help folks grow their own living foods in their own homes: wheatgrass, barley grass, sprouts, herbs, sunflower greens, buckwheat lettuce, and most recently a huge line of microgreens through our sister website: www.growingmicrogreens.com.  We have always offered soil based kits with animal-free forest compost soil mix.  For the last ten years or so, we have also offered some soil-free, (hydroponic) solutions for wheatgrass, and subsequently microgreens.  Our customers have preferred our soil-based solutions by about 4 to 1, especially for wheatgrass and barley grass. 
Historically, we have offered two different hydroponic growing pads:

  • Cocotek Mats – a coconut coir based grow pad that has been better suited for wheatgrass and barley grass.
  • Sure to Grow Pads – a non-organic baby-blanket type synthetic fiber grow pad that doesn’t work well with grasses but does very well with microgreens.

Both of these hydroponic mediums have strengths and weaknesses, as is also the case with our new Micro-Mats. That being said, this month we would like to do an assessment of the pros and cons of all three hydroponic grow mediums.
Cocotek Mats – $16 for a pack of 10

  • Pros
    • The Cocotek mats are light compared to soil, making shipping more affordable.
    • Made of all natural, organic coconut fibers.
    • Good for wheatgrass and barley grass.
  • Cons
    • Based on the rolls from suppliers, there is no way to cut to a good 20”x10” fit for the growing trays without significant waste. As such, the Cocotek mats never did fit the trays as well as they should.
    • While the Cocotek mats are compostable, the coconut coir fiber can take an exceptionally long time to break down making composting impractical.
    • Not a great choice for microgreens. It can be done, but the combination of poor water holding capacity and size makes it a real challenge on micros.
    • The Cocotek mats need to be pre-soaked in warm water for several hours before use to soften them up.

Sure-To-Grow Pads - $13 for a pack of 10

  • Pros
    • The sure to grow pads are much lighter than Cocotek pads & Micro-Mats making shipping affordable.
    • They fit 20”x10” growing trays perfectly, edge to edge with no gaps, which is ideal for microgreens.
    • Slightly cheaper than both Micro-Mats & Cocotek mats.
    • Work very well with microgreens and micro-herbs.
  • Cons
    • Not organic.
    • Non-compostable synthetic fibers. Must be thrown out making for a less eco-friendly product.
    • Not a good choice for wheatgrass and barley grass.

Micro-Mats - $14 for a pack of 10

  • Pros
    • Lighter than Cocotek mats and soil, making shipping more affordable.
    • Organic & fully compostable.
    • Made from sustainably harvested wood fiber.
    • Much better water holding capacity than either Cocotek or Sure-to-Grow pads. Better resists drying out if you are late watering.
    • Works incredibly well for wheatgrass and barley grass, and is a good solution for microgreens.
    • Cheaper than Cocotek mats.
    • Some microgreens do better on Micro-Mats than Sure-to-Grow pads, especially micro-herbs like dill, parsley, fennel, etc… These crops are challenging to grow hydroponically, but seem to do much better on Micro-Mats. The brassicas like cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and mustards seem to do very well on either pad.
  • Cons
    • The biggest drawback with the Micro-Mats is when using for microgreens, the wet pad tends to sag a little between the channels of the growing trays creating depressions that want to collect seed, making even distribution of seed more challenging. This is not an issue at all with wheatgrass and barley grass.
    • The Micro-Mats swell in size when they begin to absorb water. When dry, they seem to be short in the tray and still may not fit completely edge to edge when fully saturated.  The fit in the tray is much better than the Cocotek mats, but still can leave a gap of about a centimeter or less, lengthwise. This is a minor annoyance on microgreens. It is not a problem at all for wheatgrass and barley grass as the roots of seeds off the mat quickly knit in.
    • Once the Micro-Mat is saturated, it is very delicate. It can easily tear when lifting a corner. When harvesting microgreens on a Micro-Mat the “hair cut” method is the only viable option. The “uprooting/trimming” method which works with Sure-To-Grow pads won’t work with the Micro-Mats.

Conclusion: No solution is perfect, each having strengths and weaknesses.

  • Wheatgrass & Barley Grass - Micro-Mats are as near to a perfect solution as we have found for growing grasses hydroponically. We will continue to offer Cocotek Mats as refill packs only, but effective immediately; we are no-longer including Cocotek mats in our hydroponic wheatgrass growing kits.  All our hydroponic wheatgrass and barley grass kits now include Micro-Mats. Because the Micro-Mats are less expensive and lighter, we are now able to include more mats, trays and seed in the kits!

  • Microgreens – In the battle between the old standard Sure-to-Grow Pads, and the new Micro-Mats it’s basically a draw. Each solution has pros and cons and which you prefer ultimately boils down to a question of personal preference and taste.  As such, we don’t currently have plans to make a change, and will continue to ship the Sure-To-Grow pads in our microgreens growing kits.  We will offer the Micro-Mats as refills on www.growingmicrogreens.com as an option.


Copyright © 2012 by Living Whole Foods, Inc. All rights reserved. Permission granted up to 100 words in a review when proper credit is given. Proper Credit = website reference: www.wheatgrasskits.com and article citation.

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