True Leaf Market Knowledge Center

Jerome Small - 2017 Scholarship Winner - Video Submission

Jerome Small - 2017 Scholarship Winner - Video Submission 0

The Environmental Revolution

By Jerome Small

  • Jordan Freytag
Zoe Martin Cowen - 2017 Scholarship Winner - Essay Submission

Zoe Martin Cowen - 2017 Scholarship Winner - Essay Submission 1

HU:Ñ, HA:L & BAWI: The Three Sisters of the Santa Cruz Valley

By Zoe Martín Cowan

A sea of green and yellow combs the valleys where my predecessors once witnessed the multicolored diversity of life that is the Sonoran Desert. Maize lit the path for the Green Revolution, a massive increase in high yield crop production globally, and has been central to the development of GMO technologies. But humans once had a much more intimate and spiritual connection to maize, a term derived from the Caribbean Taíno-Arawan word mahiz meaning ´life-giving’. It played a central role in the Cosmo-vision of the Maya of Mesoamerica, who believed that mankind was created by divinities from maize dough. The Aztecs also revered maize deities. This flowering grass is thought to have been the first crop that allowed early American civilizations to become sedentary, and still sits at the throne of modern Native American gastronomic culture. The fates of this species and our own have become entangled in such a complex manner that human politics, ethics and livelihoods depend on our relationship to each other. People across the planet depend on maize varieties as a staple food crop and to fuel their energy sources (animal and machine). On the other hand, unlike its wild ancestor, maize cannot reproduce without farmers.

(Figure 1) Flowering Teosinte

Teosinte is maize’s wild ancestor; a grass with a sweet stem and indigestible grains used for brewing a fermented beverage called chicha. The Maya domesticated it 6,250 years ago in Mexico, and it quickly spread south and north to all of the Americas, slowly evolving into modern maize through artificial selection. All who grew it noticed that when planted alone, maize rapidly impoverished the soil. However, when planted together with beans and squash, it had the opposite effect. That is why this queen of American agriculture is considered one of the components of the ´Three Sisters´ of the milpa, or triple crop guild. Maize stems constitute steady supports for climbing beans, which in turn fix nitrogen and provide nutrients that maize requires. The third sister, squash, affords a blanket of green foliage that shades the soil, prevents erosion and retains moisture. The three are mutually beneficial, while conveniently offering complementary nutrients in their fruits essential to human diets. It is these ecological relationships that allowed American civilizations to become sedentary and thrive.

Modern maize’s ancestors quickly became staple crops for early farmers. When they migrated, so did their seeds, which were traded. The early domesticates have since diversified into a plethora of artificially selected varieties. There are now millions of varieties of sweet maize, popcorn, flint corn, dented corn and blue corn, among other categories growing on all continents and consumed by all types of people and their livestock. My land, the Santa Cruz Valley, found in the Sonoran Desert, has been home to the ancient Chapalote popcorn, 60-day white corn and dented June corn for many generations, safeguarded by the Tohono O’odham people, who collectively refer to such crops as Hu:ñ.

(Figure 2) White 60-day corn ready to be harvested

White 60-day corn produces small thin off-white ears with yellow silky tassels and is traditionally planted alongside O’odham squash (Ha:l) and tepary beans (Bawi). When the soil becomes moistened by the first summer monsoon rains, a stick is used to make small holes into which two to four seeds are dropped. Taking advantage of monsoon water to sprout quickly, it becomes fully ripe in only two months, right in time to be harvested before the first frost. When the silky hair attached to each kernel turns brown or when a white juice can be pressed out of the kernels, the ears are ready to be collected by pinching them off the stalk. The juiciest ears are peeled and roasted right after being picked, on grills or in shallow pits, and the rest are left on the stalk to dry for seed saving. Some kernels are also ground into flour to make tamales and tortillas.

It is best to plant O’odham squash or Ha:l at the beginning of the monsoon season, with the first rains of hot June and July, although it can be planted as early as May if water is available for irrigation. Three to four seeds are inserted in mounds four to eight feet apart from each other, about one inch down into the soil. Ha:l is traditionally planted between rows of Hu:ñ (Tohono O’odham maize). It requires nutrient-rich soils, which can be found wherever beans or peas grew the previous year. Ha:l vines grow as long as 15 feet, so abundant spacing is needed between seeds. Its roots like soil that is not too hard or dry. In the Sonoran Desert, the soil is hard and alkaline, so it must be dug out and mixed with mulch or straw, then formed into mounds. The ground must be kept moist for the first week, which is why the first monsoon rains are the perfect time for germination. Once the first leaves sprout and the plant establishes good roots it can be watered every two weeks. A good strategy is to build a berm around the stem to help retain moisture and allow water to percolate down to the roots. Once it flowers, Ha:l needs to be allowed to stress in order to produce. Three weeks after sprouting, small striped green or yellow squash called Ha:l m:amad (squash children) can be harvested. About half of these are picked to eat tender, and the other half left on the vine to mature into big winter squash harvested in October to November when the vine dies. Ha:l can be eaten fresh or sun-dried and stored, and its seeds toasted.

(Figure 3) Growing Together

The third sister of the Americas is arguably the most important; the Tepary bean or Bawi. This leguminous crop has bacteria in nodules of its roots that help convert nitrogen in the atmosphere into a consumable form by plants. Nitrogen is scarce in desert soils due to lack of organic material, a condition that renders plants of Bawi’s family essential to the entire ecosystem. Bawi is also one of the most heat and drought resistant crops in the world. Thanks to these characteristics it has allowed people to settle and survive in the Sonoran desert.

(Figure 4) Hu:ñ and Bawi growing together

Bawi is not only a staple crop but also central to the himdag, or worldview, of the Tohono O’odham people. Legend has it that the Milky Way consists of white tepary beans (To:ta Bawi) scattered across the sky. Its wild ancestors were highly diverse in color, including the dark speckled bean chipulee, but today mostly two varieties: white and brown teparies are consumed. To plant, sixteen-inch deep furrows are dug to add in manure, aerate and moisten the soil in which three to four beans are dropped. These should be spaced twelve to sixteen inches apart. Until all the beans germinate, the soil should be kept damp, then watered only once a week. These plants need to be allowed to stress from heat and drought to produce beans, so one should only water when they begin wilting and stop watering altogether when the pods turn brown. Like its sisters, Bawi is planted in July and is nursed by the monsoon rains. It produces vines where white flowers sprout and pods that are collected in October after the vines dry in the summer sun. Bawi bushes are pulled when the pods rattle when shook, then placed on flat clean ground and pounded with sticks in order to extract the beans from their pod. Beans are cleaned with a winnowing basket so that the wind blows away any impurities, and then stored in ceramic pots or baskets away from moisture. Some of the seeds are saved for planting; the rest are stored for consumption. The addition of Tepary beans to desert diets is an important source of protein.

(Figure 5) White and brown Bawi

Maize and man are mirror images of each other in that neither can succeed alone. Whoever cultivates an ecosystem of crops, such as the maize, squash and bean guild, will quickly realize the importance of each element, and that a balance of giving and taking will always yield the best harvest. Guilds such as maize, the very substance of humanness; beans, nurturing the soil beneath and lighting up the sky above for us to find our way; and squash, providing the perfect environment for beans, maize and human ambitions to sprout; serve to exemplify the fragile interconnectedness of ecosystems on earth, for which we are responsible and from which we benefit so greatly. Let this article be a memo to a new generation of farmers who will hopefully transfer this ecological thinking to other groups of crops and to the next generation, contributing in this way to preserving the diversity of drought and heat resistant food crops for the betterment of future livelihoods of all species.

(Figure 6) Hu:ñ, Ha:l and Bawi guild


  • Corn | Native-Seeds-Search. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 July 2017.
  • Kruse-Peeples, Melissa. "Desert Foods for Healthy Living." Native Seeds/SEARCH - Desert Foods. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 July 2017.
  • "Remarkable Plants That Shape Our World." University of Chicago Press. N.p., 01 Oct. 2014. Web. 29 July 2017.
  • "Terrol Johnson, Tristan Reader, Co-founders of Tohono O'odham Community Action." Book: From I'itoi's Garden. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 July 2017.
  • "TOCC Plant Atlas." TOCC Plant Atlas. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 July 2017.
  • Photography by Dena Cowan in our backyard and Mission Garden at Tucson’s Birthplace



  • Jordan Freytag
August: Dealing with the Late Summer Heat

August: Dealing with the Late Summer Heat 0

The unrelenting heat of late summer is here and nowhere do we notice it more than in our gardens. The soil can dry out and crack alarmingly fast. Even with consistent watering, plants can become wilted in the intense sunlight. 2016 was the eighth highest August recorded, and although this year’s August is predicted to be more precipitous and to have slightly lower temperatures than usual, the spouts of extreme heat can affect the plants in your garden. Some plants may wilt and others (leafy greens and lettuces) may bolt, but all in all, there are ways to manage the heat with a few preventative measures.

But first, let’s say your plants are already showing signs of wilting: leaves curling in and drooping to reduce the surface area exposed to the harsh sun. How can I effectively revive my plant? You may ask. Honestly, it is as simple as watering immediately and then watering again at night when temperatures have cooled. If the plant re-erects itself, it should be fine. However, if the plant remains wilted after a full night to cool, your plant may be beyond the point of no return. Mostly likely your plant will die entirely or most of it.

Basil plants showing signs of wilting(Figure 1) Basil plants showing signs of wilting

An effective way to prevent such drastic wilting is to try to control the soil temperature and moisture—three to six inches of mulch is an ideal method for holding moisture in and keeping soil temperatures from becoming unbearable for the plant. Exposed soil under intense sun rays can become dry and brittle in a matter of hours, and even with continued watering, the evaporation rate may be too quick for the plant to soak up enough water. Laying down a mulch layer of straw or other compost, chopped leaves, wood chips, or grass clippings now (at the beginning of August) can insulate and protect soil “from drying and hard baking effects caused by the evaporation of water from soil exposed to hot sun and winds”(Texas A & M AgriLife Extentsion). With more moisture contained in the soil, your plants will have a chance to “drink up” more of the water and to tolerate the intense heat.

Three types of possible mulches(Figure 2) Three types of possible mulches

Some garden plants react differently to the late-summer scorch. Leafy green vegetables such as Lettuce, and Spinach will bolt very quickly in the heat—bolting is when the plant begins to produce flowers, going to seed and abandoning leaf growth due to soil temperatures reaching above a certain level. The plant is essentially going into survival mode; thinking that it will perish due to the heat, it goes to seed as quickly as possible. Kale, Chard, Broccoli, and Cabbage will also bolt but not as immediately as spinach and lettuce (note: these make ideal cool-season season crops).

Providing shade for these plants will help prevent bolting from happening. Like the mulch method, shading helps preserve water in the soil and keeps the plant strong enough to tolerate the battering heat. Shade cloths are available in different opacities, letting a certain of light to break through its fabric. For higher temperatures, use a shade cloth with more coverage, and for lower temperatures, use a shade cloth a higher light transmission. Remember that a shade cloth SHOULD NEVER BLOCK OUT THE SUNLIGHT ENTIRELY. Creating a low canopy over your plants using garden stakes should do the trick!

Example of using a shade cloth to protect Swiss Chard(Figure 3) Example of using a shade cloth to protect Swiss Chard

Keep in mind, it is always good to be aware of how late summer is expected to play out in your area and to take preventative measures that way. If your plants are growing healthily and not showing any sings of wilting, and if the foreseeable weather seems rather temperate, you may not need to lay down mulch. Bottom line: take preventative measures when they seem necessary—keep a close eye and all should pan out well. Just because it is August does not mean that wilting is a guaranteed occurrence. It just means the this is the time of year when plants suffer from it the most.

Folks also become discouraged this time of year because of the stresses of the final stretch of the warm-season, but we always suggest to focus on your successes and wait patiently for harvest to come and to look forward to cool-season gardening that is right around the corner!

  • Jordan Freytag
Get to Know Your Seeds: A Seed Type Guide

Get to Know Your Seeds: A Seed Type Guide 0

We’ve had an influx of calls inquiring about the specifics of seed labeling—questions like “What is the difference between sprouting and microgreens seeds and traditional garden vegetable seeds?” and “Are heirloom seeds and open-pollinated seeds the same thing?” and a slew of others.

We know it can be overwhelming looking at all the varieties of seeds and their types, reading terms like “microgreens seeds” and “sprouting seeds”, "treated" and "untreated seeds", and "heirloom" and "open-pollinated"—you just hope that you’ll pick the right ones for you. We hope that the following article will help you understand seed identifiers and how it can help you purchase the best seed for you and your style of gardening.

Sprouting Seeds & Microgreens Seeds – Botanically speaking, there is no difference between sprouting seeds and microgreen seeds; their names just refer to the growing method they are most well suited. Sprouting seeds are only grown in water, and once the sprouts are ready, the entire plant is eaten. These seeds are most often organically produced to prevent any contact with pesticides. Our line of sprouting seeds is what we think are the best, cleanest, and frankly, tastiest seeds for sprouting available.

Alfalfa Sprouts(Figure 1) Alfalfa Sprouts

“Microgreening” is the method of growing your seeds in a medium and allowing seedlings to mature a bit before harvesting. Microgreens seeds are selected because of a varieties’ vibrant color and bold flavor as a seedling. Think of microgreens as baby vegetables. Seeds that germinate at the same time and grow uniformly are prime candidates for microgreening. For example, Hong Vit Radish, is a variety of radish that doesn’t produce much of a fruit at the end of its life cycle, but it does produce a lovely red and green microgreen that is packed with spicy radish flavor. While most seeds can be grown as a microgreen, there are some that are not well-suited such as any plant in the Solanaceae family, also known as the nightshade family, contain alkaloids that make them unpalatable, and their full-grown leaves are known to be poisonous. We have done all the work for you by identifying good sprouting and microgreens candidates on our website and in our catalog.

Hong Vit Radish Microgreens(Figure 2) Hong Vit Radish Microgreens

Treated Seed – There are several kinds of seed treatments in the seed business. While treatments can vary, the most common treated seed we offer is a fungicide which helps to keep the seed from rotting in the ground in unstable spring weather when soil conditions are less than ideal—usually too moist. All treated seed is clearly marked as being treated in the title of the seed, i.e. Treated Blue Lake Bush Beans, and treated seed is typically purchased by our larger farm-based customers.

Pelleted & Multi-pelleted Seed – When using a mechanism of some kind to plant their seeds, farmers and gardeners will turn to pelleted seeds, which are seeds usually coated in inert clay. Very small seeds that are difficult to handle are coated to make them more manageable by machines and by people for accurate and easy sowing. For example, some gardeners prefer working with pelleted carrot seeds because carrot seeds are so tiny and difficult to plant accurately. Commonly, flower seeds are pelleted and multi-pelleted because of their, at times, microscopic size, such as Lobelia seeds as seen in Figure 3.

Raw, Pelleted, and Multi-pelleted seeds(Figure 3) Lobelia Seed in multi-pelleted, pelleted, and raw form

Multi-pelleted seeds are multiple seeds bound together and coated in inert clay. With several seeds in one pellet, gardeners are ensured germination. The clay will dissolve away, leaving the seeds in ideal conditions to sprout.

Open Pollinated – Simply, open pollinated seeds are seeds produced from crops that are allowed to pollinate naturally by means of insects, birds, wind, and other natural mechanisms.

Bee Pollinating Squash Plant(Figure 4) Bee Pollinating Squash Plant

Heirloom – There is no officially accepted definition of “heirloom”. In common use, the term is most universally used to indicate an open pollinated seed which has remained consistent for several decades. In our product line, we use the term Heirloom for open pollenated strains with which we have had experience for 30 or more of our 43 years in the seed business. Some people claim heirloom seeds are the “original” variety of a plant, but that’s not necessarily true. If you trace a plant’s genetics back far enough you will find that these now heirloom varieties likely came from an intentional or lucky crossing of two different plants, which leads us to our next term Hybrid.

Hybrid – Hybrids are frequently frowned upon on many social media sites usually because they are confused with GMO, but also frequently because some claim that the seed companies who sell them have engineered the seed to be “sterile” or unable to reproduce so that one cannot save their seed. The social media argument usually goes along the lines of a conspiracy to control the world’s seed supply. Again, not true, especially for us, who pride ourselves on our sustainable practices.

It is true that saving your seed from a hybrid is not advisable, but saved seed will grow, it is just unlikely that your second-generation plant will produce similar results to the original plant. The reason is based in genetics not a board room (which after 43 years we have yet to acquire). Let’s look at dog breeding as an example of hybridization to see what is happening.

Understanding Hybridization Through Dog Breeding(Figure 5) Understanding Hybridization Through Dog Breeding

When breeding a Poodle with a Labrador, the outcome is a Labradoodle, as seen in Figure 5. The Labradoodle is the hybrid. If we take our “hybrid” puppy and breed him with another dog, even if it also is a Labradoodle, the outcome is unlikely to result in a Labradoodle that looks identical to our first puppy. Still considered labradoodles, but aesthetically these hybrids look very different from each other, as seen in Figure 6.

Not all Labradoodle Hybrids Look (or bark) the same!(Figure 6) Not all Labradoodle Hybrids Look (or bark) the same!

The new 2nd generation puppy may take on more of the Poodle or more of Labrador line. That is the same with hybrid seeds. It is not that they won’t produce, it is just that there is no way to guarantee that the plant won’t revert back to more of one of the parental lines. Like most of the dog breeds we have today, hybrid seeds will become stable as continued generations create a “stable and consistent” population and eventually these seeds may become our grandkids’ heirlooms.

Hybrid plants work the same way—they require several generations of selective crossing to become stable enough to produce uniformly. Planting the seeds produced from a first-generation hybrid (marked as “F1”) plant won’t produce the same crop; it will likely revert back to one of its parents or cross breed with another plant nearby producing something other than the expected production of the previous season. People tend to label these seeds “sterile” because they don’t produce the same results a second time; however, that is only because they don’t have the genetic history behind them like heirloom seeds to be tenacious and to produce a reliable crop year after year. For example, the bicolor corn seen in Figure 7 may revert back to yellow or white corn if it’s saved seeds are planted again next season.

Open-pollinated Plant Hybridization Example(Figure 7) Open-pollinated Plant Hybridization Example

What is GMO Seed?

The term GMO is a term that is feared, misunderstood, and misused, leading to confusion about what a GMO seed really means. Genetically modified organisms (GMO) are living things, including seeds, whose DNA has been engineered outside the natural process of cross pollination to inherit desirable traits.

GMO Plants and Seeds(Figure 8) GMO Seed Creation Example

When we see anti GMO social media posts or speak with people about what GMO means to them we find that most people don’t really know why GMO is bad they just “know it is”. We are a little concerned that the lack of understanding of GMO is frequently dragging non-GMO seeds, such as Hybrids, into the discussion. We do have a concern with GMO but like most people who spend time really understanding the topic our concern is that the science is moving faster than the protections, labeling laws, and crop protocols. Many of the GMO products being grown today have used very impressive technologies to introduce NON-PLANT BASED genetics into plants. It is this “crossing” of two living organisms that nature would otherwise NOT allow that has us, and many others so concerned.

The Safe Seed Pledge

We believe that everyone should be well aware what is in their food—let alone the genetic make-up! While we are impressed with the technology, we believe that people have the right to know what is in the food they eat. Until more research, crop protections, and clear labeling is created we have chosen not to participate in this part of the market. With us, you’ll never have to worry about GMO’s because we don’t sell them and never will! All of us in the True Leaf Market family have agreed to The Safe Seed Pledge, a declaration which ensures that we “do not knowingly buy, sell, or trade genetically engineered seeds” (taken from the pledge set up by the Council for Responsible Genetics). Further, we wish to support agricultural progress that leads to healthier soils, genetically diverse agricultural ecosystems, and ultimately, healthy people and communities.

June: Companion Plants & Beneficial Insects

June: Companion Plants & Beneficial Insects 0

Now that the growing season is underway, an abundance of life begins to spring up in our garden: seedlings take root and begin branching out, showing signs of their future production. But with new growth and life, comes the chance of pests finding their way into your garden. Some folks never have to deal with an infestation of pests—and hopefully you won’t either. When invasive species of insects happen to make their way into a garden, some folks rid them by spraying with pesticides. But we believe avoiding harmful pests by taking preventative measures and treating them using safe and natural methods is the best way to keep from harming your ground or your garden crop.

The first line of defense to prevent insects from the beginning is to build and maintain a healthy soil. Healthy soil will provide your plants with all the oxygen and nutrients they need so they will better withstand the possible attack from pests. If you are rotating your crops every year, providing mulch and fertilizer, and even growing cover crops every couple of years, your soil will be in prime health and you will grow tenacious plants as a result.

Even though pests can be very harmful, the healthiest gardens have bugs, and it can be a very good thing! The best advice we’ve heard is to fight bad bugs with good bugs. What I mean is to allow beneficial insects to populate your garden because they will not only ward off the harmful insects but promote healthy growth of current garden plants. The trick is to grow certain plants and flowers alongside your garden vegetables to attract these helpful bugs into your garden and to scare away harmful ones.

Vegetable Garden With Companion Plants

These “protective plants” also known as “companion plants” also help repel pests in their own right. For example, because of their strong fragrances, plants in the mint family repel mosquitoes rather than attracting an insect that preys on pests. Here is a list of helpful garden plants and flowers and descriptions on how they can benefit your garden:

  • Bronze Fennel – attracts minute pirate bugs which prey on spider mites and aphids. Wards off aphids, slugs, and snails. Bronze Fennel is invasive and should only be planted in containers and placed around your garden.
  • Mint – attracts damsel bugs which prey on caterpillars, mites, potato beetles, cabbage worms. Mint plants are very invasive and should only be planted in containers like Fennel. Remove from garden before plants flower!
  • Dill – attracts lady bugs which prey on aphids and white flies and wards off squash bugs, spider mites, cabbage loopers, and tomato hornworms. Dill is invasive in wet climates, so treat like mint in those regions. In dry climates, dill is more easily controlled.
  • Marigolds – wards off mosquitos and aphids and attracts bees and wasps, which prey on caterpillars and aphids. Plant right next to tomatoes and peppers!
  • Coriander (cilantro) – attracts green lacewings (also attracted by dill), which prey on aphids, whiteflies, and mealybugs. Establish a patch somewhere outside your garden yet nearby and keep controlled.
  • Zinnia – Will attract Soldier Beetles, which will prey on grasshoppers, one of the most damaging pests. Attracts bees and other vital pollinators.

Although bees don’t prey on any insect, they are vital to your garden and the world at large. Vegetables that need bees to pollinate are broccoli, cabbage, watermelons, squash, apples, and cauliflower—just to name a few. Just by having flowers around and in your garden, like marigolds, will make bees feel welcome, prompting them to work for you and your garden!

Take note that if the pest infestation isn’t too bad, some growers will tolerate it, as long as it won’t affect the outcome of the fruit. But if you feel the problem needs immediate attention, there are a few natural methods of treating pests you can try. Placing orange, lime, lemon, and even banana peels in the soil will help remove some harmful ants and aphids. Placing a jar filled with apple cider vinegar near affected areas has been known to ward off aphids.

But one of the most effective natural remedies is to dry a hot pepper and put its ground up flakes into a water and soap mixture. Spray the mixture around the plant and this should ward off all insects and rodents. However, understand that this will ward off beneficial insects as well. We recommend using one of the hottest peppers in the world, the Bhut Jolokia Ghost Pepper! When trying this method be very careful to not get any dried pepper near your eyes.

Bhut Jolokia Pepper - A Remedy for Pests

All in all, you may experience pest problems this year or you may not. The point is to understand how a healthy garden depends on creating a suitable micro-environment with plant diversity and good garden practices. It may take a season to get your garden to the state you want it, but part of the joy in gardening is being rewarded for your patience.

Control the Moisture, Control the Mold

Control the Moisture, Control the Mold 0

Growing Microgreens and Wheatgrass can be some of the most rewarding small-scale gardening because your crop is done so quickly—and frankly, because it tastes so good! However, since growing Wheatgrass and Microgreens require a substantial amount of moisture, mold growth becomes a common occurrence. This causes many folks to become frustrated and even quit, unknown to them the simple steps that one can take to treat and prevent mold, and it may sound easier than you might think: control the moisture, control the mold.

Mold spores are everywhere! Even though we can’t see them, they are constantly wafting through the air—even as you read this. There is no way to “get rid” of mold spores. But no worries! Mold spores themselves are not inherently bad unless they find the ideal conditions to grow.

Healthy Soil | Don't mistake root hairs for mold

Not all mold spores are the same either. Some grow on wood, food, carpet, and other various places. It is when the spores land on a damp surface to their liking and are exposed to continual humidity that they grow into the familiar spider web-like growth. It is also not uncommon to mistake the micro hairs attached to the roots as mold, but they are actually signs of healthy growth. But understanding this and the role moisture plays in getting mold spores started will give you all the knowledge on how to keep mold spores dry and in the air and out of your counter-top garden!

First, take into account what climate you live in. Is it dry? Or is it humid? Sometimes you may need to adjust your care slightly based on where you live and whether you are using soil methods or hydroponic methods of growing. For example, higher humidity areas will absolutely require ventilation or a substantial amount of airflow, whereas in dry climates you may get away with less airflow. Or in dry climates, watering may be required more frequently rather than in humid areas. Basically, the trick is to judge what your tray needs based on what the soil or hydroponic growth pad looks and feels like.

Healthy Growth Pad

Your soil or hydroponic pad should be moist, not soggy! Gently, press your finger into it. Whether it is a pad or soil, the goal is to provide just what the plants need. Not too little or too much, but just right. When checking your soil or pad, it should be spongy—not muddy. You should be able to feel the moisture within the hydroponic pad or soil. It should not be secreting out. Water should not collect on the surface of your tray; it is the ideal environment for mold spores to land and spread. To avoid surface saturation, try bottom watering. After your seeds have taken root, pour water into the bottom of the tray, so the root hairs will soak it up. This will provide essential moisture to your tray without saturating the top.

Keeping your air moving and ventilated is of the utmost importance because (a) it keeps the mold spores moving, giving them less of a chance to settle and (b) it help keeps the air from becoming stagnate and causing the air in and around the tray to have increased humidity. Open a window nearby during the day, and or keep a fan going on low in your growing space. Without proper airflow, your flat may appear dewy or give off a pungent scent.

Excess moisture collected on wheatgrass blades

If you find that your trays have already started growing mold, don’t panic. Just try all of the above tips to control the humidity and airflow of your growing space and mix either a few drops of hydrogen peroxide or grapefruit extract into a spray bottle and mist your flat.

Soil may be a better option for high-humidity areas because it acts as a great regulator. Hydroponic pads tend to need more care as they don’t hold water as well as soil. So, try both and see which medium suits you and your growing style best!