thistle microgreens
Milk Thistle Microgreens

Today we’re sprouting milk thistle seeds in order to produce milk thistle microgreens, a functional food that significantly improves liver detox capacity. Not much reported in the literature about microgreens of milk thistle, though I did find this article.

The potential of milk thistle (Silybum marianum L.), an Israeli native, as a source of edible sprouts rich in antioxidants.

“Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2007 Aug 20;:1-8

Vaknin Y, Hadas R, Schafferman D, Murkhovsky L, Bashan N.

Department of Agronomy and Natural Resources, Institute of Plant Sciences, Volcani Center, Bet Dagan, Israel.

The potential of wild plants in Israel as sources of edible sprouts has not been investigated until now. Milk thistle (Silybum marianum L.) is native to the Mediterranean basin and is now widespread throughout the world; its young fleshy stems are traditionally eaten by the local Arab sector in Israel, and its sprouts are rich in antioxidants and have been used as a traditional medicine for diseases of the liver and biliary tract. The active extract of milk thistle, silymarin, is a mixture of flavonolignans and is a strong antioxidant that has been proved to promote liver cell regeneration, to reduce blood cholesterol and to help prevent cancer. The present objective was to investigate the potential of milk thistle as a source of edible sprouts rich in antioxidants. We found that seed germination within 3-4 days was high (96%, except for striated seeds). Exposure to light significantly reduced sprout growth and significantly increased the polyphenol content and antioxidative capacity. The polyphenol content was 30% higher in seeds originating from purple inflorescences than in those from white ones. We thus found milk thistle to be a good candidate source of healthy edible sprouts.”

Notably the exposure to light reduces growth and increases polyphenol and anti oxidant activity. That’s when we remove the canopy from the germinating seeds and allow them to become milk thistle microgreens. Silymarin is the functional phytocompound from the milk thistle plant. It is a complex of flavonlignans and polyphenols. Silibinin is the active compound in silymarin and it is a commonly recommended treatment for individuals with liver disease. Seeds are taken from the dried milk thistle flower. It works apparantly by promoting liver cell protein synthesis and decreases oxidation of glutathione. It may also have anti cancer properties.



Tomato Fertilizer

Peecycling Urine Fertilizer

Bioponica has found that the use of urine as a plant fertilizer in soilless systems, aka peeponics, is highly effective, as proven by the performance of tomato plants raised in a Biogarden in 2014, entirely from human urine fertilizer.

Most gardeners are familiar with the use of fish urine fertilizer with aquaponics. The logic is straight forward. Urine contains high percentage of ammonia plus phosphorus and trace minerals.  With but a little biofiltration, urine is converted to a more plant available nitrate with NPK values that rival other fertilizers such as chicken feathers and cotton seed meal. In fact, the range of NPK from a liquid urine fertilizer is in the range of 10-18/1-2.5/1.

Food consists of nutrients that are high in protein and various forms of nitrogen, phsophorus and potassium. While the feces contains some of this NPK, most ends up in the urine. So, while the logic of recycing manure is sound for the additional fiber and cellulose that ends up in the compost, it falls significantly short of capturing the most important elements of NPK.

Considering the massive amount of urine excreted by 7 billion people on a daily basis it’s a wonder this source of urine fertilizer has not been capitalized on more widely.

I had the opportunity to visit the non-profit, university based organization ECOSANS on a trip to Sweden a few years ago. Their work was brought to my attention by a UN FAO publication that outlined the steps recommended for handling urine in developing nations agriculture.

Ecosan_closing_the_loop_poster_urine.crop.diversion       Possible_technology_components_for_sustainable_sanitation.urine

Another good use from human urine is the production of struvite. This is a phosphorus compound that can be dried, stored and applied to soil as a self sufficient, sustainable method of sourcing phosphorus. Considering we are near “peak phosphorus” this is no insignificant matter.

Because urine is typically low in minerals, a good means of bringing the NPK values closer to the needs of heavy feeding plants is the addition of wood ash. Wood ash is high in calcium, magnesium and potassium.

Urine and wood ash, two abundant waste products that give us all the NPK the planet could possibly need.



Aquarium Biogarden 12″

Aquarium Biogarden 12″ x 12″. Includes grow bed, pump, timer, plumbing

What is bioponics

What is bioponics?

Sustainable Farming Definition and Terms.

‘This article cites excellent sources in providing a sustainable farming definition.

National Agricultural Library Cataloging Record:
Gold, Mary V.

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), Exploring Sustainability in Agriculture: Ways to Enhance Profits, Protect the Environment and Improve Quality of Life.” (SARE, 1997). Available at SARE Website: (8/23/07)]

“Sustainable agriculture: A whole-systems approach to food, feed, and other fiber production that balances environmental soundness, social equity, and economic viability among all sectors of the public, including international and intergenerational peoples. Inherent in this definition is the idea that sustainability must be extended not only globally, but indefinitely in time, and to all living organisms including humans.

“Sustainable agroecosystems:

  • maintain their natural resource base
  • rely on minimum artificial inputs from outside the farm system
  • manage pests and diseases through internal regulating mechanisms
  • recover from the disturbances caused by cultivation and harvest.”

Integrated Farming



In particular, environmental and economic factors must be recognized in a sustainable farming definition to remedy the perilous ‘farm crisis’ the world is facing. And given the circumstances arising from poor nutrition and food contamination from GMO’s and petrochemicals, better health promoting quality of food is of critical importance:

Ecological Concerns

Agriculture profoundly affects many ecological systems. Negative effects of current practices include the following:

  • Decline in soil productivity can be due to wind and water erosion of exposed topsoil; soil compaction; loss of soil organic matter, water holding capacity, and biological activity; and salinization of soils and irrigation water in irrigated farming areas. Desertification due to overgrazing is a growing problem, especially in parts of Africa.
  • Agricultural practices have been found to contribute to non-point source water pollutants that include: sediments, salts, fertilizers (nitrates and phosphorus), pesticides, and manures. Pesticides from every chemical class have been detected in groundwater and are commonly found in groundwater beneath agricultural areas; they are widespread in the nation’s surface waters. Eutrophication and “dead zones” due to nutrient runoff affect many rivers, lakes, and oceans. Reduced water quality impacts agricultural production, drinking water supplies, and fishery production.
  • Water scarcity in many places is due to overuse of surface and ground water for irrigation with little concern for the natural cycle that maintains stable water availability.
  • Other environmental ills include over 400 insects and mite pests and more than 70 fungal pathogens that have become resistant to one or more pesticides; stresses on pollinator and other beneficial species through pesticide use; loss of wetlands and wildlife habitat; and reduced genetic diversity due to reliance on genetic uniformity in most crops and livestock breeds.
  • Agriculture’s link to global climate change is just beginning to be appreciated. Destruction of tropical forests and other native vegetation for agricultural production has a role in elevated levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Recent studies have found that soils may be sources or sinks for greenhouse gases.

Economic and Social Concerns

Economic and social problems associated with agriculture can not be separated from external economic and social pressures. As barriers to a sustainable and equitable food supply system, however, the problems may be described in the following way:

  • Economically, the U.S. agricultural sector includes a history of increasingly large federal expenditures and corresponding government involvement in planting and investment decisions; widening disparity among farmer incomes; and escalating concentration of agribusiness—industries involved with manufacture, processing, and distribution of farm products—into fewer and fewer hands. Market competition is limited. Farmers have little control over farm prices, and they continue to receive a smaller and smaller portion of consumer dollars spent on agricultural products.
  • Economic pressures have led to a tremendous loss of farms, particularly small farms, and farmers during the past few decades—more than 155,000 farms were lost from 1987 to 1997. This contributes to the disintegration of rural communities and localized marketing systems. Economically, it is very difficult for potential farmers to enter the business today. Productive farmland also has been pressured by urban and suburban sprawl—since 1970, over 30 million acres have been lost to development.

Impacts on Human Health

As with many industrial practices, potential health hazards are often tied to farming practices. Under research and investigation currently is the sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics in animal production, and pesticide and nitrate contamination of water and food. Farmer worker health is also a consideration in all farming practices.



Farming’s Biggest Expense…Shipping

Vertical rooftop farms are vertically placed on tops of buildings but that’s not why they are successful as “vertical farms”. The fact that they can add value to their end product creates greater profit potential. How they do it is through sales to local CSA groups and to restaurants located in the immediate vicinity. Vertical integration of sales means that a value is added to the finished product thereby improving the net income for the farmer.

Growing in urban settings is gaining traction primarily because there is greater value in local food but the farmer has more to gain by eliminating the cost of shipping. The cost of freight alone adds upwards of 25% to a lb of lettuce. If that cost is eliminated, the revenue can be kept on-site and increase profits due to transportation as well as reducing shrinkage. If produce can be sold quickly after harvest, there is much less waste. A more fresh flavor and personalized touch also gives urban farmers a chance to turn greens into “green”.

The comments below were taken from a recent NY Times article describing the success of Bright Farms, Gotham Farms and Lufa:

When Lufa Farms began selling produce to customers in Montreal in late April, it signaled what could be the beginning of a tantalizing new era in the gastronomic fortunes of that Canadian metropolis.

For a traditional farm, he said, it is not unusual for lettuce to travel more than 1,500 miles over five or six days to a supermarket shelf, which can cost as much as $1 for a head of lettuce that will sell for $2. By improving the energy efficiency of food production, Mr. Lightfoot contends BrightFarms can change the economics of farming.

After four years of developing the business, building the greenhouse and refining growing techniques, Lufa Farms has started delivering baskets of produce to local subscribers: $22 for a six-pound basket and $30 for a basket weighing about nine pounds.

With more than 400 customers signed up and more joining daily, Mr. Lynn, a 60-year-old technology entrepreneur who founded, ListenUP! Canada, a hearing aid chain, says Lufa Farms can enroll a thousand customers, break even this year and reap a 15 percent profit in the future.

“Unlike a lot of start-ups, we’re not trying to find a market,” Mr. Lynn said. “We know there is a demand for this.”

Improving Competitive Edge for Small Farmers

The challenge for small farmers to compete with big box grocers is similar to the challenges that small grocers have. If Wall Mart and other discount food sellers are in your area it could be a challenge. The low cost of produce from subsidized US farms and from low cost sources in Mexico and overseas makes it necessary to find a niche when it comes to making a profit.

Certainly a local farmer has an advantage when growers have high visibility, organic and when buyers are educated to food quality and importance of buying local.

There are sure other strategies a farmers can practice to improve profits. Growing a unique head of lettuce is one way. ATTRA’s Steve Diver reports:

“A good example of changes in a niche market is the salad greens industry. Fifteen years ago, leaf lettuce was almost impossible to find. When leaf lettuces were introduced to the general public, few people accepted them. When chefs in finer restaurants began using them, more affluent people began asking for them in markets. The under supply led to extremely high prices; as much as $16 per pound was not uncommon. More and more small growers began producing salad greens, but it wasn’t until large growers entered the market that the price per pound went down significantly (to $6-10 a pound). Many growers can still get $4-6 a pound for greens, but as more large growers enter the market, this price will continue to drop. Long before the market has bottomed out is when small growers need to diversify and find ways to add value to their crops, like offering pre-cut, washed and ready-to-eat mixed lettuces. “

Labor and energy are the two greatest overhead costs to a small organic farmer. If you operate a greenhouse, use a tractor or grow in an illuminated indoor garden or warehouse, the cost of fuel can be a show stopper.