Growing Spirulina

Beneath you will find useful guiding information if you want to grow your own Spirulina. Materials you need, where to get a Spirulina culture, how to grow, and tips techniques you can use to optimise the growht of your Spirulina culture.

Growing your own Spirulina

Spirulina is fun and relatively easy to grow. Compared to other crops that are made up of mostly carbohydrates and fiber with a low protein content, dehydrated Spirulina is composed out of up to 70% protein, something that makes it more like a green vegetable meat than a plant. Besides that, it is circa 7-13% good fats, circa 5-7% minerals and the rest is other molecules such as vitamins and carbohydrates. The great protein and fat content enables it to work as a nice protein complement to a more carbohydrate rich diet, either for you or your pets. 

If you start to grow your own Spirulina and eat it fresh, you will realize that it also tastes much better than dry bought Spirulina from the health shop. The taste is very mild, has a slight marine smell and the consistency of yogurt. For some reason it also sometimes feels good (some type of wellbeing) after having eaten fresh Spirulina. Maybe a placebo due to knowing that it is packed with lots of minerals, protein and vitamins or due to some other reason. 

You can grow Spirulina indoors all year around, as long as the room is tempered and if you have additional LED lighting, and outdoor in the sun during summer.  There are a few steps you need to follow and these have been listed in the headings beneath. 

Sections in Growing Spirulina

Spirulina growing kit

First of to start growing Spirulina you need to have a Spirulina culture. There are several ways to get it. Maybe you live in a country that have Spirulina growing in a lake (make sure it is Spirulina), have a Spirulina farm near you or have found some other place where you can buy it. If not, you can always get it from us at HealthAlgae. We, HealthAlgae, have it in two options, one with just a Spirulina culture and a instruction manual and another where you also get some grow medium:

Buy Spirulina culture and manual

HealthAlgae Spirulina platensis starter culture 30 ml with grow manual. Grow your own

An easy simple start Spirulina start culture of 30 ml (10x concentrated) with an complete Spirulina culture manual.

The middle option Spirulina start culture of 250 ml (10x concentrated) with an complete Spirulina grow manual.

The large and best option to get a steady Spirulina culture going with 10x concentrated 500 ml Spirulina start culture and a complete Spirulina manual. 

Buy Spirulina culture and manual + complete Spirulina growth medium

A 10 times concentrated 30 ml Spirulina start culture plus a complete manual and 10 L complete dry Spirulina growth medium

The middle Spirulina starting kit with 10x concentrated Spirulina culture, a complete manual and 10 L dry Spirulina grow medium

Great starter of your own culture with 500 ml 10x concentrated Spirulina culture, full instructions manual and 10 L dry complete growth medium ready to mix with water and use. 

Spirulina growing medium

Spirulina can just not grow in normal water. Three additional conditions need to be filled for a Spirulina growth medium to work:

1. It need to have a high salinity (NaCl)

2. It need to have a buffer capacity / carbonate level that keeps the pH at between 9 and 10. It can go down to 8.5 and up to 12 but for best growth, use the 9-10 range. 

3. It need all the nutrients that composes and builds Spirulina. 

Beneath we will go through these conditions.

Growing Spirulina and salinity

Spirulina like and grow well in a saline environment. It like a salt level (NaCl) between 5 and 10 gram per liter. You can increase it all the way up to 200 gram per liter but the higher the salinity the more it has to work to pump out sodium ions (Na+) that leak into the cells. The harder it has to work the more energy will be used and hence less will be put to build the cell and grow. 

However, this high salt tolerance is very beneficial since it thereby reduces the chance for other organisms such as green algae and bacteria to live and compete with the Spirulina cells. If other organisms do exist, they will often be very stressed, grow slow and stick to the sides of the grow vessel where they are more protected. If they do occur for a home grower it is very easy to wash a way these once every month or so. 

Spirulina thrives good in a high pH between 9 and 10.  During the photosynthesis the photosystems uses the energy of the captured photos to split water into hydrogen ions and oxygen. The goal is to capture and use the electron for the building of, energy molecules, cell components or other mechanisms. 

As there is a limit to how much electrons that can be used at once, the cells want to get rid of the overload. One way Spirulina does so is by the release of the pH increasing carbonate ions (and hydroxide ions). This means that when the light energy is high, the better the Spirulina grow, and the denser the culture get, the more it causes the pH to rises. It can even cause the pH to go all the way up to a pH of 12. However, at that point the Spirulina also stops growing. For the home grower, it is more common to see the pH rise to maybe 10 or 10.5 so this won’t be a concern. 

There are several approaches to regulate or lower the pH of a Spirulina culture. Beneath some of them are listed. We will start with CO2 which is one of the best but maybe one of the hardest pH controls to use.

If you wish to lower the pH a good option is to have a inlet of CO2 gas into the culture. This will also give important carbon for growth but you need to make sure that you don’t overdo it. When CO2 is dissolved into water (maximum circa 4 gram per liter at 4° Celsius or 39.2 Fahrenheit, to circa 1 gram at 30° Celsius or 86 Fahrenheit) it turns into carbonic acid which lowers the pH a lot. If the pH starts to drop beneath the pH of 8.5 and even 8.0 the culture are at risk of dying. So when you use CO2 addition you need to use some type of regulation feature that stops the CO2 from lowering the pH too much. Advanced systems can measure pH in real time and turn on and off the CO2 gas at the optimal moments but a home grower without these technologies will need to use other ways. 

Two suggested easy ways to regulate the CO2 gas feed to your culture:

1. If you can measure the pH with a pH-meter or a pH strip: 
Measure the pH of your culture when it at an intermediate density (in between the density when you have harvested and added new medium and the point just before harvest). You can of course do it at what ever point you like but this density of the culture would best represent the average and fastest growing state. Check the clock and start pumping the CO2 gas into your culture with the intended setup and check the pH every 5 minutes. When the pH has dropped 1.0 points, stop the CO2 and notice the time it took. Then continue measuring the pH every 15 or 30 minutes (or longer) until the pH has gone back up to the same level as before the CO2 pumping. You will then know how long it takes to adjust the pH down one point and how long it will take to go back up. You can then set a timer or do this on regular intervals to control the pH of your culture. Just remember that the the culture will have different CO2 acceptance depending on density and if the culture e.g. grows slower due to lower start density or lack of other nutrients, the pH might not rise as much as expected and be lower when the CO2 is added. This will cause the pH to drop more and more with every addition and risk the health of the Spirulina culture. In case you fear this, use the golden rule and start with half the CO2 addition. 

2. If you have no pH meter or no means to measure pH
Set up an extra spare system. In this system you will test your way forward without the risk of loosing your whole culture. If you lower the pH with too much CO2, you can always start over with culture from the other system. As in option 1, you can choose an standardized intermediate state of culture density for the CO2 tests. Start to plot and measure the growth speed of the system without any CO2 addition. When you have grown one round, from start to harvest, and know how the system performs, you can start to test the second round with CO2 addition. The idea is that the additional CO2 will improve growth and this, instead of pH measurements, will give you the optimal CO2 addition. 
Start the second and coming rounds with by adding CO2 to the culture for a set amount of time (maybe between 5 to 10 minutes) and with a sat resting time until the next addition (maybe one day). Plot the growth and compare to the growth with the first CO2 free growth round. If you see improvements, you can continue that way and test with more CO2. If you see no improvements it is something else (not pH or CO2) that is missing for improved growth).   

Different ways to add CO2 gas to your Spirulina culture:
To be updated…   

You may also add sodium bicarbonate to lower the pH. It won’t lower it so much since it has a pH in water around 8.5, but there will never be the risk of too much and the risk of culture damage as is the risk with too much CO2. The con with using sodium bicarbonate is the same with the risk of too much salt and the excess of sodium ions that lower growth when applied in to great amounts. The pH won’t drop that much either but you will supply more carbon for growth via the carbonate ions (C03-).  

You may also lower the pH in the Spirulina culture with acids. Here you need to take great care to not lower the pH too much. A drop below a pH of 8.0 will harm and even kill the culture. The same goes if the pH and ions in the culture changes too fast. The inbalence in pH but mostly ions cause the charge difference inside and outside the cell wall of the Spirulina cells to drag water in or out. This may impare cell function or cause cells to swell and burst. 

Many acids can be used but it is good to use an acid that provides either of the nutrients needed by the Spirulina. The purity grade of the acid is also important. You do not wish to add any heavy metals of toxic polutants to your culture. 

Acids that may be used and that can be beneficial alone or in mixes my be:

Nitric acid (give nitrogen, often the most needed nutrient for Spirulina)
Acetic acid (give carbon for better growth, but caution should be taken since acetic acid also might feed other organisms that can overtake the culture)
Phosphoric acid (gives phosphor, which is important for growth but rarely missing and caution for Cadmium content need to be taken)
Hydrochloric acid (is strong and you won’t need much but it just gives Chloride ions which there already is plenty of) 
Sulfuric acid (also called battery acid and is Sulfur based but will not provide any missing or lacking Sulfur since the medium often have good amounts of it)

The text is updated continuously…


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