We started the first of the harvesting this week. It's always a big week because it marks the start of a period I like to call "Sorryicantdoanythingwithanyoneforthenext6months becauseimafarmer" period. I apologize now for any skipped birthdays or holidays.
Our first wholesale crop to be harvested are salad mixes: Spring Mix, Baby Kale Mix, Baby Spinach, and a secret blend of our favorite baby greens. The biggest buyer of them is Vinaigrette, a local salad-based restaurant with 4 locations. They can really go through the greens....in fact, each of the locations goes through about 100 lbs of spring mix, and 50 lbs of baby kale every week!
Baby salad mixes are actually prematurely harvested head lettuces and bunching kales. If we planted the seed at the proper 6" spacing and left them to grow for about 60 days, we would have full sized butterhead, oak leaf and romaine lettuce. They would look more like these heads of artisan lettuce that we grew for the CSA members last year:
However, we don't plant at this spacing. Instead of 1 seed every 6", we plant 60 seeds every foot! This reduces the room the plants have to grow, forcing them to stay small and to grow upright, which makes the harvest much easier.
When we first started producing salad mixes, we only did around 40lbs total a week. At that level we would hand harvest with knives; a labor intensive process that can really eat into an already slim profit margin. In fact, you can't hand harvest lettuce and still turn a profit once you are producing more than 25lbs or so a week. Enter the greens harvester, a small machine whose design is reminiscent of old sickle mowers. It works by using a serrated blade to cut the stem, and nylon cord to grab and throw the greens into a collection basket.
This machine allows us to harvest around 50 lbs in 20 minutes. It would have taken 2 people about 4 hours to cut the same amount by hand. At $10/hr, that is a savings of roughly $75 per harvest!
After that it is to the pack house, where we really set our product apart from the crowd. A quick dunk in some ice cold water removes the residual field heat and any soil that has splashed onto the leaves. We then hand sort every leaf. Any broken, wilted, or faded leaves are removed and fed to the chickens and turkeys (Yes, we have turkeys this year...no, we aren't selling them...yes, the kids can check them out when you come to pick up your CSA shares :-)). This is the most time consuming part of the entire process, but one that sets our mixes apart from the crowd.
Our process results in bagged greens that last at least 21 days in the fridge (I've left out a few of our secrets). It takes a very high level of attention to detail to get greens to stay fresh this long, and we like to think it is proof of our commitment to quality. We put the icing on the cake by packing them in a 100% compostable bag, before sending them out to be served in thousands of salads throughout the area.
Until next week,
This past week was all about potatoes. All in all, we planted 600 lbs of seed pieces. We started this process back in December when we placed our order for seed potatoes. Believe it or not, seed potatoes sell out fast!
We began by figuring out which varieties from previous seasons were the most popular. Then we research any new varieties that have come out, and decide if we want to give any of them a try. Once we have decided on what we want, we purchase certified disease free stock from Maine farmers.
You may remember me talking about potatoes a few weeks ago, when we cut them into seed pieces and started to chit them. They started out looking like this:
After a few weeks they started drying out, and the eyes began to sprout:
This process also allows us to remove any bad potatoes that would have otherwise rotted in the ground and could have potentially introduced disease into our fields. When you farm like we do, you don't have an arsenal of fungicides at your disposal, so prevention of disease becomes paramount. As we crate the potatoes up, we remove any gnarly looking spuds:
Then they are out to the field! We plant our potatoes in raised beds, and use a waterwheel to mark the spacing. Our goal is to get the cut side down, and the sprout side up. It doesn't always happen that way, but we give it the ol' college try:
You can see that me and the mother in law have to work in perfect sync to keep from making a mess of things. When she misses, I have to speed up and catch her skip by doing her planting and mine...and she has to do the same for me. We've had several years of planting with each other to practice, so we're pretty much robots at this point:
This year we will have our red, white, and blue new potatoes. All of the potatoes are gold fleshed, only the skins have color. For our main season potato we will have a German variety that is a gourmet delight. We will also have two varieties of fingerlings, for those that like to get fancy with their cooking. One is a Russian variety that tastes like it is already buttered, and the other a brand new development, called Pinto Gold. It produces a marbled, bi-color potato:
Photo from Johnny's Selected Seeds website.
I hope you all enjoyed learning a bit about what goes into getting local potatoes on your plate! CSA members should see them in about 5 to 6 weeks.
Until next week,