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,