focusing our efforts

Elissa at the 9/18 market.

A number of updates as we start heading into fall:

We’ve been “optimizing” our bird lineup a bit over the past month or two. We had been slowly accumulating male birds over the past couple years to the point where we had 4 roosters and 4 drakes (male ducks). With 30-ish birds total, the male portion of the ratio was a bit high. So we decided to get rid of half of the males and then add females to max-out our pen space. So we ended up giving away 3 drakes and 1 rooster, and then we got 5 chicken hens (babies) at Tractor Supply, and then 3 female ducks via mail-order. (This is a thing… you can have birds shipped via mail. They go to the post office in a box with holes, bedding, and some food… and then post office calls you and you go pickup.) The babies are all outside at this point in a fenced-off area of the bird pen to make sure they get to eat their specific baby food, etc. We will likely merge them in with the rest of the flock in a week or two.

From Sept 4 market.

We believe the hoop house has been beneficial this season. To this point, we’ve harvested almost exactly 300 lbs of tomatoes from the hoop house. Compare that to all of 2020 harvest (which includes months that we haven’t yet had in 2021) where we harvested 137 lbs of tomatoes. So more than a 2x improvement this year. Now, we did plant more this year, but not 2x more. We don’t have quantitative numbers, but we believe our percentage of split tomatoes (ones that we would exclude from the numbers because we wouldn’t bring them to market) is lower this year, and the hoop house is likely a contributor. Splits tend to happen after excess watering (eg when you grow tomatoes out in the open and get a big rain)… so being able to control the watering as we have with drip tape has been great.

We’re trying to fine tune our lettuce operation. As you may have seen in our last video, we’ve been generally looking at ways to get our dollars per labor hour higher with salad greens. So far, we’ve done the following:

  • Grow lettuce only, no longer grow non-lettuce. So we’re no longer sowing mustard, chard, kale, arugula, etc. Mind you, we still have some of those out in the garden from earlier plantings, so we do still have some “salad mix” to bring to the market for the time being. But going forward, we’ll be phasing out salad mix and focusing on offering lettuce-only bags at the market. This will simplify the wash/pack stage because we won’t have to worry about ratios of non-lettuce to lettuce in each bag (tends to be time consuming).
  • Harvest the lettuce with a knife vs. pulling the outer leaves of the plant. We believe chopping the whole head with a knife will be less time consuming than plucking individual leaves off of each plant. So far, this looks to be the case, but still weighing the data as it comes in.
  • We anticipate adding some automation to our wash/pack stage between now and next season. So instead of washing greens by hand in a bowl, dump them in a tub of water with a bubbler (air pump), which theoretically jostles the greens like a pair of hands might… to get dirt off, etc. Then, instead of spin drying manually (in a 5-gallon hand spinner), put in a repurposed washing machine (this is a micro-farm hack). Lastly, air dry on a table with fans and pack into bags from there. In an ideal world, you could have the bubbler bubbling, spinner spinning, and greens air drying and packing… all at once… due to automating some of those steps. Whereas our current method is all serial and manual. So we’re hoping for improvements in wash/pack efficiency once we get those items in place.

Our long-game potted herb effort over this past year-plus has been a net win. Summer last year, we started to dial-in our Genovese basil process and eventually started bringing that to market in February / March 2021. And from there we added cilantro, dill, parsley… and the list goes on. We are currently growing (or attempting to grow) 14 different varieties of herbs. Some, like peppermint, have been troublesome with germination… but probably 10 or so of those varieties are doing well and are already on the table at the market. So looking forward to continuing with the potted herbs and starting the 2022 season with a good batch of them.

Regarding the calendar, our plan at the moment is to continue to do the weekly Saturday farmer’s market in Manassas until the main season ends (last day has typically been the first Saturday in December). At that point, we plan to take a break from the market (and from our farm stand)… and eventually return to the market first week of March 2022. We will keep you posted on specific dates (for end of main season 2021 and when we plan to return in 2022) as we approach them.

Many thanks to everyone who comes by our table at the market (Saturdays) or our self-serve farm stand (Sundays)! You’re the best. Hope to see you tomorrow!

no farm stand Sunday, 8/22

Just a quick update that we will not have our self-serve farm stand open this Sunday, 8/22. We will be at the Manassas farmer’s market tomorrow (8/21) as usual from 8am – 1pm. We plan to resume the farm stand next week, 8/29.

Hope all are well and hope to see you at the market tomorrow!

the summer stretch

We find ourselves at a time of the year when we’re just turning the crank each week. Not much going on in terms of big infrastructure projects or big planting / harvesting efforts. Here are some highlights:

The hoop house started to produce last week. Not sure if I mentioned this elsewhere, but after building the thing and getting tomatoes planted, we suffered some losses due to potentially a number of factors:

  1. We initially didn’t have the trellis lines in, and had some windy days, so the tomato stems rubbed against the edges of their respective weed blocker holes… damaging (in some cases killing) plants.
  2. We used a leaf-heavy compost that we had not used before on top of cardboard, and, in hindsight, this may not have been the most nutritious soil for the plants.

We eventually replaced lost plants with some of the garden starter plants that we were selling at the market. And we got the trellis strings up and started training the plants up them. So we recovered, but the effective result from those initial issues is that the hoop house in general is producing a little later in the season than we would’ve hoped (by maybe 2-3 weeks?)

The combo of high heat, lots of sun, and lack of rain has a good portion of our salad mix plants bolting (attempting to flower and make seeds). Bolted lettuce is generally more bitter tasting than non-bolted, so we try to avoid harvesting from bolted plants. But the overall result with salad mix is that we’re starting to see lower yields as we get further into July. Last year, we had really low salad mix production during August and September, so we’re anticipating continued loss of production… but hopefully not quite as bad this time around. We’ve started experimenting with shade cloth over some of the beds to see if that helps with the bolting, and we’re going to play around with overhead (sprinkler) irrigation in the coming weeks vs. drip tape… which will hopefully keep the plants cooler due to the evaporation they’ll get from wet leaves.

Elissa’s foray into baked goods continues. She’s tried a number of different items at this point and gotten some great feedback. I believe the lineup for this coming Saturday will be coffee cake loaves and small sugar cookies with sprinkles.

We’re continuing to setup our roadside self-serve farm stand on Sundays from 9am – 2pm. If you miss us at the Saturday market, feel free to swing by on Sunday. Address is 10218 Lonesome Road, Nokesville. Aside from eggs, we usually have a little of everything at the stand. If we won’t be able to do the farm stand (or farmer’s market) on any given week, we’ll be sure to post on our website and Facebook and send an email… but otherwise, you can assume that we’ll do both Saturday farmer’s market and Sunday farm stand.

This weekend is going to be a hot one! Hope you can come by!

cover crop chop

We direct-seeded field peas into our upper garden on March 30. Since then, the peas have grown, flowered, and started producing seeds. So we decided to terminate via mowing, and then cover with a silage tarp so that the upper garden would be zero maintenance and ready for planting whenever we eventually decide to make use of it. Enjoy!

summer’s a-comin’ (or a-here-already)

One of our customers, Rich Ross, sent us a photo of a raised bed he constructed. Most of the plants in the photo came from our garden starter packs at the farmer’s market. Looking great, Rich!

We’re in full main season swing at this point. Everything is growing and needs to be harvested yesterday. Finding a spare moment can be challenging. But seeing folks each week at the market is a nice reward.

Some of the things going on these days:

Our farm refrigerator (a chest freezer cycled on/off to keep it at fridge temperatures) died late winter / early spring. We’ve been freezing milk jugs filled with water in our main house freezer and then cycling those into the powered-off chest freezer… such that it’s effectively a large cooler. This has gotten us through, but the time has come to bite the bullet. We clicked “buy” on a brand new chest freezer (larger one), which will hopefully arrive this coming weekend. You might ask why not just buy a refrigerator? Well a chest-style unit is what we desire, for one, and I can’t recall finding a refrigerator in that style. There are fridge-only upright units, but if memory serves, they might be more expensive than these chest freezers. I’ve given serious thought to building a large refrigerator, but lumber prices are quite high these days and I would also prefer to spend time doing other things. But building a larger fridge is probably on the todo list another year or two from now.

After populating our hoop house with tomatoes, cucumbers, and eggplant, we suffered substantial losses (mostly with tomatoes). We believe there were a number of factors at play… transplant shock, wind rubbing stems against weed block fabric holes, overheating due to plant laying on black weed block fabric, inadequate compost. We’ve backfilled some of the losses at this point with other starters that we had originally intended to sell at the market. We will likely fill the remaining holes in the next week or two with additional plants (either more tomatoes or some peppers that we started inside). So a bit of a rough start in the hoop house, but we’re reacting and trying to salvage our summer crop effort. It’s looking like we’ll pull through with decent crops… though perhaps a little later producing than otherwise.

We have lettuce coming out of our ears these days. Our plan for this season was to sow (indoors) a batch of lettuce / salad mix every two weeks, and then plant into the garden at plantable maturity. Well, all of the batches we’ve planted to this point are producing lettuce in decent quantity. The result is that the garden as a whole is producing more lettuce than we can sell at the farmer’s market. We’ve actually been leaving some of the lettuce out in the garden unharvested, just to save on harvest and wash/pack labor. As a contrast, last season, we had a huge slump in lettuce production during August / September, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed that we have something to bring to market during those months this year.

The pea cover crop that we had going in the upper half of our garden started to flower and produce seeds (peas in pods), so we decided it was probably time to terminate it. (Probably want to terminate before it goes to seed next time.) So that got mowed down and covered with a tarp this past weekend. We’ll eventually figure out what, if anything, to plant in that upper section of the garden.

All for now. Hope everyone is doing well now that school’s out and the official start of summer is days away. Hope to see you at the farmer’s market one of these Saturdays, but if you can’t make it Saturday, we will have our self-serve farm stand setup every Sunday from 9am – 2pm at the front of our property (10218 Lonesome Rd, Nokesville). As usual, if there are any weeks where we won’t be attending the Saturday market or won’t have a Sunday farm stand, we’ll let everyone know via this website, Facebook, email, etc. Thanks!

farm stand open tomorrow!

It was a chilly and wet farmer’s market today, but we want to thank everyone who braved the weather and made the trip out. We plan to have our farm stand open tomorrow (Sunday, May 30) from 9am – 2pm, rain or shine. This will be the third week of our farm stand experiment. Our address is 10218 Lonesome Road, Nokesville, VA 20181, and the stand will be up at the front of the property just off Lonesome Rd. The stand is self-serve / honor system, but text / call Derek at 571-243-9415 with any questions, etc.

It’s looking like we’ll have plenty of lettuce mix bags, some salad mix bags, microgreens trays, garden starters, potted herbs, and a couple of Elissa’s baked goodies (carrot cake cupcakes and vanilla bean scones). We sold out of eggs today, so we will not have any eggs available tomorrow. Thanks and hope to see you!

hoop house build

One of our big projects this spring has been to get a 50-foot hoop house built in time for planting summer crops (tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant). It was definitely a learning experience! We tried to record what we could via time lapse. Please enjoy and hope to see you at the market soon!

self-serve farm stand open tomorrow!

Stand will be situated roughly where Elissa is standing.

Hey all! We had a great day today at the market and wanted to thank everyone who came by to see us! The weather this weekend has been / continues to be fantastic. With spring fully underway, we’ve been finding ourselves with more product than we can sell at the Saturday market. So we wanted to try a self-serve / honor system -type farm stand at the front edge of our property in Nokesville. The address is 10218 Lonesome Road, Nokesville, VA 20181. This will be tomorrow (Sunday, May 16) and we’ll aim to have it open for business from 9am – 2pm.

We intend to have most of the same sorts of items that we have at the farmer’s market… salad / lettuce mix bags, “gem” style head lettuces, microgreens, garden starter plants (tomatoes, lettuces, chard, kale, beets, etc), potted herbs. However, we will not have any eggs at the stand tomorrow. For payment handling, we will have a drop box for cash (exact amounts, please) or Venmo is an option (@DerekPennington). If you have any questions at any point, call / text Derek at 571-243-9415.

If you didn’t get a chance to come by at the market today or if you did but just can’t get enough Pennington Market Farm, feel free to swing by tomorrow! And while you’re at it, pay a visit to our farming neighbors Sunshine Honey Farm a little further down Lonesome Road at address 10725. They have rolls, cookies, jams, sauce, and lots of farm fresh eggs at their self-serve stand.

Enjoy the rest of the weekend!