basil testing, trial #2

2nd batch of Genovese basil, 3 weeks old. PBPG = Botanicare Pure Blend Pro Grow, a liquid fertilizer commonly used in hydroponics. The 2-2-2 fertilizer is Espoma Organic Indoor Plant Food (liquid).

We concluded our first basil trial on September 8 when the plants hit the 6-week mark. The overall results were our best yet, but still not worthy of bringing to market. So we started a second trial, pictured above, on September 16. In this new trial, we’re taking a deeper dive on the watering amount, and also further exploring the realm of liquid fertilization.

In trial #1, we saw that 1.5 tablespoons of water per day gave us the best growth, whereas 1 and 2 tbsp water / day weren’t as good. So now we’re looking at 1.25, 1.5, and 1.75 tbsp water / day to see if we can improve our accuracy. And for fertilization, the 2-2-2 organic fertilizer that we used in trial #1 gave us the best result when used once per week (as opposed to once every 2 or 3 weeks). So we started with that once-per-week plan as the baseline and added a twice-per-week with 2-2-2 fertilizer, as well as an entirely different fertilizer applied every watering. This other fertilizer (Botanicare Pure Blend Pro Grow) isn’t organic, which isn’t ideal in our opinion, but is commonly used in hydroponic setups, so we wanted to see if we could learn anything from it.

A very important point with this trial is that we’re now adjusting all of the water used in the trial to have a pH of approximately 6.0. We got a pH test kit beforehand and it showed that our tap water is more or less neutral (pH 7.0), and we’ve heard that basil (and most plants in general) prefer a slightly acidic water, around pH 6.0. Given that the results are noticeably better across the board, we believe this pH adjustment has been beneficial.

Anyway, so that’s the setup. So how have things fared so far? Substantially better than last time. Across the board. Noticeably faster growth, bigger leaves, no signs yet of disease or malnutrition, though at 3 weeks in, it might be a bit early for those sorts of issues to emerge. As said in the prior paragraph, this 6.0 pH water could be a big factor. But these higher dosages of fertilizer are also helping. Generally, the story that seems to be emerging is that, because the required growth time for mature basil is so long (4 – 6 weeks or more), the soil alone doesn’t have enough nutrition to support the plant for the duration. Without supplemental fertilization, the basil will eventually deplete the soil’s nutrients and then begin to wither.

So it seems we’re on a bit of a fertilization spectrum here… where on one end of the spectrum, the plant gets 100% of its nutrition from soil with no fertilizer added… and the other end is essentially hydroponics (no soil, 100% fertilization). We’re somewhere in the middle, I suppose… certainly not hydroponic, but not really able to work around these fertilization needs. Again, the goal is to be able to do this year-round, and we can’t grow basil outside in the winter… hence we move indoors under lights. If we could grow outside in the garden, then the “pot” size per plant is as wide as the roots will go… plenty of nutrition available outside. So inside, it seems there needs to be some supplementation for these longer growth periods. This sort of fertilization requirement isn’t as big a factor with microgreens, as they only grow for a week or two before consumption, so the nutrients in the soil alone are sufficient.

We’re still plugging away every week with all of our usual farm activities. Our salad mix production took a big hit during the hot periods of July and August, but it’s starting to ramp back up now that the cooler weather is returning. Cherry tomatoes are still hanging on and we have plenty of peanuts (one row still left to harvest in the next week or two). We’ll have a few cartons of unreserved eggs at the market tomorrow, as well as a big lineup of microgreens. Stay well and hope to see you!

basil testing

Genovese basil at 3 weeks old

If you’ve seen our grow room video (and didn’t fall asleep), you may have heard about our efforts to produce a line of herb pots. This is something we’ve been working on since maybe December 2019. The progress has been slow, though we also haven’t been spending every waking moment consumed by this, either. Initially, we had been trying to grow basil, parsley, cilantro, and dill in 3.33″ x 3.33″ pots. The consistent results were that we had semi-decent germination and initial growth, but after about a month, the plants would start to yellow and go downhill from there.

We eventually started adding an organic 2-2-2 fertilizer, but the dosage was much lower than what the bottle recommended (we did that on purpose). This appeared to improve things a little, but not enough to where we’d feel comfortable selling the plants. We also changed the soil we had been using to one with more vermiculite, which tends to provide better drainage, more aeration, etc. This also seems to have helped a little.

In July, we changed our approach a bit. We decided to focus only on basil… let’s work on that, get that to where we want it, and then maybe we can add back in other herb varieties. And so then we started an experiment. (This may be the first of a series of experiments.) We started 9 pots of basil, and then varied the amount of water as well as the amount of fertilizer across the pots. The above 3×3 grid illustrates. For the three rows of pots, we varied the water from 1 tablespoon per day, to 1.5 tbsp / day, to 2 tbsp / day. And then for the columns, we varied the fertilizer dosage from an interval of 1 week, to 2 weeks, to 3 weeks (using the full recommended dosage each time).

The photo above was taken about a week ago and shows the plants at about 3 weeks old. Already, we can start to see some interesting differences. The watering sweet spot seems to be around 1.5 – 2 tbsp water per day, and the 1 week fertilizer interval looks to be the leader. It will be interesting to see how well they do going forward, and we’ll likely come up with additional ideas to test to see if we can further dial in our process to produce a better basil offering.

We’re gearing up for the 8/29 market, though current forecast hints at “heavy rainfall” at some point in the day. Hopefully that holds off until the afternoon, but we’ll get what we get. Plenty of microgreens on the way for Saturday, and Elissa’s been harvesting salad mix and tomatoes from the garden. Hopefully a limited batch of eggs for Saturday, as well. Hope to see you there!

rolling through summer

Our market setup shortly after 8am, August 8.

Since the market “reopened” at the end of May, it’s just been a matter of turning the crank week after week. Sales have been going really well. We’ve been steadily increasing quantities of microgreens that we bring each week… when a given plant variety sells out, we up that quantity by one tray for the next grow cycle. Our newest variety this season is Swiss chard… a rainbow mix of stem colors. (We also grow the same chard in the garden for our bagged salad mix.)

Eggs are still selling out every week… we have had zero backlog since the pandemic really kicked in back in March. We’re just holding everything steady there… no plans to increase our flock size or otherwise scale up anytime soon. So far, per our experience, once you’ve covered the cost of feed and other recurring needs, the egg layer “enterprise” has had a fairly thin financial margin. Obviously, it’s certainly nice to get the great feedback we’ve gotten with the eggs, and how can you complain when you sell out every week! But anyway, the forward plan with eggs is just steady as she goes.

We’re still bringing salad mix every week, though the summer heat has set us back some. We had, I believe, six batches of salad mix starts in our grow room that failed to launch a month or two ago… and we’re feeling the pain of that now as the beds we planted earlier in the spring are more or less done. We have some additional beds coming online now. Hopefully the salad mix production will pickup as we approach fall.

Tomatoes have been ramping up the past few weeks. We started 50 tomato plants in the grow room in mid-April, and then planted them in the garden in May. About 30 of those plants are semi-protected in a makeshift greenhouse, and the remainder are out in the garden. All are indeterminate cherries, and we train them up a string and prune as they grow. Some tomato varieties will split open if they get too much water, and we’re noticing that the unprotected ones in the garden have a higher percentage of splits vs. the ones in the greenhouse. We’re hoping that we can do more greenhouse production next year to have better control over the irrigation, etc.

The first batch of peanuts looks just about ready to harvest. I want to pull a plant out of the ground in the next few days to see how we’re looking. I’m hoping we can start bringing peanuts to the market in the next week or two or three… we’ll keep you posted.

As always, we’re grateful for all the support from customers new and old, and we look forward to seeing everyone each week. Feel free to share any feedback with us (good or bad) at any point… we’re always looking for ways to improve. We may do another YouTube video here in a couple weeks (try to remain calm!) Thanks so much, and hope to see you Saturday!

6/6 market hours: 8am – noon

Logan’s got it all under control.

Slight change in plans for tomorrow’s Manassas farmer’s market. Hours will be from 8am to noon (as opposed to 1pm), due to a planned protest at the Manassas Museum at 1pm.

Current inventory status: We just sold out of chicken eggs, but still have a couple dozen duck eggs available. We’ll be bringing a decent lineup of microgreens and bagged salad greens tomorrow. Feel free to contact us if you’d like to reserve anything for pickup, but you’re also welcome to just show up and see what we have. Hope to see you tomorrow!