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!

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