spring forth!

We hope to have tomato starts available at the market at least through June.

The main market season is fully underway and we’re up to our elbows in farm activities these days. The latest highlights:

  • The past couple months have been hoop house mania for us. We completed the 16’x50′ lettuce hoop house (sans end walls) in mid-March, and then finally got some real-deal end walls up on the 12’x50′ tomato house. (The end wall attempt that we put up in October 2021 didn’t survive the winter.) The tomato house is fairly well sealed now and gets super toasty when the sun is out. Over 120 F some days! We’ve had to keep the doors open on it to ventilate mid-day.
  • We’ve been planting tomatoes earlier this year (due to aforementioned sealed hoop house). Last year, I think our first planting was May 8 or so… this year, April 20. So we’re hoping that with the warmer average temps in the hoop house plus the earlier planting, we’ll have tomato half pints available at the market some number of weeks earlier this year vs. last. We brought our first tomatoes to market July 31 last year, so, who knows, maybe early July, if not June this year? We’ll hope for the best and keep you posted.
  • A much wider selection of potted herbs this time of year vs. last. Currently bringing 16 different varieties of herbs! We grow these inside alongside our microgreens, and it can be a challenge sometimes trying to find rack space for everything. Some form of outbuilding grow room has been on our wish list for the past couple years, and that may be increasing in priority.
  • Chickens and ducks have been fairly productive so far this year. We did our annual soil testing of various areas of the farm, one being the bird pens. The pens have been increasing their levels of… just about every nutrient category… over these past few years. The grass is literally greener in their pens. While this is probably fine and welcome for now, I do worry about too much of a good thing over the long term. We want to keep nutrient levels, etc all within bounds. So we may consider moving the whole setup maybe sometime later this year(?)

Hope to see you at the market soon! As always, our primary sales outlet is the Manassas farmer’s market on Saturdays (8am – 1pm). We plan to be there basically every week until Thanksgiving (give or take).

no market April 2

Elissa at the 3/19 market.

A quick notice that there will be no farmer’s market on April 2. March 26 will be the last “winter market” date, then no market April 2, and then “main season” market begins April 9. To our knowledge, location will remain the commuter lot across from Baldwin Elementary. From a customer perspective, the only real difference between the two seasons is that the winter market runs from 9am – 1pm, whereas the main season market will be 8am – 1pm. I believe the April 2 break is for market manager time off, planning purposes, etc.

I should caveat that all of the above applies to the Saturday market. Manassas has typically also had a Thursday market, at least for the main season, but I don’t yet know any details about that. (We don’t currently plan on attending the Thursday market regardless.)

All for now! Hope to see you on 3/26 (9am – 1pm)!

3/12 market cancelled!

Just got word from the market managers that the 3/12 Manassas farmer’s market has been cancelled due to anticipated bad weather (super cold, windy, precipitation of various kinds, etc). Probably for the best. We’ll look ahead to 3/19. For anyone who had a pre-order for pickup on 3/12, we will roll that forward to 3/19. If you aren’t able to pickup on 3/19, please contact us to let us know!

Hope to see you next week!

egg pre-orders for 3/12

We’re now taking pre-orders for eggs for pickup at the March 12 Manassas farmer’s market. We ask $3.50 / half dozen for chicken eggs and $4.50 / half dozen for duck eggs. As far as supply, plenty of chicken eggs, somewhat limited on duck eggs. Feel free to contact us at farmer@pennmarketfarm.com to place an order!

winter update

Gearing up for our return to the Manassas farmer’s market! Our first Saturday back will be March 12 (not the 5th as previously hoped). Check out the video for our latest updates!

Happy New Year!

The fam at Kennedy Space Center, FL.

Hope everyone had a nice holiday season. We just got back from a trip to Orlando a few days ago… a long time in the making, as we had a 2020 trip cancelled due to Covid, and finally had a chance to cash in the airline credits from that. So the kids got to fly for the first time (I think they liked it!), and we hit up Disney World, Universal Studios, and went over to Cape Canaveral. It was a nice break from the frigid Nokesville temps.

Speaking of frigid Nokesville temps…

We have 3.5 beds of lettuce growing (slowly) under the low tunnels. Hoop house in the background has dead tomatoes from the summer that need clearing out at some point.

The farm at this point is probably at its lowest level of activity for the year. Our indoor grow room is completely shutdown, and nothing going on in the hoop house. We have about 3.5 beds of lettuce laying in wait in the garden under poly low tunnels. These were planted back in August and September… we had harvested from them for some of the last markets that we did in 2021, but are hoping they spring up and that we can get something from them when we return to the farmer’s market in March.

Ducks and chickens are still doing their thing. We haven’t had a single duck egg for… maybe approaching two months(?) We’re hoping they start thinking about it as the days slowly get longer and temps warm. Chickens were in a lull for a while, but have recently started picking up production.

In other news, we made a fairly large purchase during the offseason (large for us)…

That’s a kit for a second hoop house. Purchased from Farmer’s Friend. Showed up the day before we left for Orlando. This one is 16 feet wide and 50 feet long (first hoop house was 12 feet wide, 50 feet long). And this has internal wind bracing and, I believe, one zipper door endwall. Anyway, we have all of these parts laying out under the snow in the garden and are excited to start putting the thing together once the snow melts and ground dries out a bit. This will be the sort of thing where, by the time we have this hoop house all built, winter will be over and it will no longer be needed! Go figure. (It will likely be beneficial year ’round.) Our intention is to use it for lettuce production.

Anyway, that’s the latest from the farm. I’m thinking our next video might focus on the building process for this next hoop house, but we’ll see what we see. One way or another, we’ll check in again before too long. Hope everyone is doing well!

fall goings-on

Some video highlights from the past few months! Just a reminder that our last sales opportunities of the year are coming up this weekend… We’ll have our self-serve farm stand open 12/4 and 12/5 from 9am to 2pm both days. 10218 Lonesome Rd, Nokesville. Hope you can swing by!

schedule update

From the November 6 market.

A quick update on our schedule: This coming Saturday, 11/20 will be our last date at the Manassas farmer’s market.  We had originally planned to attend on December 4, but we have learned that there will be no market on December 4.

So 11/20 is our last market date… HOWEVER, we plan to have our self-serve roadside farm stand open on both 12/4 and 12/5.  That will be our last weekend for the farm stand for 2021.  For the folks who like our eggs, this would be a chance to pre-order and pickup (just send us an email and we’ll get back to you).  Hours would be 9am – 2pm both days.

To recap, here’s our current outlook:

Sat, 11/20: Manassas Farmer’s Market, 8am – 1pm
Sun, 11/21: roadside farm stand, 9am – 2pm

<<< no farm activity for us Thanksgiving weekend >>>

Sat, 12/4: roadside farm stand, 9am – 2pm
Sun, 12/5: roadside farm stand, 9am – 2pm

We then plan to resume regular farmer’s market attendance beginning March 2022.

Farm stand address: 10218 Lonesome Road, Nokesville, VA 20181

Thank you all for a great 2021 season!  Hope to see you this Saturday, but either way, take care and we’ll continue the fun in 2022!

holiday / winter schedule

Elissa and I have more or less run our farm year ’round since June 2019. Main season market, winter market, repeat. We’re going to change things up this time. We’re going to attempt to take a break over the winter. We’ll see how it goes. Anyway, the 2021 main season market is still currently very much in session and will continue through the first week of December. And we will continue to show up until then, Thanksgiving weekend being one exception. Here’s what the calendar is looking like regarding our attendance at the Saturday Manassas farmer’s market AND which Sundays we plan to have our roadside farm stand open…

Now, having said all of the above, I don’t know whether Manassas plans to have a farmer’s market that Thanksgiving weekend. Either way, we won’t be there :-p. Also, we believe that Manassas will have a “holiday market” Saturday, December 11, and will likely begin the winter market season Saturday, December 18. But, again, we do not plan on attending any of those dates, so please seek specifics elsewhere for that information. We plan to resume farmer’s market attendance the first weekend of March 2022 (which will still technically be the latter part of the winter market season). We don’t yet know where the winter market will be located…. we would guess either the Harris Pavilion (same as last winter market) or the commuter lot across from Baldwin Elementary (same as current main season market). As we get nearer to our first return date in March, we’ll post with up-to-date details on where / when you can find us, etc.

Though we do plan to take a break for a bit over the winter, we may still do the occasional blog post, video, etc to check in and update everyone on our goings-on. We will likely begin growing fresh batches of lettuce, herbs, etc as we get into the latter portion of January 2022, and activity around the farm will ramp up from there as we get nearer to March.

Regarding our roadside farm stand, we plan to continue to have it open on Sundays from 9am – 2pm through the first week of December, as indicated in the image above. However, we don’t yet know whether / when we will resume the farm stand after that. We’re generally weighing our options and will keep you posted!

Anyway, all for now. Tomorrow (Friday) is looking pretty rainy, but we’ll hope that all wraps up decently so that the Saturday market remains unaffected. Hope to see you there! And Happy Halloween!

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!