winter market in new location!

Hopefully all is well under cover after the Wednesday precipitation medley.

The latest news from the market managers is that the winter Manassas farmer’s market will be held in the Harris Pavilion (9201 Center Street, Manassas, VA 20110), and not the usual commuter parking lot across from Baldwin Elementary. So this will be Saturdays from 9am – 1pm, first date being this coming Saturday (12/19). The date schedule that I’ve posted a couple times still holds, as do our associated attendance plans.

We don’t yet know where our location will be within the pavilion, but you should be able to find us if you just look for the green tablecloths. Plenty of lettuce and salad mix this week, and the ducks are producing more eggs these days. Should have all of our usual stuff! Hope to see you there!

Basil in December

Basil pots making their market debut tomorrow.

Things are still moving along as we start to get into the colder months. The market schedule (which weeks on, which weeks off) and our attendance plans are all as they’ve been, no changes planned. I’ll post the schedule here again:

Officially, the “winter market” begins December 19. Last year, the winter market hours were from 9am – 1pm (rather than 8am – 1pm as in the main season). We need to confirm with the market managers whether this will still be the case. We’ve heard murmurs about trying to move the winter market from its parking lot location to some other location (potentially indoors)… between you, us, and the fence post, we’d prefer to just stay where we are. Anything indoors, especially, would seem perhaps risky given the pandemic. Anyway, rumors aside, the plan of record as we know it is to stay in the parking lot. As usual, we’ll send an update if the outlook changes in any way.

Weather for tomorrow says partly cloudy, high of 49. So hopefully not too bad. The microgreens are looking good this week. There’s a period between summer and winter (I suppose you’d call that “fall”!) when the thermostat doesn’t know which way to go… and the humidity in the house rises a bit… and microgreen “performance” starts to struggle. We seem to be past that period now and they’re all looking pretty solid. We have a number of egg pre-orders in the queue for tomorrow, but we may still have some unclaimed duck eggs on the table, at least at the start. And we’ll be bringing peanuts… this will potentially be the last date for those, depending on sales. Should have plenty of salad mix and lettuce bags.

And, last but not least, we plan to debut our adult-ish basil pots tomorrow (pictured). These were started October / November. All grown indoors. If you scroll back a few blog posts ago, you can see some of our grow trials with basil over the summer. We were experimenting with the different parameters (water, fertilizer, pH, etc), and so these current plants were grown using the methods that we honed down from those summer experiments. We’re hoping to continue bringing these every week, and eventually expanding to include other herbs as we get further into next season.

Anyway, hope everyone is doing well and we look forward to seeing you at the market anytime!

holiday market schedule

So this is our current understanding of the market schedule, as well as our current attendance plans. I believe the market hours will be 8am – 1pm from now through December 5, but then transition to 9am – 1pm beginning with the December 19 market. Of course, all of this is subject to change at any point, and we’ll provide updates if / when those changes happen.

In the garden, our fall salad mix production has kicked in, so we’ll hopefully have a decent supply of salad mix and lettuce mix bags at the market for the next however many weeks. We’re still getting a small number of cherry tomatoes… frost hasn’t totally killed them off yet! And peanuts have all been harvested at this point, so we’ll continue bring cartons of them every week until they’re gone.

The birds have slowed down with eggs, whether due to molting and/or reaction to less light in the day at this time of year, etc. We’re still getting duck and chicken eggs, just at a lower rate than we would during the warmer months. The eggs continue to sell out every week, sometimes before we even arrive at the market. If you’d like eggs, you’re welcome to ask us to get you on the reservation list for a future week, etc.

Inside in the grow room, we’re still carrying on with microgreens as usual. This last basil experiment was educational, and we’ve started growing what we hope to be our first real-deal production basil pots. So hopefully late November / early December we can start bringing those to the market in limited quantities.

Anyway, hope everyone is doing well or at least hangin’ in there! We always look forward to seeing you all on market Saturday. I’ll take a moment to plug our other social media outlets… we’re on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, so feel free to check any of those links out and give us a like or a subscribe to get updates from us as we post them. Thanks as always!

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!