Have you ever considered growing lettuce in the middle of the summer?
You might be thinking, “Why would anyone try to grow greens in the blazing heat of the summer sun?”
While it makes sense for some farmers to stay away from heat-sensitive crops in the summer, quite a few growers are seeing success in growing them, despite the sun and heat.
In this four-part blog series, we’re taking a look at four farms that are successfully growing greens in the summertime. Hopefully, you can take this information and follow their example on your farm.
First on our list is farmer Elliot Seldner of Fair Share Farm, who grows in the hot and humid South of North Carolina. Elliot’s selection of summer greens includes serrated leaf lettuce and butterhead lettuce, both supplied by Johnny’s.
Establishment and Irrigation
In a full-sun, high-heat summer day, Elliot starts planting as late as he can. The workday at the farm lasts from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the crew aims to get the planting done from 3 and 5 in the afternoon using a paperpot transplanter so that they can get as many plants as possible in the ground in the least amount of time.
After the plants are in the moistened ground, the crew immediately deploys hoops and shade cloth, waters the plants in, and gets them covered as fast as possible.
Elliot doesn’t have a set irrigation schedule because he can never depend on the same temperature, humidity, or amount of sun and rain on any given day. He waters anywhere from multiple times a day to once every few days.
The Challenges of Growing Summer Greens
While some summers at Fair Share Farm have a lot of rainy and overcast days, keeping the soil nice and cool, this isn’t what Elliot expects. To be successful he needs to always think about climate control, shade cloth, and irrigation. Even cooler summers present challenges such as waiting for periods that are dry enough to be able to plant regularly, preventing weeds, and keeping the beds clean.
Elliot attributes the farm’s excellent summer greens production to all the soil work they’ve done in the past seasons: they’re reaping the benefits of good soil pH and having optimal P and K levels.
In addition, they’ve employed the help of a soil agronomist to address fertility concerns and have upgraded the quality of their compost.
The crew at Fair Share Farm aims to harvest a 100-foot bed in 20 minutes. The produce then goes into the walk-in cooler to rest for 24 hours. The next day it’s pulled out, washed, and is sent straight back into the cooler to be packed in wholesale units. What they don’t sell for wholesale then gets packed for retail every Friday morning.
Product Quality and Yield
Fair Share Farm deliberately harvests each bed only once. They do this in order to guarantee the quality of their product. They’ve also experimented with increasing crop density so as to help with yields. By increasing the planting density they were also able to improve lettuce leaf texture and overall leaf turgidity.
Summer growing faces a battle against bitterness. For this reason, Elliot decided to harvest the lettuce a week earlier. This has worked and has kept the product consistent and the customers happy.
On Using Shade Cloth
Elliot rolls shade cloth over his summer greens when there are consecutive days with temperatures in the low 90s—especially when he has young lettuce out in the field.
Since lettuce is a cool-season, sun-loving crop, the crew lets it sit under the sun in the morning, covers it up with shade cloth in the worst heat in the day, and then takes the shade cloth off in the cool evening sun, all with some overhead irrigation in-between.
Fair Share Farm uses 50 x 110-ft. sheets of 50 percent shade cloth to cover 30-in. x 100-ft. beds using homemade low tunnels.
You can learn more about growing greens in the summertime by checking out our podcast with grower Elliot Seldner here.
In the next post in this series on growing summer greens we’ll talk with farmer Brandon Gordon of Five Acre Farms in Arkansas.
And you can find all our market gardening podcasts at Farm Small, Farm Smart—the longest-running podcast on market gardening in the world.