Second in our summer greens series is a farm in Pleasant Plains, Arkansas.
In this post, Brandon Gordon of Five Acre Farms explains how he’s able to grow 200 to 300 pounds of salad mix a week in the midst of the summer heat.
The biggest problems Brandon and his farm face when growing greens in the summer are bolting and bitterness.
And then there are the caterpillars and the bug damage on the baby kale.
Lastly, moving product at the right stage also presents a problem, especially since they’re working with a co-op, so there’s a bit of a delay between harvest and sale.
To address the bolting, Five Acre Farms harvests greens while they’re still small. And while the efficiency of Salanova lettuce isn’t the best in the summer, Brandon has decided to grow it year-round because it keeps his customers—especially the wholesalers—engaged throughout the year.
To get good plant establishment in the summer heat, Brandon waters the transplanted crops really well with overhead sprinklers. To keep the beds moist he times the sprinklers to come on for three minutes every hour.
The farm previously used drip tape on their beds, but they’ve found that their soils dry up quickly with drip and the water doesn’t spread out enough.
Muir Lettuce: The Go-To
At Five Acre Farms, Muir lettuce has performed really well in the hot summer months. The frequent waterings keep it nice and cool, and that seems to be enough to keep it performing well.
Brandon is able to get two cuttings from Muir and Salanova in the summer, compared to three to four cuttings in the cooler months.
Just as with Elliot Seldner of Fair Share Farm, Brandon only harvests in the mornings. He has found that cutting greens in the mornings has really helped ensure the product’s freshness.
The crew harvests 10 pounds at a time into Rubbermaid totes. The harvested produce then goes straight to the packing shed, gets dunked into cool water, and is triple rinsed, spun, and left out on the drying tables for a bit before heading straight into the coolers. When they have big wholesale orders, they harvest the crops a day beforehand, let them sit in the cold room, and wash it the next day.
On Shade Cloth and Overhead Watering
Brandon uses the 10-foot-wide, 30 percent shade cloth from Johnny’s over his lettuce, peppers, and tomatoes. It’s woven and provides good, even coverage, and poses no problems whatsoever with overhead watering. Instead of putting it over just one bed, he stretches it over two beds for better coverage. This flattens out the shade cloth instead of having it curl around the hoops.
For lettuce, Brandon keeps the shade cloth on for most of the crop’s life cycle. While he thinks that lettuce may survive the heat even without the shade cloth in the latter part of its lifecycle, he thinks it’s better to be safe than sorry and keeps it on.
You can learn more about growing greens in the summertime by checking out our podcast with grower Brandon Gordon here.
In the next post in this series on growing summer greens, we’ll go out west and talk with farmer Erich Schultz of Steadfast Farm in Arizona.
And you can find all our market gardening podcasts at Farm Small, Farm Smart—the longest-running podcast on market gardening in the world.