Recycle Soil into New Product

Courtesy of Brenda S., Thompson Street Farm, Glastonbury CT
I recycle the soil I grow micro greens in, by composting it or selling it. I dump my trays on my compost pile, or I give the soil mat with all the left over bits and pieces to my chickens. I then add their bedding (I use hay only. I don’t use any wood chips for bedding, a recommendation from Eliot Coleman’s book, to my compost pile. I add nothing to my compost other than organic matter. Nature does the rest.

Once everything is broken down, I sift the compost and package it in small bags. I include 2 muslin bags, instructions and sell it at farmers markets as “Henrietta’s Compost Tea.” Gardeners and people that have house plants are my target market. Its not a great seller, but I sell enough to keep it going.

Its green, super easy, and completes the circle of life, and people love the idea. Best part its another way to re-coup your costs. And yes, my chicken’s names are really called Henrietta 1 through 9. If you want their story is on my Facebook page. Two of them have even appeared with me on the Colin McEnroe Show, CT Public Radio – that was crazy. (you see? marketing, marketing, marketing…)


Pricing Micro Greens

Courtesy of Brenda S., Thompson Street Farm, Glastonbury CT
Some micro’s leaves are heavier (per oz) than others. For example, sunflower shoots weigh more than horseradish and chia, so I get more money per oz for sunflowers than I do for horseradish and chia. On the other hand, if a customer wants lighter weight micros they are getting a great bargain from me because they are getting a lot of greens per oz. In general I get approx 4 – 6 oz per tray @ $2.00 per/oz depending on the green.

If someone asks for the whole tray, and I’m never going to see them again, its a flat $20.00. I re-use my trays and recycle my soil, so I don’t like to give up my trays. Trays and soil aren’t cheap and I realize I’m selling my micros on the low end so I really need to be frugal with everything that I do.

However, I have a customer that always returns my trays (and soil) every week faithfully so I just charge her the per oz amount.

Winter Growing of Micro Greens

Courtesy of Brenda S., Thompson Street Farm, Glastonbury CT

For winter sales of micro greens, I’m doing about 20 trays a week to start. I have a winter market through December 22nd,so I will see how demand is. If I can control the temperature in the greenhouse I will do more. Yesterday I started 5 trays on heat mats in the greenhouse. The rest of my trays are in a back room in my house on racks. If the trays in the greenhouse survive the overnight lows, I will start more using some kind of alternative heat source. I’m focusing on heating the trays instead of heating the air.

For mats I’ve purchased reptile heat pads/mats. I’m turning on the mats when the sun goes down. The greenhouse is warm enough during the day, and they don’t need additional heat. The product I’m using is Zoo Med ReptiTherm Under Tank Heater. is selling them for $13.71 for a small mat. I’m also using a large seedling mat as well. I realize if I’m going to do a lot of trays this wont be practical.

Another cheap idea I’m toying with for protecting the greens overnight is putting the trays on an electric blanket.

In addition to growing micro greens on shelves in the greenhouse, I will also be growing arugula, lettuce and green onions in the greenhouse beds. I also have several of my outdoor raised beds growing arugula and lettuce. My leased SPIN field has turnips, carrots and tatsoi, all unprotected at this time.

Turnips and tatsoi I harvest every week. The carrots are just coming up now. A local farmer suggested I just leave them there for winter and see what happens. Long story as to why I’m growing carrots this winter. Short version – I hired a high school kid to help me plant a 1/4 acre. Yup – he seeded an entire segment with carrots instead of arugula.

Micro Green Menu:
sunflowers (indoors)
popcorn shoots (indoors)
pea shoots (indoors)
purple radish
chia (indoors)

Squash Need Heat

Courtesy of Brenda S., Thompson Street Farm, Glastonbury CT

I’ve only been growing commercially for a few years (but have been hobby gardening for 16 yrs) and live in central CT. I still have so much to learn.

Last year we built a 14 x 24 green house. We built 2 raised beds and filled them with organic compost/peat and soil mixture. Our first crop was tomatoes, and we had a great harvest – although the summer was very hot (temps over 100 for weeks) and the tomatoes loved it. I had no leaf curl – although I did notice some of my plants have leaf curl this week. Its been super hot for days then it turns super cold and rainy for days.

I cant grow squash here unless its hot and dry. Squash are heat lovers and if your temps are cooler than normal it maybe too cold for them. I’m not sure what you can do other than drop your flaps and see if you can warm them up a little. If you’re hot – well I’m not sure what to say…other than check your soil????

Because of our cooler than normal temps I purposely delayed starting my tomatoes. We will see if we have a good year. I may not have tomatoes by the beginning of July but I’m hoping I will have product well into November when everyone else is done. Time will tell.

Second Cuts of Greens

Courtesy of Brenda S., Thompson Street Farm, Glastonbury CT
I try and get 3 cuttings from my arugula, depending on how hot it is before clearing the bed. The more you cut the more fibrous the arugula gets. So I try to stay on the more tender side of things. The Chef I work with only accepts first cuttings because they are the tenderest and not as spicy.

I’ve found mustard greens can also handle multiple cuttings but will eventually get really fibrous and bolt in really hot weather. But I did well with it, and I was glad I didn’t have to replant another bed every 14 day plus days.

Bagging Greens by Weight

Courtesy of Brenda S., Thompson Street Farm, Glastonbury CT

I use the # 10 size Pac Sell bag, which is big enough to hold 1 lb. of greens, which is the quantity I sell  to my restaurant client.  For the farmers market , I use the same #10 bag, but only put 4 oz. of greens in them. Last year I put 5 oz. of greens in the bags, but people complained 5 oz. was too much to eat in a week.

Keeping Greens Fresh to Sell at Market

Courtesy of Brenda S., Thompson Street Farm, Glastonbury CT
I grow mostly baby greens. For me humidity and high temperatures are a huge factor.

I cut my greens either the day before or the morning before the market. When I cut my greens I try really hard to keep them out of the sun. I do this by covering my container with a basic rain umbrella. Then I dump them into a sink, which is in the shade, filled with icy cold water and let them soak for approx. 10 – 15 minutes.

After they’ve soaked, I pull them out and put them in a large salad spinner and spin them for about 1 minute. Then I spread them out on a table covered with clean towels. Humidity dictates how dry the spinner gets them. Sometimes its so humid and hot that I have to set up a box fan and have it gently blow over the greens to get them really dry. The drier your greens, the longer they will hold up.

After I weigh and bag them in bio-degradable #10 cello bags, from Pac Sel, I put them in the commercial cooler until I’m ready to load up for the market. I use this type of bag because it breathes, whereas plastic bags trap heat and wilts the lettuce. I transport the greens in a large ice cooler.

In CT, our form of government is towns. So every town (vs. county/state) has their own set of rules regulating farmers markets and how produce is sold. In the last year many town health departments are requiring farmers to keep leafy greens cold. So I now have to use a huge cooler with a small amount of ice in the bottom covered with a towel. I don’t want the lettuce directly sitting on the ice because it will burn/freeze the leaves so I use a towel as a buffer – the bags sit on top of the towel. During the market I place the cooler facing out with the lid open so people can look inside and pull out what they want.

Hoops Built with Electrical Conduit Pipes

Courtesy of Brenda S., Thompson Street Farm, Glastonbury CT

Electrical conduit pipes work great for hoops. That’s all we use on our beds, and they survived Connecticut’s “Big Snow” last year. We used metal brackets and bolted them to the outside of bed and then used zip ties to hold the cross pipes together. Worked like a charm. They can also be pushed into the ground if you don’t have boxed beds.

We found the pipes at our local Home Depot for 0.95 each for 3/4 inch pipes – which is cheaper and more flexible than PVC pipes. The electrical conduit pipes are grey in color and in the same isle as the zip ties. At least that’s where they are in our store. The other place I’ve found them is in the plumbing aisle with the rest of the PVC pipes. Just remember you want the grey pipes not white.

Greenhouse Construction

Courtesy of Brenda S., Thompson Street Farm, Glastonbury CT
*We built our 14 x 24 greenhouse last year and here are some books that helped us. Because of my  husband’s limited knowledge and experience in building structures, we needed a very simple design. I ended up buying the basic frame kit without all the bells and whistles from Farm Tek ( I think the total cost was around $1,000, which included the plastic and hardware. Could we have done it cheaper? Probably but  again, my husband was unsure of his skills. In addition to the kit, I also
researched books and designs and found some books that were helpful.

Books I recommend:

• The Winter Harvest and The Four Season Harvest – Eliot Coleman. He lacks some of the details we needed to construct a greenhouse. Having said that, I loved his idea of using plastic electrical conduit pipes for quick hoops and it works well. These are different from the white PVC pipes they are grey in color and very flexible. We found ¾ inch pipes worked well. Eliot recommends ½ inch to ¾ inch pipes depending on what you are using them for. They’re cheap and hold up well in Connecticut winters. I paid 0.95 per pipe at Home Depot.

• The Polytunnel Handbook by Andy McKee & Mark Gatter. They are from the UK and have great ideas for greenhouse layout and making quick doors.

• The Hoophouse Handbook: Growing Produce and Flowers in Hoophouses and High Tunnels by Lynn Byczynski. This book is not long. I liked the drawings on the construction and we were able to adapt somethings to our project.

Between these resources, and what I found online, we constructed a beautiful green house that survived the big snow of 2010. Now I hope it survives Hurricane Irene this weekend. Yikes!