Crops that Grow like Weeds

Dear (Contact First Name),

Terra Firma subscribers are pretty aware that spinach and arugula, either on their own or mixed with baby lettuce, are key components of our CSA boxes for much of the year.

For you, they are convenient, tasty and healthy whether used as the basis for a salad or tossed with hot foods for a minute or two to wilt them.  For us, they are a fast growing “bonus crop” that reach maturity in less than two months.  Compare this to head lettuce, kale or cabbage that take 3-4 months.  This allows us to plant them in between two other crops.  For example, the spinach in your boxes today is growing in a field where we harvested cabbage in February.  And by June 1st, it will be planted in Winter Squash.

We plant spinach and arugula very densely, using up to 5 million seeds per acre.  But we rarely grow a full acre all at once, instead planting smaller fields every two weeks or so to ensure a steady supply.  Of course where the same sized field of another vegetable might produce many tons, the salad greens just produce a few hundred pounds.  But that is all we need to put a half pound bag in each of your CSA boxes.

Spinach Field at Sunrise

In order to have baby greens in your boxes nine months of the year, we now grow three different varieties of arugula and five of spinach depending on the time of year.  If you pay close attention, you can probably see the differences.

Large salad growers now have machines to harvest spinach, arugula and baby lettuce.  We still pick ours by hand; a laborious but efficient process.  In a well-planted spinach field without too many weeds, one person can easily harvest 50 lbs. of spinach an hour.

The real work comes after harvest, when we wash the greens and spin them dry in small batches.  We have 5 specialized designed dryers, each one holds just 5 pounds of leaves.  We empty the dryers into large plastic bags inside plastic bins; when the bins are full they hold a few hundred pounds.  The bins are refrigerated overnight to ensure that the leaves are fully chilled, then we bag up your individual portions.

On harvest days, we start picking salad greens at sunrise and finish in a couple of hours.  Washing the greens, however, takes twice as long.  Bagging them up you for takes all morning the next day.

Weather is always the biggest threat to our salad greens.  Excessive wet, wind or hot weather affects the quality and shortens the shelf life.  And there are days when we simply can’t harvest because it’s already too hot at 7 a.m.  And there are weeks when the greens are “perfect” sized on Friday, but we have to wait to pick them until Monday.  If it’s a warm weekend, they will have doubled in size by then.



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