GTF is off to a great start in 2018. Spring vegetables are here! We have been getting great production from our overwintering greens. All the fresh greens you are eating today are from our outdoor production. Watercress and mache are from greenhouse production. All the roots were harvested this last fall and stored away for your enjoyment for many months to come.
Our propagation greenhouse is full of starts which will be transplanted into our high tunnels as well as become our first outdoor plantings. We’ve got a lot of healthy young tomato plants with grafted rootstock to make them even happier. In our high tunnels we have seeded carrots, beets, spinach, cilantro, white turnips, radishes, scallions, chicory, and peas.
If you are willing to embrace the mud, we welcome you to take a look around and enjoy the beauty of our vegetables bursting forth.
Imagine a tiny little seedling, just emerged from the soil using the energy stored in a single seed. The first leaves are just beginning to unfold, and on the cellular level the tiny plant is bursting with newfound life. Cells are differentiating, nutrition levels are skyrocketing, and flavor is incredibly concentrated. There’s something so invigorating about eating one of these little life bursts, something almost magical.
Microgreens can be that final splash of color atop a gourmet dish, or they can be added onto a salad or into a green smoothie easily at home. Not only are they packed full of flavor and five times the nutritional content as the same plants in their mature form, but they’re tiny and pretty and we’re simply in love with them! Out at the farm we have microgreens on our salads for farm lunch (GTF provides a home-cooked meal for all employees three days a week), and we top most all of our dishes with microgreens in our own farm to table restaurant.
Because nearly five hundred varieties of vegetables wasn’t quite enough for us to juggle, we decided to start our own microgreen operation. For the past year we have been trying out different plant varieties and processing techniques, and now microgreens have become a solid piece of production at the farm. There are many varieties of micros that we have grown, but here are our main selections, complete with flavor profiles and followed by methods of production.
Microgreen Variety Breakdown
Amaranth – Burgundy
This dainty little microgreen wins the micro award, coming in at a towering 1-2 inches. It has become quite the favorite among chefs, as its deep burgundy stems and leaves provide a beautiful contrast atop many dishes.
Amaranth is most commonly grown for its grain, though we grow it for greens in our salad mix as well as a microgreen. It is related to beets and therefore has a very mild beet flavor.
We’ve been playing around with various ratios of different mustard greens for a while now, and we have finally landed on a winner—Mustard Medley #4, a combination of Arugula, Ruby Streaks Purple Mizuna, Miz America Green Mizuna, Ho Mi Dragon Tongue Mustard, and Golden Frill Mustard.
This microgreen has such a great wasabi-like kick to it, combined with some of the milder yet savory flavors of the more mellow mustards. Beyond the amazing flavor, the color variation in this medley is unique from all the other micros we grow.
Pea microgreens have very soft leaves, and a deliciously mild pea flavor. Due to their leguminous nature, these micros have especially high protein levels making them great for green smoothies.
Radish – Purple Leaf
This is another favorite among chefs for its deep purple color and mildly spicy flavor. The dark purple leaves fade down the stem to a lighter purple at the base, and little light green mutants shine through the sea of purple expressing the genetic diversity still present in the seed.
Radish – Purple Stem
These multi-colored radishes have slightly darker green leaves than the daikon radishes, only with bright pink stems. The spice level seems to be higher than the purple leaf, but milder than the daikon.
Radish – Daikon
This radish is my personal favorite. Both the stems and leaves are such a bright chartreuse color, the smooth, supple seedlings almost glow. Beyond the eye-popping color, daikon radish microgreens provide an intense, feel-it-in-your-nose wasabi spice reminiscent of purple roots that they could one day become.
This selection of microgreens works the best for us currently, though in the outskirts of the season it’s likely that we may play with cooler-weather crops such as micro dill and micro cilantro. We may even toy around with special kale mixes, beets, orach, chrysanthemums, and sunflowers, the possibilities are quite literally endless!
The Low Down on Growing Microgreens
I’d like to give a big thanks to all of the wonderful restaurants and individuals who have been taking advantage of our microgreens. Every week our order boards have been full and we’ve had to turn away customers, so we can only assume it’s time to up production. You can expect to see our microgreens atop dishes at the restaurants listed below and many more in the Portland area, as well as at our own restaurant, The Farmstand.
Thanks everyone for your support!
Here are some photos from Instagram of our microgreens at restaurants in Portland. It’s an honor to have our produce displayed so beautifully.
Seed Selection—there are thousands of tomato varieties in this world, and we need the tomatoes that grow well and sell in this area. Joelene spends countless hours meeting with seed company representatives and other farmers talking about which varieties they think are best. Then she has to use her twenty years of growing experience on GTF land to choose what’s best for us, taking into consideration what sells well at markets and wholesale.
Seed Timing & Grafting—We seed tomatoes about every other week from January through April. We have to have successions of dozens of different varieties of tomatoes, some in hoop houses, some outside. Plus nearly all of our tomatoes destined for hoop houses must be grafted, so we have to match the timing of rootstock and scion tomatoes which grow at different rates but must have the same stem girth at the time of grafting.
Flat Preparation—We make our own propagation soil mix for all the transplants we grow. To do that we have to make our own compost (a very complex piece of the puzzle), and then sift it all by hand, mixing it in a cement mixer with peat moss, perlite or pumice, and our own special mixture of micro ingredients and mycorrhizal fungi. The greenhouse crew makes soil nearly all day twice a week about January—April.
Tomato Seeding—We seed all of our tomatoes by hand, and the flats sit on hot tables to improve germination. For grafted tomatoes, twice the number of plants must be seeded.
The Grafting Chamber—After many years, Joelene has finished our grafting chamber to be a deluxe resort where tomatoes can form graft unions, a place where they can have just the right amount of light, heat, and moisture. Two people graft two to three days a week for at least two months. This takes precision razor cuts, sanitation, steady hands, and many years of practice.
Up-potting—After the tomatoes have sealed their grafts and the graft clip pops off, it’s time to up-pot all the seedlings into larger pots, which the tomatoes grow up in for another couple weeks.
Succession Planning & Disease Rotation—We graft nearly all the tomatoes destined for hoop houses. This is because we don’t have quite enough houses to rotate our hot weather crops as much as we’d like, so there is more disease build up in that soil. Many of the diseases that inflict tomatoes are soil born, so that’s why we graft disease-resistant rootstock with heirloom tomato scion material. We have more land outside of hoop houses and can do a better disease rotation, so grafting isn’t as important for outdoor tomatoes.
Install snow protection in the winter so we don’t lose any houses to snow. Remove them in the spring.
Soil testing—Check for all the macro and micro nutrients, add fertility and other various amendments. It’s actually quite a bit more complicated than that, especially including mid-growth applications.
Till the ground and form the beds.
Lay out drip tape and hook up irrigation, including trench digging, pressure calculations and pipe repairs.
Lay plastic over the drip tape and cover edges with soil to hold in place.
Sterilize trellising wires and install in the houses.
Tomato Transplanting—All the up-potted tomatoes must be loaded onto flatbed trucks and driven out to their planting destination. For many of the things we grow we use a partially mechanized transplanting method (tractor attachments that allow people to either sit or lay down while they plant), but all of our tomatoes get transplanted by hand. It’s a whole lot of bending over, at first in the cold and muddy spring, and later in the blistering hot summer.
Tomato Trellising—We have metal hooks with twine hanging down from the greenhouse ceiling. The strings are attached to the tomato plants planted below, and the plants grow up the strings as the season progresses.
Tomato Pruning—We prune nearly all of our indeterminate tomatoes to have two main leaders, one to twine around each string hanging down from the trellis. For about ten weeks out of the year a four-person crew works about three full days a week pruning and trellising tomatoes. Trellising entails twining the new tomato growth around the strings as the plants grow. Pruning involves careful pinching and clipping of branches and suckers. Anyone who’s spent much time pruning tomatoes knows the feeling of having green sticky tomato gunk all over your arms and hair and face. We prune largely to decrease disease pressure allowing more air flow through the houses.
Greenhouse Shading—In the summer months it can get way too hot inside a long hoop house, so we have to provide the plants some shade. If we had all the dollars we would just buy shade cloth, but we don’t , so we have designed a mud cannon to shoot mud all over the outside of our greenhouses, thus shading our tomato plants. Before the cannon was invented, it took a crew of four people standing (barely) on the back of a flatbed throwing mud up onto the houses one Nancy’s yogurt scoop at a time while driving forward in a jerky fashion.
Weeding—This is the one thing that doesn’t take too much time with tomatoes, as they are planted in plastic mulch. The plastic we use is a special plastic designed to prevent weed germination, but also designed to allow lots of heat to come through. This extra heat on the root system is what really drives up our yields.
Pest & Disease Monitoring—The plants have to be constantly monitored to see how they’re doing, see if we need to address any pest or disease issues, or if we need to apply mud or go through and do another prune. This is a duty shared by many who are at the farm all the time. We all watch and observe and share our concerns.
Tomato Irrigation—Irrigation is a very delicate dance. Water too much and you get disease and dilute fruit; water too little and you’ll have stunted plants and decreased yields. And those are but a few of the problems that can arise from improper irrigation. Joelene lives at the farm and gets up with the sun every day. She spends her entire day turning water on and off all around the farm until it’s dark out, and it’s light out for a long time in the summer! She has to use decades of knowledge about farming to decide which crops need what, taking into account what the weather’s been doing for the past few weeks and what it’s projected to do. Only so much water can be drawn from individual pumps at a time, so crops have to be prioritized, and a huge mental map must exist.
Tomato Harvest—Our field crew of about fifteen people harvests tomatoes nearly every day for almost four months straight. It’s a lot harder than it sounds to judge when a tomato is at the perfect time to pick, especially because every variety is different, every microclimate is different, every hoop house is different, and all of our eyes are different. You don’t want it too ripe or else it won’t make it to market, but you don’t want it so green that it won’t finish ripening. And aside from that, the simple mechanics of getting your body into a greenhouse packed with tomato plants taller than you, while holding a flat of thirty pounds of tomatoes while it’s crazy humid and reaching 90 degrees outside—that’s difficult.
Tomato Grading—Once in the packing shed, all of our tomatoes get graded by a crew of 2-3 people. Every single tomato gets picked up, felt, looked at, and put back down into its final destination. Tomato grading takes a trained eye and hand, and is broken down into the following categories:
Grocery Store Order—get packed into nice boxes and delivered all over Corvallis and Portland.
Restaurant Order—get packed into nice boxes and delivered all over Corvallis and Portland.
Farmers’ Markets—get packed into yellow flats and sent to markets.
#2’s—get sold discounted by the box or get roasted by our food processing crew and used in our salsa, in our restaurant (pizza sauce) and sold wholesale to other restaurants.
Compost—another place where the whole cycle begins again.
Heirloom Tomatoes—Heirlooms are so huge and delicate that they have to be cradled to stay protected. When harvested, we put them in foam-lined yellow flats in a single layer, so they take up a lot of space on pallets.
Marketing Tomatoes—Every year the giant selection of tomato varieties we grow changes to match changes in growing conditions and market demand. This information has to get compiled by our office and given out to our marketeers and our customers, which takes a good deal of time as well.
Cleaning Tomato Houses—At the end of the season we have to remove all of the dead tomato plants from the trellis strings. The plants get loaded onto a flatbed and get taken to our compost pile. The strings must be cleaned of all plant material, wrapped up in an organized fashion, and unhooked from the greenhouse ceiling. Then all the plastic must be carefully pulled out of the soil and thrown away. The drip tape must be gathered together and moved out of the way for the winter, and then the whole cycle starts over again.
Though tomatoes are one of our most labor-intensive crops to produce, many of the things we grow take nearly as much work and time, such as leeks and strawberries.
One of our employees, Amy Garrett, also works for the OSU Extension Small Farms Program. With a project funded in part by National Institutes of Food and Agriculture under the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, she is using some of GTF’s land to do a dry farming trial. How is such a feat possible? Dry farming has existed for a long time and was the main form of farming beforemodern irrigation systems, the rise of dams, and aquifer pumping.
After last year’s drought, more and more people became interested in the dry farming techniques, as it seems evident that warmer summers and less snow pack are going to continue. Last year, GTF had its water rights cut off in September, even with senior water rights. Other farms had theirs cut off in June or July. If this happens again, it will be helpful to have methods of farming that don’t require irrigation.
In her little plot of land, Amy is planting melons, tomatoes, squash, and potatoes. These will be grown all summer without irrigation. First, she plants everything a little deeper since the plants rely on moisture in the soil. The seeds are planted 4 to 5 inches down.
After covering the seed with soil, Amy uses her boot to push down on top of the soil to bring the moisture to the surface and create capillary action. If the roots can extend down three feet, they’ll reach groundwater. She uses wider spacing between each seed so they won’t compete as much with each other for water. Fortunately, the roots of dry farmed crops grow deeper than irrigated crops. The roots of tomato plants can stretch as deep as 5 or 6 feet.
This isn’t a yield-maximization strategy, but dry farming has been known to produce more flavorful produce that people often seek out. This year, the early adopters of dry farming in Oregon are getting together to do research and develop best practices. Small farmers in Western Oregon have created a collaborative learning community with a Facebook page called Dry Farming Collaborative.
Amy first got a taste of dry farming when she went around and visited small farmers in northern California and Oregon. One farmer in particular has been dry farming in Oregon for over 40 years and was the one who inspired her to look more in depth at dry farming methods.
At this point, Early Girl and Big Beef tomatoes are the only plants that have leaves above ground at GTF. All of the crops and varieties are ones that have been successfully dry farmed or came from dry farming systems (like Seed Revolution Now). Two of the potato varieties that Amy is planting, Purple Majesty and Mountain Rose, are also grown by GTF (irrigated), so it will be interesting to compare the dry versions with the irrigated versions. It is believed that dry farmed potatoes store longer than irrigated. The other two potato varieties being dry farmed are Yukon Gold and Nicola. Amy says it would be fun to have a dry farm themed dinner featuring dry farmed produce and do side-by-side tastings of dry farmed and irrigated produce.
If it rains, Amy will come out to cultivate. She says it is important to keep the top layer loose, which acts as a mulch. Crusting and cracking in the soil accelerate moisture loss, so loosening the top few inches will help to conserve the moisture below. Other than that, she actually doesn’t need to tend the plot very often. Since there is no irrigation, fewer weeds will grow.
We look forward to watching this process unfold throughout the summer, and we will do monthly blog posts documenting the progress of these dry farmed crops. Stay tuned.