From Green to Brown: Learning How to Not Grow Salad Greens

Thrillseekers,

The year started off looking pretty good. I was getting my beds prepped. I had already made a few connections with restaurants, and I had the proper equipment: Precision seeders, to be exact. I had purchased the Earthway seeder the previous year to help me seed buckwheat as a cover crop and help choke out weeds the previous year. (That is an entirely different post for another day.) But, for doing a salad greens mix, I knew that I would need a higher precision seeder. I was torn between getting the Jang and the 6 Row Seeder for salad greens. I had just finished reading Jean Martin’s book where he wasn’t too thrilled with the Jang. I had also just finished an urban farming workshop from Curtis Stone that swore by Jang. I made the leap and ended up going with the Jang because I wasn’t a fan of the fact that I was so strictly limited to 6 rows. I liked the idea that I could use the Jang for other purposes. I wasn’t too thrilled about the price. At a cool $550 or so including the seed rollers, this was a pricy piece of equipment. But for what it gives you, it was clear that this type of tool was necessary.

I got my rollers out, picked my seeds that I would use for my salad greens mix (all heirloom of course), and let loose. I was trying to do succession planting so I was planting a new bed every week. Unfortunately, I realized after about a week or two that germination rate was TERRIBLE. Only a few of the rows were coming in. The only ones coming in were mustard, mizuna, and tatsoi. I had about 4 other varieties planted that just weren’t germinated or were taking forever.

My gut reaction to this was irrigation. I’m in a very dry climate and I was using pressure compensating drip line. I was thinking the water was going down into the soil and going below the seeds before it could adequately saturate them and germinate. I got some microsprinklers and set them up. This only helped the trio of already germinating salad greens to germinate a little faster.

And then the grasshoppers arrived. They started demolishing the salad greens and my young radishes. I used a combination of neem oil and Nosema locustae to bring the grasshopper population under control. Both are approved for organic farms. I used neem oil first for a few weeks. I did see some improvement but there were still some grasshoppers. That’s when I stumbled upon the Nosema locustae biological control. It infects only grasshoppers eventually killing them. The remaining carnivorous grasshoppers eat the dead bodies and become infected. I found this combination to be very effective against them in the field.

So here I am. Less than half of my salad greens crop growing, about a month or a month and a half into experimenting, and not selling anything. I spent a few days thinking and honestly had no idea what to do. Did I have bad seed? Everything seemed like it should be working. And then I remembered: JANG! I had not adjusted the seeder depth when the machine arrived and had dismissed it since some of the salad greens had been growing. There are no markers on the Jang indicating what depth you are currently planting at like on the Earthway. Salad greens should be planted at about 1/8”. When I ran a track and picked up the seeder, I could see it was MUCH deeper than that.

I looked at the seeder and could see the furrow but the locking and adjusting mechanism for the depth gauge seemed to be that of a chastity belt. I couldn’t find any good information on how to actually change the depth other than “just do it.” After a lot of grief, I was able to adjust the mechanism. I hope to never have to change it again.

By this time it was about May. I had spent two months trying to figure this out. BUT, the salad greens were growing. Unfortunately, by about week 3 or 4 when I got to start tasting the salad greens, there was noticeable bitterness. And by 50 days when it should have been harvest time, the greens were unpalatable. June. 3 months of experimenting. Nothing to show for it other than a lot of things not to do.

So here’s the summary. I will make them all “dos” so we can end on a positive note.

Salad Greens Dos

  • Make sure there is enough irrigation to keep surface moist during germination. Drip emitters won’t do this unless you use a lot of rows (4 from what I’ve seen for a standard 30” bed).
  • Check your depth gauge. Even if it isn’t labeled, figure out what you are planting at. It is very important. Side note, brassicas are apparently not sensitive to seed depth increases.
  • Be wary of salad greens pests, especially in rural areas. It could be a combination too.

Until next time,

The Failing Farmer

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