Listen to more episodes of Farm Small Farm Smart
The Ray Tyler Lettuce Series is a new podcast mini-series hosted by Diego Footer and farmer Ray Tyler to take a deep dive into the technicalities of growing lettuce—from why lettuce is a farm staple to how to master growing the crop consistently to how to effectively market lettuce to maximize profits.
In this episode of The Lettuce Series, Ray and Diego talk about transplanting and direct seeding lettuce: when to transplant which kind of lettuce and when to direct seed which kind of lettuce, the pros and cons of each method, as well as how to maximize your yields whichever planting method you choose.
This Episode’s Guest: Ray Tyler
Ray Tyler is the farmer and owner of Rosecreek Farms, a financially successful one-acre market garden nestled in Tennessee. Ray Tyler is also an educator who has helped many farms become more profitable through his coaching services. He also offers his services in the form of his three courses: The Living Farm Course, Caterpillar Tunnel Success, and of course, his Lettuce Masterclass.
The Farmer’s Guide To Growing Organic Lettuce by Ray Tyler
Ray Tyler’s Lettuce Masterclass
Pre-Cut, Quick-Plant Landscape Fabric by Farmer’s Friend, LLC.
Two Bad Cats Adjustable Dibbler | Two Bad Cats Single Dibble Wheel
In this episode of The Lettuce Series
- Diego introduces the episode on transplanting and direct seeding (00:07)
- What the bed prep at Rosecreek Farms looks like prior to planting our lettuce (02:10)
- Amending the soil after every crop (05:01)
- The importance of having soil fertility dialed in (06:16)
- How Rosecreek Farm amends and integrates amendments into their soil (09:19)
- Why Ray Tyler uses landscape fabric on the farm (09:57)
- Higher lettuce yields when planting with landscape fabric (12:35)
- Understanding the non-desire to use landscape fabric (19:06)
- Ray Tyler’s system for hand transplanting lettuce (20:52)
- No need to baby the transplants (25:19)
- There is a time and place for different farming methods, including using the Paperpot Transplanter (26:11)
- Prioritize time and labor savings where it’s needed the most (27:29)
- Say goodbye to sandbags forever with Kwik Hoops (29:42)
- When and what types of lettuce can be direct seeded? (31:36)
- The biggest difference between salanova lettuce and direct seeded lettuce mix (36:29)
- Salanova lettuce needs to be harvested by hand (41:10)
- The viability of direct seeding head lettuce (41:42)
- Approaching spacing lettuce in a 30-inch bed (41:10)
- The key to getting direct seeded crops and transplants off to a great start (44:36)
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Ray Tyler Lettuce Series - Episode 6 - Growing a Successful Crop - Transplanting and Direct Seeding
[00:00:00] Diego Footer: Welcome to Farm Small Farm Smart. I'm your host, Diego, DIEGO. Today, it's episode six in the lettuce grower series. It's on transplanting and direct seeding. This episode is a deep dive into getting those seedlings that you've raised over the past few weeks into the ground in the best possible conditions.
[00:00:26] We're also looking at when is it advantageous to direct seed versus transplant. Ray's gonna discuss why he uses landscape fabric on his farm and the different savings it gets him. Landscape fabric gets a bad rep, but Ray's found it's really benefited his farm, so his views on that are really interesting.
[00:00:47] We'll also consider when saving time and labor using the Paperpot transplanter makes sense. Today, it's seed to field. It's all about transplanting and direct seeding in episode six of the Lettuce Grower Series. If you're enjoying the series, and you wanna follow along at home, be sure to pick up a copy of Ray's book, the Farmer's Guide to Growing Organic Lettuce.
[00:01:13] This is a handbook meant for farmers written by a farmer. The whole goal of this book is to help your farm become more profitable and bring in more revenue by growing lettuce better, meaning, grow better crops, and grow it longer throughout the year. Ray's wrote this book, learning from his trials, explaining everything that he's done to really perfect his lettuce system.
[00:01:40] To get the book and follow along at home, use the link below. And if you wanna learn directly from Ray, check out his lettuce masterclass and online version of the book also using the link below. Episode six, the Lettuce Grower Series, transplanting and direct seeding. Let's get into it. Today, we're continuing our series with growing organic lettuce.
[00:02:05] It's chapter six, planting and direct seeding. So you've grown a healthy transplant. Now it's time to take that transplant from the nursery into the field. The first step that a lot of people are gonna do is bed prep. What does your current bed prep process look like when you're starting a new bed for lettuce?
[00:02:30] Ray Tyler: There's kind of two ways we do this. One is when it's a brand new, say block, we're shaping beds with a Berta Plow. You can do it with a shovel tube, and then this is, we've done our soil test, so all that's been amended and everything. Then what we're really trying to focus on is making sure we have a nice, flat, even bed across the width and the length.
[00:02:55] It doesn't have to be level from end to end, but it does need to be flat. And that is so that way when you do water, that you don't have these spots that hold more water or some that drain. That's where a lot of your, like your spotty diseases and uneven growth comes from is uneven beds. So that's been really important.
[00:03:19] What we're doing currently is we're doing this pretty minimal, almost zero-till where we're essentially like in the summertime, how this works is, let's just say we have a bed of arugula or actually a bed of radishes. Okay? We crop out the bed of radishes. There's some debris on the field, there's some stumps over, maybe some weeds here and there.
[00:03:46] What we're doing is we will do a light layer of compost, if that's what we wanna do, or we'll amend it according to what it needs to be amended by. We will then water that in the bed. We'll put a piece of landscape fabric over that bed. This is what I call time cropping. So we're letting time crop out for you because it's too hot for us to do this work ourself.
[00:04:13] Then, a week later, we'll peel that back, that fabric back, and we have a complete, debris-free, bare soil bed that has nothing to be pulled out. We're leaving our roots intact. We don't like to mess around with the roots, like, it's very nice. And this works for all crops, for the most part. Then what we'll do is we'll put down our drip tape, we'll put down landscape fabric over that, and then we'll transplant right directly into that bed.
[00:04:44] And so that's a basic walkthrough on how our bed prep is currently working. That does change as time goes on. We're trying to figure out how to do less, and so that's been really the best way, easiest way, I would say.
[00:05:02] Diego Footer: Are you amending after every crop?
[00:05:03] Ray Tyler: Yes. Again, back to our fertility. In my experience, for summer, anything�so from May to the end of October is, that is the time when lettuce is�it's a heavy feeder. Anytime that there is high stress, environmental stress, heat-wise, I've just found it take, it's just taken a lot more nutrients. I've done soil tests before and after and sent that to my soil consultant, and he's been like, yeah, that's just amazing on how much your lettuce is extracting from the field is why. So every single time we're planning lettuce, during that, those months, we are amending.
[00:05:54] Diego Footer: You only have 25% of your production area now dedicated to lettuce. In a perfect world, are you always trying to put lettuce in a bed that previously did not have lettuce in it?
[00:06:08] Ray Tyler: Yes. So we're never going lettuce on lettuce. There's always a different crop growing before we plant on lettuce.
[00:06:16] Diego Footer: If you were, because either your production ratio was so high relative to the land you had, that would just make that whole soil fertility thing that much more important to have it that dialed in?
[00:06:27] Ray Tyler: It really would be. And there was one year, I think it was 2019. We were doing a lot of lettuce on lettuce, but we were doing�we were doing like an inch or two accomplish it between each planting.
[00:06:43] Diego Footer: So in general, I mean with this lighter tillage approach, I know in the past, BCS, power harrow, there's broad forks, people do, you've, sounds like you've really scaled that back and tried to simplify it as much as possible.
[00:06:59] Ray Tyler: No, tilther. We used to use a tilter back five or six years ago, and it just beat us up. I remember I was just like, man, this thing is just beating me up. And my worker was like, oh man, this thing's so cool. Let's use it. And again, man, by the end of the summer, he is like, man, we�so now our tilther is just�it's our storage shed.
[00:07:19] We haven't used it in years. So yeah, we're not�we're not using any kind of mechanical tools now. We are using a rake. Okay. Like, like if a bed needs to be leveled out, we'll use a rake here and there, but for the most part, we're not using any kind of rotary action in our beds. Now, I'm not against tilling.
[00:07:41] There is times if I think a bed needs to be like reset or we're having some fertility problems, maybe it's too tight, so I wanna add some gypsum or something like that, maybe we will. But generally speaking, we're just time cropping everything. Now right now, that doesn't work �cause its too cold, so we're just pulling things out by hand.
[00:08:05] I always tell people that if time cropping does not work for you, consider yourself a blessed farmer because that means you don't have enough heat, right, in your summertime to break down those crops. But what we found is that when you time crop it, you're using the more microbes and earthworms you have.
[00:08:24] They come out at night, they break down those greens, and during the day, the sun breaks down the greens even more, so between heat and good soil biology, it's, I've got some videos of me doing that system back in 2019, and it's very effective. We really, really like that a lot.
[00:08:47] Diego Footer: Any steps you can take out of the process, it just saves that much more mental stress, wear and tear.
[00:08:54] Ray Tyler: Yeah, I would say on this point, I would say having another acre to have more time for cover cropping would be really nice. Maybe you don't need two acres of production, but just having that time when you don't have to be as aggressive with getting crops in would be, I think, has a place in a market farm.
[00:09:19] Diego Footer: When you amend, are you applying granules? If so, how are you getting that into the surface?
[00:09:24] Ray Tyler: Yeah, it's granules, and so we just, we�ll weigh out�let's just say a bed needs five pounds of amendments. We'll put that in a bucket, and we just�we used to have these, these harvest buckets so we can put 'em in and run down the beds and just let it gradually drain out. But now, we're just taking our hand and just broadcasting that on the surface of the bed.
[00:09:50] Diego Footer: You just let it soak in as it gets watered eventually?
[00:09:54] Ray Tyler: Yep. Just right on the surface. Yep. And just let it percolate in.
[00:09:57] Diego Footer: So for the time cropping, you're using landscape fabric to help solarize, maybe that's not the right�to break down all that surface matter there.
[00:10:08] You also use a lot of landscape fabric to plant into, and that that was super popular back in the day when I started the Urban Farmer with Curtis back in 2015. He was a big proponent of that. Since then, I think the tide has really swung the other way, where people are like, I hate the look of it. It's plastic, get it off my farm. You're still a big proponent of it. Oh yeah. Why do you like landscape fabric for planting into as much as you do?
[00:10:37] Ray Tyler: All right. And you're absolutely right. So this is probably one of the most hated thing on my farm is landscape fabric. And so let me break down the reason why. The number one driver was post-harvest. Right.
[00:10:54] So what would happen is the greens would get dirty and my wife, who was in the pack shed, it was just taking her a very long time to wash these greens. Like, she was�she could go through two or three tub rinses, like where we had to drain the tub that was so dirty just to clean a batch of salad mix.
[00:11:20] And on head lettuce, we were having to wash and dry head lettuce. If they're clean, we just harvest, put 'em in the tote, and that goes to market. Like we just skip that whole part because we were primarily doing a lot of paper pot, and we love that. That tool was so fast. It's just very enjoyable to use. It's amazing. But the problem was on her end, because she's, I'm a mother, I'm homeschooling, and I'm cooking, and I don't wanna spend eight hours washing head lettuce when I don't have to spend any hours on it.
[00:11:50] And so, the move for us was more of a whole system approach to our farm. So it's very common for a farm to spend 50% or so of their time in post-harvest. So once, she was spending days, just days working on this, now, when we went to that fabric, she would spend a half a day on farmer's market pack. So it, it was�
[00:12:19] It just wasn't even close. So I looked it as a, well, it does save us more time, but it's really not taking us that much longer to plant by hand. We really have a system that's very fast, and so I thought, if this is gonna save her that much time, let's do it. So there's a few things that kind of happen in the result of going all the way fabric. I started to see higher yields in our lettuce.
[00:12:47] So in 2019, I started to do surface temperature readings on bare soil, fabric, under shade cloth, different percentages. And what I discovered was the soil underneath the fabric was like, I think this one day, the temperature was over a hundred degrees. The surface of the soil, I believe was 121 bare soil, and under�the soil that was underneath the fabric was 83 degrees.
[00:13:27] Now, if you look at the research of what temperature certain microbes and earthworms like to stay active in, it's in that mid-eighties range. Anything above 90, they're going down deep, right? And so, lettuce is a shallow-rooted plant, and it needs nutrients from the shallow few inches of the soil. So, what we were seeing is higher yields on fabric.
[00:13:59] And I don't have scientific data to measure the microbes in the half-inch. But what this was telling me was the soil was cooler on beds that was grown in landscape fabric than beds that was bare soil. And so we saw that we had, you could lift the landscape fabric and see earthworms and other biology going around.
[00:14:26] So what we were seeing is we were creating that, just a better habitat for soil biology by using landscape fabric. So we are seeing less disease because the lettuce was not getting dirty from backsplash, from heavy rains, or even irrigation. There were zero weeds, like no weeding. So at the paperpot we were having to cultivate twice a week where the fabric, zero cultivation.
[00:14:58] So literally, it was, we would plant, harvest, market. So we skipped the weeding, skipped the washing and drawing, and it just saved a lot of steps in our whole farm system. So yes, it's not as fast as the Paperpot Transplanter, but it really saved us a lot of time. And so now, it's to the point of weed control�s pretty down then no, we just, it's because of how clean our crops are, like just that one reason alone.
[00:15:31] And keeping on the surface of the soil cooler is enough for us to keep it. There's small little things, pros of, okay, the planting grid's already built in. Right? So takes you two minutes to lay down, staple it, and my kids can plant, like, we used to do like a grid in the fabric, in the bare soil for planting, and kids would just missed, no, it's in the X.
[00:15:58] No, not in the middle. They would just always miss it. When you do fabric, nobody can miss. We have these, if you have a planting party, and we would have volunteers come, we used to just�everything that people would do would just be so messed up. Fabric, they can't mess it up. So it just dumbs it down for anybody to plant in a long, straight line without going off.
[00:16:27] Landscape fabric retains soil moisture. So if you have more sandy soil, you're gonna be able to retain a lot more of that water that you've been applying to your beds. We really saw a drastic reduction in diseases. A lot of diseases come from soil sticking to your plants, and then it sits there and attracts other pathogens, and it can just run rampant.
[00:16:58] We've also seen�I've been using landscape fabric off and on since 2013 that I started to use it. I have still yet to see that fabric wear out, so it'll just last every very long time. The biggest downside is that it does�it is plastic, and it doesn't look good, but either does a field of weeds.
[00:17:21] And so I think a lot of farmers, they get this idea of we're not gonna use it. And then come July, August, they call me and goes, you know what? I should have listened to your advice. I should've used it. And the spring comes around like, oh now, you know what? It's beautiful outside. I'll keep up with the weeding. But they�re really good.
[00:17:36] My team does not wanna weed when it's a hundred degrees outside. And so, we're trying to like wrap up our field of the work by one o'clock. We don't wanna be out there weeding every single bed twice a week, which is what we'd have to do most likely.
[00:17:51] Diego Footer: Yeah, it's one of those things, what do you weigh higher: the desire not to look at it or tradeoffs. Like, if you're only saying, I hate the look of it, I can accept that I don't love how it looks, but I'm also not production farming. Right? But it's, do I hate it so much that I wanna dot, dot, do all these other things or miss these other advantages?
[00:18:14] And I think it is like a whole systems approach, too. It's like taking the wolves out of Yellowstone when they did that and then reintroduced them. There was systemic effects, and I think landscape fabric or the Paperpot, or cultivation, all of these things, they're whole big pictures. I introduced landscape fabric, I solved this problem, and I affect this.
[00:18:35] So how much labor do you have? How is your weed pressure? What is your soil like? How much precipitation are you getting? All these things need to be considered, but I do love the simplicity of it because I think anytime you can train people to just do something very easily and leave no room for error, there's a hole, put a plant in the hole. Like, it's very obvious where the hole is, you can't screw it up. I think those things are good.
[00:19:06] Ray Tyler: Yeah, and I agree with you, and I understand why people dislike it. Again, I would rather see beautiful bare soil, plant in black soil. But I'm also running a business.
[00:19:18] And I also noticed that a lot of farmers, their team members get burned out, right? And so, I'm just looking at, hey, if I wanna be doing this 10, 20 years from now, what kind of system can I build that would just help us have more production, healthier soils, and happier people who work here? I have not seen one con in the production system.
[00:19:46] I haven't seen, we did this, and it affected this plant�zero. It's like, nothing. The only con that I have experienced is the way it looks. Just, it doesn't look good. But I like not seeing weeds, and I like knowing that we didn't have to do any work to make it weed-free, except take two or three minutes to lay down the fabric.
[00:20:11] But again, very understandable why people don't like it. Hey, I would rather not see it either, but it's an aesthetic thing.
[00:20:19] Diego Footer: And it is plastic and I get people aren't into plastic, but it is one of those plastics that if you're buying a well-made landscape fabric from a reputable supplier, it's going to last a long time.
[00:20:31] It's not like the plastic that sometimes that commercial farmers use where they punch the holes in it. That's right. And they rip that up every season, and it's gone. And it's landscape fabric's woven. There's a high density to that fabric. It's gonna last a long time. You do have to burn holes in it, but there's precut options out there.
[00:20:49] So, not the worst con in the world. You have two-inch holes in all your fabric, you�re hand transplanting into it. What's your process now for hand transplanting, because that's one thing I think people take think takes a long time. How have you systematized this?
[00:21:07] Ray Tyler: So what we do�this is gonna be probably the craziest idea that you guys will, that you're gonna hear probably this year, is that we�so, my farm manager who, as we�ve trained him, he just took our whole lettuce system.
[00:21:23] Like I needed someone to do this. So he was like, man, the fabric was wearing out his finger, and even if it was bare soil, like it's just, there's a lot of moving away soil with your fingers to make way for that plant. It'll wear you out after a while. So, we had this dibber from Two Bad Cats, some growers are familiar with that company and what they offer.
[00:21:47] So he took the metal dibber, unscrewed it, and screwed that onto a threaded bolt, cut off the bolt, inserted that into a drill, and he just pre-drilled holes of that dibber. And I'll tell you a funny story. So when we�when Ashley saw him out the field, drilling in our field, she was like, I ain't paying nobody to drill holes in the ground out there.
[00:22:14] So we thought it was the most insane idea we�ve ever seen. And he assured me, said, Ray, it is like cutting like 25% of the time I'm saving. So me and Ashley went out there, just her and I and the kids, and we did a side by side trial, and I was also worried about sealing off the edges of the hole with that drill and blocking out oxygen and earthworms and other consequences, right? �Cause everything that you have is a consequence.
[00:22:42] So I was also worried about that, but she just thought it was just the most insane thing that she saw. So we tried side by side. Of course, our kids love the whole drill idea, but indeed, I think we timed it, it was about 25% faster. And so what we found is that you can get pretty fast at doing it.
[00:23:04] And what it's doing is that the way it's spinning is that it's�there's no soil gets stuck to the dibber, right? Because part of the reason why we have fabric is we want clean crops. We don't wanna wash anything that's been grown on fabric that's kinda like, basically, our rule with this whole fabric is that if we're growing fabric, we're not gonna wash it afterwards.
[00:23:28] What we found was that because that dibber, when it came out, it was clean, so the surface of the fabric stayed clean, and all you have to do is drop it in the hole so that P200 fits perfectly in there. You drop it, and there's no padding there. There's no nothing. You just drop it in there and let the Netafim water misters fill in the gaps between the plant and the sides of that hole.
[00:23:55] So it was incredibly fast, very fast. Still not as fast as a Paperpot Transplanter, probably a good double the time, but it was pretty incredible. We made that change three years ago and are still doing it. We still haven't found anything that's faster than that. My guys can plan out 800 plants in like 15 minutes. Like, it's very fast.
[00:24:27] Diego Footer: So the process is one person, they go down the row with the dibble, somebody chases behind them and drops in plants?
[00:24:34] Ray Tyler: Yeah. Usually, one person can do it in about 15 minutes, the whole thing.
[00:24:39] Diego Footer: Do you lay out the plants by the holes in advance or are you popping plants as you go?
[00:24:44] Ray Tyler: Yeah, because we have the P200s, right? So you just pull, because our system works so well, it's a�think of everything we do as a system. So because our soil, the P200s, you're literally taking that tray, and you just pull the leaves, drop, pull, drop, pull, drop. It is literally that fast. In fact, what they'll do is they can take four plants, whole plant, and they're very fast, and they're not messing around.
[00:25:19] Diego Footer: Yeah. I think this is one thing I always remember talking to Curtis about this of a gardener puts it in and pat-babies it, and Curtis always said this thing stuck with me, it's green side up. Just go.
[00:25:32] Ray Tyler: Yep. Yep. Love that. Yeah, yeah. Yep, that's right. Yeah, it's just going over. I did an on-farm workshop two weeks ago showing folks this and everyone, it's this instinct.
[00:25:43] Everyone wants to like, care for us. No, you did two extra steps per plant. That's not necessary. Like you said, I'm just go�dropping in and go. So that's currently what's working. That's working very well. It's very fast, very effective. And so it's definitely a�it's very untraditional way to do all this, but we're getting really good results, and we're not spending a lot of time doing it.
[00:26:11] Diego Footer: Yeah. I love the method, and I think it makes a lot of sense, and I'm obviously somebody who sells the Paperpot Transplanter. I think there's a time and a place for different methods on different farms. And yeah, I think the advantages of paper pot, hearing this, is one is if you're kind of labor-starved farm�
[00:26:29] Two people, you just don't have a lot of labor. So it's just one thing you can get in and do out, assuming you have your weeds� under control, obviously, and also if you start to run the numbers, if you get a really high cost of labor. Once you start getting too far above 20 bucks per hour�
[00:26:52] Then that incremental time savings does start to pay off. But again, it's not just�you can't compartmentalize it to speed of transplanting. There has to be this holistic thought. How does it affect�how does landscape fabric maybe make my post-harvest easier? That's a consideration.
[00:27:13] If you're a one- or two-person operation, and you know somebody's a giant and doesn't like bending over, hand transplanting might be a lot better in your condition, but I'd rather stand in a wash pack operation and wash lettuce than bend over in the field.
[00:27:29] Ray Tyler: 100%. Those types of things. It's endless and this is why it�this was driven, again, by my wife. If it was up to me, we'd probably be still doing the transplanter, Paperpot Transplanter, but because it was her, like, Hey, we're spending a lot of time in here. Do you guys realize the unintended consequences of, you know, the post-harvest? No, we really never thought about that. We're thinking about how to save time in the field because it's hot out there, and you're in the AC.
[00:28:03] But again, like to your point, if you're a one-man show, and you're like, you know what? I just want to get out of the field in one hour, and I'm AC�and some guys, they're not thinking about an eight hour workday. They're thinking about, like you said, I don't wanna bend over, so I would rather work 12 hours a day and spend four hours in the patch of the AC standing up than I would hand transplanting.
[00:28:28] That makes complete sense to me. I get that. But on our farm, and kind of like the life that we wanted to set up, that was not gonna work for us. We have limited time. It's very hot very early, and we just wanna find a way to make it fast within reason, without pausing the post-harvest to take so long. I actually have cost analysis on all this.
[00:28:57] So, obviously, we'll get that later. But we like, put in the cost of, okay, 25 bucks an hour, what's the cost of paper pot versus bare soil versus landscape fabric, all that stuff. The one thing I will have to say is we have�the only way we know how to grow beets currently is with the Paperpot Transplanter. So that is the one crop.
[00:29:22] We still have it, and we won't do it any other way, except with the Paperpot. If you want�if you have a good market for beets, that's it. That was the best, from what I found in our soil, in our context. We�ll wash beets. Like we're fine with that cause we know it's the only way we can grow it.
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[00:30:11] Well, you can say goodbye to all that hassle forever because Kwik Hoops solve that problem. They've been used in New Zealand by farmers for over the past 20 years, and they allow one person�just one person�to set up an entire bed, including hoops and fabrics in about 10 minutes by themselves, no sandbags or ropes required.
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[00:31:36] And for anybody who wants that price analysis, page 149 in the book, they can check that out. And you do a great job of breaking down the costs involved. Now, I always tell people this, who are interested in the Paperpot Transplanter? Do I get one or not? And the cheapest, fastest, easiest way to ever get anything started is directly in the field via direct seeding.
[00:31:59] If you can do that, always do that. So some lettuce is direct seeded because not all lettuce forms the same type of plant, or is marketed as the same type of product. When do you direct seed and what do you direct seed with lettuce.
[00:32:22] Ray Tyler: Okay. Right now, we're direct seeding what we call salad mix blend that we've found to work for us. So as we are talking here, I've made a change for our summer. I've made the change two weeks ago, and that is from starting in mid-May up until October, we're going to be doing away with Salanova and doing just the direct seeded greens with the five-row Jang seeder, using our kind of custom blended seed mix that we have, which is in the book here.
[00:33:00] And there's a reason for this. One is, like you said, we like to stand up as much as we can stand up, the better. So what we found, we've been playing around with this ever since we got that five-row Jang Seeder from you, what was that, four years ago or so? Maybe five? And you do have to have your weeds in check.
[00:33:25] But we're growing a very fast growing green, and it's 10 rows, so within seven days, you have soil coverage. And so, what we found is that we do get half the yield, but we've taken out the whole propagation house step. Like none of that is even a factor. So what we're finding is with the five-row Jang, you direct seed, you gotta get your irrigation dialed in first. That's really important, like we talked about.
[00:33:57] And then in 18 days, the salad mix that I have on here is ready for harvest, which can be done standing up. So now, what we're seeing is, again, it's the whole system. So I'm looking at�because, you know, I don't get a new crew here every single year, right?
[00:34:21] So I have the same guys. They're with me year over year. They're getting better and better. There's reasons for all that. So we're not getting any younger, so we are finding more and more standing up is very attractive. And so, we are willing to compromise the 50% yield this summer because of the 18-day DTM.
[00:34:47] It's such a fast turnover, and we think we can possibly raise� I'm in the middle of changing a, adding a new packaged product that I'm working on currently that I think I can compensate for the reduction in yield, so it's this whole system. So I really like this. We use this for direct seeded spinach, arugula, radishes.
[00:35:16] And one thing that's nice about this five-row Jang is that it's evenly spaced, so there's a lot more, even airflow, meaning, a lot less disease. So, because it's so closely planted together that the growing canopy shades the soil within seven days, giving you that cooling effect that the fabric gives us, where head lettuce still can't get you that, right?
[00:35:47] There's still these, again, okay, this doesn't really make a difference. But for us, we just really like having this fast growing crops with the Jang Seeder, having crops that are ready in the 18 to 21 days has been really efficient for us. So, we've been tracking this for the last two years. And I've just felt like, Hey, we're gonna do this this summer.
[00:36:12] We're gonna try it. We have sales for this mix, which is different than Salanova. Before, I could not sell this mix to a grocery store or a restaurant, but I can sell this mix to my online store, on-farm store and farm markets.
[00:36:29] Diego Footer: Yeah, it's something I was gonna ask about, do customers notice the difference? So you're growing Salanova, or a lot of growers are growing Salanova for salad mix. They're not harvesting it and selling it as a head. They're growing it as a mix. And then you have, and that's always transplanted, like most head lettuces, always transplant. Salad mix, loose leaf salad mix is just seeds going into a Jang, into the field, that's harvested.
[00:36:57] When you harvest that, let's say I harvest salanova for salad mix, and I harvest loose leaf salad mix that was planted direct seeded in field. You're saying a grocery store might not like that. What's the difference in product feel, taste, look, texture. Why�I think this is maybe an important consideration somebody needs to understand about the two and their knowing their market if they're gonna do one versus the other.
[00:37:24] Ray Tyler: The big difference is gonna be texture. Big difference. And then the second is gonna be flavor. So the Salanova is a lot more dense. It's a lot more heartier, stands up, has a lot more loft to it, where our direct seeded salad mix, the varieties that we're growing, at least, hinge to be a lot more, I guess I would say flat, has less texture, less character, but they tend to have more flavor.
[00:37:56] But most of the time, with a restaurant, they're compensating flavor with their dressing or whatever sauce they're using. What they want is that salanova, which stands on the plate very nicely. So they do not accept anything else, from what I found, at least for our kind of local restaurant market except for the Salanova.
[00:38:22] Now, so that's something definitely to consider, is that your direct seeded salad mix just doesn't have that loft. It's just gonna be a lot more fragile, I would say. So what we�what I've been really working hard at is trying to develop a market for the direct seeded salad mix, because I did see once, when I first used that five-row Jang, I was like, man, this is incredible. Weeds are under control. My goodness.
[00:38:49] What a much easier way to farm than a hand transplant or bend over harvest by hand. So we've been on this journey of like, how can we replace Salanova during the summertime? It still makes sense growing Salanova in the winter and spring �cause the yields are just like, I can get 185 pounds of Salanova in the bed for the first cut.
[00:39:12] I mean, I can get 90 with direct seeded salad mix, but I've gotta do�I've gotta really be aggressive on my fertility and other things like that. And I would also say that my team really enjoys the fire. Like it's just so fast. Two minutes, you're done. Like, maybe less just so fast. And that Jang can�it doesn't have to be like this perfect�
[00:39:36] If you use the pinpoint seed from Johnny's, man, your soil has gotta be like, perfect. We're not�we're trying to get the job done and go on to the next task �cause, again, my team's got eight hour day to work, five eight-hour days. So there's just not a lot of time to be like making perfect shaped beds.
[00:39:59] So the Jang Seeder has a lot of forgiveness built into it. Just with the shoes, the back roller that presses that bed flat. The whole thing really works well. So my team's pretty excited about this. So we're gonna be doing one full cat tunnel a week of seeding. So that'll give us, on a conservative side, at least a minimum 200 pounds a week, which will all be sold 100% retail.
[00:40:33] We think we can increase the price so that we know that this system works, and I've done it where I've held back Salanova on Market Week to see if they would notice. A few people will notice, but out of 400 customers, I'll get one who'll say, Hey, when will we get the Salanova back? Uh, maybe month? Okay.
[00:40:58] This is just as good. For my clientele, it works, it's gonna work for us. So in the whole system, I'm pretty excited about making this change.
[00:41:10] Diego Footer: We'll get in depth on harvesting later, but for people that don't understand the difference, maybe Salanova is something you have to harvest by hand, so you're on the ground, doing it with a knife, whereas this salad mix, loose leaf, you can use a greens harvester, which puts you in a more vertical position.
[00:41:28] Ray Tyler: And it's fast, you could spend�if you wanna clean up and get maximum yields, an average worker, it could take an hour, whereas the greens harvester, they're outta there in five minutes.
[00:41:42] Diego Footer: Head lettuce. Do you know anybody direct seeding that?
[00:41:46] Ray Tyler: I don't know anybody. I did try that with�I think I tried it with maybe the Earthway, first year of farming. Yeah, it just�I've not tried it recently, and I don't know anybody doing it. I'm not gonna say it's impossible, but it would be interesting to see what kind of lettuce could you grow direct seeded.
[00:42:12] Diego Footer: For your system, you're planting everything four rows on a 30-inch bed. Do you think that's standard? Could most people adopt that, beginners, newbies, would you ever go to three? Would you ever go to five? This is, again, this is hand transplanted lettuce, so going into the landscape fabric or Paperpot, is it always four rows?
[00:42:33] Ray Tyler: No, I think if you have lower fertility, then I think a three row makes more sense.
[00:42:39] Diego Footer: Salanova. You're on a four row, six inch spacing, which can be done by hand or with the Paperpot. I think with your head lettuce, you're on a 10-inch spacing, so greater in-row spacing between the beds. Is that something else you think maybe somebody could look to adjust based on fertility, increased spacing?
[00:43:00] Ray Tyler: Yeah, I think if you had, if your fertility wasn't dialed in, I would recommend doing a three row, like a three by 12. Three rows, 12 inches apart. Maybe even 14. A lot of folks can charge more for a bigger head. I'll have farmers that I work with, and they'll say, I can get $3 for a small head and five for a big.
[00:43:21] I 'll say, why? What do we need to do to help you increase the size of that lettuce? Because that's a pretty big increase from three to five, but if you�so maybe it's, okay, I have lower fertility. So maybe you just don't plant as much tighter together. Maybe it's two row, bit more than the sales, but oftentimes, what you're looking at is�when you're planting, it needs to be in a correlation to your sales.
[00:43:55] So if you feel like you can only sell 300 head of lettuce a week, that's it. And you either get $3 for a small head or five for a big one. And it's like, you need to grow 300 big heads of lettuce, and so adjust your spacing to make that doable.
[00:44:20] Diego Footer: The general rule, more space�
[00:44:22] Ray Tyler: 100% bigger plant, that's gonna happen. And I've thought about even for some different market streams, I've considered going to a three-row shift for that very reason.
[00:44:36] Diego Footer: The only thing left post-transplant, post direct seed. What's the final step in getting those off to the right start? Are you overhead watering for both transplants and direct seeded crops?
[00:44:47] Now, previously, we talked about you've only gone to drip, and you have the Netafims, I guess, in the tunnels. So what's the process? I've direct seeded, I've transplanted. How do I get those things off to a great start?
[00:45:03] Ray Tyler: There is two things I do: the first thing I do is I put 30% shade cloth over it. That's the first thing. And then the second thing, as soon as that is done, is I am setting the automatic irrigation timer. I think a timer is really important, and I'm using the Netafim overhead sprinklers for both head lettuce and direct seeded crops.
[00:45:27] Diego Footer: The shade cloth, is that just on a Kwik Hoop for the shade cloth?
[00:45:31] Ray Tyler: Yep. So in the field, like I would droop that over, let's say, I was planting eight beds of lettuce.
[00:45:35] I would just drop, droop that over all eight beds together. If there's an open field under these little wire hoops, now we just drape that over the whole cat tunnel, and then about seven to 10 days, that shade cloth comes off until the day of harvesting. What we're doing now is that every tunnel, almost every tunnel, has a dedicated shade cloth, and so if we're harvesting that day, and we're running behind, we'll put that shake cloth over it, and that'll buy us a few more hours until we need to harvest that.
[00:46:12] Diego Footer: This gets a little bit in the crop planning. I don't wanna get too into the weeds per se here, but if you go into a tunnel, and let's say you have four beds in the tunnel, are you trying to hit all four beds are planted and cropped out at the same time, so�?
[00:46:26] Ray Tyler: Yes, that's right. Exactly. Yep. Because here's why: if you, let's say, if you have two of those beds�and this is summertime, I'm talking about, so two of those beds, you have, let's just say Greenleaf, romaine, and they're like week three, so they're full.
[00:46:44] They're gonna be harvested next week, and then the two beds next to it, you wanna direct seed greens, which needs to have overhead watering, ideally in the summertime. Then if you overhead water that romaine and greenleaf and water gets stuck in there, there's not as much airflow in those tunnels. We oftentimes see a lot of disease and so just don't want that.
[00:47:07] So, we're planting really, according to our irrigation schedule. So if it's gonna be overhead for a week, we wanna make sure that everything that we've planted needs that. And if we have to switch to drip, we wanna make sure that all those crops can be switched to drip at the same time. So every tunnel has built in overhead and drip, and we make sure that whatever we're planting can handle either just drip or just overhead. So you don't want to have both needs going on at the same time. We've just found over time that causes problem and reduction in yields.
[00:47:51] Diego Footer: Another simplicity thing too, right? Just another thing for soone to mess up.
[00:47:53] Ray Tyler: It just dumbs it down. It's just very simple and yeah, it just works. That works really well for us.
[00:48:03] Diego Footer: So bed prep and transplanting, kind of a whole systems approach. Really need to think about things like everything else we've talked about so far in the series. Do something, observe, take notes, adjust going forward, and while you're doing one thing, it's often a great place to start, but people do have to massage these things for their field conditions, for their climate.
[00:48:25] Ray Tyler: Yep, hundred percent.
[00:48:29] Diego Footer: Thanks for listening to today's episode. For any tools and supplies referenced in this episode, like landscape fabric, and landscape fabric with holes already cut in it, please visit the show description below. There, you'll also find a link to Ray's book and a link to Ray's online course.
[00:48:47] These are two additional ways to go even deeper and learn even more about growing better lettuce on your farm. If you enjoyed this episode, can you do me a favor? Take a few minutes and share it with a friend. Odds are, if you enjoyed it, they will, too. It makes you feel good, it helps them out, and it helps us with the show.
[00:49:10] So share it with a friend and spread the love. That's all for this one. Thanks for listening. Until next time, be nice, be thankful, and do the work.
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