Harvesting Ahead for Baby Greens
By Marcia Wood
March 13, 2002
Baby salad mixes offer an array of
crisp, bite-sized greens. But harvesting the tiny plants used for these
colorful medleys can pose a problem for conventional and organic growers.
That's according to Eric B. Brennan, a research horticulturist with the
Agricultural Research Service in
A mechanical harvester clips off these individual greens at the surface of
the field. However, that surface may be littered with pieces of stems, leaves
or roots left over from what's known as a cover crop. Grown the previous season
in that same field, the cover crop is plowed under to enrich the soil.
Inevitably, the harvester picks up some cover crop leftovers. That's because
they are proportionately larger than the small greens.
Getting rid of the residue thus becomes a chore in the packinghouse where
the baby greens are washed, sorted and bagged for the grocer. Cover crop
leftovers aren't a problem when harvesting full-sized greens. Those greens are
hand picked and the residue is proportionately smaller, meaning that any debris
is more likely to remain in the field.
In a new study at the ARS Crop Improvement and Protection Research Unit in
Salinas, Brennan is exploring a potential solution to this unique problem. The
approach? Grow a somewhat smaller cover crop plant that would decompose more
rapidly. To produce these smaller cover crop plants, Brennan is increasing the
competition between the individual plants. He is doing that by doubling the
recommended seeding rate of several cover crops, such as oats and rye. Brennan
expects to have preliminary results of this study by May 2002.
Baby salad greens are one of the fastest growing products of organic farmers
in the Salinas Valley and surrounding counties, according to Brennan. For a
farm to be certified as organic, its products must be grown in accordance with
The findings from Brennan's study will help conventional and organic farmers
alike because both use cover crops.
ARS is the US Department of Agriculture's
chief scientific research agency.