As the first harvests of the year begin to roll in, it’s important that your farm has systems in place to make sure yours run smoothly. Although harvesting produce is one of the more enjoyable tasks on the farm, spending unnecessary time digging carrots gets old quickly and can cost your farm large amounts of money and time in wasted labor. Here are four ways to make your farm’s vegetable harvests more efficient.
1. Ensure You Have the Right Equipment
Beginning with the basics, make sure that you have the appropriate equipment to carry the various kinds of produce you grow. It might work fine to fill a 5-gallon bucket with spinach, for instance, but it certainly won’t work to fill one with tomatoes. Before your harvests begin, make sure that you have the appropriate containers to transport each of your vegetables from the field into your wash area.
As you consider what kinds of containers you’ll need, think about things such as how fragile the produce is and how heavy the container will be once it is filled. There’s no point in buying large bins that can hold 200 pounds of winter squash, for instance, if you won’t be able to pick them up.
2. Give Your Crew the Proper Training
Although efficiently picking a bunch of kale might seem like an easy task to you, don’t assume that it is for your crew, even if they’ve worked on other farms before. One of the best ways to improve harvest efficiency is to train your crew on your personal “best practices” for picking vegetables. Decide on the quickest ways you’ve found to pick peppers, for instance, and train everyone on this technique as soon as the first peppers are ready to harvest.
You can also establish standards associated with picking various vegetables, including how long it should take to pick a bunch of carrots or radishes, or a pound of cucumbers. For an example of the picking standards developed by another farmer, check out the Harvest Manual developed by Jean-Paul Cortens of Roxbury Farm.
3. Harvest Only What You Plan to Sell
Given how much labor it takes to harvest vegetables on a regular basis, it’s important not to create more work than you need to by harvesting extra produce. Take a scale with you into the field so that you can weigh produce as you pick it instead of guessing as to whether you’ve picked enough. Always be sure to pick 10 percent to 15 percent more than the amount you plan to sell, however, to account for damaged pieces you’ll sort out while washing.
4. Plan Crops With Harvests in Mind
Another reliable way to make your harvests more efficient is to incorporate the logistics of harvesting into your crop plan for the season. If possible, place different plantings of the same crop relatively close to one another so that harvesting 75 bunches of chard doesn’t require walking to three different plots across the farm. Similarly, consider locating the heavier vegetables (winter squash, carrots and so on) and the produce you pick most frequently relatively close to your wash area. The particular placement of various crops depends on the layout of your farm, but spend some time thinking about changes that could help your harvests run better.
Improving the efficiency of your vegetable harvests will save you time throughout the season—it will also help picking vegetables remain as fun as it should be.