Lettuce Farming - Wednesdays

Pinjarra Travel Blog

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Nursery seedlings

So what exactly do I DO at the lettuce farm?

Wednesday is, thankfully, an easy day, and eases me back into the pace of life here quite comfortably. It's not an early start, work can begin whenever one chooses but it is more pleasant working in the cool of the day, even if being coaxed from my dooner is still the slow work of 30 minutes snoozing & putting the pillow over my head to drown out the cockeral. Nevertheless sleep evades me now past 6am, and I may as well get up.

Down at the shed it is the start of the cycle, the seeding, that we get started on. Like much of the work, it is gentle, quiet, rhythmic. There are 25 or so polystyrene trays each with the name of a lettuce or herb; Cos, Coriander, Rocket & the lesser known Vintage, Anakai, Velvet, Kibou, Kipling, Amadeus, Barrundi, Tatsoi, Krizet, Mizuna, Endive.

Aerial view of farm
Like any job, when you start you never believe you'll be able to tell the difference between them all, but before long you can pick out leaf shapes & styles that differentiate one from another.

Each tray is populated with 8 'Fertilpots', those little peat pots you can buy at the garden centre. We fill them 3/4 full of inflated mineral puffs called coarse Vermiculte. These form the substrate on which the lettuces grow. We then carefully drop seeds into the pots by way of tweezers or tapping them gently out of sawn-off tubes, 1 if they seed readily, several if you want a dwarf variety, or, if like grass each seed corresponds to one blade, in which case you pop 10 in. It is mind-numbing, but you have to maintain some level of concentration or you are liable to mix the seeds up or re-seed a seeded tray.

Nursery seedlings
Dolly is banned from seeding more or less now we are here because too often she grows Cos & Endive together which means they have to be seperated at the seedling stage or neither will do well competing for nutrients & space. Not only that but she can't see how many seeds she's put in, if any. I don't mind, I'd happily do this calming little job all day long.

When each tray has been seeded we cover them over with a finer Vermiculite, sort of like gold polystyrene, and sprinkle water over the top to stop it flying away. We then take the tray out to the nursery and place the sets of 8 pots out into the shallow plastic-lined channels. The farm, if you haven't picked up before, it hydroponic, and by this it means that the lettuce does not grow in soil substrate, but in another non-fertile substrate, but fed a carefully concocted rainwater-based solution that provides all 6 of the macro essential elements for life (nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, calcium, magnesium & sulphur), and all 6 of the micro essential elements (iron, boron, manganese, copper, zinc, molybdenum).

Vermiculite & seedpots
The genuinely exciting part of hydroponics is that is eliminates the need to replenish soil nutrients with the aid of fertiliser; no need to dig, rake, hoe; no need to rotate crops; no weeds (except some algae which is combatted by algicide); little water loss from the system; uniform results; cleanliness; larger yields; less labour; easier control; easier seeding & fewer soil insects etc. Maybe I need to get a life, but I'm really super excited about those positives & I find it hard to believe any gardener wouldn't think twice too. So the channels are fed at one end by a little torrent of rainwater pumped & recyled through every channel over the 2.5 acre farm, and regularly replenished with the 'witches brew' nutrient cocktail, which makes it sustainable also, and earning it a big gold star in my opinion.

And that's pretty much it for the day! Work finishes around 9-10am and we might then be employed to assist with some other work around the farm for a couple of hours before it gets too hot to work around lunchtime. I particularly enjoyed the week when we had to clean out the accumulated sludgey stuff from the pool from 1 year of disuse, as we slid around in bare feet & overalls scraping up scoopfuls of green gloop, then mopping up the excess with bath towels & hosing them down to rinse before mopping up some more evil bug-infested algal sludge. All this of course while Dave read his mail. Oh how I laughed... Still, it's a big relief to have the pool when the temperature hits 40 degrees...

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Nursery seedlings
Nursery seedlings
Aerial view of farm
Aerial view of farm
Nursery seedlings
Nursery seedlings
Vermiculite & seedpots
Vermiculite & seedpots
Pinjarra
photo by: fyrefly