In 2012, County Rail Farm harvested over 2,000 lbs of baby greens – salad, arugula, mizuna, etc – by hand. That’s many many hours kneeling in the field with a knife and a plastic bin, cutting one handful at a time. While it gave us lots of riveting and often hilarious early morning conversation with Robin and Dylan, our harvest helpers, it took forever and neither our knees, back, nor hands appreciated the conversation.
This year we’ve already harvested somewhere between 700 and 800 lbs of greens, and expect to double our production from last year. With that much more yield, Margaret and I (plus Heidi who started June 1) absolutely could not have kept up without the Quick Cut Greens Harvester. In fact, it gave us the confidence to seed more.
This little machine was invented by Jonathan Dysinger and is sold through Johnny’s Selected Seeds, whom I have no connection to other than “customer #124983”. It runs on a battery powered drill (we’ve been using the DEWALT Compact Lithium 18v) and is simple in design. With two serrated blades running under a large brush, the greens are gently forced into the blades and then into a canvas basket behind them. It needs frequent dumping (into a box or tote) and can strain the back when used for more than an hour, but OMG we love this thing. One of us can harvest 150lbs of greens in a little over an hour while the others harvest everything else and start washing. The greens get cut faster, are cooled faster, and last longer. Our man power is used much more efficiently, and we’re able to grow greater quantities without choosing between hiring more help or spending 10 hours harvesting greens every week.
Using the cutter has required only small changes in our greens production. We weed all of the greens thoroughly before they’re cut, more so than we did before as now there’s no human effort to avoid weedy patches. I’ve also been seeding the arugula and salad in narrower strips to accommodate the smaller width of the cutter (15″) so that the shoes don’t get caught in dense greens. It leaves the bed with even stubble so we can still cut our salad, mizuna, baby kale, and even arugula twice. It’s a dream for the kale and mizuna and it’s easily adjusted for a higher cut for that second round of salad and arugula. While the machine certainly doesn’t clean the bed like you can when harvesting by hand, that small loss is well worth the time and energy we save by using it.
Margaret and I first heard about the Cutter from Jean-Martin Fortier’s review in Growing for Market this winter. At first, we weren’t convinced: it’s the very first of it’s kind which means it’ll have flaws… maybe we should wait for the next version… But when we heard a first hand account from our friend Victoria of Deluge Farm, we decided to buy one anyway. After using it for almost two months now, I agree with much of Jean-Marten’s review and his critiques. The basket could be stronger, the shoes could be designed so they don’t get caught on densely seeded greens, the brush could reach all the way to the edge of the machine instead of leaving 1″ gaps in the corners, it could collapse for easier transportation and storage, and it could be easier on the operator. All of these issues, I imagine, will be hashed out over at Johnny’s in the next couple years and by 2015 we’ll have an even better small-farm greens Cutter. Even with all those critiques, this is a fantastic investment for small growers. The next greens cutter on the market is enormous and sells for over $10,000. The Quick Cut Greens Harvester is a deal at $500 plus the cost of an extra cordless drill.
We shot the following little video of the very first time we cut our greens with the Cutter. You can see that it’s early spring and the greens are little. I hadn’t started seeding the arugula in smaller strips yet (I’ve been seeding 3 strips of 3 rows of seed per bed, though 2 strips of 4 or 5 worked as well if not better). Also since this video, I took the shoes off of the machine (see below), I’ve learned better how to hold the cutter better balanced vertically, instead of pushing it through the greens, and how to dump it more easily and quickly.
If you’re thinking about buying this Greens Cutter but you’re not convinced, come see this thing in action. We harvest Monday and Thursday mornings. Just drop a line and let us know when you’d like to come by.
… And here’s a huge thank you and shout out to Jonathan Dysinger. Can’t wait to see what you do next, buddy.
*** A NOTE FROM THE MAN HIMSELF, JONATHAN DYSINGER (who wrote to us after seeing the review above):
“I agree with you that the standoff feet tend to drag… You could try just removing them and free handing it. You may find that after a few times you get used to it. It causes less drag which allows you to cut faster.
Also a note of warning… Be sure that your drill clutch setting is set no more than half torque. We are having some failures in the cam mechanism and this will hopefully save you trouble down the road… You probably will not notice extended battery life but the reason for running at half torque is to protect the system. For instance, if you were cutting along and a little rock or something jams the blade mechanism, if the drill is at full torque, it is likely to break the crank, bearing, or bend something. With the drill at full torque something WILL give! At half toque, in the incident that something jams, the drill clutch will slip rather than break something. This is VERY important!”
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