Quick Cut Greens Harvester: Maintenance

Our greens harvester (by Jonathan Dysinger of Farmers Friend, LLC and sold through Johnny’s Selected Seeds) cut almost 4,000 lbs of greens this season. By October it desperately needed some love. When I took it apart to thoroughly clean, I noted all the bits that looked worn and needed replacing, and contacted Johnny’s and Jonathan for help. The following photos and suggestions are considered yearly maintenance on the harvester, especially when used frequently.

Jonathan is working on a new design – 2.0 is lighter (by a 1.5 lbs!) and simpler. I look forward to seeing it in action and trying it out. Keep an eye on Farmer’s Friend and like Jonathan’s FaceBook page for updates.

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The first thing that started to slip this fall was the macramé roller. It would pop out of its holes and sit spinning on the shaft during harvesting. It was easily fixable (just pop it back in), but annoying when it happened three or four times each harvest day. The cause, it turns out, is not the roller itself, rather the harvester handle. Over time, the upright supports creep inward on the handle, making the space between them smaller, and allowing the roller to move in and out of its designated hole fairly easily. To keep the roller in place, all I needed to do was push those uprights back out to their proper position with good knock on the support while the protruding end of the handle rested on the work bench. Once the handle bar is flush with the outside of the support again, it’s recommended (by Jonathan) that you drill a hole through the support and insert a screw to hold the handle in place.

There are two discs that are supposed to be attached to the macramé brush, keeping it contained. They detached early on and have been loosely spinning around on the brush bar almost all season. They’re not detrimental to the harvester that way, but it’s an easy fix – super glue them back in place (Jonathan recommends JB Weld for a stronger hold).

Early this fall, our cutter started running rough. It sounded choppy (har har) instead of nice and smooth. The culprit was probably the cam bearing. Ours had lost the rubber ring in the middle of the bearing and was knocking back and forth on the cam. This is another easy (and cheap) fix. The cam bearing is on Johnny’s website for $10.

To replace, remove the 7 large screws on the bottom of the cutter, then gently pull the bottom down to expose the cam and cam bearing. The pin that the black cam roller sits on is loose and rests between the bottom of the cutter and the top piece, so be careful not to lose that. Undo the screw holding the bearing to its pin, and pull it off. The inner ring can get stuck on the pin – it’ll slip off with pliers and force. Replace the cam bearing by sliding the new on onto the pin and put everything back together.

While you’re at it, replace the black plastic cam guide ($5 from Johnny’s). Ours had worn down to almost half its original size, another reason the machine was running roughly. Just pull the old one off, and put the new one on while you have the bottom of the cutter removed.

If your cam looks worn and stretched, replace it. I chose not to replace ours. The cams are expensive ($30) and while the entire thing will run smoother with a brand new one, I figure we can go another season without it. This is another replacement to be done while the bottom of the cutter is off and you’re replacing the cam guide and bearing.

cam and blade

Replacing the blades on the greens harvester is obviously advisable as needed. New blades are expensive ($65) and this is another replacement that we’ll live with for the next season or as long as we need to. Replacement instructions are in the booklet that comes with the cutter.

I’ve been sharpening our blades with an 8193 dremel grinding stone fitted into a cordless drill. Sharpening is simple but requires a light touch – these instructions are also in the booklet. Rotate the Lovejoy coupling until the blades are lined up perfectly. Fire up the drill on its highest speed setting and run the stone on each scallop of the serrated blade, at the approximate angle of the scallop. Use light pressure and grind until each scallop has a clean, sharp edge. Do the same for the bottom blade. It doesn’t take more than a couple seconds per edge. When you can feel small barbs on the flat side of the edge, you’re blade is sharp.

Finally, the blade pin. It holds both blades in place on the left side of the harvester (if you’re looking at it from the front). This little guy got worn out by July and I replaced it with a pin and clip from the ag supply store. Not ideal, but functional.

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Click here for a review of the Quick Cut Greens Harvester from June 2013.

How is it September already?!

Oh my. It’s been a while. Like three months. Needless to say, it’s been a busy… and awesome summer.

Aside from being stellar in general, Heidi is an animal lover. Her pup, Riley is officially the best of all our farm dogs, and she keeps threatening to buy us some rabbits. About a month ago, Heidi brought her horse Shiloh to the farm. He’s a big sweetie and we’re loving having him around. Coda (our pup) thinks the horse is the coolest thing in the world and loves going with Heidi on her rides up the hill.

It has been so fun to see all of your faces this year at market, and what a market it’s been! Barely a cloudy day (echm knock on wood, please). Our CSA is one of the highlights of my week, seeing all of our members and their families. Some of our members have been with us for three years and I feel so lucky to have watched those kids grow and for the friendships that have formed over those years. Thank you all for supporting your local farmer.

We’ve also been really happy with the restaurant and grocery support this year through the Western MT Growers Coop. Our greens are now at the Good Food Store, Orange Street Food Farm, as well as a variety of other stores (including ones in Bozeman, Butte and Kalispell). Pretty cool!

The irrigation ditch has been turned off for a few days now and we’re reliant on just well water to keep the greens green for the next month. In fact, we’re so pleased with this little cool spell that we’re taking the afternoon off today while the rain soaks in. Oh it feels so good – fall, almost.

Earlier this week, Tony, Heidi, Margaret, and I picked most of the pumpkins and did a little photoshoot with the haul…

Quick Cut Greens Harvester: A Review

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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Click here for a post on yearly Harvester maintenance