How can Midwestern growers make the most of winter high tunnel real estate for winter salad mixes?

Progress report for FNC23-1365

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2023: $8,781.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2025
Grant Recipient: Franklinton Farms
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:
Michelle Nowak
Franklinton Farms
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Project Information

Description of operation:

Franklinton Farms (FF) is a nonprofit urban farm in Columbus, OH. We grow on twelve scattered sites across a few blocks in our neighborhood. Our land base for growing vegetables totals about two acres, and we have 12 high tunnels that we use for growing crops year round. While not certified organic, we use organic methods, including no- and low-till soil management, fostering beneficial insect populations through native plants, and minimal spraying. We distribute our crops through a year-round CSA within our neighborhood, an online store with on site pickup, and vend at Columbus’ largest farmers market during all four seasons. Within the Franklinton neighborhood, which is a USDA-identified food desert, we distribute produce with a focus on making it accessible and affordable to our most vulnerable neighbors, offering our CSA on a sliding scale and delivering to our members’ doors. We distribute about $140,000 worth of produce each year, and salad mix is our most important crop, topping our list of crops by revenue each year. Last year we grew about $10,000 worth of salad mix. We also grow a wide variety of other greens, root crops, and fruiting crops.

Michelle Nowak, FF Farm Manager, will lead the project. She has been the Farm Manager at FF for four years, and prior to that managed a 7-acre certified organic farm in Maryland for five years. She also worked for a season each at a 30-acre biodynamic farm in Germany, an organic permaculture farm in New Hampshire, and a horse-powered organic farm in Upstate New York.

Michelle has led three seasons of successful on-farm research on summer lettuce production at FF. With this project on winter greens, Michelle and her team will be responsible for planning, planting, harvesting, and measuring our trial crops. As with our past research projects, Ohio State University Assistant Professor Gerald Carter will support the project with data analysis after farm staff finish data collection in spring 2024. We will collaborate with staff from OSU extension and the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association to share our results with growers throughout Ohio and the Midwest.

FF is also the convener for The Community Growers’ Network (CGN) is an initiative for Columbus-based Urban Farmers. The project benefits communities which are food deserts/apartheids—most of which are predominately African American. The proposed research will greatly impact these 7 local Farms—and reach many others!


Optimizing production in winter high tunnels relies on careful selection of crops, because winter plant growth is so slow and limited. Every year, we consider winter market demand and plant crops that we know will grow well, but we wish we had better data on the relative yields of our various potential salad mix ingredients so that we could make the most informed decisions about what to plant and how to use our precious tunnel space for the best winter yields. 

Winter vegetable production provides growers with great opportunities to enter untapped markets, to distinguish themselves with niche products, and to spread their income through the year. At the winter Worthington Farmers Market, the largest farmers market in Columbus, we regularly sell out of our produce early in the market, suggesting that the market could accommodate additional growers. Still, Midwestern winter growers, especially as they’re starting out, may struggle to find information that will allow them to optimize their winter salad mix production. Research has confirmed that babyleaf brassicas and lettuce are among the top choices for generating income with winter growing, but with so many choices on the market, it’s hard to know which varieties generate the best returns. 

Project Objectives:


We will trial 8 varieties of cold tolerant babyleaf brassicas, 2 arugulas, and 4 varieties of lettuce for salad mix by seeding each of these crops in our unheated high tunnels in 2.5’ x 10’ blocks on three different dates in September, October, and November 2023. For each planting date, all trial varieties will be planted into the same tunnel. We will choose trial varieties based on past experience, and input from other growers. We’ll also choose varieties that have varying colors, textures, and shapes to create an appealing salad mix for customers. We’ve found that planting single varieties of brassicas and lettuce rather than mixes, and mixing the varieties post-harvest, allows for better yields and control for winter growing. Different varieties bolt at different times and some get freeze damage or disease while others remain unaffected. Our goal here is to find 4-6 varieties for optimal winter salad mix yields. 

To prepare beds for planting, we will broadfork, use a power harrow or tilther, apply organic fertilizer or compost as needed according to our soil tests, then direct seed the crops into our high tunnel beds with a Jang JP-5 seeder, seeding 10 rows per 2.5’ wide bed for all crops. After seeding, beds will be irrigated with drip tape or micro sprinklers and covered with row cover to aid germination. Row cover will be removed after germination, and left off except during periods of <20 degree F weather. Below 10 degrees F, we will cover the crops with two layers of row cover. Most of our tunnels have automatic louvre vents at the peak of each endwall. We will also roll up tunnel sides to vent the tunnels when the tunnel temperatures reach >80F 

We hope to get as many cuts as possible off of each planting, so crops will always be harvested above the growing tip for cut-and-come-again harvests. Crops will be harvested with the Farmer’s Friend Quick-Cut Greens Harvester ( We will track the days to harvest for each crop, the number of harvests we’re able to get throughout the winter season, the marketable yield (mass) per harvest, and the overall total mass we harvested per crop over the winter. Every week, we will also record any noticeable differences in crop health by taking photos and notes, looking for differences in disease, pest pressure, and cold damage. We will also track the overall sales of lettuce to identify any trends in the market demand for varieties. 


  1. Evaluate the relative yields of 8 babyleaf brassicas, 2 arugulas, and 4 lettuce varieties planted in high tunnels on 3 different planting dates for winter harvests. 
  2. Identify which 4-6 of these crops give the best yields for winter salad mix production.
  3. Share findings through a field day, quarterly Community Growers Network trainings, our website and social media, and a conference presentation


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Tess Primmer - Producer


Materials and methods:

We seeded our first planting of greens in one of our high tunnels on November 7, 2023. We used the 5 row Jang seeder, with every other hopper filled, to seed 12' blocks of each variety with 6 rows/30" bed of the following varieties:

Asian greens, 7 varieties: Vivid choi, Tokyo Bekana, Rosie, Red Kingdom, Red Cloud, Koji, Carlton

Lettuce, 3 varieties: Wildfire mix, outredgeous, green salad bowl

Baby Kale, 1 variety: KX-1

Arugula, 1 variety: standard

On December 5, 2023, we seeded our second planting of greens in a second high tunnel. We used the 5 row Jang seeder, with every other hopper filled, to seed 12' blocks of each variety with 6 rows/30" bed of the following varieties:

Asian Greens, 5 varieties: Vivid Choi, Carlton, Koji, Rosie, Red Cloud

Baby Kale, 1 variety: KX-1

Lettuce, 3 varieties: Wildfire mix, outredgeous, green salad bowl

We would have liked to do the first seeding about a month earlier, to be able to harvest them earlier in the winter, but the work got delayed due to sickness, so unfortunately, we haven't been able to harvest these plantings yet. We foresee being able to harvest the trial plantings starting in mid February. We plan to do another round of trial seedings this fall, in September and October 2024, to get additional results by January 2025.

We tine weeded the plantings each 3 times, and they have been hand weeded once.

greens trial blocks


Research results and discussion:

We haven't been able to harvest our fall/winter seeded greens yet in order to measure yields, but expect to be able to harvest them and recording yield data beginning in mid-February. We plan to do another round of trial seedings this fall, in September and October 2024, to get additional results by January 2025.

Participation Summary
1 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary:

160 Farmers participated
60 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

I presented on Asian greens and on our project at the virtual portion of the Organic Vegetable Production Conference on 1/25/24. Although we don't yet have yield results from our project, I discussed about our preliminary impressions of the various varieties we're growing so far, and about the rationale for and setup of our project. I will also share my contact info and hope to assemble a list of growers to share final results with once we have those. The OVPC conference is attended by about 220 farmers and ag professionals. Next year, I hope to speak at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Conference to share final results. We will also plan a field day for winter 2024/25.  

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.