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Warner Grant project featured on monthly Organic Farmer Researcher Network Meeting

There’s nothing like a crisp summer salad! But keeping salad greens in production as the weather heats up is a challenge for local producers. With the help of Warner grant funding, Michelle Nowak of Franklinton Farms sought to address this issue with on-farm trials over the last three years. 

Partnering with her spouse and OSU Associate Professor Gerry Carter, and with OSU Franklin County extension educator Tim McDermott, Nowak tested different shading and watering approaches during the 2020-2022 growing seasons. Selected results are briefly presented below. More details are available from watching Nowak’s presentation from the June 1 Organic Farmer Researcher Network Meeting:

Can we increase summer lettuce production by using shade cloth, shorter more frequent watering intervals, or a combination of the two?


The best summer lettuce yield boosts came from a direct seeded lettuce mix that used a shade cloth and shorter more frequent watering events. Nowak switched from 4 10-minute watering intervals per day instead of a longer once a day watering. For transplanted leaf lettuce varieties in the trial, the combined two treatments increased yields by 90% or more compared to no treatments, (See figure from Michelle Nowak, Franklinton Farms); but results for shade alone and shorter watering intervals alone did not show a significant effect.

Four heat-tolerant head lettuce varieties were also planted under the same 4 treatments and measured for the number of days to harvest. Two of the four varieties showed a positive response to the short interval watering, but the other two showed no clear impacts. 

Comparing the material costs of the watering system and shade cloths, the research team concluded that the additional lettuce sales would recover costs in about a month. However, since results were not uniform across varieties, additional trials would be valuable. 

Can we grow spinach successfully in the summer by 1) priming seed and direct seeding or 2) transplanting with the paperpot system?

Alas, local spinach lovers! The short interval watering + shade cloth method that proved helpful for lettuce, did not provide the same boost for summer spinach. The paperpot system was also not helpful. Both direct-seeded and transplanted spinach struggled with disease and predation. Michelle plans to try using interval drip tape watering for summer spinach in the future along with shade cloth on high tunnel frames to provide shade without increasing humidity. Other meeting attendees asked about trialing groundcovers, including landscape fabric or mulch.

Future Plans

Nowak also discussed her work trialing black vs. white shade cloth and using caterpillar tunnels for summer greens. There is much more to learn from additional trials. And as the climate warms, this work will become increasingly critical. The June 1 group discussed repeating these trials using different varieties and even incorporating additional farms. Nowak will be looking at winter greens trials in the coming year, through SARE funding, but welcomes additional collaboration or ideas on future work. 

More details

Watch the full presentation at the OFFER YouTube Channel and get all the details:

The Organic Farmer Researcher Network provides opportunities to discuss and share on-farm research trial results, ideas, and techniques that align with organic production. Visit the OFFER website to learn more about the program and recent or upcoming speakers, including Stefan Gailans from Practical Farmers of Iowa, Kathy Bielick from Misty Oak Farm; and Beth Nelson from SARE.

Learn more about the Warner Grant program at the AMP website, where you can see last year’s call for proposals and other past projects:

Franklinton Farms is an urban farm operating year-round in Columbus, Ohio, with production at 12 sites. Learn more at