There are a number of strategies and methods you can choose from, so learn all you can about each of these approaches, then pick the one that fits best for your small farm.
How Many Pounds of Greens?
The first question is, how many pounds of greens per day do you plan to harvest? If you're growing on a very small scale, you may find that simple methods work, such as snipping off the bottom of each plant, spreading the leaves out on a flat surface to dry for 20 to 30 minutes, then shaking off the dry, dusty dirt.
Considerations After Harvest
The main focus after harvesting baby salad greens is cooling them and removing water from the surface of the leaves. Large-scale commercial operations (more than 250 pounds per day) use a wash line and conveyer belt system where the leaves move through a series of wash tanks filled with cold water, which both cool the product and remove grit. Personnel inspect the greens as they move through the conveyer belt, removing weeds and rotten leaves.
Initial Rinsing of Salad Greens
The first step is to decide what type of container you will harvest your salad greens into. Some farms use wooden bushel crates lined with mesh. Ventilated plastic totes and black bulb trays are other options.
After gathering, the greens are dunked into a large tank full of cool water. Livestock watering tanks are a good choice, and can be purchased in 100 gallon or 300 gallon sizes depending on your volume of production.
Spinning Salad Greens Dry
The next step in getting salad greens ready for sale is to spin the clean leaves dry. Almost all water must be removed from the leaf surface or rotting will occur. A used clothes washing machine is used on many small-scale farms to spin greens dry, with the spin cycle only used and only for about 45 seconds. Typically, the farmer watches while the greens spin and turns off the machine as soon as water stops flowing out of the drain hose. You must make sure to use a food-safe washing machine that has an enameled or stainless steel basket (and of course, not one used for clothes that could have detergent residue).
While in the machine, salad greens are held in mesh bags, typically holding about three pounds of greens each. Two three-pound bags, one on each side of the machine, are loaded for one spin cycle. Another option is to purchase a large, hand-cranked salad spinner. There are models that use a five-gallon bucket. These can handle three pounds of greens and take about one minute (and some human power) to dry the greens.
While waiting their turn, baby salad greens can stay submerged in cold water, but only up to about twenty minutes.
Storing Clean Salad Greens
After drying, baby salad greens should be stored, loosely packed, in plastic bags with twist ties or plastic clamshells. They should be stored under refrigeration.