The Crop Repot: Week 15 | Opening Up the Field Cooler
- Apr 14, 2021
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The Flowers are HERE! The cooler is jam-packed with buckets of some of the prettiest ranunculus, anemone, and poppies! With every harvest, the inside cooler has turned into a game of Jenga as we try to move things around without making the whole thing fall. Every year, the cooler goes from barren to overstuffed in the blink of an eye. The timeline for flipping our spaces is always tight, so I put some bugs in the crew’s ears a few days in advance of my plan to open up the outdoor cooler.
If you’ve been following The Crop Report, you know that we use our outdoor cooler as a seedling grow room during the winter when it's not busy keeping flowers cool. The weather has finally stabilized, meaning the last flats of cold-intolerant seedlings can be booted to a holding tunnel until being field planted. The walls, tables, and floors are being scrubbed and disinfected, and the space is opened up to air out. The AC units can have the protective covering removed and the cool-bot system can be kicked on. All systems go!
At the farm, we are pretty lucky to have two coolers. Inside the shop, we have a 12’ x 12’ commercial walk-in cooler. This was the first refrigeration system on the farm and actually came from a Papa John’s store remodel. Our second cooler is an entire room that we had built off the side of our shop. The outside cooler (or field cooler as we call it) is a 12’ x 20’ insulated room with interior metal walls and a concrete floor. I love it, but I do wish I had a drain in the floor. This cooler is temperature-controlled with two big window unit air conditioners and two CoolBots.
The CoolBot system is a pretty handy little farming device. Essentially, it’s a thermostat and an override control that bypasses the internal limits of window units. The window units will only drop down to 60 degrees, but with a CoolBot, you can make the temperature in any room drop down to right above freezing. I never want to see my spaces below 32 degrees, so I can’t speak to its ability to go lower than 34 which is my safe number. The folks at CoolBot have provided wonderful support the few times I've needed it, and the website provides more resources and information to make use a breeze. You can find them at www.storeitcold.com.
We ended up having to upgrade our system at the beginning of *CoCo* last year. We wore the first CoolBot plum out, but it earned its keep - and then some. When we replaced the CoolBots last year, we invested in the wireless reporting feature but didn’t get a chance to set it up in all the flurry that was 2020. This year when we busted into the outside cooler I was SO excited to hook them up.
Setting up the wireless reporting was seamless (and it's a good thing since I dragged Steph and my electrician brother-in-law over to the farm to assist in what I thought might get complicated!) It took little more than tacking up the sensors on the outside of the cooler, attaching internally to the CoolBot, and logging into our account within close proximity of the router. Why is this so awesome for me? Well, now I have a handy app on my phone that allows me to monitor the temperatures inside my cooler at any time and from anywhere. I can adjust sensor settings on my phone and even set alarms if the temp falls out of my determined safety range. This means when I wake up at 3 am and can’t fall back to sleep unless I KNOW the cooler is functioning properly, I can just check my phone. This is a real flower farmer fear and has led to many pantless middle-of-the-night runs out to the cooler just to make sure the flowers are cold. This has happened more than I care to admit and I bet I ain't the only one. This has been one of my FAVORITE things this week!
After 24 hours of regulating the temperatures in the empty cooler, I moved all of our harvests into the newly set up space. We organize both our coolers with folding tables stacked on top of each other and use pre-cut lengths of PVC pipe to add height to tables for the extra tall crops. The reason I prefer this setup is that it's flexible. I like being able to adapt our setup based on what is in our cooler and how the space works best to store our flowers. We keep one wire shelf rack for small buckets and vase life tests, but otherwise, we try to keep it pretty minimalistic (except for the picture of Burt Reynolds, he stays).
The field cooler is called that because this is our space to store harvested crops in bulk. From this cooler, orders are pulled and moved to our shop cooler where all sold flowers are housed. This way, we can shop to fill orders from the big cooler without worrying about whether or not something is already sold. With multiple hands in the mix, it's important to make sure our system makes sense for us, our team, and the flowers.
We are very strict with how we manage our cooler. We use the first-in-first-out method to keep our product moving through our own little chain. We organize by crop, keep a running list of inventory, and monitor water levels, bad stems, and general tidiness daily. With a tight run ship (or cooler), we all feel super confident in the product we send out in the world.
We also turned on our outdoor utility sink water line! This handy little sink right outside the field cooler door makes topping off buckets a breeze, and the close proximity to the cooler door has made our sanitizing and daily cleaning practices much more efficient. The field cooler, utility sink, and bucket washing station out the back of our studio is like the triangle in kitchen design with the sink, stove, and fridge.
Having a cooler full of flowers feels really great as a flower farmer. Having two coolers filled with flowers feels freaking amazing. Now that I have both coolers running (and I can check that from my phone), I’m setting my sights next on the perennials.