This blog post is for those using or considering a converted washing machine as greens spinner.
For background information on several different types of greens spinners and general thoughts on using washing machine conversions see this blog post.
There are a few things to consider when shopping for a washing machine to convert into a greens spinner. Like most things, it comes down to:
How much you want to spend, and
What features are important to you.
Option 1 – A Basic Machine
There are few things you need to look for in searching or a washing machine that will be used as a greens spinner. A good rule of thumb is: The simpler the better. Fancy electronic controls are not used for this application; you only use the spin cycle. The pictures below show a Whirlpool WTW500DW model which was used for our first review. Most models on the market are put together in similar ways, but individual washers will vary. This washer and others like it can easily be purchased at box stores. You can expect to pay $500-600 for these basic models. Other models are available from different manufacturers but they have not been evaluated by us yet.
Top-loading washers are needed for greens spinning. Front-loading washers pose challenges in both use and cleaning.
Washers with an “impeller” or wash plate rather than an “agitator” up the middle allow easy use with basket inserts and require less modification.
Some washing machines have an agitator that can be removed, providing enough clearance above the drive shaft for using a basket insert. But, some driveshafts stick-up too far which prohibits the use of a basket!
Start with a new clean washer. It is tempting to use the free, used washing machine you found on the roadside. But, remember, you are washing salad that people put in their mouth, so these machines need to be kept extremely clean. Because of this, we also recommend using a basket insert to spin your greens over directly placing them in the drum, or using a laundry bag. This makes the basket (which is easier to keep clean) the primary food contact surface and not the components of the spinner.
Whether you’re starting with a new washer or performing maintenance on your existing one, this next tip will ensure you are minimizing harborage points for bacteria and foodborne pathogens.
Downsides of “Basic” machines
Hard to Clean – Areas between the sidewalls and the drum are hard to access for cleaning.
Visually Unappealing – Washing machines are not visually appealing, especially when they’ve been hacked for farm use. Technically speaking they can be cleaned and maintained (read more tips below) to reduce produce safety risks. However, they can raise a flag for an auditor or inspector.
Drum Modification Required – Baskets don’t fit securely in the drum, and additional “bumpers” need to be installed for use.
Can Be Noisy – Loads can get out of balance, especially when modifying the drum to fit baskets. This causes the machine to wobble and shake. Sometimes the drum will even slap the sides of the machine. This makes for a very loud workspace and excess wear on your machine.
Sharp Edges – A hacked top or the edges of side panels can be sharp. The temptation to cover these with a split hose reduces the risk of cuts but increases harborage risk and creates additional pathogen growth locations.
Option 2 – A Commercial Machine
The second option we have explored is a commercial washing machine. These machines are made for the commercial market and are generally benefit from a more robust design. They really are the “cat’s meow” when it comes to washer conversions. They come with a price premium, but it is likely well worth it considering the benefits. The model we reviewed is the Speed Queen TC5. These are not found in the typical box stores but, rather, in appliance stores. These machines are in the $900-1,000 price range. Other commercial washer models from various manufacturers like Whirlpool etc. are available, but their build and features have not been evaluated by us yet.
There are several benefits that the higher end washer gains you that we think is worth the extra cost. Everything from the ease of modification, quality of the machine components, hygienic design of the final build and daily ease of use.
Ease of Modification – These washers are designed and built with clear attention to detail. Parts are designed to be easily removed or replaced and not designed cheaply as a use-and-replace appliance.
Low Attachment Point Agitator – This brand of washer DOES have an agitator up the center, however the way it connects to the drive shaft is low enough in the drum so it doesn’t interfere with using a basket insert.
Direct Fit Baskets – The drum is the right diameter to fit orange harvest baskets without bumpers or spacers to secure the load.
Quieter Operation – This machine has a bottom-mounted design (supported from a base on the floor) rather than chassis mounted (hung from the side panels). This keeps the load in better balance reducing excess vibration, noise and stress on the components. It also allows the top to be more open and reduces sharp edges and harborage points.
Improved Electronics – The motor used in a Speed Queen is a 3/4hp vs. a 1/2hp on a basic washer, more power and longer lifespan. The wiring harness uses a higher gauge wire and is easy to dissemble wire to a timer switch.
Single Piece Drum – The drum on the speed queen’s is fully stainless steel and has smooth drains holes and does not include stamped, molded or sandwiched pieces of plastic. These extra pieces and design features on the Basic Model create seams and sharp edges that are hard to clean and sharp to handle.
Automatic Drum Brake – This machine is equipped with a mechanical brake that automatically stops the drum from spinning at the end of the cycle. This reduces the time it takes for the basket to slow down and stop. Basic machines coast to a stop and users find themselves waiting, or using their hands to stop the drum early.
Compact Design – Since the unit is bottom-mounted, the sides of the machine are not needed, and can be removed. This makes the unit lighter and take up less space in your wash-pack area. This makes it a more enjoyable place to work providing more open space and less visual clutter. (+1 for not looking like a misplaced washing machine, or Frankenstein appliance anymore!)
Easier to Clean – Removing the sides also increases the ability for the machine to fully dry between uses. This reduces conditions that favor growth of bacteria and other pathogens.
Early findings on the Commercial Washer Model
We have our first version dropped off at a partner farm (Footprint farm) for a long term use test. Early reports suggest that it’s a great washing machine spinner. Concerns of water getting on the motor prompted the need to add a skirt over the electronics to deflect splashing of nearby water. We also increased the size of the drain holes in the bottom of the drum to make the daily cleaning (hosing out small leaf material) quicker and easier. Taylor and the crew repeatedly comment about how nice and quiet the machine operates. Yay for hearing the radio, and other crew members as you pack for customers!
NOTE: The Speed Queen model TC5 and TR5 differ slightly: The TR5 does not have the brake feature.
All of our resources are available here on this blog. However, if you are looking for a printed handout, here is a list. These are all of the PDF documents that we share during workshops, meetings, and presentations. All links will open the PDF in a new tab.
With innovative tools becoming more available for salad greens production from field prep through harvest, mixed greens are becoming more attractive for farmers. Postharvest handling and wash/pack still causes a bottleneck for many farms. Today we share some knowledge on a piece of equipment recently adopted at Jericho Settlers Farm in Jericho, VT.
This Greens Washline is made by China Joy Equipment. They call it an “Air Bubble Washing Machine.” This has been an affordable piece of equipment to allow their farm to scale up greens production for $13,900. Mark Fasching from Jericho Settlers Farm was gracious enough to share some of his experiences sourcing this machine from the other side of the world.
I had the pleasure of facilitating a workshop at the 2019 NOFA-MA Summer Conference about Ventilation in Greenhouses and High Tunnels. It provided an opportunity to collect information from various sources, ground truth observations with growers, and to revisit some fundamentals. The big takeaway, for me, is that there are many, many ways to ventilate a protected culture environment and opportunities for improvement abound. I hope this review provides a framework for troubleshooting some issues that may be common in the field.
A PDF of this case study is available for download here.
Danielle Allen and Ben Dana own and operate Root 5 Farm in Fairlee, Vermont. This organic vegetable farm on the Connecticut River provides over 200 CSA members, farmers market, restaurant, and wholesale customers with local, healthy food. Over 100 different varieties of crops are grown on the 38 acres that make up the farm. Continue reading “Wheels Keep Things Rolling at Root 5 Farm”
Last summer we performed a series of precooling trials using small-scale forced air coolers to cool eggplant, watermelon, strawberries, blueberries, zucchini, and roasting peppers. The forced air cooling was done in parallel with standard room cooling and was shown to result in cooling rates ranging from 1.2 to 2.2 times faster than room cooling. This test demonstrated the feasibility and benefit of simple forced air cooling systems to smaller scale farms.
Hygienic design intentionally creates or improves spaces and equipment so they can be cleaned and sanitized as appropriate.
This post, associated PDF guide and checklist (PDF and Excel) are tools we developed to help apply hygienic and sanitary design practice on produce farms. These tools cover the five key principles of hygienic design for produce farms:
The intentional, directional, and reliable flow of water is important to ensure agricultural water is “safe and of adequate sanitary quality”.
This post provides information on the importance of backflow prevention and some common practices that help mitigate the risk of backflow. You can also view presentation slides and a recorded webinar on this topic that were provided for the May 2019 Produce Safety Alliance Educators Call.