Succession Lettuce Interview 287 with Ray Tyler | Rose Creek Farms | Tennessee

Thursday, March 28, 2019!

It is a pleasure to be here!

Thanks for dealing with my tech problems gla we were able to connect!

Back in the spring of 2009, my wife asked me to plant a small garden so she could can some salsa for the winter.

Laid off- started farming with a tractor on 2 acres (terribly!), got into chickens, laying hens, pigs, and even a few cows.

And after a radical diet and lifestyle change that followed our Daughter health crisis we started to consume large amounts of Vegetables, a lot less meat and in the fall of 2015 we made a leap of faith to sell our meat business, stop using a tractor, and farm using only one acre. Our farming friends thought we were insane, but we were pretty certain that focusing on just produce would allow us to master the lettuce crop in 2016. We had lettuce for sale every week that season! We were so thrilled to discover that we tripled our income on half the amount of land that year! Excited and inspired, we knew we were heading in the right direction. By focusing on creating better growing systems in our produce operation, changing our farm practices, we now have year round production, a near weed free farm (which makes me thrilled nearly every day) and being really aggressive and creative about our sales outlets for our area, we have been able to live a sustainable and enjoyable life, rarely working in the fields more that 8 hours, which was one of our top goals!

wife ashley – 5 kids


Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Ray Tyler with my wife Ashley of Rose Creek farms down here in Selma TN

Between Memphis and Nashville

Mississippi border

Kind of in the edge of that zone 7-zone 8

depends on what kind of year we are having

trying to grow as much food as we can on one acre

Battling the pests that never seem to die and the endless weeds thanks to the humidity

raising 6 young at the same time! And having a blast!

Wow you must have had a new baby!

7 month old baby to 10 years old so there is never a dull moment!

How great is that? These kids being raised amongst others by a garden like this!

as they get older

we don’t make them work on the farm

We know a lot of children who were forced to work who hate it

all do the house chores dishes


they only work if they want to and we pay them for it

It’s created a very healthy environment

They look at the farm as a very positive aspect of their life


every year they want to make more money

do more things

so it’s a kind of tremendous joy

So we are homeschooling as well so they are always with us.

Now do you have animals too?

When we first started 10 years ago, we had this dream of farming full time. When we first got started, for the first few years the farm was absolute chaos! 

We’re trying to

  • start a business
  • farming things in the south
  • raising children

It’s a pretty tough market

east coast

west coast

local food

pretty tough gig!

theres not a lot of information on small scale farms in the south so we were really carving out this farm from not a lot of info we could find anyways.

We were on 2 acres

  • 2-3k chickens
  • 300 turkeys
  • 50-60 hogs
  • cows at one point
  • 2 acres of produce with the tractor

we were


I’ll bet you learned a lot.

We learned a ton! so much!

we learned just a ton!

we got at this point at 2015

when a lot of people start farming or gardening, thinkingwe have this idea of we want to have time we wnat to go out work the land of our family

Get out of the rat race and the 9-5 grind and we wanted to farm to escape that

Fast forward a few years and I was finding I had less time for my family before I started farming then after

In 2015 we had this wakeup call, February 2015

greenhouses packed of transplants for production

big batch of broilers on order

My wife came home with my daughter and said are you ready for life to change?

I said don’t be silly we’re farmers, nothing new around here

Can I just back up, your baby daughter?

Some back story, we sent our daughter to a dentist, they saw something funky to gums and it came back positive for carcenoma, and she was 6 years old! 

It was a big deal, and a tough time to put the farm on hold


tough time to do that

best thing that ever happened to us

believe it or not

organic farmers

worst eaters of all

on the road


not spending as much time as you would like cooking your food

So our  health was terrible!

gaining weight


so what it did basically we had to take a step way back and reevaluate everything we were doing and the children, we had 4 at the time

With all the chaos that comes with 

all those animals

driving to market

and all that time we were taking her to the hospital

our daughter is cancer free just so you know, we thank God every day for her life!

at that season ~ we were like, what we want at the end of the day

you can have a farm and houses and land and cars what is important is that at the end of the day we are surrounded by the ones we love and they love us

we stressed for the rest of our life would be based on time with our family and brought everything back through this lens that looked like 

if this takes away time from our end goal

  • healthy family
  • home school them
  • time
  • trips
  • experiences

If it takes away from any of that we have to reevaluate if that’s what were supposed to be doing at this time.

we questioned should we keep farming? This is a big deal if there were a few weeks of her to live. 

There is nothing worse for a parent to be faced with the thought for losing a child and we are thankful we did’t have to do that. But we realized that life is precious, every moment is fleeting, you never know if tomorrow or today is our last day.

At the end of that season we basically got rid of our animals and changed  our diet for her

  • no pork
  • vegetable based diet
  • to help her recover from cancer
  • less meat
  • more produce

looking at  raising the animals, if processing them was no longer bringing us joy so we imagined  what life would be like for us without the livestock portion of our business

life would be good if we 

  • didn’t have to feed the pigs
  • take care of all these turkeys

sold the livestock

We’d been growing on 2 acres

Had all the tractor equipment where I had no idea

sold all the equipment

went down to one acre

knew I had a big market for lettuce

developing on how to have it year round

never really had the time to give the proper attention to this crop

focus her in the south

lettuce needed to be planted


time and attention that it needed

all the animals

one acre

Really focused on 10-15 crops

tripled our gross on the vegetable side of business on 1/2 the amount of land for probably 


2016 commitment we were only going to work 8 hours a day

I wanted to be home for suppers, put them to bed, and to have that quality time in the evening.

How were able to do that? Did you hire help? Farmer only working 8 hours a day during the season? Maybe in Tennessee your in season all year?

In Tennessee, three’s this time in August its so hot, other then greens there’s not a whole lot going on, everything’s just done.

how we did that

We already had some accounts that we had been working on for 5 years

we were very deliberate what we were going to grow

growing is the easy part

selling is the hard part



what we knew we could sell

80 varieties of vegetables we cut out all that waste and we grew the probably 10-20 crops we knew we could sell at that time of year

Simplified everything!

another thing we did

we still o to this day at certain times of year

what killed us wheat

wheat acropolis down here in the

Invested in like $2000 of landscape fabric.


10 hours of cultivation

for the season

landscape fabrics

  • laid out the fabric
  • plant
  • set up automatic water
  • next thing you do is harvest and sell
  • eliminated hundreds of hours

Eliminated hundreds of hours on watering and and cultivation

changed everything! 

Streamlined our whole process,there’s a lot more complicaterd but aht’s the basic thing

knowing we were only growing

I did spend $1500 various educational consulting for my business

I want to make this thing happen this year, I could figure this out but that investment in the education really helped combined with my experience

Can I just ask, did you take a class or invest in a mentor? REad books?

A number of things:

I did a series of phone conversations with Curtis Stone

He took a look at our farm, he didn’t really tell us what to do but asked us some questions of, have you considered this?

I already knew what to do, but having that sounding board really helped a lot

Then I did another series of consulting, be cause me and my wife farm together

farming with a partner

that was really the biggest thing

interseeding thing

At the end of 2015 I hired JM to come down to my farm, I ended up selling tickets for that event, because it is pretty expensive so I sold tickets for that event which sold out in a short amount of time

idea to give me some tips on my farm but since I spent so much time organizing this event, we became great friends, but I didn’t get the consulting I was planning. Doing workshops on a farm is a tremendous amount of work. So it was a mixture of all that

It wasn’t as much what we did as what we did not do. When you drop a pretty large animal business, it opens up a tremendous amount of time. 

Having that other business took up a lot of brain wave, like where’s this going to be sold so I was able to put time towards my produce production.

And when you go from two acres to one acre it just makes things Very very simple

When you go from chaos to order it makes things very easy to metabolize

how all this was going to work

I had 5 years experience before . It was just taking out the fat and really leaning being deliberate about what you are going to grow and getting some other help looking at the whole system!

You have no idea how fascinating this is to us. My husband and I are drooling over this place in Maine that is 175 acres of woods with 13 acres of farmland, with 2 homes, we are in just 20 acres. It’s like less then 60 miles from Johnny’s selected seeds in Maine. It’s got a house that needs a ton of work, I feel like the house could be an awesome education center. I just can’t imagine what it would take. My husband grew up on 1200 acres and we’re just so boxed in here. I keep asking the realtor aren’t there any records, that’s what I feel like what we need to do, is to offer a farmer in the local area that cuold pay us. 

I do quite a bit of consulting myself, and so the way I approach this, you have to know, what is your end goal? What are you trying to accomplish with your farm? There is no wrong answer. Maybe:

  • I want to make a living
  • I want a place for my children to work
  • make a side income
  • I just want to produce food, I don’t need it to make money

There are so many ways

I’ve consulted for people who have nothing to multi millionaires

understanding what your goal is

If your goal is to make an income

  • how much do you have to make?
  • what are you bills?
  • don’t promoot
  • tractor or no tractor
  • what’s your dina


what is your end goal?

A huge part in how your farm ultimately produces

how it runs

If you don’t like to work with people and want to one man show

this property to make 100% of this income and you have no off farm income you are going to have to approach it a completely different way. LEt’s say you want to be making $300k in 10 years. 

If you are in MAine and everyone’s a farmer and your trying to make it as a gardener, where if youru are in the middle of no where it could be easier  but you might have a harder time to grow. IT’s a lot of fun to start in a blank canvas because it can go in any direction!

We want to grow hemp and sunflowers and food! Those are my big ones!

Sunflower agritourism

I think this whole sunflower agritourism field is a huge opportunity for folks who have large plots of land! Or even medium plots of land. If you have a 5 acre plot.

What’s a sunflower agritourism field?

If you were to grow an acre of sunflowers. And you were going to charge $5-10 a person to go in there and take a picture of them in the sunflowers.

I want to grow the sunflowers for bird seed. Those could compliment each other because the seeds come after the blooms. I had no idea.

At least here in my area, in the south, it’s tremendous

All these young people who want to have this themselves or a with a partner in a field of sunflowers. People will play big money for that. You can charge people. Maybe you can hire professional photographers who could take pictures of people. 

And it comes with this huge house I feel could turn into an online education center. My degree is elementary education and our goal is to teach as many people about organic gardening as we can. 

Obviously I do a number of online education, but  my favorite is the on farm education! I’ve hosted numerous on farm workshops for the past few years and a lot of people are very hands-on visual learners who want ot go see a farm and garden! 

People want to see what you are talking about

  • what kind of water you have
  • spacings you are working with
  • if you are going to spend $5000 worth of tools they want to feel lit
  • how is a high tunnel is set up or a greenhouse

You never know, till you see things exist!

Tell me about your first gardening experience?

You know my earliest time of growing that I remember was growing sunflowers. We had just moved to Tennessee

neighbors garden patch

no experience what’s so ever

triple 13 fertilizer

I want these babies to grow

The next day there there was not a trace of sunflwoers to be seen! 

they had just germinated, so I had burned them so they disintegrated

but I saw first hand what conventional farming and what chemicals can do, I was like this is just crazy!

that was just a few week experience, I didn’t do any serious farming or gardening after that. I remember feeling of bare soil with my bare feet when I was twelve.

Did you grow up in Tennessee where you are?

my dad was in the navy, but 

we travel

We were on our way to Mexico and our car broke down and we have been here ever since. 

Are you a millennial? Awesome!

millennial 1981

How did you learn how to garden organically?

I think what it was, was in 2009, I had this chance, my wife basically wanted a little patch to put away some salsa. I said, sure we could but we had more weeds then plants, the weeds were 6 feet tall, you couldn’t even see the plants

But there were there any farms around so I found a farmer who was like 4-5 hours away in Kentucky. 



I said that’s what I am going to do

I paid him to come to my farm for 2 days and help me get my farm set up

got a high tunnel

how to plan it out


  • what variety
  • when to transplant
  • taught me all he could in 2 days
  • he grew organically
  • got me started in farming
  • in 2 days

Can’t thank him enough from that workshop

There have been with a lot of mistakes and failures

grow better and better

Mike’s goal is to grow our produce for us, so we don’t have to buy much. I know the learning curve is just huge. The first year he grew like 4 times as much as ever before then the next it was like 10 times as much!

Tell us about something that grew well this year.

I would say one thing that did really well bok chop

That was really fun

now Im at the point I’m trying all kinds of veggies that is typically not grown in our area.

Now how do you sell your stuff do you sell at the market or a CSA? 

  • I have a CSA
  • grocery stores
  • restaurants
  • online Shopify store
  • on farm delivery
  • home delivery but it has to be a certain amount

basically whoever will buy, we will sell to!

That’s a lot of places! Are you still driving 2 hours to the farmer’s market?

we drive an hour

2 1/2

The majority goes to Memphis which is 2 hours away.

And you make enough to cover that?!

Absolutely! And one week we go to the farmer’s market.

once a week!

I have someone go to one I pay and I go to the other market.

Is there something you would do different next year or want to try/new?

we grow 52 weeks a year

I am I’ve grown almost everything, I haven’t grown artichoke

trying to grow

can I have a crop of all year round consistently?

So, one thing I am going to work hard on this year, we lack about 8 years out of the season we can’t grow is spinach. So we’re really pushing the spinach hard some things you try last year

hopefully try that again one of the crops we are excited about to be able to grow all 52 weeks a year

another one would be cilantro!

really popular here in the south

Mexican food culture

high in demand herb

looking at having that  all year round. I have 9 tunnels and an acre worth of land

Can I ask, one thing my listeners wonder about. When I was picking my kale, and thinking about takng it to town to sell, what I will eat is very different from what I think would sell. What do you do about all these pest?

I think it depends what it is,

aphids is going to be a problem in the winter time on

  • spinach
  • lettuce
  • probably kale
  • collards
  • chard

safer soap works really well

I would say our number one pests would be flea beetles

you can use an organic spray


can get it from Johnny’s seeds any other organic stores

another spray that I really like called 

molt x

it doesn’t kill the bugs but it kind of just slows them down

what it does basically it kind of makes some sluggish where they stop eating

Then they kind of die off

I like it because it’s not really killing anything down

2 methods when it comes to spray.

We don’t like to spray unless we have to even if it’s organic

hassle to have to spray

if we see something like a flea beetle that will completely decimate a crop


we have a tough time

flea beetles come out in droves

if you don’t do an organic spray like that you can not grow things like 

  • kale
  • bok choi
  • kale
  • arugula
  • collards
  • chard
  • mustard greens

if you want to have those crops in the south

  • turnips
  • radishes

You have to do either insect netting

The problem is its so hot and humid in our summer that the crops just melt and just completely dissolve in the soil

what we have found in the south when you have those pests


safer soap

definitely try insect netting you might have a hard time with that in a hot humid climates and might have to use organic sprays.

Tell me about something that didn’t work so well this season.

Every year we have some crop failures

I would say, a crop that right off hand did not do so well, we definitely had a tough time with our mustard last year

not sure i want to keep growing this

kind of a hard sell


flavor was off

WE may end up dropping it.

Let’s get to the root of things!

Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden?

I would say, I mean spraying is probably my least favorite I would say, I’m not a big fan of pulling or cultivating. For the most part it is the least favorite. I’m trying to think of and I’m sure all my employees would agree is picking okra. 

It grows very well n the south but it is not fun to harvest!

  • itchy
  • sweaty
  • grows tall
  • It’s a fun crop to eat and a fairly profitable crop to sell!

I’ve had employees say I’ll work for you but I’ll quit if you want me to pick okra. So we paid almost double!

I talked to a teacher who grew okra with her kids last year.

What is your favorite activity to do in the garden?

I really enjoy harvesting, that’s probably my favorite. Tehre’s something especially if it’s a really good crop

looks good

easy to pick

harvest a lot less now then I used to

other people to do it

  • prepped the ground
  • took care of the soil
  • kept the bugs away
  • had your water dialed in

Harvesting lettuce in august is very satisfying! when no one else had is and it looks good it’s sweet! Healthy!

I found you because I found your how to grow succession lettuce class. Do you have some tips for that?

where that came from

when I first started farming in 2009/10 I was told it’s impossible to grow lettuce in the summer here ~ tweetable

I have to figure out how to grow this year round.

summer of 2015

I had lettuce every week of the summer

all 52 weeks of the year

just got to the pint of where

You know

on farm workshop on the crop

could not teach everybody

all for the most part sell out!

a lot of my method is very systemitized. IT makes it pretty easy, you can learn how to grow this in a very hot environment. 

I put all this information together

  • many hours of video
  • all of our supplies
  • techniques and templates
  • well rounded course

that people can basically take and also I’m available once a week with a coaching call so people can successfully have lettuce year round

It’s one of those crops that if you can devote a little bit of

  • time to
  • money and effort

folks who are looking at

possibly making some money from their backyard or farm

escalate their sales

quickly following

That’s where I now teach this lettuce class

online you take the house

once a week

well received

a lot of folks

do really well with their production

10 years of failing

what a better way to learn

change and adapt

yep this is where doing succession planting is important

every 2 weeks

seeding a small batch of spinach to help it

When greens get hot

gonna get stressed

any kind of greens get stressed

rapid fluctuation of temp it’s gonna say it’s time to reproduce before we die! That’s what is going on so if you want to have consistent lettuce or greens you have to be always seeding or transplanting every week or every other week

spinach ongoing

kills us in the south

IT doesn’t matter where you’re at if you have a stressful environment it’s gonna bolt!

What is the best gardening advice you have ever received?

I would say work smarter not harder

A favorite tool that you like to use? If you had to move and could only take one tool with you what would it be.

Man I would say landscape fabric.

A favorite recipe you like to eat from the garden?

my wife and I can email this if you want to share it with your listeners.

When we started this new diet we ate 2 salads a day

all kinds of salad so we came up with a dressing that would help us metabolize all our food. We wanted something the whole family would enjoy, so my wife created this dressing that we put on :

  • kale
  • chard


everyone who has had it

probably eat 5-10 lbs a week

  • 4 cups olive oil
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup lemon or lime juice
  • 8 cloves of garlic
  • whole garlic not powder
  • raw whole onions
  • parsley
  • other simple ingredients

Does it have a vinegar? Vinegrette.

It’s oil based. Yes it is.

I guess it has lemon. 

Here it is. It’s important you use a high quality blender. 

Blend that above until thoroughly pureed. After that’s full purees

gently pulse in

  • 1 TBSP oregano,
  • 1 TBSP parsley
  • 1 TBSP salt
  • 1 TBSP thyme

We found it is important those herbs are fresh if you have a garden that’s really good!

tremendous dressing

we have everyone we have fed this to

this more kale


great healthy way

  • no processed sugars
  • gluten free
  • no dairy

all raw!

nothing process

Do you keep it in the fridge or on the shelf? I make a similar dressing but in the fridge it gets all hard.

Leave it on the counter. There’s no dairy that’s gonna go bad. Whole food, it’s not going to last long, maybe a week. We go through 2 batches a week.

A favorite internet resource?

I’ve been really looking at, it’s hard to research not a lot of places in the south that have done a lot of research so I’m basically looking at Universities

California based growers information

THere’s a lot more money in california for studies and trials and diseases

They have reached out to other farmers abroad around the world.

I’m definitely nerding out on california. 

Do you ever go to Joe The Gardener? Joe Lamp’l he’s in Atlanta. He’s usually on TV for I interviewed Joe in April 2017 from Growing a Greener World.

A favorite reading material-book, mag, blog/website etc you can recommend?

there’s the produce growers magazine

research in there

deals with a lot of diseases

food trends

in my work

sales guy


crops I should be looking at

growing for market

small farms

Final question-

if there was one change you would like to see to create a greener world what would it be? For example is there a charity or organization your passionate about or a project you would like to see put into action. What do you feel is the most crucial issue facing our planet in regards to the environment either in your local area or on a national or global scale?

This is fantastic

I would say that it’s hard for

I don’t see myself changing the whole world! That’s 7 billion people but I can make an impact in my local community! 

Maybe there’s some organization that can help more people take responsibility for the community. There so many issues and problems in the world, if you could see all the issues and suffering at one time, you would probably die from just too much hurt. But you can take care of your own family. We don’t have any business taking care of the world until we get our own house in order

can we change our local community?

ripple effects

if you can change an aspect in your community

other people abroad to do the same thing global community where you have thousands of people impacting their local communities! ! lot can happen in that way and it’s very doable. 

Let’s say if  we want to see more people eat healthy. We can 

  • grow healthy food
  • more people do that abroad
  • make a tremendous impact

responsibility for your own person community, then you make a big impact on the world. 

Do you have an inspiration tip or quote to help motivate our listeners to reach into that dirt and start their own garden?

Start with what you have right now!

How do we connect with you?

our website



all those things

email me

I wanted to ask you, how did you get this huge business background? Did you go to business school? All this business sense. Traveling around with your dad in the navy? You seem to have this business mindset.

I have a terrible education, but my dad taught me how to learn.

I wanted to have a business that would support my family

I learned

  • books
  • courses
  • there’s a lot of education out there

If you are willing to search and pay for it, you can learn a tremendous amount without having to go to school. Which is always expanding, I feel like I have barely scratched the surface of what can be accomplished. I highly encourage your listeners to invest in your educaion, keep expanding and challenging yourself. 

I love that believe in abundance. I’m definitely an abundance not a scarcity girl. THANKS for sharing with us today! And keep going taking care of our planet and being a great dad etc! 

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About the author, Jackie Marie

I'm an artist and educator. I live at the "Organic Oasis" with my husband Mike where we practice earth friendly techniques in our garden nestled in the mountains of Montana.

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