Looking to start backyard market gardening

tampasteve(9)February 13, 2009

Hey folks!

I've been reading for a few days, and decided to take the plunge and register. I have a 6000 sf back yard, and am planning to start market gardening using the Square Foot Garden method. I planted a 4x8 "trial" garden the middle of October, but lost my tomatoes, squash and bush beans to the cold (I need to make a better cover, I think.) The Georgia hybrid collards took in all in stride though.

My plan is to focus on organic and Florida/Southern heirloom crops, with a heavy emphasis on tomatoes and peppers. I'm thinking of also doing a few herbs such as basil and cilantro- things that would be used with tomatoes and peppers. The Square Food Garden method should help keep a schedule of staggered plantings, so I have a supply all summer long.

Since I won't be able to compete with "real" farmers who bring in truckloads of stuff to sell to restaurants, I'm not going to attempt to do the big wholesale market we have here in Tampa on Hillsborough Ave.

I'm going to market to folks looking for locally-grown, chemical-free produce. (I'm looking into what the requirements are to use the word "organic", but believe it would be prohibitive for a backyard gardener.)

So far, my list includes:

big red tomatoes (haven't decide on the exact variety yet),

Roma or plum tomatoes,

Bell peppers (green and other colors)

Habanero chiles

Poblano chiles

jalapeno chiles



Florida speckled butter beans (heirloom pole bean)

I'm open to any suggestions you may have. I am intending to grow this into something to bring in as much money as I can, as times are pretty rough right now. SFG is supposed to give the same yield as a row garden in 20% of the space. Guess we'll find out!

I'm talking with one market right now to get on the list for stall space. I have access to a 10x10 white EZup and "cafeteria" folding tables, and have been eyeing shelf talkers at eatlocalfoods.com (and pondering selling totes, bookmarks, etc. from there.)

Again, I'm eager to learn, and welcome any advice you all might give.


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I too am going to sell at the farmer's market this year. I will be selling african violets,streptocarpus, brugmansia,hydrangeas, calla lilies, succulents, and other perennials. I just went to the library and checked out several books on growing herbs and veggies for market. I found them in the natural science section. There are many supplemental ideas... I am going to try my hand at growing Luffa for sponges.(They can also be used to scrub pots, bird toys...) Found alot of great info on the web. I just ordered seeds yesterday. You could also sell seeds. If you get a nice supply of pots and labels maybe you could put together a nice 'seed starting' package. Do you have plants from your home you could take 'free' cuttings from? Spider plants root easy and fast from the little hanging pups.
I wish you well on your venture!

    Bookmark   February 15, 2009 at 8:08PM
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bagardens (Ohio, Zone 5b)

adahlberg, I was planning on growing luffas this year also. I figured I could sell them as sponges and also plan on making luffa soap (maybe with herbs in it too). It is funny that you mention bird toys because I work at a bird shop and some of our toys that we carry are made of them. I figure whatever I am not able to sell as sponges I could make toys out of them. I told the owner of the shop I work at that I was planning on growing them and she got real excited.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2009 at 8:58PM
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I saw some dog toys also made of luffa on ebay. There's not many luffa items on ebay right now and that may be to our advantage?!? Luffa can also be dyed. It can be sold to crafters too. Maybe if you have local specialty shops they would be interested if you packaged them nicely. I noticed the other gourds are not big sellers & you can hardly give them away, but with everyone wanting to be earth friendly these may be a good item. Add a cord so it can be easily hung to dry after use or a wooden handle? I am going to give some to my rabbits too since they LOVE to chew up everything. You could also try to sell them to the local feed store. Ours does most everything on consignment and people sell things like goat milk soap and so forth.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2009 at 10:01PM
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Hi tampasteve,
You might want to say to customers your produce is grown using the "organic method."
This will describe how it was sown & the conditions under which it was produced.
Thus you won't need a laboratory soil analysis that proves there are no man made chemicals in the garden ground.
"Certified Organic" can be considered a legal statement.
Many growers use land that is converted from non-organic practices & the soil takes a few years to clear-up to the clean standard.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2009 at 11:23PM
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Since herbs are very easy to grow (basil, lemon balm, chives, oregano, sage etc) and if you could find some cute pots, maybe terra cota? you could sell little herb garden containers. I would also think that some live plants like strawberries, which are pretty cheap to get in bulk, potted up in nice containers would make a great profit (I'm intending to do this myself this year :)

    Bookmark   February 17, 2009 at 9:29PM
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bagarden start you luffas no later than early April so they have a long enough growing season to get decent sized fruit in Ohio. i have grown them many times in the past and have found if they are not stated indoors a month before transplanting and the first frost comes in Mid October there simply is not enough time to get good fruit.

Organic, organically grown, certified organic and any other permutation on the word organic are all owned by the USDA and cannot be used without being certified organic by a 3rd party certifier, bonafide by the USDA. There is the $5000 rule which says you can call your stuff organic (but not certified organic) as long as you follow all the regulations that pertain to your operation and gross under $5000 a year in sales. This means you use all organic inputs including seeds, have a crop rotation plan, keep records on everything that goes into your soil, yields, etc., etc.. You do not need to get soil or water tested as that is not a part of the USDA certification program (they only test those things if there have been several complaints about a certified farm).

Steve keep it simple this year and learn to succession plant so you can extend the harvest of your crops by at least a month. When it comes to commercial growing (what you intend to do on a micro scale) you cannot harvest most crops more than 2 or 3 times without either yields fading or quality going way down or both. one key to successful selling is to have high quality produce all the time. It takes some time to figure out what needs to be planted more than once to reach this goal.

My other advice is at market greet every person that walks by your stand with a smile and a hearty hello/Good Morning/other appropriate greeting. This will bring in more potential sales than about anything (other than great looking produce).

Here is a link that might be useful: USDA Organic regulation

    Bookmark   February 19, 2009 at 6:42AM
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Thanks for the advice, boulderbelt!

I've decided it is going to be FAR too expensive to put up 15 or 20 4x8 raised beds filled with organic soil, so I'm going to just have to settle for "locally grown." If, after a year or two, I have enough money coming in, I will use the existing bed soil for my yard/flower gardens, and re-start with organic soil.

I'm setting the plots up using the Square Foot Gardening method so that I can keep track of succession planting. I plan to use the 72-spot Jiffy starter to start seedlings in the house before transplanting outside.

Since the farmers markets close down the end of May here in Tampa, I'll be growing for six people and selling any extra by word of mouth until July, while building the extra beds one at a time. I'll start market planting for the fall in July, aiming for the first crop to be ready in mid-October, when the markets start again.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2009 at 9:44AM
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Hi boulderbelt,
Good to read you.
? Do you know what year the USDA obtained legal exclusivity to the word "organic" in all our relevant contexts ?

    Bookmark   February 19, 2009 at 4:37PM
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tampasteve, i am also thinking of selling some of my extra veggies this year. i grow all kinds of different types of veggies each year. i usually just give them away to friends and family. i may start selling some at our "community open air market". when i give the fruit away, i tell people, some ask, that it isnt organic, but it is pesticide free. i use osmocote for fertilizer, which is synthetic. i usually have to explain what organic means. you can grow organically and not be pesticide free. there are alot of organic approved pesticides, and some of them i would'nt want to ingest. tomatoes and melons are my main focus. i always ask, and get honest opinions on flavor. i have grown mostly hybrids and a few heirlooms. last year i tried a new variety for me, which was golden girl, and got alot of positive feedback on flavor. the plants also produced a ton of fruit for quite some time. i personally like big beef, kellogs breakfest, better boy, eva's purple ball, red brandywine landis valley, druzba,and arkansas traveler. a good heat tolerant variety is solar set. all of these have produced well for me. good luck with you plan this year!

    Bookmark   February 21, 2009 at 1:47AM
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TampaSteve, I have lived in North Tampa/Lutz and tried to grow some things. Lived all my life in Indiana, minus 8 yrs TPA. Don't try carrots, they get too hairy. Find a horse farm that doesn't spray the pasture and offer to take their manure away. Till it in every year. Winter time, you could grow peas, only try the Wando versions (they don't mind the heat as much)

Also, instead of using the "organic" word, use "chemical-free". It's a way to get around the certification process, this was told to me by a organic certifier.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2009 at 9:03AM
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jds912, the USDA organic rule went into effect August of 2001.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2009 at 10:09AM
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