Suggested crops to grow in a small area?

AppalaChiMarch 12, 2013

Hi everyone, I'm hoping to get some advice.

I'm currently in an agri-business incubation program. It's the programs first year and we're just getting started, this weekend we will be picking out seeds. We're growing in 4x8 beds, with pallets as additional growing space.

Originally, the plan was that we would sell to several different end markets but now it's looking like the best option is going to be selling at the farmers market. We've been told not to fool with more common crops because of our limited area. We simply can't produce enough bulk to compete with other growers when it comes to basics like tomatoes, beans or cucumbers.

A few instructors have said greens, herbs and berries are probably our best options. I'm considering shallots, yellow strawberries and maybe ground cherries as well. I'd like your opinions on this and if you can suggest any other good crops for market in such a small bed, it would be appreciated.

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How many 4x8 beds do you have? Is there a market for the unusual crops like salad greens (may get too hot in the summer for those), Asian greens, edamame, herbs? Don't give up on the "common crops" immediately though, if you are organic, have hoophouses and can get them to market earlier than other growers, or any other advantage you may have (can prices be lower, you don't have the "overhead" that other growers do?).

How about okra? You need to plant a lot of it, but it loves hot dry weather and grows up, not out. You could also plant pole beans like Kentucky Wonder if you have the supports (fence, or okra plants). But what do people grow in their own gardens?

Sorry, but more info on your USDA growing zone and your target market is necessary. I may be stereotyping WV as being warm (zone 7) and rural.

Strawberries will take 2 years, don't know about ground cherries. Asparagus might be good but will also take a couple of years.

Check out the recent thread on best sellers for ideas.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 8:31AM
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Even small areas CAN produce alot of produce if spaced right. Check out square inch gardening.

I've found that growing the traditional produce works for me, I just made sure that my quality was higher than anyone else at my market. What happened over the years, the market's quality has improved 200% over what it was when I started.

If you any want 1 item, I'd recommend cucumbers, they can produce for a long time and alot of people let theirs die off after the first round. Plan on having them continuously, plan at different times so that you can have them for the entire market season. You can also put them on trellises.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 10:14AM
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Mark(Oregon, Zone 8)

I agree that more info on your area would help. But if you're looking for a high yielding, unusual crop, try Yacon.
It's a sweet, crispy root that looks like a sweet potato, but can be eaten raw or cooked(tastes like a cross with apple and jicama).
Below is a link to the wiki page.

Here is a photo of one plant being dug (over 20#)

Here is a link that might be useful: Yacon info

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 12:20PM
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Hmm, Yacon doesn't take as much space as potatoes? Actually, new potatoes don't take up that much space - they're just smaller if you space them close. That's something that sold well for me last year, and most people don't plant themselves. Some people even grow them in trash barrels, bins, bags...

Marla - wow, square INCH gardening, I thought it took at least a FOOT ;-)

Gardenweb does have a SFG forum, check there for how to grow (but 1st question was what to grow). There's also a Small/Urban Gardening forum.

Here is a link that might be useful: Square Foot Gardening

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 12:44PM
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Square inch, beans only take 3". I used a old wooden lattice to space some out on a raise bed one year. Worked well, but I didn't water as much as I should have. I keep forgetting exactly what they call it. LOL.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 1:07PM
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I'm going to plant my pole beans along the fence in the beds I had potatoes and tomatoes in last year. You think they'd grow up a string? I have that area I was trying to do tomatoes in 2011, overhead wires with baling twine hanging down, it didn't work too well. I was going to put edamame there this year since I can hang netting all around to keep deer out, but I can put that in interior of fenced area. Not sure how much room I want to do KW beans in, I've got 200ft of row (100x30 area).

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 1:44PM
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Be sure to check what plants do well with each other and what ones don't.

I've never done pole beans.

I know with tomatoes, you need to encourage them to climb the strings, they won't do it by themselves.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 1:48PM
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Oh, I pruned, and twisted the stems around the strings, just didn't do much. Then again, 2011 was so wet (and that area doesn't drain well), 2012 I just planted some leftover seedlings very late (July??) after I did the new fenced area, sold/gave away as much as I could. So I figured I'd just put something else that didn't need a lot of N and didn't put down big/long roots there.

The volunteer tomatoes in the pit at the end of the trellis that I filled with chicken coop litter did great - like a jungle! And I never watered them last year (glacial till wouldn't let what rain we had drain out). Going to dig that composted stuff out and use it elsewhere, fill up the pit again this year.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 1:57PM
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too much N will give you a jungle, but little fruit.

I can't get fruit from tomatoes from seeds planted in July, barely from plants.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 2:05PM
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Oh, these were plants I started in March, but may have been pot-bound (potted up a couple of times) and stunted. I was just throwing them there instead of on compost pile.

The jungle actually had a fair number of fruit, I didn't start out selling it (and the critters got quite a bit b/c it wasn't fenced). I put in 3 T posts and wound baling twine around the triangle to corral them & get fruit off the ground, at the end of the season I was selling them for $1/lb but a lot did go to waste (even if it was just 1 turkey peck). Some of the tomatoes were huge! Of course, I have mixed in some sawdust with the coop litter to make sure I didn't have too much N and not enough C - was making compost but it turned out to be a garden that year.

Who knows when those seeds were started, it was warm in March but froze in April, I may have to start my tomato seeds in homemade compost this year instead of potting mix (or at least pot them up in it instead of the ProMix?).

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 2:36PM
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By adding the sawdust, you were delaying the N release.

Volunteer plants seem to do better, but not always the best looking fruit.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 3:47PM
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Thanks for the suggestions so far, everyone. The instructor has emailed us a list of crops to choose from, I'll post it at the bottom.

There are about 20 of us, and we each get one 4x8 bed to grow whatever we like. There are pallets and tires, and some other containers around that we can use for extra growing space.

We are in zone 6b, not quite 7. As for the market..well, we'll be selling to the Capitol Market which is one of the larger ones in the area. But I don't think many buyers like really strange or exotic things around here. I figure we can give taste tests with something small like the ground cherries..but anything stranger than that I'm not sure will sell very well.

I work in the garden center of a home improvement store, and I realize its not the best thing to base a market off of...I know we didn't sell *any* of the more unique heirlooms. Cherokee purples, black krim, Mr. stripeys, things like that didn't sell at all. Same for strange colored cucumbers or eggplants. I know last year everyone was looking for Sweet Banana Peppers and we never seemed to have any, so that's another one I'm considering.

Here is the list of seeds available through the program, these would be started this weekend and moved to beds later in the season:

Various heirloom tomatoes
Various hot peppers
Various sweet peppers
Various heirloom Eggplant
Rainbow Swiss chard (Also known as Silverbeet)
Sweet Marjoram
Summer Savory
Various types of Basil
Edible Chrysanthemums
Edible Nasturtiums

and these will be available for direct sowing next month.
Various heirloom Beets
Various Heirloom beans
Summer Squash

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 4:49PM
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Zucchini should be direct-seeded, it's the same as summer (yellow) squash. And it should sell in the city since it tkes room to grow (but you're only likely to fit 2-3 plants in a 4x8 bed).

Are you sure the edible flowers will sell well? Not too many people I know would buy flowers to put in their salads, and I think they're more adventurous up here than what you're describing.

I think okra would do well (if your instructor thinks it would sell). Not sure about rutabagas, but baby turnips (harukei or oasis) would - make sure you do succession planting of those, your greens, and your herbs. Don't forget to snip tops for beet greens.

If people would eat arugula, I'd also try some tatsoi and/or maruba santoh in the pallets (vertical, I'm assuming) with the herbs and greens. They can be harvested small for salad or stir fry greens, if you plant some in beds the maruba santoh can also be used like bok choy, and if you're adventurous, you can even use the flowers.

You can cook edamame just like lima beans, a milder flavor. Not just for Asian appetizer! I think it will help set you apart.

If you're looking for cukes, consider Diva or Little Leaf H-19. they look like pickling cukes (lighter color and more lumpy) but don't tend to go bitter like the slicers do.

If you do tomatoes, I'd try determinates unless you can put up tall trellis (or prune a lot). How long is your market? Jaunne Flamme is good, I'm trying Cosmonaut Volkov for an early. definitely do cherry toms - Sungold, Super Sweet 100, search tomato forum and you'll find others. I would try Sudduth strain Brandywine or Prudens Purple for an heirloom beefsteak (and it's not really purple). Maybe Mortgage Lifter?

I've never had luck with peppers, esp. hot peppers (though the chiles grow well up here unlike the bells, these Yankees are leery of them). I'm trying Corno di Toro as well as Sweet Bananas this year. Cubanelles are another good sweet pepper if you can convince people they are not hot. Some people think anything that's not a bell is a chile.

I grew eggplant for the first time last year and found it really wasn't worth the real estate.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 5:10PM
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Mark(Oregon, Zone 8)

You may think people won't like strange or different crops where you live, but you may be surprised. Most farmers market customers are looking for things they can't get at the supermarket. Anyway, you're already thinking about yellow strawberries, shallots and ground cherries so you're not really taking your own advice. Lol

Anyway, as you're only just starting the program, i'd suggest you grow the things you're excited to learn about. This is about education, right? Not just making money.

That said, I do have some thought from the list I wouldn't bother with:
The perennial herbs (too long till harvest)
Kale (aphid prone in summer, better in winter)
Celery (finicky)
All the squash (takes too much space)
Rutabagas (tough sell)

Everything else seems reasonable. Do you get graded by what sells? If not, have fun with it and try whatever inspires you.

Btw, all squash can be transplanted or direct seeded.
And I transplant fennel all the time (much more reliable).


    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 7:28PM
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I transplant and direct seed my zucchini.

One suggestion might be various colors of cherry/grape tomatoes. I did that one year. When I sold them, I put all the varieties into 1 pint, people would buy the mixed pint, then come back the next week and ask about the different ones.

I found out that certain varieties sold better than others, and some the customers would pick out just to get them. Sort of counting how many black cherries there was in certain pint, then buy the pint that had the most of them.

Definitely cage your tomato plants, but don't waste your money on the cages that the 'home improvement stores' sell. Build your own out of heavier metal.

One of the reasons that you don't notice the rarer varieties at the Home improvement store is alot of people have been burned by the stores that don't know(or care) how to take care of the plants before the customer buys them. Plus the store gets there (most of time) from big nurseries and that's not always the best place.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 8:01PM
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I did buy starts of zucchini as well as summer squash (marked straightneck but it ended up being crookneck) in addition to direct-seeding my own. I don't recall any difference in time to harvest (talking first planting of course). So if direct-seeding yellow, might as well direct-seed zukes, or just start both and transplant. No need to do one way with one, different with other.

I'd have to look back and see if I had direct-seeded or transplanted okra - I think it wasn't supposed to do well transplanted, but I might have tried it. Usually direct-seed cukes but I know transplants have worked for me (I did a lot of starting/transplanting in 2011 when it was too wet to direct-seed).

Peas and beans are not supposed to transplant well, those I have not tried starting inside but might be good experiment if you have room since soil has to be warm to start, could get an early jump on the season.

No offense, but a lot of the plants in big box stores don't look good, are mislabeled (or people switch tags). More reliable to start your own. And Mr. Stripey (IMHO) is not the best tomato. But maybe people there don't like the black tomatoes - I had a hard time getting people here to try Black Krim. Those are thin-skinned and hard to get to market, though. Cherokee Purple takes handling a bit better. If you can give samples (some places require food handling permit to cut produce for samples), you might find people like it.

Hmm, aphids - maybe that's what got my kale last year, though I didn't see any, and the plants weren't just wilting. I saw leaves chewed - and not flea beetles either.

Yeah, celery is cheap in grocery store, and doesn't taste like anything anyway. Carrots are cheap but you can taste the difference - if you think they'll go for it you can even plant rainbow carrots - go crazy, it's a learning experience, right?

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 8:54PM
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I have planted zukes and cukes both ways at the same time. The direct seeded plants were producing a couple of weeks later, not much time, but enough to make the effort of pre-starting them worth it.

Several of our Amish friends pre-start their beans, then use the transplanter. Also sweet corn.

Aphids, you needed to spray some soap on them. Supposed to take care of aphids (my mother used it for years.)

    Bookmark   March 13, 2013 at 4:28PM
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Here are a couple of completely organic and amazing ways to save your garden from pests!

Aphids are best taken care of by LADY BUGS.. buy live lady bugs, and turn them loose in your garden.. they're wonderful for Organic natural pest control... They eat other insects and LOVE aphids.. You can get live lady bugs really cheap on Amazon, and they will stay alive for a long time in your fridge.

Caterpillars and Slugs can be a HUGE problem. Crushing up dried egg shells and placing them around the base of your green leafy's will keep them from crawling on them and eating them.. they will just go else where.. there softer under bellies get cut up by the sharpness of egg shells.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2013 at 2:43PM
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If you want to use eggshells to hurt the stomachs, you can also use boric acid (does the same thing). Or just put some beer out and the slugs will 'enjoy' themselves.

The soap will rinse off during the next rain, so make sure you don't spray immediately before watering or rain.

These are things that my grandparents and friends used in the early 1900s, before most pesticides were available.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2013 at 4:23PM
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