Ground cherries advice needed

kelise_mAugust 7, 2014

I am growing ground cherries for market for the first time this year and they are just starting to produce. I'm growing Aunt Molly's and the seeds are from Territorial. We are having the most consistently warm season in my gardening memory and the plants look fantastic. They are at least three feet tall and four feet wide in the the row and loaded with fruit. I have maybe forty row feet. I'm selling them in heaped half pints for three dollars. Last week I just had three boxes and this week a dozen and they sold easily. With that many I haven't given out samples yet but when people show interest I say "Go ahead and try one". Here's my concerns:

1. They are so small! Mostly marble sized. I hope they will get bigger as the season progressed. Tell me they'll get bigger?!

2. They are so labor intensive. First I crawl through the bushes scooping up fallen fruit, then I sort through them before putting them in a container to go to market, then I sort through them again when I box them up at market. How do you guys handle the harvest?

3. Should I store them (picking the day before market) in the produce cooler or at room temperature? Will they keep their quality if I hold them over to the next market?

4. I'm pretty sure I can sell them all at $3/half pint but I'm concerned that they are not worth the effort. Do you feel that they contribute to the overall bottom line (such as that is for us market farmers!)?

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Slimy_Okra(2b)

1. No, they will not get bigger. Even marble-sized is pretty big for a ground cherry - you should count yourself lucky. Sometimes I pick pea-sized fruit.

2. It is very labor intensive but in my view, there are two things that justify it: a) the high prices by weight and b) the fact it sets us apart as a unique vendor at the farmers' market, which attracts more loyal customers in the long term. Plus, I just enjoy growing unique produce. I know some vendors on this forum who plant them on raised mounds on black plastic so they are easy to scoop up from the sides. But yes, you still have to sort them to remove unripe berries, insect-damaged berries, etc.

3. Room temperature is best. Their flavour improves with storage up to a week, after which it begins to decline due to dehydration. If storing for over a week, a cool room is best. I would not keep them refrigerated unless you plan to store for two weeks or more. Use a cardboard box for storage to allow them to breathe.

4. Your price is good and just in the middle of the range across the country ($1 to $5 per half-pint depending on the market). Personally, I think it is worth it but of course it shouldn't be your main crop at market. You will find that the harvest will increase substantially in late August into September.

This post was edited by Slimy_Okra on Thu, Aug 7, 14 at 12:33

    Bookmark   August 7, 2014 at 12:28PM
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grow_life(6A OH)

What Okra Said. In the future, give the plants plenty of room. One plant will get as big as a tomato plant, treat them as such. I use the weave system to keep them up high, and I shake the plants as I go, only retrieving the ones that fall off. Having them on fabric or plastic helps, you can just scoop them up. Room temp. storage in the husk with air access. Also, hope the raccoons don't find them, or you will have none.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 11:14AM
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lazy_gardens

"How do you guys handle the harvest?"

Lay a strip of burlap around and between the plants after you harvest. Next time, walk down the row, shaking the plants to dislodge the ripe ones. Collect from the burlap and then replace it for the next round of harvest.

(kinda like pecans, where you lay out the dropcloths, then shake the tree.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 12:38PM
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kelise_m

Thanks for the ideas! When I researched them last year I got the impression that they weren't trellisable.....so I'm glad to hear grow_life is doing that...I like to trellis everything I can so I will definitely do that if I grow them next year. They certainly do attract attention at market, I spent a lot of time talking about them or being told memories of them on Saturday. Harvest was up to two flats (24 half pints) so they are increasing in volume.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 1:55PM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

I am pleasantly surprised at your prices. Several of my CSAs do not like them now and think I am giving them something awful but people at market like them.
I hate picking them so I planted them on an old compost pile and just added some soil on top (it was a chunky pile!) and plastic mulch. I used white. The idea was the fruit would fall down and picking would be easy.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 11:18PM
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cleocrafta(z4 MN)

My ground cherries have little a white worm in each ripe fruit. What should I do to prevent this next year? Thanks.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2014 at 2:02AM
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kelise_m

Are you having problems with the spotted wing fruit fly around there? That's the only thing I can think of. Maybe check with your extension agent?

    Bookmark   September 7, 2014 at 9:46PM
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2ajsmama

How much would you charge per pint (I have plastic pint web baskets)? Community garden has some, so many they told me and DD to take 2 quarts. We ate 1 quart and then she decided she didn't like them (neither do DS and I) but DH does. He took some for lunch and coworkers asked what they were, tried them and liked them. I don't know, I could only eat a few but DH says we (I) should grow them next year. I don't have much room for solanaceous crops - want to rotate. I do have area where old manure pile was covered with landscape fabric right near new HT I could try but I was thinking pumpkins there next year.

I want to make sure it's worth it before planting them - like edamame, I trialed that, sold out what little I had at one market in 2012, grew a lot (well, those that weren't drowned) in 2013, started new market and people asked about them but no one bought. I still have some in freezer b/c DH and I are the only ones who like them.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2014 at 12:35PM
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Slimy_Okra(2b)

I charge $5 a pint.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2014 at 12:52PM
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2ajsmama

Husks on or off? DH has never picked these, he doesn't know how much work they are. But he swears that if I don't plant them, he will clear an area and do it.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2014 at 1:09PM
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Slimy_Okra(2b)

Husks on for sure, otherwise it's too much work. But we inspect them to make sure they are ripe. Sometimes the husk is brown and the fruit is green.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2014 at 1:20PM
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malna

Just an FYI - I paid $3/half pint (husk on) at our local Farmer's Market on Saturday. When I said "How much are your ground cherries?" I think they were surprised someone knew what they were :-) They were a bit more than I thought (I was thinking they'd be about $2.50), but our market can be a bit overpriced for some things. I bought them anyway, because their 4 year old helping at the stand was so proud that she had helped to pick them.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2014 at 1:27PM
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2ajsmama

Sounds like $5/pint is about right (we're high-cost area too). I usually charge $3/pint (which works out to $4/lb but people don't notice I'm selling them for less now, $3/lb) for red cherry tomatoes. My first year growing different-colored tomatoes and I'm selling those $4/lb now, same as my heirlooms which are a lot easier to pick (a pound each LOL). I don't know that ground cherries are any harder to pick than Green Dr cherries (you have to FEEL each one to make sure it's perfectly ripe and then I have people feel them at market, compare to say really ripe Sungold and tell them NOT to let Green Dr get that soft or orange). But it would definitely be more work to husk them.

Crawling under the bushes to pick up ground cherries is a perfect job for a 4 yr old. My 10 yr old complained even though (at the time) she said she liked them. So I said if you want to eat them, you have to pick them. These 50-yr old bones aren't crawling under (not in raised beds or supported in any way)!

    Bookmark   September 11, 2014 at 1:47PM
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Slimy_Okra(2b)

My biggest issue with ground cherries is the fact that just at the time you've managed to cultivate a loyal following for them (which must be rebuilt every year), the season ends and the supply dries up. Does anyone have good long-term storage tips? Mine always shrivel up after about two weeks, even stored in the husk in the fridge.

Something else you could try, ajsmama, is ground cherry jam. either on its own or mixed in with a cheaper complementary fruit such as peaches. GCs take on a deep butterscotch flavor when cooked and concentrated.

This post was edited by Slimy_Okra on Thu, Sep 11, 14 at 15:30

    Bookmark   September 11, 2014 at 3:24PM
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kelise_m

I'm charging $3/heaped half pint and they are selling out for the most part. But still....I don't think they are worth the effort. Plus we haven't had any rain and I think when the rain starts in they will be almost impossible to pick and have a nice product. Not going to grow them next year. I just posted a picture on instagram of how I'm harvesting them.

Here is a link that might be useful: ground cherries

    Bookmark   September 11, 2014 at 5:00PM
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2ajsmama

I have a recipe (from Joy of Jams) but wasn't worth making it with only a quart. DH will finish them.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2014 at 5:19PM
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sandy0225(z5 Indiana)

my friends at market that grow ground cherries said that they take two 8x10 tarps out to the patch, put one on each side of the plant, then beat it a little with a stick and all the loose and ripe ones fall off onto the tarp. Pick up the tarp and pour them in a basket and sort them up at the house. Don't leave the tarps down; pick them up and fold them up and take them to the house so you can use them next time. That way there's not a lot of dirt and water and mess you're pouring into your basket. Sounded pretty easy.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2014 at 3:26PM
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Slimy_Okra(2b)

Sounds like a good idea, Sandy. Are the plants on a raised bed?

    Bookmark   September 14, 2014 at 7:42PM
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sandy0225(z5 Indiana)

Sorry it took me so long to see this. No they are just growing flat in a row, but tied up kind of like a tomato plant

    Bookmark   October 14, 2014 at 9:46PM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

They are totally not worth growing and yes the rain makes them impossible to pick, but once you plant them they volunteer forever.
Malna I wouldn't come on a forum for market farmers and complain about someone's product being 50c higher than you thought it should be. I charge $3 per pint too. It takes about an hour to pick a basket of them so I do it once a week the day before market if I have time and the weather is good. I had someone want to buy them by the pound bulk once. My answer was they had to pick them themselves. Everyone wants everything for nothing, but if we make nothing per hour we don't have any money to spend/live and will need to quit farming. Then who will grow the food?

    Bookmark   October 14, 2014 at 11:20PM
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Slimy_Okra(2b)

Good point, Minnie. However, the fact that they are so annoying to pick means there aren't a lot of people selling them, so they are a nice niche product to help draw customers. Conversely, one can't throw a stone in my market without hitting a carrot vendor. Carrots are in extremely high demand but the supply is even higher, and therefore I don't grow carrots.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2014 at 12:34AM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

I am the only one at market with carrots actually. Different area.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2014 at 12:41AM
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Slimy_Okra(2b)

Interesting how that works :)

    Bookmark   October 17, 2014 at 12:48PM
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