How many tomato plants for market?

MeigsMan(6b)August 18, 2013

I have always had a huge garden and now with rearly retirement I would like to grow for the farmers market. By size approximatley 1/3 of my market garden would be tomato plants, 1/3 would be peppers, and 1/3 other things, roughly. So, being a one man show how many tomato plants is reasonable? I will be at the Athens OH farmers market which is one of the biggest and best in the country so selling them all isn't an issue. The issue is labor. My initial estimate is 150, all florida weave, and half heirlooms.

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hillbillymick

If i was sure i could sell them, the only limitation would be me. Just remember, your not the only one selling tomatoes, someone else may be planting more next year, too.

I would talj to vendors, customers etc... ya gotta find out whst is wanted or lacked. Not just what you want to plant.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2013 at 7:42AM
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myfamilysfarm

Depending on the market and how many other vendors (all veggies) will have tomatoes. If this year is a good price, then more vendors will grow them. Expect less than $1 on average, and expect to not sell at least 1/2 of all produced no matter how you grow them.

Do your self a favor and keep competitive with other vendors on prices. This helps relations with the vendors and they usually know what the market will bear.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2013 at 9:51AM
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cole_robbie(6)

The easiest tomatoes to sell will be the ones that no one else has. Early tomatoes are the easiest to sell. I think you'd make more money with 50 plants in a high tunnel than with 150 in an open field.

If you don't grow early tomatoes, you can try to have a wide variety of unusual ones that other vendors don't have. If you can set out yellow, orange, red and black/purple tomatoes in both slicer and cherry sizes, then that will attract customers. But if all you have is red slicers in July when everyone else has them; the market will be a frustrating experience for you.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2013 at 3:12PM
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MeigsMan(6b)

(I'm the original poster)
Selling them isn't an issue, at least I'm ignoring it for now.

If I spend half of my garden time tending/picking tomatoes how many tomato plants can one person handle?

I have asked around the market and the range goes from 50 to 1000, but that is for multiple person operations. Twenty years ago I grew for the market, I had about 100 plants but that was just part time.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2013 at 4:03PM
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myfamilysfarm

Full time with only tomatoes I would say you could handle 250-500 depending on your energy level and how much weed/pest control you might need (varies from year to year). I wouldn't start with more than that, until you get a feel for your customers.

I don't sell the unusual ones, mainly because watching the customers at my market, they turn their noses up at them. They want good tasting, good looking regular slicing tomatoes 80% of the time, with Roma type filling in the other 20%.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2013 at 5:58PM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

My first year at market I had no idea how little I would sell and grew way too many plants. It also was the best tomato year in a decade. Which meant it was good for customers' plants too. I kept dropping my prices and still couldn't sell them. I set up a u-serve table but still had to toss many. I have gotten real conservative with tomatoes now. I planted 50 for one market and 14 CSAs this year, with another 25 for fall in a tunnel (yet to be built).
Peppers are a hard sell too. I have been doing 200 sweet peppers and see I obviously need to drop that at least by 50.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2013 at 7:51PM
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myfamilysfarm

Peppers are a hard sell, especially the banana ones for me. I found that if I can bring in the HUGE ones, then I'll get the customers. I can't charge much more tho. OR wait til the peppers turn red.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2013 at 8:17PM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

I don't sell green peppers at all. I really like Odessa Market and Frank's also Aconcagua.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2013 at 8:46PM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

Well I am pretty much a one man show, yes we have 5 kids under the age of 12, but they don't help out enough, yet.

We grow our main crop and late crop of tomatoes in high tunnels. It is very nice to have them way earlier than others. Despite a really late spring, we still had tomatoes on June 25th. 3 weeks later than last year, but who is counting.

Our first planting was 288, then we have 3 more plantings, about 150, 100 and 80 respectfully. The demand goes down as the year goes on and we usually keep the previous planting, minus the very first one, around until they freeze out.

All but about 100 are determinates. They are hybrids and and mainly red, a few yellows and some cherokee purples.

Another idea would be to grow cherry tomatoes and grow every shape and color. we have two plantings of them of 88 and 60. They are a good seller and most people don't grow them. If you can get a following and you grow good ones, you will have repeat customers every week for years!

Jay

    Bookmark   August 20, 2013 at 1:41AM
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myfamilysfarm

Jay, in your market cherry tomatoes sell, but my markets they don't do well. Plus you are a superman. Retired people may not have the energy that you have (I want to bottle some of yours).

You may not realize how much help those older kids are.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2013 at 9:17AM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

Very true, but as a kid growing up on a farm I really hated some jobs and I don't want to push my kids to help out all the time. They have several jobs that they have to do and then they have to help out with. But mainly anymore, the oldest two's biggest job is babysitting our youngest.

When we started cherry tomatoes weren't a big hit or seller but those who bought them loved them. Now I get the snake eye if I sell out or don't have enough of their favorites. It is a market you have to build.

Bottle up some of my energy? Hmm, I wonder what I could get for it? :)

Final thought, I could grow hundreds, if not thousands more tomatoes, but we don't have the markets for them. So instead of deciding how many to grow, I think you should also consider how much more your market can handle. There is a limit. Are there vendors taking home tomatoes at the end of the market, then there is a limit. If everyone is sold out every week, every time then those existing vendors would grow more, find more and sell more. Just a thought.

Jay

    Bookmark   August 20, 2013 at 11:38AM
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myfamilysfarm

Price for energy, priceless!!!

    Bookmark   August 20, 2013 at 12:27PM
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kelise_m

MeigsMan, I think your original estimate of 150 plants for 1/3 of your sales is a good start. I'm a one woman show, and three 100 foot florida-weave rows, one of which is mixed cherries, is my max. Everyone is right about cautioning you market-wise though, it's better to start small. And make sure you can even get a spot at the market you want, it's not a sure thing at the good established markets.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2013 at 5:09PM
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MeigsMan(6b)

WOW, thanks everyone. You are very helpful. Luckily I am retiring early, I'm 50 something and have some energy left. I plan on having two temporary hoop houses, 12x48 feet, to start the early tomatoes. That will be around 64 plants total, The hoops and plastic will be removed late May, and 100 or so more tomatoes will be planted in the field mid May. I hope to have all the plants in 4 inch pots before transplanting.

I think I will have 25 or so cherry tomato plants because they sell very well here. And at least 4 varieties sold individually and mixed. They also would make a nice treat to top off any purchase, just throwing a few into the bag.

And I will find out this fall if I get a spot in the market. Construction of the propagation greenhouse starts this fall no matter what.

There are two other smaller markets that I can get into, in which case I will just grow less as I wait for the big market.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2013 at 7:04PM
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myfamilysfarm

You are right about still having some energy at 50 something. We started out in our 40s and discovered soon after 50 that the energy was dropping.

I would always recommend that your plants be in 4" or larger pots before planting. I know others disagree with me on this point. I living in mid-west Indiana have found that if I keep plants in 4" or larger pots and even up to blooming, I will get produce a week or so sooner. I start my seeds in January to get them to this size, inside of my house under LOTS of lights 14-16 hrs per day. I'm lucky the electric bill doesn't go out of sight.

This year was totally different that the previous years, I couldn't get the plants to grow as fast, and it was so cool that they couldn't get outside either. I had to plant very late, but still had tomatoes producing before anyone else. Mine were planted in field, and was 2 weeks or more before anyone else in field.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2013 at 9:12AM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

I don't have enough lights to grow over 300 plants in 4 inch pots, so I just pot up out of 98's to 50's then plant them into the high tunnels. Usually 6 to 8 weeks.

This year was weird. We were backed up with plants really bad. I ran my lights 24 hours a day. I had a dark room that I would leave plants in and then I would switch out the flats every 12ish hours. Was it fun, no, but it was only for a few weeks!

Jay

    Bookmark   August 21, 2013 at 9:44AM
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myfamilysfarm

You should let the plants 'sleep' for about 8 hrs per day. Just like humans, they need some 'down time'. It builds stronger plants.

I had to buy another 12 4' lights this year, so I understand. I run about 30 lights per year, with 2 lights on each shelf, but may change to 3 lights per shelf (still need to decide that). I will be downsizing my plantings, I promise. Last year was about 3-4K and I don't need near that. 1 guy wanted 1-2K but didn't come thru.

Marla

    Bookmark   August 21, 2013 at 1:18PM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

Marla,

I do give the plants a break, but I had 48 flats sharing the same 24 flat light space for about 2 weeks. We would switch them out every 12 hours. Sorry if I wasn't clear about that.

Jay

    Bookmark   August 22, 2013 at 12:21AM
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myfamilysfarm

Ok, I leave mine on the same rack from 1st transplant til going to greenhouse. I just shut the lights off, and turn when needed. My lights are set up that the plants don't bend to it.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2013 at 12:09PM
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boulderbelt(5/6)

On your timing, since Athens is a college town your best tomato selling months will be September and October (and November if you protect the fruits from cold). Getting early maters may work, though i know several people at that market who already have that market, so you may experience a glut, even in June.

But when the students and professors come back from vacation in late August the tomato sales go way up because suddenly you have 3x+ more people coming to market and none of them have a garden and they actually want the tomatoes.

You can also grow heirlooms and sell them because you will be catering to a well educated customer base and the better educated the customer base the more heirlooms you can sell

    Bookmark   September 1, 2013 at 6:36AM
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myfamilysfarm

We had the college situation when we were at Purdue, first year, we were only allowed to have market during the "off season" , when the students were NOT there. 2nd year was much better because we did have market season long.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2013 at 9:57AM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

Tomato yield sure depends on the year. I thought I had reduced my number to a better amount but have way too many. They are beautiful heirlooms with no blemishes this year and damn if I am going to sell in bushels for canning! However I have too many. I planted about 50 and then a later 25 which are just starting now and will be covered by a low tunnel later. One big problem is too many cherries and small fruits. Not so many cherries next year and way more pastes. I lost several in spring due to gophers and replaced with cherries! I have 10 cherries total and 6-10 additional with small fruit not including the second ones. Small fruited would be Stupice, Early Glee, Eva Purple Ball and some of my own crosses. I had a basket filled with Stupices the other day at market and a customer asked if she could use them like cherries. Duh of course.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2013 at 10:56PM
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myfamilysfarm

Minnie, unfortunately you have the choice of selling in bulk, at a much higher price, or not selling them all. I sell bushels for $40-50. My bushels are #1, right off the table, and 50#. I have the reputation of having very very high quality canners. They are not blemished or damaged in any way. I sort they in front of the people, but they must buy a minimum of 25# ($20-25). Those people come back every year, because they know each and every tomato is usable. I will not sell undesirable produce, and these customers know it.

I started this several years ago, and now have several customers that follow me from one market to another. One this year had lost my contact info, but he knew his friend lived near me. He had his friend hunt me down to be able to get his 5 bushels of tomatoes. That has been his order for the last 5-6 years, now he's buying prepared pickles from me. His $200 is a consistent sale each year in August, when prices drop for tomatoes.

Marla

    Bookmark   September 2, 2013 at 9:35AM
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myfamilysfarm

deleting double post

This post was edited by myfamilysfarm on Tue, Sep 3, 13 at 16:24

    Bookmark   September 2, 2013 at 9:42AM
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boulderbelt(5/6)

Minnie,

like you I cut way back on tomatoes this year and had the best tomato year ever and havde around 10x more maters than i planned on having so i am selling them in bulk for $1 a pound and I am making a lot of money doing so. So far i have sold around $600 worth of maters in the past 2 weeks and sales are still very strong. I thought about keeping the price up but i was not moving much, maybe 10 pounds a week and the chickens were getting so many maters they were beginning to reject them. So I decided to cut the price in half and sell in lots of 40 pounds and I have people coming in daily and taking away lots of 20 pound boxes of maters. I am doing the same thing for watermelon and cantaloupes as well and selling lots and making money and not composting tons of food.

People are beginning to call me the Tomato lady because of the big boxes of mixed heirlooms I am selling

    Bookmark   September 3, 2013 at 7:31AM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

It is always interesting to hear how things are going for everyone. I had tons of early tomatoes out of the high tunnels(in early to mid July) then the false fall came, tons of rain, no sun and cool weather, tomatoes slowed down. Now it has warmed up and things are going well again. This is the first year I have done multiple plantings, besides just a spring and fall crop.

Right now I am actually picking from all 4 plantings, not very much from 1 and 4, but 2 and 3 are doing very well. Lots of big beautiful tomatoes.

We were selling tomatoes up to August 1 at $3.00 a pound and selling out most weeks. Then the outside only growers started showing up more at market and we are at $2.50 a pound. I had a decent supply, but not too much. Now most of them are done and we are selling out, at $2.50 a pound. We will probably remain there for the rest of the market season unless demand picks up.

Jay

    Bookmark   September 3, 2013 at 10:49AM
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MeigsMan(6b)

I have decided to dedicate a temporary hoop house (12'x48') to cherry tomatoes. That would be 2 rows at 3' spacing resulting in 27 plants. That should be about 80 pints/week.

For regular hybrid tomatoes it looks like you get just one tomato per plant per week. Consequently if I can't grow at least 200 plants I won't be making enough money. Am I being pessimistic about the production rate? Smaller determinate variaties would be 2 per week.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2013 at 5:23PM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

Not sure where you got your information, but I can assure you that you get more than 1 tomato per hybrid plant a week. We usually get 15-20 pounds per plant for the season. We have been as high as 30 for a few varieties. I don't micro manage my plants to get this, I know there is more room for yield.

About cherry tomatoes I really think 80 pints a week off 27 plants is going to hard to achieve.

In my 18 by 48 tunnels I plant two rows of cherry tomatoes in the center I plant them 18 inches apart, in row with 3 feet between rows. You could plant 60 to 64 plants in your building. That is what we do.

Just my opinion.

Jay

    Bookmark   September 29, 2013 at 5:46PM
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MeigsMan(6b)

Thanks Jrslick. I based my calculation on 15 pounds of tomatoes per week just like your data. I then assumed a 15 week harvest period for Ohio using early/late hoops which yielded 1 pound tomatoes per plant per week. I erred in that I would have one pound tomatoes which would be 1 per week. Big Beef size tomates (10 oz) would be closer to 2 per week. And that cuts the number of needed plants almost in half. Thanks again.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2013 at 6:11PM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

All my data is based off of whole hoop building data. I know that the yields should be higher because I am carrying some of the lower yielding heirlooms with my hybrids.

Are you planning on selling at Farmers Markets? If so, I would offer some advise that I took this year and am so thankful for. I am already looking forward to next year's season. I planted 4 planting of tomatoes, would have been 5 but it was such a late spring. I planted 75-80% determinate tomato plants and decreased my number in each planting to better match demand. Also you have to remember that even though you have fewer plants each planting, you still have the previous plantings producing. In prior years I have always had a big first planting then a small late fall planting. I always had customers wanting bigger tomatoes in September and that April planting just doesn't seem to want to do that for me. However, those newer plants sure produce much larger tomatoes and the customers were happy. It was Happy, Happy!

Your market may be different, all are, but I thought I would share what worked for me.

Jay

    Bookmark   September 29, 2013 at 11:51PM
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