Heirlooms

hillbillymickOctober 31, 2013

Ok, I mainly farm on land that I do not own, so I do not see how I could ever qualify for organic certification, even though I use organic methods. Sooooo, as a way to set myself apart from other vendors, I am considering using all heirloom seeds next year. I am already using them for a majority of my 'maters, and most veggies, but not all.

Does anyone else do this? Do customers care? I know that several of my customers are aware of heirloom tomatoes, but that is about as far as it goes.

Tomatoes are mainly the name of the game here, so I wonder if I only need to go heirloom with them......

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myfamilysfarm

In my markets, they don't care until they taste them. Most of my customers are older people, and I tell them that heirlooms (give their own names) taste more like they could remember from 'their' grandparent's gardens.

Green beans don't seem to make much difference.

I find that quality is my best selling point. I never sell anything less than perfect. No cracks, nothing seeping or anything that might cause someone not to buy. Even my canning tomatoes/such are that way, plus I will sort everything while I have chance at market. People do notice that.

You can still say that you are growing 'responsibly'.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 11:12AM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

Most customers do not understand what an heirloom really is. they usually think it means 'interesting and lots of colors'. I grow heirloom melons, squash, tomatoes and peppers and this allows me to save seed. It does look good to customers to talk about heirloom tomatoes, squash and melons. As for other veggies, like the green veggies, I don't think it matters. Rainbow carrots, if you get the OP colored ones, sound good to be heirloom too I guess. I do not grow OP sweet corn but heirloom popcorn or field corn would sound good. People ask for seedless watermelon and I say I only grow heirloom melons so I can save the seeds and that the heirlooms taste better. They sometimes try them but sometimes just want seedless. Very few customers would care that you grew some hybrids but they do want chemical free produce and like it when someone saves and breeds seeds.
The veggies I grow hybrid for good reason are:
sweet corn
baby bok choy
spinach
napa cabbage
cauliflower
broccoli
some onion plants I get are hybrid
some summer squash
Sungold tomatoes
brussel sprouts
Everything else is OP and I save seeds from as much as possible.
I guess I will add that sometimes people do come to market with a little knowledge of heirlooms and ask for them and they get sent over to me. Sometimes a little knowledge is a scary thing, but if someone is interested in heirlooms I can inform them. There is a lot of misinformation amongst the non-farmers about hybrids and sometimes people equate them with chemicals or GMOs.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 11:30AM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

The only heirlooms I grow are Cherokee Purple. If you have a market for them and people will put up with the weird shapes, and inconsistent production, then go for it.

Over the last 5 years, I have slowly phased out of heirloom tomatoes. I still grow seedlings to sell as that sets mine apart from the Big Box stores, but I grow 90% plus red or yellow hybrids tomatoes. My customers want a nice big red, blemish free, crack free tomato that tastes good. I can meet all four of those criteria with a hybrid.

Jay

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 12:12PM
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hillbillymick

Well sweet corn is one place that I know I will have to keep growing a hybrid, it's a money looser anyway.

I have done very little market gardening, most of mine goes direct to a few customers, but hopefully bigger next year, so we will see.

Thanks for the advice, folks!

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 12:49PM
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cole_robbie(6)

Hybrid "heirlooms" are the trend right now. They are hybrids that are bred to mimic at least the appearance of heirloom tomatoes. Seed companies that deal with commercial and market growers will sell them.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 1:02PM
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boulderbelt(5/6)

I have been growing heirlooms for years and years and have found most of my non CSA customers do not care except for tomatoes (actually they are not aware that all crops have heirloom varieties and believe only tomatoes and maybe apples can be an heirloom).

My CSA customers love the heirlooms and almost everything we grow is heirloom as we do a lot of seed saving. I find the heirloom generally have better flavor, though not always.

Oh and some heirloom varieties grow a lot better in some areas than other. The Cherokee purple tomato grows horribly for us in SW Ohio but we do very well with other black and purple maters. At least this year we got around 10 sellable CP's from 20 plants but it was the best tomato year we have ever had by a long shot so of course a few had to make it.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2013 at 6:34AM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

I don't like Cherokee Purple at all for here. I get a lot of rare but very growable heirlooms from tomato breeders via seed trading. Sometimes I display the Baker Creek catalog to let people see what heirlooms are.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2013 at 8:40PM
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Mark(Oregon, Zone 8)

I missed this post earlier so sorry for the late reply.
While everyone has offered great info on heirlooms, i'm going to address something the op said. There is no reason you can't certify Organic on land that you rent/lease. It happens all the time.
If being certified is something that will increase your sales and set you aside from other growers, i'd say go for it. While growing heirlooms is a niche that may be a good selling point (if your market has a lot of "foodies"), be aware that you limit yourself when it comes to varieties that just don't produce nearly as well as the F1 hybrids (like broccoli, cauli, melons, leeks, etc)

Just my (late) thoughts.
-Mark

    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 11:11AM
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hillbillymick

Well my reasoning on that was while I only use "organic" methods, I can not control what landowners do on the same piece of land, even though it may be some distance from me. Ks agg is not known for it's nature friendly methods. I am looking at that, as well as the "naturally grown" certification, although I have to admit I am turned off by their "donation" method. Neither is something that many farmers do locally, and I am not sure many customers care.

I have only sold word of mouth in the past, but I am ramping up quite a bit next year, so looking for ways to make this work in the future.

Thanks all for your opinion, and advice.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2013 at 1:38PM
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