Growing my Market Garden and other random ideas/thoughts

jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)October 16, 2009

As the fall is coming upon us fast, I long for the days of spring and summer. I am ready for next year. I am excited about extending my growing season with the spinach and lettuce I have coming up in my high tunnels. I know it is a little late, but we will see what happens. I also am thrilled that I still have tomatoes and cherry tomatoes in my high tunnels after it froze last weekend. I have all kinds of ideas and more mind power is going into my market garden than teaching! Although, I am working the two together sometimes, "Bill buys 2.5 pounds of tomatoes at $2.50 a pound, how much will it cost?" Gotta work on that multiplication!

Well on to my ideas/thoughts/ramblings?

How can I grow my garden sales? I think I have figured out how much I can produce with the area I have. The problem is selling it all. I always have more left over than I would like to have.


I also am wanting to reduce the number of markets I go to by one to start a CSA, maybe.

I also am toying with the idea of trying to sell some things wholesale/local grocery store (did a little bit of this past year)

Leaving my small hometown market (I am the largest producer there) and start selling two days a week in a larger town or getting my wife and family involved with selling in my hometown and me selling in another town on Saturdays.

Go to selling only once a week and travel to a large city and sell there on Saturdays.

Branching out into selling pork and lamb. My family raises pork and friends raise lamb. I was wondering about getting them processed and then selling meat too. I am aware of all the guidelines, my mom use to do this during the 90's it was good, her health didn't allow her to do it anymore.

Building my jelly business and get it into several stores in the surrounding area. I am working on this, I know what I have to do.

All these ideas and I can only do a few of them. What would you do? Has anyone changed how they market their produce?

I have learned how to be successful at succession plantings. I also have learned that somethings take up too much space and the return is not that great to grow them (in my small area) IE watermelon, cantaloupe, pumpkins and sweet corn.

I learned to grow what grows best for you and your location.

I still want to do more. I feel that there is something more out there and I don't feel that I have found it. Is there more out there?

Thanks for reading my comments and I would like to start a thread on how to grow your market and what works and what doesn't.


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Hi Jay:
I just want to thank you for always sharing your wealth of information and thoughts. You have made me think outside the box and have found your information so useful.
I haven't done the market thing. Due to not the greatest of health and no one to help with the market I have opted out to dealing with restaurants and caterers. I did for about 4 years sell to a local produce store (it was my first customer and just awesome to deal with, unfortunately he sold to a big chain and they will not take just to supply one store) Both are wonderful to deal. When I have something ready I just give the restaurant a call and he incorporates it into his menu. The caterer more or less has a standing weekly order. I have also just this year got a small coffee shop that makes paninis so I am supplying them weekly with arugula and spinach. I to am planning for next year and what I can supply them with what they cannot get. I don't have anywhere never the space you have 1/4acre that includes the house so I have to utilize every little space. The big ticket items for me have been fresh herbs (chives especially) I sell large freezer bags of them for $8.00 (have also dried - oregano can sell for up to $20.00 a bag). Basil, I have a standing order next year and sell it destemmed for $10.00 a bag when it is not ready available and then drop down to $8.00. I get a jump start on it and grow it indoors and then sell the clippings early in the spring. For the first time this year I tried beans and baby carrots and will do that again next year - able to sell them not problem. The biggest let down for me this year was the patty pan squash - very very little production. For two years I was making good money on that - am going to think twice about it for next year.
Have already spoken to my customers and am going to do fingerling potatoes, fewer cherry tomatoes and more heirloom regular tomatoes. Will keep with the old standbys - herbs, arugula, spinach, lettuce mix and mesclun and basil.
I also get comments from people on how neat it is to be doing what I am doing but I am quick to tell them that we are still eating McDonalds but maybe this year we have made a step up to Earls. These few changes we made this year has made it the most successful year yet! But like you I am trying to get more out of it. We constructed some small hoop houses over the rows on our filled in pool. We used concrete meshing and it seems to be doing really well, considering all the heavy rains we have recently just had. I have planted spinach so we will see how that does.
Keep up the good work Jay - it always a pleasure to hear your thoughts and ideas.
Have you grown potatoes. If so, I may need to pick your brain, if that's OK?

    Bookmark   October 17, 2009 at 3:48PM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

Thanks for the kind words, real quick. I do plant potatoes. I usually plant around 125 pounds of seed potatoes. Next year I am planning on increasing that to 150-175. I plant mainly Red Norlands, Yukon Golds and All Blue. Exotics won't sell here.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2009 at 2:02AM
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I am so glad to see I'm not the only one thinking of next year already. I'm not ready to give up the money, just some of the work. We have continued our market, since we have stuff and my sons need the money. We only have 2 more Saturdays. Next year, we have decided that for the Tues market, we will only attend if we have alot of highly perishable items that won't hold til Thurs. Thurs markets are better and in a new location for this year, which did well. Otherwise, it will be Saturdays thruout and the weekdays during peak production.

We use the market for math lessons for the grandkids. I'm still having trouble thinking about reading in kindergarten and multiplication in 2nd grade. But the kids can be a great help, plus almost nobody turns down a 3-4 year old asking them to 'buy their xxx?'.

If you get a chance, try some Lasoda red potatoes, the look just like the red norlands, but taste better.

We tried a CSA, but had trouble recruiting members, I think we were before the times for us.

The meat idea works in my market, they sell frozen and bring a small freezer in the back of their truck. When they get home, they pull the truck into the barn and plug it in. All they have to do is replenish what was sold.

I had a friend that sold jellies, she offered a 'deal' buy 11 get 1 free, all 11 had to be bought at same time. It worked really well at the end of season. She suggested giving jelly for gifts.

For your extras, the food banks are always looking for freebies. And it's better than throwing away produce that won't keep til next market. Also, I offer 'bulk buys' of items that I have lots of, and the information on preserving the items. Usually I'll discount $.50/lb on 25# boxes. I make alittle less overall, but they come back to buy more.

I'm dreaming of picking strawberries already, and still have 6 months to wait. We may offer u-pick for small amount of times during the season.

Also, there are produce auction all over. But if you have lots, usually that means everyone else has lots and the price will be low. Alittle better than giving it away, but not much. I send 'wild' black raspberries to the auction this year, got $4/pint. There was only 2 other people with berries, none wild.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2009 at 9:22AM
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Glad to hear you had a pretty successful season this year Jay. I just want to throw a few things out to ya.

Sweet corn, can be a loss leader. Early sweet corn can drive people to your stand. If you use mirai sweet corn it gets sweeter after it gets picked and can be stored for 10 days. If you have problems selling out of other things than maybe plant a few weeks worth of early sweet corn. Once everyone has it than there is no reason to carry it anymore.

Meat, do you have a place nearby that processes chickens? We used to raise broilers and did quite well. Nowadays the trick is to raise/sell them as "all natural". This could give you an all year round "crop".

csa, that's what I would like to do and have been reading up on that. Will you have to educate your consumer? If I do market garden next year I have thought about bagging up a "share" and selling it at market. May help with selling more and may set you apart from other vendors. I did not see this at my markets.

Wholesale, if growing space is at a premium then why give it away by going wholesale? Tomatoes makes sense to sell in bulk but other things I would think would be too labor intensive and you would be better off to grow products that are lower value but lower labor and may drive sales to your stand.

Just some thoughts.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2009 at 12:01PM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

Myfamilysfarm: On the meat idea, that is how a few of our vendors do it too. I usually give a discount on bulk items, tomatoes, potatoes, beans (sometimes). My jelly sales always pick up this time of the year. We sell it year around, but usually after December, sales drop off.

The nearest produce auction, that I know of, is in the Kansas City area. That is 2.5-3 hours away. I will never have enough stuff at once to justify that drive. I have a grocery store 30 minutes away who will buy from individuals. I am debating about calling them and see if we can establish a more regular weekly delivery.

Joe-IL: I keep thinking about doing sweet corn, the truth is there are so many people at my markets who battle to be the first one with it, that I would be competing with them too. Also, we have people who plant it with 6-12 row planters and put it under center pivot irrigation. Really hard to compete!

I am unsure about a chicken processor. I think there is, but I am unsure. We could really do that along with maybe some Turkeys? Hmmm, What about coyotes and Turkeys? Time to get a good watch dog.

If I did some wholesale, it would be to the grocery store directly. I would only do it for tomatoes. I grow some good ones!

I was looking over my records and what I really need to do is maximize my sales in June and July. Everyone is coming to the markets then and everyone is buying. Once school starts in August, they die down through October. What I really need is to Maximize my June sales. I didn't do enough early succession planting and in June, I ran out of stuff to sell. I will work more on planting successions of lettuce, spinach, beets, carrots, radishes, potatoes, green beans, start cucumbers from transplants (get earlier crop), green onions, chard, broccoli, cauliflower, I would like to start some strawberries, but not this year.

I am also going to start dabbling with herbs. I was wondering about growing them in small pots and sell the pot of herbs instead of cutting them. This way if they didn't sell then I could bring them back next week. Does anybody do this? I also figure I could charge a little more for the plant and people could plant them.

Thanks for the ideas!

    Bookmark   October 19, 2009 at 12:36PM
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Hi Jay:
I did sell 4" potted herbs in the spring and they went like hotcakes. I did the basic - thyme, oregano, sage,basil and mint.
What you don't sell, plant and then you can sell fresh cut throughout the summer and if the plant takes over the garden you can start drying.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2009 at 6:38PM
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ya sounds like sweet corn may be a loser. funny up here everyone has sweet corn at the same time. not too many people push the growing season here.

You cant grow turkeys and chickens together the chickens carry some virus that doesnt bother them but is fatal to turkeys.

I grew earliserve green beans this year ( 45 day) If your looking for a great and prolific early green bean these are hard to beat. Very tender, wish I didnt have to wait 8 months.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2009 at 8:38PM
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joe-il, where do you get that mirai corn?

jrslick, if you can find strawberries late June/July next year, get them. I planted about 400 last year in July/Aug and they produced enough to pay for the plants plus, this spring. For now on, we will be planting new plants in the late summer-early fall. The plants planted last fall, set several runners this year and probably produced 10x the amount of plants to pick this next year.

Do plant some winter squash, it will help out on the fall sales. But you do need some room, we planted about 1/4 acre with Acorn, Butternut, Spaghetti and Delicata. I don't worry about planting too close, because I never seem to get around to cultivating them. I plant rows about 5' apart.

this year, we harvested 21 bushel boxes of just Spaghetti Squash. Only 1 bushel of delicata, 5 bushel of butternut and 2-3 bushel of Acorn. Production would have been better, but we got the seeds in really late, barely enough days for it to ripen.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2009 at 9:10PM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

Joe: I forgot to tell you that I have two guys who plant and sell sweet corn from as early as possible to the middle of September. It would have been later but it was to cool this fall. At another market, they supply Associated Wholesale with sweet corn during the summer. They plant tons!

Thanks for the turkey/chicken info. We have some hens, so that is probably out. Where did you get the early green bean seed from? That sounds interesting.

I didn't plant any winter squash this year. I am planning on doing it next year. I am also looking at expanding my growing area. I am looking at "renting" some of the farm ground around us. We have a big ditch/ravine that they have been digging dirt off the one side. I am talking to the people who are doing the work if they will level off the bottom and smooth it out. They didn't dig down much, but I am going to do a soil test before I do too much. I also have been given the rights to use another water well next to our ground. If I get it running, it is mine to use. It will be running by next spring.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2009 at 12:48AM
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myfamilyfarm- here is a list of suppliers.
checked a few of them and stock seems limited right now, that will change in the spring.

I grew sweet corn for the people that brought mirai to market. Most of the sweet corn you buy around chicago land is mirai.

Jay- does anyone sell the mirai sweet corn by you? livingston seed is the maker of earliserve. "refined snap bean produces a prolific crop of slender 4" pods. Should be picked more often than other varieties. 18" upright plant." I bought it at a farm and fleet (farm store)

I got my first crop in for 2010! about 150 cloves of garlic. I may do some more but its getting pretty late.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2009 at 9:40PM
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bagardens (Ohio, Zone 5b)

As far as the sweet corn goes if I were you I would not bother if a bunch of others sell it at your market. At our market not only does everyone else sell corn but someone comes every week with a truck load and they end up getting the majority of the corn sales. We did ok this year selling it, but would never be able to sell out at market. The only reason why we plan to grow sweet corn next year is because it really helped draw people to our roadside stand. They would come for corn and a lot of the time would buy other things also. We parked our tractor by the stand and filled the front loader with corn to try to attract attention, and it definitely helped attract people.

We just discovered a great restaurant near us that likes unusual things from local farms and we are hoping to be able to sell some of our leftovers to them next year. They change the vegetables that they have available almost every day so they are willing to buy even smaller quantities. Do you have any restaurants near you that may like your leftovers?

Is there any one thing in particular that you seem to have a lot left over of? For us it seems we always have a hard time selling zucchini. Luckily we know someone who owns a meat stand and buys all of our leftover from market zucchini for kabobs. If you know there is something that you probably will have leftover of then talk to restaurants and other places and see if they may have a need for that item.

I too have been wondering if I should grow some things to sell wholesale. Have been debating about it for awhile. I know a few places that already said they would be willing to purchase our produce. Just do not know if it is worth taking away from the market space. I too only have a limited amount of space. Sure do wish I had more growing room, but oh well, will have to do for now.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2009 at 11:52PM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

Joe Il: I guess I have never heard of Mirai sweet corn. It sounds very interesting. I may have to try it next year.

I do have several small restaurants, around. I may have to explore that route too. I know one I won't go to. He told me last year that he will buy any tomatoes for 50 cents a pound. I am sorry but I laughed to myself as he walked away. For my early tomatoes I would be losing $2.50 a pound!

Living in a rural community with 4,500 it is hard to market. I will have to expand my markets in the larger cities 45 min to 1 hour away.

As far as the wholesale goes, I feel that if I do the direct sales to the stores, I will be better off.

I was also wondering if I set up something with a grocery store and supply them with a variety of "Locally" grown produce.

Bagardens: It is always different as to what I have more of. Zucchini is always one of them. I learned this year that I can sell more of it if I grow it earlier. I had several varieties that I grew in my high tunnel. I had zucchini 3-4 weeks before everyone else. Another problem I have is I grow a bunch of different varieties. 12 types of zucchini, 9 types of cucumbers, 7 varieties of cherry tomatoes you get the idea. I sell the most of the usual types, but the other types set me apart and get people to stop. Any idea on how to move the different varieties? I usually give out recipes or variety packs with discounts.

Thankyou everyone, this is a very informative thread.

    Bookmark   October 21, 2009 at 12:46AM
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Thanks joe for the link. I'm selling my cornstalks since they didn't produce any corn ears fast enough. I'll probably make more than the seeds, thank goodness it was cheap seed.

I had zucchini from the first of market til last week. I planted 2x, but I also price my zucchini a flat price no matter what size. It was just regular 'black beauty' variety, I pick 2-3 times per week and take everything, unless bitten, to market and sell almost everything no matter the size.

If you can sample the different varieties, it will help. We used to until the board of health clamped down requiring us to have a hand-washing station along with the rules of that. I don't have enough room for all of my produce let alone a hand-washing station like they wanted. Somedays, I barely have enough room for the driver to sit in the seat and find the seat belt.

    Bookmark   October 21, 2009 at 7:50AM
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bagardens (Ohio, Zone 5b)

I love growing different and unusual things. A lot of people know me for that. It seems that sometimes when you have different stuff it just takes a while for people to notice it sometimes. Like for example I had the most beautiful bunches of collards and Red Russian Kale all season long this year, but for the first half of the year no one seemed want to buy it. When I was looking back at my sales for the year I realized that for the first half of the year no one bought any and then all of a sudden it started selling for the second half. Once it started to sell they was not a week that I didn't sell any. It was kind of interesting, and should be even more interesting to see if people come back for it next year, and see how much I can sell then.

You never know what will make people buy things. My peppers I can not sell by the quart for anything, but my eggplant sell best if I sell a few different kinds together in a quart. I don't understand it myself.

I think samples can definitely help sometimes. We had a lot of people that were amazed by our mixed heirloom cherry tomatoes but just were not sure if they wanted to try them, and when we gave them a sample they bought right away, and usually ended up coming back for more.

Maybe since it would be hard to sample zucchini you could give some of your good regular customers a free trial zucchini, if you think you will not be able to sell it anyhow it is better than having to throw it away. It is always nice to get something for free and if they like it chances are they would buy it again. Come to think of it, that would probably be a great thing to do for those customers that stick to the regular common things, and think that anything unusual is not worth trying. I could make up little sample bags of each kind of cherry tomato in my mix and give it to some of the people that just stick to the regular red ones. Maybe it would get them to branch out and try different things.

    Bookmark   October 21, 2009 at 12:35PM
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I started off my assortment pints of cherry-sized tomatoes with an non-assortment pint and then threw in a few 'other' varieties. Now even when the customers choose their own, it is usually an assortment pint. They keep saying, 'well I know I like this kind, but I can try a couple of these and a couple of those'. This just took a couple of years. Now the customers come to us BECAUSE of the varieties.

I have given away those round zucchinis when someone buys a regular zucchini and then I ask them to report back whether they liked it or not. I needed to know which ever way and whether it would be worth growing them. I've found that I won't plant very many of those, they just don't sell for me plus there are other vendors that plant them, bring them in and take them home. Hope their hogs like them.

I will sample the cherry-sized tomatoes, because I don't have to 'cut' them and the customers can just 'pop' them in their mouths. They're the easiest to sample. When people ask how they taste I tell them 'here try one, everybody has their own tastes'.

    Bookmark   October 21, 2009 at 6:25PM
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I am going to plant some raspberry plants. The primocane type so that I have something to sell in the fall. I have convinced my wife that we would could sell all we grow.
I also hace been thinking of califlower as their is none in our market and you could pick it a couple days in advance. the big carrot, beet, lettuce guy is quiting in our market and I might try to pick some of that slack

    Bookmark   October 22, 2009 at 12:20PM
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I sell the 'wild' version of raspberries and sell out 90% of the time.

Keep in mind, when trying to pick up the retiring guys items, other people will be thinking the same thing. It will take alittle while to convince his customers that your stuff is as good.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2009 at 7:48AM
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