We’re six weeks into the market season and despite my normally tenacious melancholy, I’d like to report that things are going great. It’s nothing less than a miracle. Our farm is tiny (really tiny, between 1/8 and 1/4 acre) and for many months, I’ve had a nightmare, flop-sweat kind of concern about our ability to produce enough food to support the market. But every week so far we’ve filled our stand and had plenty to spare. Hell, we’ve even been able to donate food and plants to some community organizations. Beyond that, people appear sincerely positive about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. And money wise, so far we’re on the happy side of break even, so that’s good. But best of all, the people at market are great. They’re kind, involved, interesting and for the most part I can’t say enough good things about them. They’ve made market Saturday the best part of my week.
All that being said, the last six weeks have been jarring. Things have gone well but few have gone to plan. And now, sometimes when I’m in our tiny market garden, the one we’ve worked for the last several years, I feel like a stranger. You could club me on the head, blindfold me, pack me in a crate and dump me someplace totally foreign, like at a Cairo street bazaar (or suburban Cleveland for that matter), and I don’t think I’d feel much more disoriented than I sometimes do in our garden. Everything changed when we started growing for market. From basic rules of seasonality to the varieties we plant to the amounts we grow it’s all different now. So to help myself next year, I’ve compiled some lists. (I know! How wonderfully Nick Hornby of me.) I’m determined to learn from this year. I’m going to learn enough to make next year less foreign. Hell, by then I many even have learned some Egyptian.
Top Five Early “Seasons” In Our Market Garden
- Radish and Hakurei Turnips. Grow them to sell at the first three to four markets (last week in April and first three in May). After that the big players show up and flood the market.
- Greens. Spinach, kale, asian greens and such sell very well. As people turn towards more plant based diets these will only increase. Grow two kales, chard, two spinach and the asians.
- Plants. Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and every variety of soil block under the sun sell well from May first until the end of June. Some blocks (landscaping plants for instance) should keep selling well after this.
- Broccoli Rabe and Spring Onion. These are great. Nobody else offers either and they both sell great. Grow to make a big statement through the last two May markets and all of June.
- Lettuce, both head and baby. There are head lettuces suitable for all the seasons. Rotate varieties to produce the very best quality. Baby mix with some interesting flair (dill, edible flower, ect) kills at market.
Five Things About Plants
- Start tomatoes between February 1st and Valentines Day. They sell better when they’re big so give them some time.
- Start peppers between V-Day and March first. You want them big but they shouldn’t flower in pot.
- GROW HERBS! Grow any kind! Grow as much as you can! Grow them all year! People need their herbs. One More time: GROW HERBS!
- Grow a wide variety of stuff, both veggies and landscape plants. People want it all. They want everything from brussels to columbines.
- Stick with the soil blocks. They can be a real kick in the bollox but they differentiate us and people appreciate them.
Five Points About Greens
- Spinach is the king! Have it as often as you can. Harvest at least weekly, twice weekly if you can swing it. Small leaves that can be eaten raw are a huge opportunity.
- Grow arugula. Every week many folks ask for some and we didn’t grow any this year. Nobody else did either so folks are disappointed.
- Grow enough kale to only have to harvest each bed once every other week. This year we are cutting weekly. The kale is much happier with a week between to recover.
- Mache would sell very, very well if we can figure out how to have it early in May
- Broccoli Rabe is the queen! The more we grow the more we sell. A 4-foot bed fills 10-15 retail bags. We cut 10 feet last week and sold out in two hours. GROW MORE RABE!
Top Five Tricks From Our First Six Markets
- Tomatoes and pepper plants love Kelp Emulsion. A quick spray on the leaves makes the plants glow. Water with Kelp and even the most stressed plant miraculously revives.
- Broccoli sells well but takes a lot of space in a tiny garden. Use it to shade leaf lettuce. We plant heads on all four sides of a broccoli plant to get the most from our limited space.
- Don’t sell the produce you have on display. The hot windy conditions of the average farmers’ market are hell on produce. Sell from a cooler. Customers will be happier.
- Seasonality means something else at market. Just because it can grow at a particular time doesn’t mean we should grow it. Focus on things that are not otherwise available at market. Get into and out of things before the bigger operations start to hit them hard. It’s about exclusivity and differentiation.
- Stop freaking the hell out! We had no idea what we were doing this year and things are going great (mostly due to the great people at our market). I’m sure it’ll work out next year too.