Seeding Beets and Carrots with Success

Beets and carrots are a weekly selection at most farm stands for good reason. There are varieties to meet the needs of almost any seasonal slot, and they taste amazing regardless of whether they’re fresh out of the ground or have spent months in storage. I really love the point in the season when they are around to stay, and I work a little harder to make sure we get there as soon as possible. We seed early and often to have a good supply across the entire season, and seed both of these crops as early as the ground can be worked. I have also transplanted beets with good success.

Consistent Moisture

Consistent moisture is one of the keys in getting good germination. I try to time my seedings so that the seeds are watered in soon after they go in the ground. If your soil is quick to dry out, using drip irrigation is a good way to give the bed the moisture it needs.

I cover the soil on those first plantings with row cover, putting it right on the ground without any hoops. It helps to warm the soil, hold in moisture, and it also buffers the impact of a heavy rain event. Depending on your soil type, drying out between rain or watering events can create a crust that makes it really hard for the seedlings to emerge once they have germinated. The row cover will also help slow the formation of this crust.

Soil Prep

Good soil prep will make a huge difference in the quality of carrots that you harvest. We use a chisel plow to loosen the soil before we make our beds. It rips through the soil, deepening the bed and making it easier for the carrots to grow long and straight. If you don’t have access to a chisel, depending on the size of your plot, using a broadfork or similar tool to work the soil will be worth the effort.

I have been using an Earthway seeder with a custom plate I had made for pelleted carrot seed. Pelleted seeds have a clay coating that builds up the size and shape of the seed to something more uniform and easily run through the seeder. Often times beet seeds are the same size to run through this plate as well.  I use tape to cover over a little of the hole on that same plate to reduce the amount of raw seed that the planter puts out. I find I get better results with this than the typical carrot plate that comes with the seeder. It puts out too much seed, which I then have to go back and thin out.

I seed heavier and shallower in the spring than I do in the summer and fall. The market for early carrots and baby beets is such that I can harvest them when they are smaller, so I don’t mind over seeding them. I plant my early seedings shallow so they will be warmed by the sun and germinate faster. As the season progresses, I increase the depth that I plant to keep the seeds out of the hotter zone near the surface of the soil. The wrinkle is making sure that they are getting the moisture that they need. Managing any crusting of the soil becomes really important as the summer goes on, as the hot sun can make this crust really hard to penetrate. Again, using a lightweight row cover can help.

Beet Varieties

Early Wonder Tall Top is really fast to come out of the ground and puts on a heavy top growth of delicious greens. They will make a nice eating beet if you let them go long enough, but I typically move on to another variety for bunching beets. I really like Red Ace Beet through the summer, and I switch to Boro or Rhonda for storage. These three varieties have a more refined shape, with a small area of leaf attachment that makes them easier to clean for sale or storage. Their eating quality doesn’t diminish if they get large in size, and all will store well. Rhonda is a slower grower than the Red Ace, but it was bred to store for longer periods of time, and will come out of the cooler in great shape.

Carrot Varieties

I like to start the carrot season with Jeanette and Napoli. The Jeanette has a good sweetness and small core with nice tops for bunching. The Napoli is a little firmer carrot, with good flavor and healthy tops. It also holds its eating quality when grown to a larger size. I like planting the Yaya for the heat of the summer season. The tops are smaller, but still make good bunches. I am excited about trying the Miami this year in a main season slot. I use the Negovia as a storage carrot, and am harvesting from the cooler in mid March with really good flavor and quality. I also use it as a late fall bunched carrot before I harvest for storage. The tops’ attachment is really nice and strong, so I don’t have to worry about them falling off when customers are grabbing a bunch from my display.

Best of luck with your season of seeding,

Paul

For more information on growing carrots, check out our “Carrot Growing Tips” video:

Posted in Articles by Farmer Paul Betz, Commercial Growing, Growing Tips, Variety Highlights | Leave a comment

City Farmer: Weighing the Benefits and Challenges of Urban Agriculture

Each morning, I ride my bike less than ten minutes from my home in the densely populated Old North End neighborhood in Burlington, Vermont to my farm, weaving my bike through a break in the stream of morning traffic and down a steep hill. To my right is a Shell gas station, straight ahead is Dunkin Donuts, and to my left is a gritty business that services tractor trailers (and, conveniently, has replacement parts for busted hydraulics on a tractor). I swerve around potholes going down the hill, bump over the train tracks, and as the road levels out, I wiggle my fingers to fight off the morning cold-induced numbness.  A gray-bearded man with an old external frame backpack walks towards me, heading up into town from his sleeping spot near our farm, yanking on the leash of a dog that lurches towards my bike. The man curses at the dog, ignores me, and continues to shuffle up the hill.

The term “agriculture” is strongly associated with Vermont, but “urban” is usually not. However, our neighborhood of farms is one of the few areas in the state to which both terms apply. Located in what is known as “The Intervale” (“between the hills”), we are within easy walking distance of Vermont’s densest population center, and are inside Burlington city limits. The prime agricultural soils of our farm were never built on–and can never be—because we are located in a floodplain. Native Americans farmed and hunted on this land as early as 3000 BC; evidence of early corn cultivation is present from 1450 AD.  Early white settlers also farmed the land with dairy cows, corn, and hogs. But in the midst of an urban boom in the 1980’s, the land became an informal dumping area full of unsavory characters. Even today, couches and electronics appear regularly in our fields (just last week, a TV and couch sprang up overnight near our hoophouses), and there is a constant effort to keep the land clear of unwanted junk. Today, the responsibility is in our hands; a community of enthusiastic, idealistic, energetic farmers strives to reap the rewards of farming in close proximity to a supportive customer base while we simultaneously fend off the bizarre frustrations of farming in an urban environment.

Our farm grows over 25 acres of vegetables, but we don’t own a delivery vehicle. In fact, I rarely leave the farm during the day, and when I do, it’s often just an excuse to go buy pastries for our staff. As we harvest our vegetables, they are washed and packed into reusable containers, which travel less than fifty feet between the cooler and our CSA distribution area. Each Monday and Thursday afternoon during the summer season, we stand in the shade and greet hundreds of customers as they arrive to gather their produce and harvest from the four acres of pick-your-own crops that we grow as part of their share. A broad spectrum of people arrive at the farm on any given day– some are in business suits, smelling of airy colognes, with tiny, pale creases under their eyes from staring at a screen all day. Young children arrive with their hair tousled and wet, their mothers in sundresses slung over bathing suits, their faces a mix of baffled amusement that they just spent another day in the strange harried world of parenthood. Then the young hipsters arrive, leaning their fixed-gear bikes against the barn, filling their panniers with vegetables like fennel and poblano peppers. A few older couples shuffle through the barn, leaning a cane against the tables to reach into bins for carrots or potatoes as they ask us when the string beans will be ready. In my favorite moments of a CSA pick-up, arms wrap around me as my dear friends arrive for their vegetables, and their children grin with delight when I hand them carrots. We don’t have time to catch up on our lives during these intersecting moments, but by coming to the farm, they know what I have been doing all day, and I know exactly what they will be eating for dinner.

Farming so close to the city allows our farm to provide food for a wide array of people, including those who might not otherwise be able to access it. We are one mile away from a busy emergency food shelf that is always thrilled to see a truck full of veggies roll up. Two elementary schools with primarily low-income populations are within walking distance of the farm and make regular visits to help harvest carrots in the fall. Many of our CSA members use their EBT cards to pay for veggies or apply for our internal supported share program. Although our farm still struggles with reaching the populations that are desperately in need of healthy food, we are fortunate to have a location that makes that gap a little less difficult to bridge.

Urban farming also shapes the personal life of a farmer in pronounced ways. I don’t own the land I farm, I don’t own any equipment I use, and I live a mile away. My home is on a busy street in a gritty neighborhood, and for a couple of years, I didn’t own a car. Sometimes, evenings involve a quick shedding of farm clothes, a hasty shower, and a walk to music in town in a very different outfit. Life has a funny duality, one that is sometimes confusing and sometimes a relief. There are times when I want nothing more than to own the place that I farm and to live in a small, quiet home there. Other times, I love biking up the hill at the end of the day and having closure to my farm day. I am energized and refreshed by the diversity of urban farming.

In the Intervale, rural life bumps hard into urban life; as I drive the tractor with a wide implement down the road, it’s not uncommon that I encounter runners, bikers, and dog walkers, who seem irritatingly leisurely on their summer strolls while I am hurrying along. Pickup trucks belonging to hunters park at the edge of our fields, their owners illegally hoping for deer. Inspection stickers rarely last more than a few months before they are stolen off of our trucks (although we’ve learned to slash them with a razor blade), catalytic converters disappear, and this season, the thieves hit a new low by stealing our old Farmall cultivators and hefty aluminum irrigation fittings.

The vandalism and theft inherent in urban farming is intensely demoralizing. It speaks of a larger problem that plagues Burlington and much of the country; it is desperation for money, often driven by addiction, that sparks this infuriating creativity. Even though what is stolen from us doesn’t hold much street value, the thieves still go to great effort to steal an odd array of things. In the middle of the summer, noticing suddenly that important irrigation fittings are missing is costly to our operation in ways that far exceed the simple replacement value of the part. Even more frustrating is my own lack of confidence when night falls and I am alone on this farm that has been my grounding place for ten seasons; I know the texture of the soil, the shapes of the fields, the wind of the river, and the way the light hits the land, but if I am alone past dark at the farm, I take little comfort in my solitude in this beautiful place.

I fell in love with farming because I love nature. Urban farming offers little in the way of the beauty that shakes me to my core, but it moves me in a different way. It provides an intersection of worlds that is hard to come by; people wandering through during lunchtime or bumping into me while I’m washing greens, who ask a few questions and soon enough join the farm themselves. Or kids who only know the urban life of Burlington, but can still come to the farm to wander through the strawberries and flowers. There is tremendous comfort and gratitude inspired by this piece of land, so close to a city, but emblematic of so much more. It embodies the full arc of agricultural history, from the Native Americans and early white settlers who farmed here, to us, the most recent wave of farmers, who plant vegetables and invite people to take part in this land that belongs to all of us.

Posted in Farmer Authors, Philosophy | 2 Comments

A Basil For Every Occasion

Originally native to India, basil has earned itself a seat at many a dinner table around the world. Most commonly found in Italian cuisine and a main ingredient in the popular condiment pesto, basil is also used in many Southeast Asian dishes as well. This delicious aromatic mint-relative has many wonderful properties and a multitude of uses around the world in ethnic dishes, drinks, desserts, ornamental gardens and cut flower arrangements, as a great pollinator plant, and even in medicine.

The Many Faces of Basil

Genovese

The classic Italian basils are known for their strong, sweet flavor and are used extensively in Mediterranean cooking. A traditional favorite is caprese salad, made by layering these leaves with slices of tomato and fresh mozzarella and drizzling with balsamic reduction (see recipe below). These varieties are also preferred for making pesto because of their large, abundant leaves, sweet flavor, and high essential oil content. They grow well when given lots of space for each plant and are best harvested by clipping the tops of the plants rather than harvesting individual leaves. This type of harvesting helps Italian basil plants grow large, robust, and bushy, producing many leaves over a long season.

  • Sweet, 65 days – traditional Italian variety for pestos and vinegars, high yielding
  • Genovese,  68 days – the classic variety for pesto, with large spoon-shaped leaves
  • Aroma F1, 70 days – vigorous plant with slight anise flavor, Fusarium resistance
  • Aroma 2 F1, 70 days – vigorous with large 3” long leaves, resists bolting and Fusarium resistant
  • Italian Large Leaf, 78 days – very large plants with 4” long leaves, bolt resistance. Perfect for pesto!

Purple

A wonderful multi-purpose plant, purple basil is so pretty that even the strictest Homeowners Associations aren’t likely to complain! Try planting it with gold-colored flowers like California poppies, zinnias, or calendula for a stunning display – the shiny, deep purple leaves and beautiful lavender flowers are gorgeous in bouquets as well as on your plate. Purple basil tends to be a little smaller than Italian types and may not be quite as vigorous in the heat of summer. However, purple basil is a great plant for the early part of the season when overcast days and heavy spring rains dominate – the dark purple color of the leaves absorbs heat from the sun more readily than green basil, and the plants may thrive at times when green basil doesn’t.

  • Rosie, 65 days – Aromatic, mild flavor appeal, upright and uniform
  • Purple Dark Opal, 65 days – A beautiful garnish, strong flavor excellent for vinegar infusions, and an ornamental suitable for growing in pots

Flavored

These days basils may feature a wide variety of flavors, textures, and appearances. They may have traditional uses, like Thai basil, or simply offer an unusual twist on the classic basil flavor. They are excellent in salads and vinegars, where their flavor profiles are allowed to shine.

  • Lemon, 60 days – narrow leaves on smaller plants, excellent addition to fish, seafood, salads, and dressings; flowers have lemony fragrance
  • Sweet Thai, 63 days – Clove and licorice flavors are delectable in Thai cuisine, gorgeous purple stems and flowers contrast with green leaves
  • Cinnamon, 65 days – strong aroma and mild cinnamon flavor, medium green leaves with attractive purple stems and veining, pink flowers

Container

While many basils can be successful in containers, the larger varieties usually do not grow quite as robust and bushy as they do in the ground. Container basils have many advantages – they are excellent for keeping on a patio or near the kitchen, where they can be quickly picked and added to a variety of dishes. They also play nice in mixed herb containers, which are adored by cooks (particularly where no garden space is available!) Their topiary-like appearance makes them popular centerpieces (and party favors) for weddings.

  • Fino Verde, 63 days – compact, bushy little plant with tiny leaves, attractive rounded habit; sweet, spicy flavor makes a little go a long way!

 

Medicinal

Sacred basil, 63 days, is also known as Holy or Tulsi basil and is often found as an ingredient in herbal teas. It is a holy plant in India, where Hindis worship the plant as Tulasi, an incarnation of the goddess. While it has a similar appearance to culinary basil, its sweet, pungent flavor and aroma are distinctly different, and it is touted for having many medicinal properties.  It has been used as an adaptagen, expectorant, diaphoretic, antidote to poison, anti-inflammatory, liver protector, stomach ulcer preventative, immune stimulator, air purifier, oxygenator of the brain, and is believed to reduce the damaging effects of the sun and radiation exposure.

 

Nutritional Benefits

Aside from the medicinal properties of Sacred basil, culinary basil is also packed full of nutritional goodness.  Basil is super high in vitamin K (a co-worker of vitamin D), an often overlooked but important factor in blood clotting, strong bones, and the prevention of heart disease.  The flavonoids, orientin and vicenin, provide DNA protection by protecting cell structures and chromosomes from radiation and oxidation.  Its volatile oils have been shown to be effective in reducing the growth of certain bacteria, like Listeria monocytogenes, Staphylococcus aureus, and E. coli, and have anti-inflammatory properties as well.  It also contains beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant, and magnesium, which promotes cardiovascular health.

 

A Few Tricks of the Trade

  • Tip #1- There is some debate on the best way to store basil once harvested.  Many sources say to refrigerate after harvest.  However, in my experience, basil can quickly develop black spots or edging from cold damage.  I store mine in a vase of water immediately after harvest at room temperature.  In warmer weather, you can even loosely place a clear plastic bag over the leaves to hold in the moisture.
  • Tip #2- Basil can lose a considerable amount of flavor after it has been dried.  For best storage and maintaining the most flavor, quickly blanch the leaves, then chop or puree and freeze in ice cube trays.  Once frozen, transfer your frozen basil cubes to a freezer bag or storage container.  You can even add olive oil and onions to the puree for an excellent addition to winter soup stocks.
  • Tip #3- When cooking with fresh basil, add it to your meal near the end of cooking to preserve its essence and flavor.

 

A Treat for a Hot Summer Day

Kick back with this refreshing summer beverage after a long day in the garden!

Cucumber and Lime Herbal Soda

3 basil leaves

4 mint leaves

4 slices of cucumber

1 Tbsp lime juice

Maple Syrup to taste

Soda water

In a pint glass, add basil, mint, cucumber, and lime and mash to release the juices of each (you can also coarsely chop the herbs first to help the process along).  Add ice to your liking, fill with soda water, and sweeten with maple syrup to suit your sweet tooth.  And don’t be shy, play with the ratios to find the flavor balance that really speaks to you.  For an adult variation, add a bit of rum to turn this delicious mock-tail into a cocktail.  Find a comfy spot outside in the shade and enjoy!

 

Another Seasonal Favorite

This simple, yet delicious, treat really speaks of summer.

Tomato and Basil with Mozzarella

1-2 medium to large slicing tomatoes of your choice

Fresh Mozzarella Cheese

Fresh basil leaves, enough to place one or two on each tomato slice

1/8 – ¼ Cup balsamic reduction

1-2 cloves of garlic, crushed and coarsely chopped (optional)

Salt and Pepper

First, make your balsamic reduction by using ¼ to ½ cup balsamic vinegar (depending on how many tomatoes you use) and cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the vinegar has reduced in volume by half.  Remove from the heat and let cool.  For a variation of this simple reduction, add 1-2 cloves of crushed, chopped garlic to the vinegar while cooking and strain out when cooking is complete.

Once cool, slice the tomatoes to your desired thickness.  Next slice the mozzarella cheese, enough to place a slice on each tomato.  Then top each tomato and cheese with one or two fresh basil leaves and drizzle with balsamic reduction to your liking.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Posted in Articles by Megen Hall, Variety Highlights | 1 Comment

Jumpstarting Spring: How to Greensprout Potatoes

Spring is getting off to a late start here in Vermont, and in many other parts of the country as well. As a result our customers have been asking us what they should do with their potatoes while they wait for the snow to melt and the ground to thaw. One method you can try is called greensprouting, or “chitting” potatoes, which takes advantage of the extra time available to transform your potatoes from starchy spuds into verdant transplants.

Why Greensprout?

Getting potatoes into and out of the ground quickly in the spring is really important. Cool, wet soil can lead to rot, and the longer the potato spends in the ground “waking up”, the more susceptible it is to attack by fungal diseases. One of the keys to successful organic farming is getting plants off to a healthy start when they are transplanted into the field. Transplant shock, or the adjustment to being outdoors in the big wide world, can set back schedules as well as yields, both of which affect a farm’s bottom line. The hardening-off process, of getting transplants ready to make the leap, is something people do regularly, so why put your potatoes into the ground without the same care?

I have been greensprouting or “chitting” my potatoes for years, and while it’s a little extra work, the results are totally worth it. The potatoes are ready to harvest about two weeks earlier and tolerate cool, wet spring soils much better. Plus, they can be planted later, and the time they spend sprouting inside is time they aren’t vulnerable to pests, diseases, and cold temperatures in the field. Rather than dropping seed potatoes in the row, as is traditionally done, I am really transplanting my potatoes as if they were seedlings.

Step One: Break Dormancy

The process is simple. The first step is to break the dormancy of the potatoes by keeping them warm and dark. I arrange them a few layers deep in a black crate and put them in a room that I keep at 70-75 degrees F. You could also place them on top of a seedling heat mat, on top of the fridge, or any other warm (not hot!) surface. The elevated temperature breaks the dormancy of the potatoes, and encourages them to produce multiple eyes. How long this takes can vary; some potatoes may have been stored better than others and will be slower to sprout, however you should ideally start seeing white shoots appearing in a week or two.

Step Two: Grow Out

Once the sprouts have emerged to about ¼”, the temperature should be lowered to 50-60 degrees F, and the potatoes should be exposed to natural or artificial light. I just use shop lights that I put right on top of the crates. This is the step that slows the growth of the sprouts, and allows them to undergo the really beautiful part of this process. The sprouts turn greenish purple, and the strength of the sprout attachment increases, making them less likely to get broken off during planting. However, even if the sprouts do break off, research shows that greensprouted potatoes still send up new shoots much more quickly than unsprouted potatoes. The greensprouting process also encourages seed potatoes to develop more shoots, resulting in plants that produce more tubers.

Step Three: Transplant

If you wait long enough, the sprouting potato forms true leaves. That’s the part that I really get excited about. I plant my potatoes by hand, and orient the seed potatoes with their new shoots and leaves up. If the potatoes just have sprouts and no leaves, plant them so they are just barely covered, and they will send up shoots very quickly. If they do have leaves, plant so that just the leaves are sticking out of the soil. Most growers find that they shave 10-14 days off of the potato growing season by greensprouting, and are able to plant longer-season varieties than they would normally be able to grow successfully.

Potatoes are one of my favorite vegetables. Just think — when you dig them, you are the first person ever to have held this amazing food, and that same tuber holds life for the next season’s crop. The greensprouted tubers are a sight to behold in the early days of spring, and the lush mature plants are likewise beautiful. When they are all in bloom, with their rows of different colored flowers, you couldn’t find a prettier place on earth.

 

Posted in Articles by Farmer Paul Betz, Growing Tips | 6 Comments

Paper Pot Transplanter

As a small-scale organic grower, transplanting can be one of those back-breaking, knee-scabbing tasks that makes you grudgingly buckle down to get those onions, brassicas, lettuces in the ground. There have been a number of innovations to try and make the job simpler and save your fingers, back and knees, but unless you buy a direct or water wheel transplanter for your tractor, you’ll likely spend onion-planting time on your knees.

However, there is another tool out there, and it is one of the most efficient and intelligently-designed transplanters I’ve seen: the Japanese paper pot transplanter. Pulled by hand, with no motor, it’s a Japanese tool that was developed for the sugar beet industry. An organic farmer from Wisconsin, John Hendrickson, learned about the tool while visiting Japan. He started Small Farm Works, LLC so he could import the tool to North America, and it has been gaining popularity on small farms ever since.

What is a Paper Pot Transplanter?

The paper pot transplanter works similarly to a direct seeder in design. There is a furrower in the front that makes a trough, the plants are fed through a channel to drop into the trough, and there are two wings that push the soil back around the plants. Two wheels at the tail end lightly compact the soil around the plants. Instead of a seed hopper, there is a large tray space for the tray of transplants to feed out of. The key part, and namesake, of this design is the paper pot tray that the seeds are planted into. These little paper “pots” are actually loops of paper attached into a chain that looks similar to a honeycomb. The paper pots unchain as you move the transplanter, feeding themselves through the transplanter.

How the Paper Pots Work

The paper pots come in flats, and are spread apart with two metal tongs, then stretched onto a metal frame. The paper pots and metal frame are flipped into your transplant tray, and then the pots are gently filled with dirt. The tray is dibbled with a plastic dibbler you can purchase, or with your fingers. You can then seed by hand or buy the tray seeder, also sold through Small Farm Works. Finally a light layer of dirt is sprinkled over the seeds, the metal frame can then be removed, and your seeding is complete.

Here’s a great video showing the process of seeding a paper pot “flat”:

When you are ready to plant, minimal preparation is needed, though some folks prefer to rake the bed smooth. You bring your transplanter to the top of a row and place a tray of plants on the transplanter. On one end of the paper pot chain there is a white piece of paper that you pull loose to start the unchaining action of the pots. After feeding the chain of pots through the trough, the tail end and first transplant are anchored down into the ground with a screwdriver or ground staple. Then you simply start walking backwards down your row, pulling the transplanter with you, watching the pots chain out and keeping an eye on the straightness of your line. The pots chain out and drop into the trough, are gently covered with soil and lightly tamped down with the tail end of the transplanter implement.

Troubleshooting

Occasionally a chain will break or detritus will get stuck under your furrower and slow you down. For the most part, however, your time is spent setting up the transplanter and walking back to get another tray. Using the transplanter, one tray can be planted out by one person in less then a minute.

The Paper Pot Transplanter in Action

In action, the paper pot transplanter is incredible to watch. You can feasibly plant over 200 transplants in the time it takes to walk 150’, less then a minute. My first experience with the paper pot transplanter was at Hurricane Flats. Geo Honigford, owner and farmer, first found out about the paper pot transplanter and decided to make the investment in 2011. Hurricane Flats farms about 9 acres, with just Geo and one other employee. Getting a tractor transplanter doesn’t make sense for him, since he doesn’t have enough bodies to make it work. And planting by hand can be grueling, time consuming work. The paper pot transplanter afforded him a new method of transplanting that would be quicker, less harsh on the body and could easily be operated by just one or two people. Conceivably, it goes faster with two people – one running the paper pot transplanter, the other running new transplants trays, screwdrivers, and watering the transplants in as you go.

Check out this video to see the transplanter in action:

Limitations of the Transplanter

One spring day Geo left me alone in the field with a daunting number of onion trays. It was an intimidating task, but with the transplanter, I was able to get more than 5,000 row feet of onions transplanted by myself in one day. It was incredible to witness when the transplanter was working smoothly. The paper pot transplanter works best in loose soil that doesn’t have too many rocks or detritus, and as Hurricane Flats is a river bottom farm, there isn’t too much to get hung up on. However, because Hurricane Flats had been flooded the previous year by Tropical Storm Irene, a good amount of our popcorn and sweet corn had been tilled in, and whole cobs remained in the soil. These got caught up in the furrower and slowed the transplanting process. In areas with no detritus, it was all smooth sailing and I quickly worked my way through the trays of transplants. Geo loaned the paper pot transplanter to another farmer in the area who was up higher on the hill and had a lot more rocks in his soil. The transplanter was not as smooth for him, but still quicker then transplanting by hand. Certainly, the advantages of a paper pot transplanter are offset if your soil is not well-suited to the furrower.

A Versatile Tool

One of the really neat things about the paper pot transplanter is that you can use it for many different crops. The paper chain pots are available in 2, 4 or 6 inch in-row spacing. The length of in-row spacing is determined by the amount of paper chain between each cell. Each paper pot tray has 264 cells. You can also figure out your seeding rates in the cells, and further space out your seeds to more ideally suit your crops.  The transplanter was originally created in Japan for sugar beet production, but is popularly used for onions, leeks, scallions and shallots. We’ve also used it for broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, early plantings of sweet corn, basil, lettuce, and herbs. The paper is allowed in certified organic production, holds up well until transplanting, then decomposes once in the ground. We’ve had varying success with the dryness of the paper pots when you plant- if they are soggy and wet, they don’t chain out as well.

Is the Paper Pot Transplanter Right For You?

A paper pot transplanter is a significant investment, as you need to purchase the trays, the paper pots, and the transplanter itself. Before trying out this system, you need to assess whether your farm would be well-suited, in soil, labor and types of transplantable crops, to make the jump and buy a paper pot transplanter. It is also worth considering the size of your operation – the transplanter does not make as much sense if you are doing short row lengths and have to move it around often. It works best when your row lengths are several hundred feet. But if you are looking for an easy-to-maintain, fuel-free, low impact transplanter that will save your knees and back when it comes to transplanting time, this might just be your new favorite tool.

For photos, videos, and more troubleshooting and advice, check out John Hendrickson’s website, http://www.smallfarmworks.com/.

photos in the article courtesy of Small Farm Works, LLC

Posted in Commercial Growing, Growing Tips | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Seed Grower Profile – Frank Morton: An Agent of Change

Frank Morton is a plant breeder and founder of Wild Garden Seed in Oregon. He and his family supply many of the unique varieties in the High Mowing catalog.

On a spring day in the early 1980’s, a curious young salad grower found himself looking at one red lettuce seedling in a sea of flats filled with tender green oakleaf. A novice seed saver at the time, Frank Morton left this plant for seed, hoping to reproduce this unique cross of red romaine and green oakleaf. As he recounts this first experience with breeding, he recalls that what came up when these seeds were planted the following season was “just as varied as the rainbow.” The outcome was seemingly a random combination of all traits of the parent varieties, twenty-three kinds of lettuce in all. Frank Morton was taken by the evidence of what had previously been missing in his work, and that first experiment launched a lifetime of creativity in classical breeding.

Wild Garden Seed Bears Fruit

Frank and Karen Morton are the dynamic duo behind Wild Garden Seed, one of the finest producers of regionally-adapted, open-pollinated organic seeds. Situated along the winding Mary’s River outside of Philomath, Oregon, Wild Garden Seed has partnered with Gathering Together Farm, a neighboring vegetable operation that has joined in providing space and people power for Frank’s growing seed production. In total, this collaborative effort tends over 50 acres of fresh market vegetables and seed crops. During the heart of the growing season, 65 employees (aka the Agents of Change) still enjoy a work-day tradition of group meals crafted with their own produce. Frank and Karen, along with their sons Taj and Kit, coordinate all aspects of seed production, harvest, cleaning, and marketing.

Since his auspicious first encounter with seed breeding, Frank has gone on to breed hundreds of named varieties, available directly from Wild Garden Seeds and through a limited number of lucky seed companies like High Mowing Organic Seeds. For over two decades, Frank and Karen balanced time between their salad business and seed breeding and production. Lettuce breeding became a way to make new products available for their commercial salad sales. As Frank puts it, “right away the goal was to create something beautiful that tasted good.” His breeding generated such interest in these unique varieties that Karen and Frank published their first seed catalog on a typewriter in 1994. By 2001, this hardworking family was ready to focus full time on seed breeding and production.

A Continuing Evolution

In over thirty years of seed production, Frank’s breeding goals have developed a comprehensive depth rarely seen in even the highest ranking academic circles. Frank and Karen’s home has been described to me as having “a breeding project every square foot.” With his experience as a grower, Frank spent his early years focusing on the qualities of lettuce, studying the tastes, shapes, thickness, heft, and colors that worked for his market. He quickly realized the value of season extension in his northern climate and began selecting varieties that performed well in the early and late parts of the growing season. Slowly Frank started to think about disease, launching extensive disease trials in order to select for resistance traits in his production. All of this is part of Frank’s devotion to his mission of fostering regional adaptation in seed breeding.

These days Frank likes to say he’s breeding for nutrition. With variety names like Flashy Trout Back and Hyper Red Rumple Waved, one can quickly see the emphasis on colors. Frank tells me he’s “always had an intuitive sense that all those colors were good for you.” New research has confirmed just that. “By selecting for intense pigmentation, you’re also selecting for antioxidant content.”

Never one to stagnate, Frank is embarking on what he views as a decisive step forward in seed breeding. Envisioning the development of what he calls “an ecological sophistication to our adaptation work,” Frank hopes to bring forth a new effort in selecting for “underground traits and the corresponding interaction with microbial communities, with the intent being disease and pest resistance and efficient nutrient scavenging.”

For example, Frank describes to me his consideration of root hair length in seedlings as an attractant for beneficial soil life. He’d like to take this concept further by studying – and ultimately selecting for – the qualities in plants that affect interactions with pests, disease, and soil microbial life. Frank is the first to admit the limitations of his field work. “If I had the tools to do this, I would. The next generation will have the tools.” Given this challenge, Frank stresses the importance of collaboration between different facets of the plant and soil science community – we need to become involved in different fields to get the big picture, “like a microbiologist doing plant breeding work.”

 

Standing Together

Of course there’s more to the story about Frank Morton. Well known for his spirited essays espousing the importance of open-source germplasm, the dangers of genetic engineering, and the value of regionally-adapted genetics, Frank is a man committed to his values with dynamic enthusiasm to match. His writing takes the form of a cogent narrative with the balanced approach of a veteran to this noble cause. Along with the Center for Food Safety, the Organic Seed Alliance, the Sierra Club, and your friends at High Mowing Organic Seeds, Frank is an active participant in the continuing legal battle with Monsanto and the USDA regulatory agency APHIS for failure to follow federal law when it deregulated genetically modified sugar beets in 2005. Frank also stands with us as a founding member of the Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI), an organization seeking to revitalize public plant breeding and regain seed rights for the commons.

Frank’s first red lettuce seedling has taken its place in his comprehensive catalog; these days it is named Oaky Red Splash, and is available by mail order only. Frank’s wife and children have played their respective roles in the story, and continue to be both the foundation and inspiration for his work. And Frank Morton’s curiosity is alive and well. As the threats of biotechnology, changing climates, and plant patents loom, Frank’s innovative work seems more relevant than ever.

Below are the varieties that we have gotten from Frank and Wild Garden Seeds over the years:

Photos courtesy of Wild Garden Seed and High Mowing Organic Seeds

Posted in Farmer Authors, Seed Saving and Production | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Budget Seed Starting on a Small Farm

Late winter brings farmers out of the seed catalogs and into seed houses.  As greenhouses are heated, potting soil spread into trays, and seeds placed in each cell, excitement mounts for the coming season and all its possibilities.  For many farmers, especially new farmers, this is also a time of year when budgeting is crucial—money is going out, but not necessarily coming in yet, and so it’s important to be aware of your seed starting costs and take advantage of ways to keep those costs to a minimum.  Here are a few tips that have helped us stay on a budget at Good Heart Farmstead.

Seed House Construction: Building a Versatile Space

If you don’t have a greenhouse and are looking for an economical option for a seed starting space, begin by looking at your existing buildings.  Is there a south-facing wall not being utilized?  At GHF, we built a seed house off the side of our barn using 18’ hemlock planks and greenhouse plastic.  By using an existing wall, one side of your seed house is already complete before you’ve even started building.  We also dug out the floor of the seed house so it is a few feet below the floor of the barn.  With rocks from an old stone wall on the perimeter of our property, we built a rock wall along the dug-out southern edge of the seed house. The wall is attractive and acts as a passive solar heat source – it absorbs excess heat during the day, then releases it slowly during the cold nights.  For more heat, we bought and installed a used wood stove.  Our seed house was constructed with the help of many friends – if you are ready to start building but need more hands, organize a work party, invite your friends, and make sure to feed them plenty of good food and drink!

As the seed-starting season waned last year, we transitioned the seed house into a mini-greenhouse for tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.  In the fall we used this space to cure our winter squash; it can also be used to hang dry beans and corn that need the last bit of moisture sucked out.  Just before the winter took hold, we transplanted kale to over-winter inside.  By building a versatile space, you can increase its value in relation to your operation.

Eventually, we’d like to replace the greenhouse plastic with rigid plastic to keep more heat in, and we may someday replace the woodstove with one that doesn’t require as much night-time stoking, but for now they do the job at very low cost.

 

Sourcing Supplies

Taking advantage of bulk buying options for potting soil and compost is another way to stay on budget during seed starting time.  Through the NOFA-VT bulk order, Vermont farmers are able to get potting soil at a discounted rate – your local organic farming association may offer something similar. Here in Worcester we are lucky enough to live 20 minutes from the Vermont Compost Company, so we have also saved by picking up yards of potting soil in our own truck; alternatively, we have ordered 20 yards of compost for delivery to our farm.   Just like seeds, the more you buy, the better the price break is.  Look for similar bulk buying options in your area to help keep costs down.

Another choice to make is whether to go with plastic trays or soil blocks.  In our first year we used old plastic trays from High Mowing (when the seed production and trials crews bought new trays and rotated the older ones out, offering them up to employees).  While this was the cheapest option at the time, the older trays were already compromised with cracks, and by the end of spring we had weeded out half of them out as they broke on the trip between seedhouse and field.  This year we are transitioning to soil blocks, which we like for multiple reasons: plants grown in soil blocks avoid getting root bound, as the presence of oxygen slows root growth once the roots reach the edge of the block; also, after making the initial investment in the soil block makers, we won’t have to buy new plastic trays and pots every few years.

 

Choose cost-effective varieties

Generally, open-pollinated varieties cost less than hybrids, but before shunning hybrid seed, take note of your methods of sale and your customer base.  Are you holding a plant sale?  If so, try to get a good feel for what your home garden customers are searching for.  Tomatoes are one of the most popular home garden crops, and many gardeners have that rich heirloom flavor foremost in their minds, so stock plenty of tried and true heirlooms that are familiar to customers, such as Brandywine and Pruden’s Purple.  If you are growing for production–wholesale, farmers market, or CSA–keep in mind that many hybrids offer higher yields than similar OPs.  For example, in our cherry tomato trials, hybrid varieties like Suzanne F1 and Sakura F1 yielded almost twice as many tomatoes as comparable OP varieties, so even though the seed is more expensive, the harvest is much heavier and makes up for the initial cost. In addition, you can grow fewer plants to produce the same yield, saving valuable bed space for other crops.

It’s also important to plan for your climate and disease pressure – as you read through variety descriptions, make note of what varieties are particularly well-suited to cool spring and fall weather vs. summer heat, and which ones can stand up best to the diseases in your area.  By matching varieties to your region as best as possible, you will set yourself up for a more successful season.

Happy Growing in 2014!

Posted in Commercial Growing, Farmer Authors, Growing Tips, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Winter’s White Gold: Planning Ahead for Belgian Endive Harvest

Picture by Chez Loulou

Among the vast cornucopia of crops grown by the diversified vegetable farmer, there isn’t another quite like the Belgian endive.  Also known as witloof – which means “white leaf” in Dutch – Belgian endives are a long season crop that requires a winter, indoor “forcing” phase to produce tightly-wrapped, almond-shaped, cream colored heads. The process has several steps, but in the end is relatively simple and can result in a profitable, delectable harvest of pale, crunchy, nutty, delicately bitter-tasting fresh greens in the winter months.

Growing Belgian endive is a two step process that straddles the seasons.  The first step, which begins in the spring, is to cultivate Belgian endive in the field for the roots.  The second step, which takes place in the late fall and winter, is to cultivate the heads, called chicons, indoors under moist, dark conditions.  This article, the first in a two part series, will address the first step of the process: producing the roots.

But first, some definitions.

 

What is a Belgian endive anyway?

Photo by Pat Kight

Belgian endives are in the chicory family, a diverse family of plants with a variety of leaf appearances and head shapes.  Curly endive, or frisse, has a lacy, finely cut leaf shape.  Broad-leaf, or Batavian endives, have a more gently ruffled leaf shape, resembling a head of lettuce. Radicchio – both red and sugarloaf types – are also in the chicory family.  They all have in common a bitter flavor – to varying degrees – and vitamins A, B and C, as well as calcium and potassium.

Historically, endives were cultivated for their roots, which were dried down and used to brew a dark, bitter, coffee-like beverage.  In the mid-1800s – so the story goes – a farmer left to go to war, leaving his harvested crop of chicory roots in the cellar.  When he returned, he found that the moisture levels in storage were sufficient to cause the roots to sprout, producing tender, edible, mildly bitter, blanched leaves.  And so the cultivation of Belgian endive was born.

The Brussels Botanical Garden perfected the forcing process and selected productive varieties. Its export to the US began in 1911. Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy dominated the export of Belgian endive up until the late 1990’s when production was shifted to South America, predominately Chile and Guatemala.

 

Determining your field planting date:

Belgian endive requires a full growing season for its root development.  Depending on the variety, you’ll want to sow it 110 to 140 days before a hard frost. Belgian endive can tolerate light frost, but planting too early in the season can cause bolting. In our 2010 Belgian endive trials here in Northern Vermont, we found that the optimal sowing date was late June/early July.

 

Planting: 

For optimal root production, Belgian endives prefer direct seeding and culture similar to carrots.  They like well-drained, loose soil to promote sufficient development of the roots.  Remember, for the first phase of growing endive, the roots are your crop.

The plants prefer a pH of 6.5 or above.  Fertility management must be handled carefully as too much nitrogen will promote vigorous top development resulting in poorly formed roots. A side-dressing of phosphorus in the early stages of root development can aide in healthy root formation.

In High Mowing’s 2010 Belgian endive trials, seeds were planted in late June using a hand-push precision seeder with a planting density of 15 seeds/ft in rows 18” apart. Plants were thinned to a 4” plant spacing to allow for uniform sizing when plants averaged 3” tall. In a home garden, seeds can be sown thickly by hand and then thinned to the spacing above.

 

Harvest:

Physical indications of maturity include reddening of the leaves and desired root size. The optimal root diameter is around 1.5”.  Roots that are too small will produce chicons with loose heads; too large and the chicons may have off-shoots.  We used a plastic mulch lifter, which has long finger-like forks in the front of the toolbar that use the force of the soil to lift the roots to the surface. Because the soil is lifting the roots up there is minimal breakage of roots and harvesting is more efficient.  On a smaller scale, roots can easily be dug with a digging fork, similar to carrots or parsnips.  Care should be taken not to nick or damage the roots, since damaged roots may be prone to rotting during storage or forcing.

 

Curing:

Allow the roots to dry in the field for a few days or so, covered with straw or with the layered leaves over the roots to prevent exposure to frost and/or direct sunlight.  After curing, trim the tops to about 1” above the crown.  It is common for growers to trim roots as well, to an 8” length in order to have uniform height in the planting beds. Roots that are forked will still produce chicons, although on a larger production scale they can be more logistically challenging to position in the planting beds.

Vernalization:

Belgian endives require a short period of vernalization in order to trigger chicon production. Store endive roots in conditions similar to those favored by other root vegetables – 32-34 degrees with high humidity – for at least a week or until ready for planting.  Chicons will emerge about three weeks after replanting the roots. Harvest of the chicons can be staggered by off-setting the replanting of the roots from storage.

Marco Franciosa, a grower in Oregon who specializes in endive production, sings its praises as an important niche crop for his farm and one with significant potential for winter markets, where its freshness is a welcome change amidst the root vegetables. Growing endive is a simple process that requires more patience than anything else. Successful root production is a key component of growing Belgian endives since the roots provide the basis for future growth.  What you start with is what you end up with – you won’t get a high quality product from poor quality roots!  The result is well worth it: crunchy, succulently fresh winter greens, with a flavor and a texture unlike any other.

Ready to try growing Belgian Endives? You can find organic Belgian Endive seeds on our website.

Stay tuned for our fall article, Belgian Endive Production Part 2: Forcing for Winter Harvest.

 

Posted in Trials, Variety Highlights, Winter Growing | Tagged | 5 Comments

Dream Garden on Pinterest Contest!

Win a $75 gift certificate to High Mowing Organic Seeds!

This contest has ended – congratulations to Adrienne! Thank you to everyone who participated!

Half the fun of having a garden is planning the garden during those long cold winter months when all is grey and dark outside. Looking at all those pictures of bright, beautiful vegetables, herbs and flowers in the seed catalogs can make any day better. Many customers tell us of their dog-eared, bookmarked, sticky-noted catalogs that receive plenty of use.

Lately many people have been using the website Pinterest to organize their garden ideas and wishes. We think this is an excellent idea as it provides a great visual representation of what you’d like to grow in your garden. The boards people create are beautiful to look at and fun to use.

We would love to see what YOUR dream garden looks like. We’re inviting you to create your dream garden by “pinning” varieties you’d like to grow onto a board, then sending us the link to your board. We’ll randomly choose one board, and the owner of the winning board will receive a $75 High Mowing Organic Seeds’ gift certificate to help make those garden dreams come true!

The rules are simple:

  • Create your own board called “Dream Garden from High Mowing Organic Seeds“. Pin vegetable, herb and flower varieties you’d like to grow this year. You can pin varieties from our High Mowing Organic Seeds website or any other site.
  • Come back to this post and leave us your Pinterest “Dream Garden” Board URL in the comments section below. Make sure to use your real e-mail so we can contact you if you win!

Enter by the end of Friday, March 7th 2014 for the chance to win the $75 Gift Certificate! The winner will be announced on Monday, March 10th.

Contest closes at midnight (EST) on March. 7th, 2014.  The fine print: High Mowing Organic Seeds is giving away one $75.00 gift certificate towards any of our products to one lucky winner! The contest runs from 2/28/14 through midnight (EST) 3/07/14. The winner will be selected using random.org. The winner will be notified via e-mail, so please ensure that your e-mail is accurate. Winners must respond within 96 hours of the e-mail announcing that they have one being sent. If the winner fails to respond within that time, High Mowing Organic Seeds will select another winner through random.org and will send out another e-mail to the next winner.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 80 Comments

The Roadside Stand Advantage: Is it Right for You?

As a young farmer in an already-saturated organic farming community, I have had to find creative solutions for marketing my produce. Our local coop and other stores selling local produce already have producers for most crops, so normally my only option would be to get in line with the other new growers, hoping to get a foot in the market door. After several years, I finally made it through the waiting list to become a fill-in, then finally a regular vendor at our local farmers market. Sometimes the competition makes me ask myself, why am I treading water just to stay afloat as a new farmer in an area where there are already so many others?  The answer, for me, is that I absolutely love growing food and I want it to be my main job.

Truth be told, I have a wonderfully unique situation being a second grower on an existing organic vegetable farm. The current growers are envisioning future retirement and have invited me to take on crops they are no longer interested in producing, or ones they were never interested in to begin with. And not just for wholesale accounts, but retail as well, such as the farmers market and the roadside stand that sat empty before my arrival. As for direct marketing opportunities, I can’t say enough about our roadside stand. For a few important reasons, it has offered my family the opportunity to become more diversified and bring in more revenue than with any other avenue of sales. Consider a farmers market, by comparison: the farmers market only happens for 3 hours a week, has rules about buying in produce or other products, and a capped number of vendor spots for things like eggs – the roadside stand has none of these restrictions. This brings me to share the unique advantages of a roadside stand. But first…

 

Is a Roadside Stand Right For You?

A roadside stand isn’t for everyone. It could be a great boost to your farm income, or it could eat up more time and resources than it’s worth. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you have good exposure?

Location plays a huge role in whether or not your farm stand will prove to be successful. We are located on a pretty well-traveled road, on the major route to the Canadian border, less than a mile from a main road, and also en route to our closest local tourist destination in the summer, so while it could be better, the location is pretty good. I have heard of more rural, back-road farm stands doing well, but it probably takes a lot more signage and a hard-earned, dedicated customer base, which can take time to establish. In this instance, the frequency of impulse shoppers is less.

Your stand should be very obvious from the road so that it feels convenient to the driver. You may have a great array of produce, but we live in a fast-paced world, and people want what’s quick and easy. If there is no option for something clearly visible from the road with room for easy parking and turn around, then lots of catchy signage might bring people off the beaten path. In September, after the tourist season is over (when business slows down for us) we move our stand up to the barn and offer produce with self service, and I know we lose business because people don’t want to drive up the hill, even with persuasive discounts.

  • Can you afford to staff it with a knowledgeable sales person, staff it yourself, or set it up to be self-service?

Staffing can be tricky. Paying a friendly, knowledgeable person can be expensive. If you have a flower garden or some of your fields are in direct view of the stand, having your salesperson do some weeding or other field work during downtime can be advantageous. We tried to staff the booth with inexpensive help, such as local high school students, but we found that they didn’t have the customer service experience and understanding of the produce that was necessary to keep folks coming back. Another option might be to pay someone minimum wage and increase their compensation with a produce trade.

We have found that hiring experienced staff is only an affordable option for us a couple of days a week. The rest of the time my daughter and I spend our days helping customers. We start the day with harvest and set-up, hang out for the day, and then I do some more farm work after dinner…and boy can that take its toll!

Yet another option is to run a self service stand. The upside is that you do not need to pay an employee, which, for some, is the only viable way to run the stand. However, there are a few disadvantages to this option – not everyone is trustworthy (and we have been robbed several times, no matter our attempts to lock down the money box), the customer has no ability to make change, and there is no one available to answer questions. Many customers are baffled by the checkout process, no matter how clear the written instructions.

  • Can you offer pricing that is competitive with other local produce stands?

I struggle a bit with this. I am a smaller operation than some of the other local stands, and being organic, higher prices are necessary. That being said, I have to be competitive with the food coop, and I have to make some sacrifices in the prices in order to lure in neighbors who don’t usually buy organic.

 

The Roadside Stand Advantage

If you are considering starting a fresh produce venture, it is worth looking at the advantages of having a roadside stand, which set it apart from other avenues of sales. First off, the only limits or rules are ones created by you or the government. And aside from having a regular weekly schedule, where customers know they can always find fresh produce, there are so many innovative ways you can improve sales and attract customers:

  • Offer an increased selection by buying in additional produce or other local products
  • Incorporate the CSA model to help with cash flow and offer discounts to loyal customers
  • Offer neighborly discounts
  • Plant colorful display gardens and pick-your-own flowers, herbs, etc.
  • Offer a “seconds” section for discounted, slightly blemished produce

Increased Selection

At the farmers market, I couldn’t sell eggs or blueberries if I wanted to because there are too many others with the same product, and the market has limits. We’ve got lots of eggs to sell and my customers get excited about pastured, farm fresh eggs. Additionally, we planted a stand of blueberries that will be producing to the point of profit in a few more years, and my only outlet for these will be the stand. Right now, in order to provide blueberries to my customers, I pick-my-own at another local organic farm and resell them, in order to stock a fruit I do not yet have. This is the only crop that I buy in, but one that my customers love, and soon we will be able to provide our own. When our own berries are ready, our customers will already be accustomed to buying their berries from our stand.

I also buy in sourdough bread from a neighboring business, Patchwork Farm and Bakery, which has quite a following. Many of my regular customers plan their shopping around bread delivery day, and always leave with their veggies, a freshly-baked loaf of Charlie’s bread, and a satisfied smile. I’ve had inquiries from local artists and herbalists wanting to sell their products as well, and I plan to expand to include even more local goods. These extra perks give my customers more selection and a bit more of the one-stop-shop experience that consumers have come to expect.

Using the CSA Model

Why limit CSA discounts to weekly pick ups?  This season we will be offering our CSA discounts to produce stand regulars – they will pay up front in the spring for a share of “Riverside Dollars” at a discount rate of 10%. They can then spend these dollars any time they like, on anything they like throughout the season. This is not something that we have tried before, but plan to incorporate as a way to increase revenue in the spring. We settled on this format because I have had customers explain that they used to be a part of our CSA, but either a ½ share was too large, or they wanted to the freedom to pick their own varieties. The CSA will allow us to offer a discount both to those customers who want a weekly pick up as well as those who want to shop at a smaller scale or have more choice in what they get.

Howdy Neighbor

Many of our neighbors do not usually buy organic produce and find that our regular prices don’t work for their budget. However, I would like them to be able to shop at our stand, so I often offer a “neighborly discount”. This way I get to know our neighbors better and can send them home with produce grown right in their backyard, and it makes us both feel good. They have told me that they can taste a real difference, and if this helps them make a shift toward a healthier diet, then I am happy to know I’ve made a difference.

Display Gardens and U-Pick Options

Having a display garden with colorful flowers and herbs is not only visually attractive from the road, but also gives you the opportunity to offer pick-your-own for certain things. For me, flowers bouquets were not a big seller, but allowing customers to pick (and choose) their own made them more popular. I plant my greens and herbs close to the stand as well – I keep a couple of bunches available at the stand, but without refrigeration they might wilt before they sell. With the greens nearby I can run out and harvest more if needed. I keep a bucket of fresh cool water on hand to cool the fresh-cut greens and instruct the customer to put them straight into the refrigerator. Customers always feel they’re getting a super deal by getting produce that’s picked fresh on the spot.

Discount Section

Not everything I harvest is picture perfect, and I have had a great response from having a “seconds” basket. Looks don’t matter to everyone.  Most of the time, blemishes don’t affect flavor or storability, and for these I offer a small discount. In other instances, such as for punctured or cracked tomatoes with decreased storability, I offer a bigger discount. Folks on a tighter budget scoop up the otherwise undesirable vegetables with fervor. The competition and available space at a farmers market doesn’t allow for blemished produce, making this just another benefit of the roadside stand.

The Possibilities are Endless!

In a short time, I have watched our business grow through several outlets, but mostly through the stand. I always look forward to the seasons to come, bringing with them new ideas and new faces. New ideas for signage, ways to attract visitors, a recipe rack, new crops to try, better ways to display and keep produce fresh and looking good, and having an increasing customer base, many of whom I will learn to know by name, keep all of us coming back for more.

Posted in Articles by Megen Hall, Commercial Growing, Farmer Authors | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments