This was our first full year growing food and we made the most of all seasons, with the help of artificial season extension, to experiment with a large variety of crops. One of the themes for the year was to grow some unusual crops since this was specifically requested by one of the buyers in the Growing Up Organic program.
About this time last year, I read an article about sweet potatoes and decided that I could put them under low tunnels to give them the heat that they would not otherwise get in our climate. Since we would probably be the only island source, we would have no trouble selling them. So much for plans. A seed crop failure in New Brunswick meant that no “slips” were ever shipped. Scratch.
Not to worry though, I’d thought. Despite our 2010 experience with them, I figured I would use the beds reserved for sweet potatoes to seed a double bed of carrots. Nope. Very poor germination. Probably a good thing, though. I don’t like dealing with the culling of wire worm-infested roots, the washing or the bunching. Maybe if we had the beautifully rick, loamy soil they really like where they would quickly grow to full size, I would change my mind. But not on Rainbow.
Other roots like golden beets hardly germinated on Rainbow, the red ones were sparse and the white ones (another “unusual” crop), while good producers, were hard to sell. Beets seem to be more of a fall veg anyway, tough to sell in the summer. The beets we seeded at Dan’s in June germinated and grew better and sold ok in the fall. But I just don’t like dealing with them. Too much wire worm damage, too much cleaning, too little demand. No sex appeal. I kept selling the ones we grew just to not waste them. But no longer. Same with turnips, radishes, potatoes and carrots. I’m just saying no to root crops for now.
Kale and collards grew well and would be easy enough to make money on if there was enough demand. Selling a few bunches here and there won’t do it. I might grow more cabbage but I’ll either have to harvest them at a less overwhelming size or grow a smaller variety. All of our cabbages got some degree of aphid damage though so I’m not sure. Same with Brussels sprouts. I could probably sell a lot more except I’m almost out. Broccoli is starting to head up now; we’ll see how it turns out. Our Asian greens grew well except for some flea beetle damage but I let them get too big. Others bolted. They have to be sold quickly or refrigerated. Just not a huge fan any more.
Ditto lettuces. Pretty good demand, especially in the summer, but they’re a bit of a trial when it’s hot. Coupled with a lack of refrigeration is an absence of wash facilities at Dan’s where lettuce might otherwise be a viable crop. I don’t think a business case can be made to buy a fridge just for this crop. On the other hand, if I can sell directly to a store and/or restaurants – always immediately after harvest- and if I don’t have to worry about washing it, then maybe.
We tried a variety of herbs which grew ok but only sold in moderation. When you have to try hard to sell something, the market is speaking. I will probably still grow basil next year, though, both because it’s THE companion plant to tomatoes and because we didn’t really grow it this year in any quantity. Our good friends John and Sue at Duck Creek Farm are the local pesto people (specializing in garlic and basil) so if I end up growing a lot, I will try not to sell it where they do.
We have a good summer squash recipe. Let thinly sliced and salted strips sweat out their water. Grill. Place on plate. Drizzle with garlic oil. Add basil leaves, halved cherry tomatoes, grated Asiago and freshly ground pepper. Bring to 6 or 7 different summer potluck dinners, none of which have any of the same people in attendance. Be glad that at least you didn’t also have to throw out all that summer squash too.
Part of our excess squash problem was that we had 5 or 6 “unusual” varieties of it and probably 30 plants in total (mind you, a third of them hardly grew for a suspected lack of water). Next year I will have one type only; a green zucchini best harvested at a non-intimidating size. Linda Gilkeson said she had her first zukes in early June this year, giving credit to a specific pathenocarpic (grows fruit without pollination) hybrid she chose. I will grow about 15 of these plants and all of them will be in a tunnel so hopefully they’ll be ready even earlier. By mid-July, when the only time people eat zucchini is at pot lucks, I may simply abandon the crop entirely.
Eliminating unprofitable crops extends to the plant starts side of the business. In an effort to ensure everyone would find the plant start they were looking for, we grew a very wide range of them. So many, in fact, that we ended up composting a significant proportion of them. Happily, Pauline kept pretty good records of how many sold of each type so we’ll have a good idea of which ones to eliminate and which ones to expand. For example, we’ll probably start more tomatoes and fewer flowers. We’ll also have more successions of certain varieties like lettuce so that they are at the proper size for selling at the rate of demand we observed. This will avoid the labour-intensive practice of potting up unsold plants that have outgrown their current container. Finally, I think we will stop our practice of growing out for ourselves plants that we don’t think are marketable anymore, just to avoid wasting them. We ought to have more aggressive pricing for old plants and simply be prepared to compost duds without feeling guilty about it.
In a future post I will describe the crops that worked reasonably well this year that I plan to scale up next season.