Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Small Fruits & Berries

Market Gardener (page 2 of 3)

by George Thabault

Customer Service is Key

Perhaps because it was our first year, we paid particular attention to our customers. A man in the spring asked for a single 'Sweet 100' tomato plant. I told him I'd bring one the next week. I noticed him the next Saturday, as he was about to leave the market. I called over, "I've got that 'Sweet 100' you asked for." He was surprised and smiled, and then bought other things, too.

Grow Sturdy Varieties

We live just 3 miles from the market, but I never realized how much "shipping and handling" our tomatoes received between picking and market. We picked them, put them in baskets, carried them down our hill, washed them, and set them out to ripen a bit. Then we packed them in boxes, loaded them in the car, unloaded them at the market, and finally displayed them where customers examined and often rolled them around. Whew! The thinner-skinned home garden varieties such as 'Early Girl', 'New Yorker', and 'Oregon Spring' bruised much more easily than I'd anticipated. About a third of the harvest had to be left at home-they were a little too beat up to sell. One firm-skinned variety, 'Ultra Girl', held up very well.

Do the Required Work

I always think I'll stake the tomatoes. My wife, Candelin, always knows that I probably won't. During the winter, I'd envisioned elaborate, well-crafted trellising dotting the hillside, but if a neighbor hadn't donated 20 old cages, all the plants would have sprawled.

We had a wet spring and summer, so I made the superhuman effort to stake the cherry tomatoes and 'Brandywine', but nothing else. Not staking the rest of the tomato plants was a big mistake. About a third of the crop was lost to rot, bruises, and slugs. For staking to happen at our place, I learned that I probably should get stakes and twine ready in December.

Price Has to be Right

The growers with the season's first tomatoes started selling them at around $3.50 per pound at our market. The price was lower when ours came in. To keep costs low, we didn't buy a scale but sold all tomatoes at three for $1 for most of the season. At that price, I usually met my goal of not bringing any home.

One of Us Must be All Business

I liked the market's social aspects: meeting old friends, talking to tourists, sharing gardening talk. Candelin was a bit more interested in the bottom line. We were packing up one day, and a customer, pointing at a few leftover flowers in a bucket, asked, "Are those for sale?" I was about to say, "Go ahead and take 'em," when she jumped in: "How about $2.50?" "Deal," the man said.

One time, I took a break at the end of the day. The tomatoes were almost sold out. Only three large 'Supersteak' tomatoes were left, so I told Candelin: "Two dollars for those." When I returned, the big tomatoes were gone, and I learned that she'd sold them for $2 each! Because of the cloudy summer, tomatoes were late, and people were a bit desperate for the real thing.

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