Saturday, July 19, 2014

Growing for a Farmers Market

For 3 years now (it's hard to believe it's been that long!) I've been selling plants at a local farmers market while also helping to manage the market's logistical operations and online presence (Social Media and Webpage). Over that time I've observed quite a few different merchants with a variety of products at a farmers market and what kind of vendors are successful. Many of these products are homegrown items that anyone can grow with a little bit of garden space. Keep in mind though that the best of products will not sell without a little effort!

Of all the types of products I've seen the most popular are the vegetables. People want fresh food from the local area that they usually can't find in stores. Tomatoes and corn are the kings of the fresh produce but there is a market for all things garden grown. There are some very seasonal fruits that do well too. Blueberries, strawberries, and pretty much anything with a berry in its name will sell well. Peaches sell great but have a very limited local availability and are prone to many pests and diseases which can make them troublesome for growers. Other tree fruits do great too. The only issue with selling tree fruits is that it may take a few years before a grower has enough fruit to sell at a market.

Honey is a very good farmers market product too. There is a rise in bee keeping in home gardens all over the country which is great because the bees have had so many problems over the last several years. Honey sells fast. Our honey vendor typically sells out of what her bees produce but bees can be tricky to raise. With colony collapse disorder, the use of pesticides in local agriculture, and weather related issue bee keepers can have a hard time maintaining their colonies. It takes a passionate person to raise and produce quality honey.

Meats and eggs are great products for farmers markets. Our market has two meat vendors that carry a good selection of meats of various kinds including meat, pork, and chicken. With meat vendors it is very important to get a regular customer base. Then the customers can come by and pick up their monthly orders at the market. It takes a little space to become a meat vendor since cattle need room for grazing but you can raise a small amount of chickens in your backyard without a lot of space. I haven't seen a vendor who sold just eggs. Most carry another product like produce, meats, or honey to make the market visit worthwhile.

Plants are not the most profitable but it can be rewarding. In my first year of selling plants I brought mostly ornamental plants. I didn't have a lot of success that year. People came by but traffic by my stand was low and most people didn't have more than a passing interest in my plants. Another vendor at the same market was doing a lot of business selling edible berries like blueberries. They purchased their plants at nursery then resold them at a higher price. Another plant seller at the market also did pretty well selling edible plants that she grew which included strawberries, fig trees, asparagus, herbs, and several other types of plants. This moved me toward the direction of edible plants, specifically heirlooms and open pollinated herbs. It is a market not covered by large box stores. Edible plants sold at the correct times do great but it is very seasonable and by Mid-June the sales drop off since most people have planted their gardens by then. Early in the season tomato and pepper plants sell great then taper off.  Herb sales last through the season longer since most of them can be used right away. Box stores tend to get their edibles on the shelves very early which makes it hard to compete toe to toe but by reaching to a more specialized niche plants can be a successful market product.


I'll continue with more farmers market products and how they perform in my next post! If you want more info on running a small nursery business you can check out this series of posts I wrote last year about starting a nursery business. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments or on The Home Garden Facebook page. Thank you for reading!


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Botanical Pictures from a Zoo (Columbus)

Last week our family went for a vacation. The primary goal of this vacation was to let our oldest daughter see her favorite animal (the cheetah) in person. My wife did some research into various zoos and my mom suggested the Columbus Zoo in Ohio based on a Jack Hanna segment she saw on TV. We ended up scheduling two days at the zoo and one day at a related safari style park called The Wilds. The zoo was fantastic. We only planned for 2 days at the zoo itself but probably could have spent an additional 2 days wandering around. The Columbus zoo even has water park available with rides. The Wilds was very neat and I highly recommend it. We took an open air tour bus around the park and saw quite a few threatened herd animals that are being preserved through their breeding programs. Rhinos, bison, antelope, deer,and wild horses were just a few of the many creatures to see at The Wilds.

Zoos tend to have very interesting botanical elements. Often they try to mimic the natural environment of the animals but they also tend to incorporate a lot of native plants around the zoo. I often end up watching for interesting plants and their arrangements more so than the animals! The Wilds also has a butterfly garden project which covers several acres of land across the road from the park. The butterfly garden has all kinds of native plants including echinacea, monarda, milkweed, coreopsis, gaillardia, and many others.



Here are a few more photos from our visit to the Columbus Zoo and the Wilds!



Above is a bed of zinnias and below petunias with salvia.





Buck-eye in bloom, we were in the Buck-eye state!



Milkweed






 


Soon to be blooming coreopsis.














Thursday, July 3, 2014

Converting a Cabinet for a Garden and Garage Workspace

Recently my mom had her bathroom remodeled. In the process she replaced on of her bathroom vanities and I thought that it might make a good workstation for my many DIY and Garden projects. I'm very pleased with the result which now will provide a clean solid work top, cabinet space, a pegboard area for tools, and best of all it is mobile! I purchased my materials for this cabinet renovation at Lowe's in association with the Creative Ideas program.

Materials

  • Outdoor Paint (can be adjusted to match any color you wish)
  • Cabbot Premium Wood Stain and Sealer
  • Screws and Washers
  • Wood Glue
  • 1 - 8 ft. piece of quarter round trim
  • Plywood cut to one 24" x 35"
  • 3 - 8 ft. 2"x4"s
  • 4 caster wheels (two locking)
  • Finish nails
  • Epoxy
  • Powerstrip (optional)
You will also need several tools for this project. I used a miter saw, skill saw, drill, screw drivers, sander, paint brushes and rollers.

I began by working on the countertop. I cut it slightly longer than the cabinet length which came to around 25 inches and cut the width to 24 inches. This allowed for some overhang and a larger work surface area. Once the countertop was cut I sanded it down thoroughly and attached the quarter round pieces to three of the sides. I used finish nails with predrilled holes and wood glue to attach the quarter round. When the quarter round was cut I made sure to match the angles of each corner for a tight fit.


When the glue dried on the quarter round sections I filled in the gaps with more wood glue and allowed it to dry. I wanted to reduce as many possible holes and gaps in the surface top as possible. Then I stained the top with a dark stain. You can choose from several different colors of stain but I liked the dark counter tops which will be matched up with a rich tan/light brown color for the cabinet paint. While that was drying I worked on the cabinet.




The cabinet needed sanded down thoroughly to remove any finish coat that was there previously. I also added 2x4 pieces to make a base for the cabinet wheels. I cut one piece to cover each side of the inside of the cabinet bottom. I put the length sides on first then the width sides attached to them. Then I used the screws and washers to attach the wheels to the bottom of the cabinet. Once it was mobile I began painting. I covered all surfaces with the outdoor paint inside and out. Since this is a garage project I wanted all surfaces to be water resistant.



While the paint is out paint both sides of the pegboard. It needs cut before you paint it to the length of cabinet and about 4 feet tall. My sheet came in 4'x4' pieces so I only needed to make one cut with my skill saw. I also cut two more of the 2'x4' pieces to 5' in length and brought them over to paint. The 2'x4' pieces are the frame for holding up the pegboard.



Time to go back to the countertop! When it was all dried - which I allowed at least one night for - I prepped it for an epoxy covering. I mixed the epoxy as the instructions instructed and applied it. It took a couple pours to get a complete covering. I've never worked with epoxy before and while I am pleased overall with the result I had trouble with getting an even coverage on the quarter round edges. I left it overnight to finish hardening.


Next I attached all the remaining pieces together. The pegboard went directly on the back of the cabinet which I held on with clamps until I had the bottom screwed into the cabinet. Then the 2"x4" supports which screwed in to the cabinet and the pegboard. Last I put the cabinet counter on top of the cabinet.




I even added a powerstrip to the side for convenient power access. The result is a weather resistant cabinet with a smooth (bar-like) counter top. The smooth top will make it easy to clean up after planting plants and will also be a great place for a variety of projects!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Summer Gardening Tips (Pests, Propagation, and Planning)

green tomatoesSummer is in full gear. Which means there is a lot to do in the garden, there always is isn't there? The tomatoes and peppers are beginning to produce and in a couple short weeks should be ready to pick. Here are a few summer gardening tips to help you in your garden.


Watch for Pests

Always be vigilant in the garden. Pests can appear at any time, some of which will decimate a crop in a few short hours if you aren't observant. Squash vine borers are out. I found one yesterday on a zucchini. The eggs are laid at the base of the plant and when they hatch the larvae burrow into the stem and eat they way up which eventually kills the squash plant. If you see sawdust at the base of your squash cut the stalk and kill the larvae inside. Then cover the base of the plant with soil or mulch. Hopefully this will allow the plant to recover.

squash vine borer

Tomato hornworms are out too. These caterpillars can reduce a tomato plant to almost nothing in a few hours. You may notice their droppings before you actually see the caterpillar. Remove the caterpillar from the plant and search your plant thoroughly. If the caterpillar has white growths on its skin about the size of a grain of rice then leave it alone. It's been infected by a parasitic wasp which uses it as a host to grow its young. That caterpillar will die and in the process those wasp larvae will grow up to attack other caterpillars. Natural pest control!

tomato hornworm with parasitic wasps


Continue to Plant

Keep planting plants like bush beans and squash. Bush beans produce a lot of beans all at once then can be composted and replaced. Squash tends to be shorter lived due to insect pests but can be planted successively to maintain a consistent harvest.


Continue to Weed


Every weed you remove before it flowers and sets seed could mean thousands of weeds you don't have to weed later! Keep those weeds under control with thick mulch, newspapers, or landscape fabric. Avoid the chemicals!

Propagate!

grape vines from cuttingsEarly summer is a great time to propagate many garden plants. Greenwood is primed and ready to root and isn't as soft and tender as in the spring. Many garden plants are easy enough to produce just by placing them in a pot with moist soil. Consider propagating some vegetable plants to pot up and bring indoors when the cold weather hits. Peppers are very easy to root and can be brought indoors to overwinter for next spring. Basil is another good one as well. Just take cuttings of about 3-4 inches on either of these plants stick in soil and keep moist. Rooting hormone is not necessary but can speed things along. If a tomato plant happens to die in the garden and you need a replacement cut a branch from another plant and root it. Tomatoes root very easily!

In my gardening I'm having fun rooting grape vines. The greenwood cuttings root very easily if kept humid. The picture to the right is of three 'Concord' grape vines that I rooted a couple weeks ago.

large leaf lettuce leaf basil


Begin Planning for Fall Crops

If you grow a fall garden now is a good time to plant what seeds you want to get started. It will be a few weeks before they need to be started but it is a good idea to plan ahead.



What are you working on in your garden?