Weeding Jujutsu

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK  

Perennial weeds come in all shapes and sizes. Some are more controllable than others. In sub-segment size areas under 500 sq. ft. you can take try the Terminator approach to eradicate them completely to keep the plot in production.

Larger areas take more finesse because it is harder to know what you are dealing with. For instance, I’ve worked plots for years without any sign of weeds, and then one season they just start showing up. Many SPIN farmers are presented with offers for larger size  plots, in the 1/4 to half-acre range, that are too good to refuse. They clean them up so they look like a field of dreams and then bindweed starts sprouting everywhere. In these situations eradication will take time and effort you don’t have, and it might not even be possible.

Instead, fight one aggressive plant with another. If you put in widely spaced crops that grow relatively quickly, such as winter squash, they can duke it out with the weed once they start vining out. In essence they are acting as a weed suppressant in their own right.

SF photo fb weed jujutsu squash

Potatoes are also a good option, since once you hill them, you can easily aggressively weed around them. Green beans and broad beans are other options and are ones I will be using this year in a perennial grass problem area.

SF photo fb weed jujutsu

So when it comes to weeds know there is another approach besides hasta la vista. Instead use appropriate crop selection and technique to win your battle with weeds.


Grow Backyard Crops To Fund Home Improvements

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK

The advantage to backyard farming is that you can ramp it up or down, depending on your financial needs at any given time. If you  don’t use it to provide your full-time income, you can use it to fund a short term goal.

Say you are looking to put in a hot tub in a corner of your yard. You can apply your farming skill to grow a crop that will fund it.

SF photo theme garden squash 500 sf $500

Here’s that corner where the future hot tub will go. It’s about 500 square feet. That’s half a SPIN segment.

If you plant 20 to 30 squash plants in that sub-segment you can sell it to friends and neighbors or to another farmer who can sell it to their customers. A good type to grow in this context is Golden Nugget winter squash, which is a prolific bush type plant that doesn’t vine out like other squash, so it’s good for compact spaces.

SF photo fb Suqash GoldenNugget


Low Maintenance Crops Are Worth Way More Than The Effort

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon, SK

I’ve used a multi-locational land base for over 25 years, and that has led me to appreciate low maintenance crops. They are ones I grow on plots that are not near my backyard home base. Most of the work goes into getting them established but once they are, maintenance work is minimal. Most years I can just rely on rainfall. If I get a substantial rainfall or two throughout the season, no irrigation at all is necessary.

Summer/winter squash and pumpkins was my low maintenance crop last year, and they really needed to be. We had a two month drought, and I would not have been able to invest the time to go out to the plot to do daily waterings. After transplanting, I watered each plant using a hose with a brush attachment. During the dry spell I did that once a week, and it took one hour to water 7,000 sq.ft. The plot has a well, and water is limited. So I created a crater around each plant to hold the water and directed the water right to that area around the plant. Weeding is the other consideration on plots away from home. With sprawling plants all you have to do is get them to maturity and then they take up all the space around them so weeds have no place to grow.

SPIN photo squash plot 2

Low maintenance crops can also come into play in managing a larger land base. Keep your intensive relay areas to under an acre and close to the house, and put the the rest of the acreage into crops that need lots of space to sprawl, but do not need the tlc. My squash and pumpkin crop yield was 4,000 lbs. and $7K. Not bad for a crop that mostly took care of itself. Other low maintenance crops are green/yellow beans,garlic, onions from sets, and potatoes.

SPIN stands for s-mall p-lot in-tensive, but opportunity comes in lots of different sizes. If you see demand at market for a single season crop, or someone offers you a large plot outside of town, think beyond your backyard plot and put low maintenance crops into play.


For Sampling, You Really Have To Be There

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK

You might have been hearing that marketing is becoming much more experiential. At the farmer’s market this means participating in onsite cooking demos. Farmers showcase their offerings by preparing them and giving out free samples. My intern Bryon Hall roasted squash this weekend, using coconut oil, salt, and pepper supplied by another market vendor Intuitive Path SuperFoods.

SF photo sampling squash ingredients


Bryon enthusiastically pointed out the taste profiles of the different types of heirloom squash I am growing now – Australian Butter, Boston Marrow, and Jumbo Pink Banana, and their suitability for different cooking applications. Some people are familiar with the classic Butternut, but I can’t grow it well here. I am finding customers are more than willing to transition to the trendy heirloom types.

SF photo sampling Bryon

Once Bryon got everyone excited, he pointed them towards my stand where they can buy pre-cut slices – $3.00 each or 2 for $5.00. Mix and match multiple unit pricing works like a charm and slices are much easier for customers to buy and use. Adding this convenience factor also allows for higher pricing.

SF photo sampling crowd

Sampling doubled our squash sales this weekend, with many customers buying more than one kind of squash. It brought new customers as well, including some visitors from Asia.

SF photo sampling Wally and friends

Sampling can be done  for many different types of produce. You can’t do it on the Internet, and that’s really why it works so well.

Rake in Sales With Fall’s New Moneymakers

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK

Pumpkins and winter squash have become a bigger part of my fall crop repertoire over the years, and this year chefs are buying them by the wagon loads.

I am using $1.00 per pound as the base line, but I give chefs a price break on the larger ones, say in the 40 pound range. They want the heirloom types – Cinderella, Boston Marrow, Amish pie, Australian Butter. Now is the time to plan on capturing this market, ahead of other vendors.

As you start thinking about your 2016 crop repertoire, be sure to include these types of crops along with the classic SPIN storage crops of beets, carrots, onions and potatoes. If I can manage to get off a good crop in zone 2, which has an early FFF (first fall frost) date, growers with longer seasons will make out even better.

SF photo pumpkins and squash wagonload

The chef from Ayden Kitchen and Bar hauls away a $100  order of pumpkins and squash. This crop is keeping my sales going strong right through fall.


Thinking of Spring, and Squash for Winter Markets

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon, SK

SPIN farmers are always looking ahead, so now that spring is coming, I’m thinking of winter squash plantings. I’ll use transplants, start them in mid – May, and put them into the ground in early June. Our short season here in Saskatoon ( zone 3 ) is often over in mid-September, at least for warm weather crops. So I find these things, called Kozy Coats or Walls of Water, help get squash plants off to a quick start.

SPIN photo squash Kozy Coats

They are filled with water and help keep the plants warmer at night. We place a tomato cage inside the coat which allows for extra support. Plants are watered with a hose once or twice a week, and the crater like depression around each plant means the water will stay around the plant. We have also had a problem with gophers at this site, and the coats keep these pests away. I keep them on all summer. The plants just explode out of the coats in a few weeks.

Squash is a good crop for winter’s farmers markets when offerings are more limited. Selling them in sections increases their per head value. Using the SPIN system you can target $1,000 – $2,000 gross per segment, which is 1,000 sq.ft.

You can see Gail’s take on turning squash and pumpkins into high value crops on SPIN’s youtube channel here.

Dealing witn Weed Pressures

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon, SK

I have to deal with weed pressure with some of my crops, but I find simplest is best. With squash, I find weekly hoeings or tillings between squash plants, once they are showing, keeps the weeds at bay until plants develop. At a certain point the leaves of the plant are pretty good at suppressing weed growth. I am also finding a certain amount of weeds are okay, as squash plants use them to anchor and support the vines as they spread out.

I know some people use intercropping for weed control and pest management, but I’ve found that is more trouble than it is worth, and it can actually cause different problems. Again, simplest is usually best. I’m expecting a great crop of heirloom squash and pumpkin this year, even in zone 3. Here’s what my squash crop looks like now.

SPIN photo squash plot

SPIN photo squash plot 2

Squash Need Heat

Courtesy of Brenda S., Thompson Street Farm, Glastonbury CT

I’ve only been growing commercially for a few years (but have been hobby gardening for 16 yrs) and live in central CT. I still have so much to learn.

Last year we built a 14 x 24 green house. We built 2 raised beds and filled them with organic compost/peat and soil mixture. Our first crop was tomatoes, and we had a great harvest – although the summer was very hot (temps over 100 for weeks) and the tomatoes loved it. I had no leaf curl – although I did notice some of my plants have leaf curl this week. Its been super hot for days then it turns super cold and rainy for days.

I cant grow squash here unless its hot and dry. Squash are heat lovers and if your temps are cooler than normal it maybe too cold for them. I’m not sure what you can do other than drop your flaps and see if you can warm them up a little. If you’re hot – well I’m not sure what to say…other than check your soil????

Because of our cooler than normal temps I purposely delayed starting my tomatoes. We will see if we have a good year. I may not have tomatoes by the beginning of July but I’m hoping I will have product well into November when everyone else is done. Time will tell.