Edible Houseplants are a Good Indoor Crop

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

I am in hard winter here right now, so the only outside work I have is shoveling snow. Believe me, there is no market for that here in Saskatoon. Given that we go to three markets a week, year round, we are having to concoct money making ideas. One new product we have test marketed the last couple of weeks is edible house plants, specifically garlic. We sell them in the containers you see below for $5.00 each.

SPIN photo farm stand display

We plant 5 cloves per container. Three weeks later you have a marketable product. We use indoor grow table/racks for this production. Plants are sold with the idea that you harvest the green garlic, and it will regrow to be harvestable again. Given the low price point, people are willing to give it a try, and they are moving well.
Wally, Zone 3

Chick Peas Arouse Customer Passions

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon, SK
I thought I would try growing some chick peas, harvest them at the green stage and test market them. They  are considered a delicacy in much of the world. Pods are shelled and the green chick pea can be eaten raw or cooked in stews.

I took them to market this last week, where I sold them using SPIN’s classic mix and match pricing, in 1/4 lb. bags for $3, or 2 for $5. Customers responded very well. Gail said one guy got mad when he discovered we had sold out, and just about tipped over our stand in rage. So it could be a good crop to consider. A 1,000 sq. ft. could make for a good trial planting. It should definitely create a buzz at your market.

SPIN photo chick peas

Grow and Sell Fava Greens

Courtesy of Courtney T., Cornercopia Student Organic Farm, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN
A new crop to try is fava beans, not for their beans but for their leaves. I harvest the leaves as the plants are flowering and they were still tender. We just planted them once with the dry beans. They grow more like a bush bean than a pole bean. They taste amazing. Sweet like spinach or more so with a little pea shoot flavor thrown in. I sell a 2 oz bag for $3. People are always looking to try new things.

New Product Line: Quick Greens

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

I’ve been developing a new product line called Quick Greens. Greens figure prominently in SPIN-Farming because of their quick days to harvest. So they are great for relay cropping  because different crops can be planted either before or after them. Thirty to 50 days from planting to harvest are common time frames for greens such as lettuce and spinach. But Quick Greens have even shorter days to harvest – 10 – 14 days.

Quick Greens include sunflower greens, grown in soil. They can also be planted in containers  on parts of your land base that would not usually see production, like decks patio or driveways. No specialty structures or systems are needed.  Dry seeds are broadcast into the plots. Days to harvest is under 14 days. This two row bed here is worth around $100.

SPIN photo sunflower greens in soil

I will be targeting steady weekly production of two to three beds. Harvested greens need to be washed, and a bit of time needs to be spent picking out any hulls, though most of the hulls will pop off before harvest if you brush the plants by hand or apply a gentle spray wash.

These are proving to be a great niche product for me, and a real draw at market. I recently bagged off $80 worth into .10 lb. bags. and sold them for $3.00 each, or 2/$5.00. I bagged another six .15 bags and sold them to restaurants for $7.50 per bag.

SPIN photo sunflower greens in bin

If you want to grow and sell Quick Greens, here’s the guide that tells you how.

Subscription Model Without the Pressure

Courtesy of SPIN farmer Linda B. Abundant Life Farm, Walker Valley NY                        Here is a twist on the classic community supported agriculture (CSA) offering that might be worth a try, especially for new farmers who want to try a subscription model without the pressure of having to supply a set amount of produce each week: don’t provide boxed shares. Instead,  offer exclusive pickup hours at your farmstand each week. Here is how Victory Farms in Richmond VA did it.

Shareholders paid into the CSA at $500 and got $600 worth of buying credit. Most farmers markets in Richmond are open from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. At the Victory Farms booth, only shareholders were allowed to buy produce until 11 a.m. After 11 a.m. the remaining produce goes on sale for anyone at the market. Shareholders purchases are deducted from their available credit and when they run out of credit, they simply pay out of pocket during shareholder hours for any produce they want. In essence, this is a “flexible CSA” that  allows shareholders to choose what and how much produce they want each week without having to take any more. The window of purchasing time insures that shareholders have first access to weekly produce. And allowing a running credit relieves the farmer’s worry about being short of produce for any one week.

Late Season Start Inspires Profitable New Product Line

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon, SK
We got off to a late start this year in Saskatoon – about a month behind schedule. So I had to think of new ways to make money without having early produce. One that is working is potted rhubarb cuttings. I dug up the plant, then took cuttings and potted each of them up. I sold out at $10 per pot. So now I am busy potting up more rhubarb, and other perennials. So this transplant product line will replace the lost sales from early produce, which is still several weeks away. Just goes to show that necessity really is the mother of invention.

Crop Profiles Rhubarb transplants


Black Garlic

Courtesy of Bob G., Gardiner’s Gardens,  Fox Valley, SK

I have been researching “black garlic”, which is garlic fermented at medium temp for 40 days. The product is exotic, has a high retail price, and if you can find a way to prepare it,  it just might be both a high margin product and way to set you apart at a farmer’s market. Just Google black garlic and you will find a number of methods.  I will plant garlic in volume next fall with the idea of producing black garlic in 2014.

Recycle Soil into New Product

Courtesy of Brenda S., Thompson Street Farm, Glastonbury CT
I recycle the soil I grow micro greens in, by composting it or selling it. I dump my trays on my compost pile, or I give the soil mat with all the left over bits and pieces to my chickens. I then add their bedding (I use hay only. I don’t use any wood chips for bedding, a recommendation from Eliot Coleman’s book, to my compost pile. I add nothing to my compost other than organic matter. Nature does the rest.

Once everything is broken down, I sift the compost and package it in small bags. I include 2 muslin bags, instructions and sell it at farmers markets as “Henrietta’s Compost Tea.” Gardeners and people that have house plants are my target market. Its not a great seller, but I sell enough to keep it going.

Its green, super easy, and completes the circle of life, and people love the idea. Best part its another way to re-coup your costs. And yes, my chicken’s names are really called Henrietta 1 through 9. If you want their story is on my Facebook page. Two of them have even appeared with me on the Colin McEnroe Show, CT Public Radio – that was crazy. (you see? marketing, marketing, marketing…)


Grow Dandelion Greens

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon, SK:
You can get more cuts from dandelion than you can from lettuce. And when you are done harvesting, you just till in the bed. Probably a good idea to plant every three weeks or so, to keep your plantings fresh. I plant by making shallow furrows with a hoe, and then placing seed by hand into furrows at high density. I used overhead irrigation on dandelions, and had no disease.

Buy Seed Potatoes and Unusual Varieties

Courtesy of Bob B., The Fresh Veggies, Toronto, ON
I used store bought potatoes in 2008, and the yield was low. Last year I ordered seed potato, and the yield was almost three times higher. I planted following the varieties with exceptional results: Norland Red, Yukon Gold, Banana Fingerling, Lindzer Fingerling, Peanut Fingerling and Russian Blue.Paying extra for seed or seed potatoes pays well at market because you know exactly what variety it is, you can explain to customers the best way to use them and you distinguish yourself with a better product. Almost everyone else has the same varieties, one that anyone can buy at stores, organic or conventional. In SPIN-Farming, we have to standout with a better product. Our customers appreciate that, and always come back for more.