Our Pea Sheller Is Famous!

Heirloom GardeningOur practical Texas pea sheller has been featured in this spring’s edition of Heirloom Gardening magazine!

Heirloom Gardening is one of the leading publications for folks interested in growing heritage plants. The electronic edition isn’t on the web yet, but the print edition is widely available now. (And our pea sheller? Still hardworking and modest. It’s how we are here in Kidron, Ohio.)

Snipped From The Market Garden 2

Editor’s Note: This is the final installment of Kevin Wright’s insider view on growing produce for farmer’s markets and vegetable stands. See the first entry here: Snipped From The Market Garden 1 if you missed it.

Veggie BasketThe Farmer’s Market
Depending on where you live it can be difficult to make any money at the local farmer’s market. The reason I say this is because there are so many vendors who are only there to try and make a few dollars off their surplus produce. Market gardeners like me are there to make a living. It’s hard to sell beans at $2.00 a pound when a vendor a few booths down is selling hers for $1.00 a pound. Yes, I understand that there will be competition in today’s tough economy.

So how do you compete? Market yourself. Show off. Make it clear that your produce has value above the asking price, and motivate the customer to buy it. Tell them why your produce is the best. I grow everything by using organic methods and I let people know that I use no chemicals, pesticides, or anything that hurts the environment. Folks will pay a little more for safe, wholesome produce.

At your farmer’s market stand have your produce displayed as beautifully as you can. Pile it high, use attractive baskets or containers. When you make your produce look like it’s special (it is!), you customers can see that, and know you mean business–and that you know your business too. Give the customer plenty of product to sort through so they can get the vegetables that look perfect to them. Educate them on how and what you grow and best of all, get to know their names. Personal contact gets people coming to you. Soon enough they will be as excited to see you each week as much as you look forward to seeing them.

Wholesale
I will always love the wholesale part of selling produce. Yes, your profit margin will be slimmer but once you make a sale to a distributor (which could be a single local store, a restaurant or even a grocery distributor) you know it is final. But by wholesaling you harvest only what you know you have already sold to the distributor. There’s no over-harvesting, which typically occurs when heading to the market, where you have to hope you have enough of seasonal produce, but not so much that  you’ll be carrying it home at the end of the day. At a farmer’s market you might get stuck with, say 15 pounds of greens at the end of a market day, and may only be suitable at that point for the chickens. There’s no danger of that with the wholesale model. You do have to find outlets, and that can take some time, but in the end, it may be the ideal way to handle your produce.

Fruit standFreelancing
What do I mean by freelancing? Simply, it’s approaching a local business and asking permission to set up a table once a week to sell your produce. Let them know you are a local grower. You will be surprised at how many will let you set up shop for a few hours a week. Because your time at the freelance location may be limited, make sure that you choose a location with good foot traffic, ideally where your customers would have to pass you to get to the store, activity or whatever.

Pricing can be difficult. That is why I make a weekly visit to the local grocery store and their produce department. Remember the store’s prices and then set yours. Don’t be afraid to be a little higher if need be-remember, your produce has a higher value! A customer may question your prices. Let them know nicely that you just picked your produce that very morning and it is at its freshest and that the grocery store probably picked theirs at least two weeks ago and it was shipped in from miles away. If it works for you, don’t be afraid to price lower than the grocery stores for that matter.

Last but not least I have one last tip for the would be market gardener:  Don’t be afraid to charge your family for your produce. You worked hard to get it to the market, don’t give it away for free!

Snipped From The Market Garden 1

Editor’s Note: Kevin Wright is a market gardener, and although this time of year is really busy for him, he made some time to get this article to Country Life. If you’d like start growing on a larger scale, and selling your own produce, he’s got some great tips and ideas.      

I had just prepared the new bed. The earth below me was giving off that wonderful scent and I was so glad to be working it. The new bed was fifty feet in length and would be home to this year’s crop of potatoes. Three more beds need to be prepared for potatoes and  then I would be finished for the day.

Amish Snap Pea Seeds

Amish Snap Pea Seeds

My peas have been in for some time now and are growing beautifully. This year I did try something new. In my prepared row I tossed in the seeds without any spacing needs. The idea is to just let them grow and see where it takes me. Along with that, instead of setting up a traditional trellis system I have placed small fallen tree limbs in the ground within the rows. As the peas grow they will intermingle with the limbs and will be supported. I hope it works anyway!

My to-do list for this year’s market garden is lengthy. So many projects yet to go and so many new things to try. It seems that I can never be satisfied and must try out any idea that I think might work. Sure, I will never shy away from the tried and true ideas and that is why many of my attempted new ideas are tried in a small test area….just in case.

Weeks ago, I started several plants indoors, all growing strong now. Many of those are still a couple of weeks away from going in the ground. Started in seed trays, many have been transplanted into single pots. As the plants grow stronger, their root systems become more solid. I find that the best transplant pots are yogurt containers. Just put a few holes in the bottom for drainage, fill the appropriate soil, and you’re set.

Set Goals For Your Market Garden
Having a goal at the beginning of the season is of utmost importance for the market gardener. I consider myself a small-time market gardener. I think setting goals gets easier after you have done it for a few years as you come to a better understanding of what your general market location has to offer, and what you can expect from your plantings and harvests. With this in mind I still set high goals, but know that I may not reach them all. When the weather is your co-worker, sometimes you settle for good enough.

Cherokee Purple Tomatoes

Cherokee Purple Tomatoes

Let me explain how I establish my goals. In most markets today the tomato is king. It probably will always be king. I might set a goal of 500 pounds of tomatoes. With a best on-average yield of 100 lbs. per 100 row-feet of tomato plants (which is a perfect season) I’d better have at least 500 row-feet planted in tomatoes. That could mean as many as 250 plants.

I also need to estimate harvest poundage. I prefer to plant a indeterminate tomato. Inderterminates will keep growing as the season goes on. A determinate plant will produce all at once. It’s much easier to harvest and sell tomatoes that gradually ripen through the growing season than to sell 500 pounds of tomatoes that ripen all at once!

There are numerous web sites who post average yield charts and these are very important to the market gardener. Find what you are planting and see the average yield (almost all are based on 100 foot rows). Many of these sites will tell you as well about how many plants or seeds it will take for the 100 foot row. With this information seed ordering is a breeze! Start your seed indoors, and you’ll be ready to plant when the weather is right for individual crops.

Green beans are second on the list in my area. Everybody loves their green beans. But to stay ahead of the game you need to plant in succession. Even if you plant only one variety of bean, staggering the planting times will benefit you in the long run. I have seen countless times where many of the small markets have run out of green beans because everybody put them in at the same time and then they all ran out at the same time. Make several plantings a few weeks apart. This will always keep you in green beans throughout the season. Same is true if you do a lot of home canning. Spread your work out. No need to try and get all the beans canned at once. Work them throughout the summer.

Every season I have different ideas on how I will do my selling. Will I stick with the local markets, will I try to market my produce wholesale, will I make a stand as a freelancer? This year the answer is yes, I will try them all. In the next installment, I’ll explain how I do them.

Get Cooking at May Daze with Lehman’s and Fire Pie Pizza Ovens

When you join us at our May Daze event on May 5, be sure to bring your appetites! We’re pleased to be the exclusive retailer for Fire Pie Pizza Ovens, made right here in Ohio. (We’re also really happy to bring another Ohio business under our roof!)  The oven (at right) will be stoked, and Fire Pie’s owner, Scott McMiller, will join us in making Continue reading

Spring Storm Blues? Cheer Up With Gran’s Sugar Cookies

A late season winter storm is having a last bit of fun across much of the United States this week, complete with freezing temperatures, feet of snow in the Northeast, and super-strong winds across the Midwest. Schools have been closed, practices cancelled, and kids are bored, bored, bored!

What to do? Try an old-fashioned solution that will last for a couple of days: bake some cookies. This easy recipe has been in my family for generations. I remember baking them with Mom and Granny when I was 7 or 8, and they’re just as good when I make them now.

If you like your cookie more cakey, roll them out a little more thickly, or try dropping them by the teaspoon on the cookie sheet. If you like your cookies more crispy on the edges, roll them a little thinner than one-quarter inch. (Or, if you’re a traditionalist like Gran, pat out dough and then cut out with your favorite cutter.)

Add your family’s favorite flavors by swapping out the vanilla for orange or lemon flavoring, and adding orange or lemon zest.

Granny’s Sugar Cookies

2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup milk
4 cups flour
1 cup shortening
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (or flavoring to taste)

Cream sugar, shortening, eggs and milk in a large bowl. In a second bowl, stir all dry ingredients to combine and remove any lumps. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients gradually, mixing completely.  If dough feels too sticky, add flour one tablespoon at a time to desired consistency, especially if you want to roll dough out. To roll out, flour surface generously, roll out small quantities of dough and cut into shapes. Flour rolling pin if needed.

Drop cookies onto baking sheet, or lay cut out shapes onto sheet. Bake at 350 degrees until edges of cookies are golden brown. As each oven is different, watch your first batches of cookies closely to establish a baking time. (Generally, I bake mine 9 to 10 minutes on a large cookie sheet or jelly roll pan.)

These cookies are great plain, topped with cinnamon sugar (add this on cookies hot from the oven), or your favorite icing or glaze. They’re supposed to keep up to two weeks in an airtight container, but they’ve never lasted that long at my house! The unbaked dough may also be frozen in dropped cookie shapes or as logs for later slicing and baking. Frozen dough keeps six months, wrapped in foil and stored in airtight containers or bags.

It’s Easy to Grow Your Own Potatoes

Growing Potatoes: Learning by Doing
It all started about 15 years ago when I got the idea that I could grow potatoes in my backyard using potatoes from the store. I learned a great deal that year, and have kept on planting potatoes.

And as we all know from grade school science, potatoes eventually sprout. I got some potatoes from Continue reading

Don’t Miss Morel Season!

You may think that you can only hunt wildlife in the woods. But in late spring, the season for another kind of hunting … morel hunting!

Unseasonably warm temperatures in many areas have started a phenomenon: morel mushrooms are literally popping up ahead of schedule in woodlands all over.

Harvested MorelsRecently, my brother-in-law and I hiked half an hour to Continue reading

Old to New

At Lehman’s, we love finding new and exciting ways to recycle old things into new. Recently, one of our crafty customer service representatives, Desi, took on a refurbishing project that could not have been more perfect timing, considering Earth Day is this Sunday, April 22nd. The project consisted of stripping down an old church pew, found through Ebay, and refinishing it to look brand new. The staff was thrilled to have the new seating addition in our lobby to welcome guests.

If you’re thinking of purchasing new furniture for your home, we encourage you to check out used furniture stores, garage sales, or even the internet first. A project like refurbishing might take some tender loving care, but we’re certain you’ll take pride in your like-new and unique piece of furniture.

Before

After (in Lehman’s lobby)

Fabulous Figs: Sweet, Hardy, Tasty

Cut brown figsSome time ago, on a dewy morning in early spring we purchased a small fig tree in a gallon pot at our farmer’s market here in central South Carolina.  That tree now soars seven feet tall and rewards us with an abundance of sweet chewy figs every August.   This beautiful tree doesn’t ask for much care, at most, some simple trimming in the winter to stop crossed branches and allow the sun to reach the center fruit buds is enough. They do well in hardiness zones 7b through 11, essentially the southern Eastern Seaboard, Deep South and Southwest. Figs can be grown in greenhouses in colder regions, with varying degrees of success. Continue reading