Planning for opening day

By Lynn Byczynski

Whether you sell at a farmers market, roadside stand, or to wholesale accounts, you know how important the first market or delivery day can be. From a financial standpoint, you’ve been spending money for months on production, and it’s high time to start recouping some of those expenses. From a marketing standpoint, your offerings on opening day will set expectations for the season and start to build a customer base.

That’s why it’s important to have as much produce as possible to sell when your market opens. You need a critical mass of crops ready for harvest; without it, you might decide going to market is not worth the trouble. So if you’re going to plant anything to sell early in the season, you might as well plant as much as possible.

Figuring out when to plant so that you have a full table on opening day can be a complicated business. Johnny’s has created a Target Harvest Date calculator that allows you to input the date of your opening day or other big event, then shows you the date to plant various crops. However, this calculator is based on Days to Maturity for each vegetable, and that figure is obtained from the breeders who trial it in the field at a normal planting time. It does not take into account variables such as growing in a hoophouse or Quick Hoops™ tunnel when day length is shorter and temperatures lower than at the normal planting time.

If you use the Target Harvest Date calculator to figure production for an early market, you will need to make adjustments to the planting date to reflect conditions at your own farm. How much should you adjust the date? We wish we could provide specific information, but that simply has not been researched by anyone yet. Eliot Coleman has started collecting information for his farm in Maine, and he has found that crops grown over the winter can take two or even three times the published Days to Maturity. He addresses this aspect of his research in his book Winter Harvest Handbook, pages 48-50.

Pam Dawling, who writes about vegetable production for Growing for Market, has found that at her farm in Virginia, winter sowings are very slow, even in the hoophouse where they have enough warmth. For example, radishes planted in early September take 29 days. Those planted in late November take 77 days, and those planted at the end of January take 65 days.

From those two examples, you can see that Days to Maturity is affected by day length as much as temperature. The best advice we can give is to keep careful records about planting and harvest dates for every crop. Over time, you will have the data to be able to predict how much time to add to the published Days to Maturity for a crop, based on your day length and temperature.

Lynn Byczynski is the editor of Growing for Market and the publisher of The Hoophouse Handbook.

Articles by Lynn Byczynski

About the author: Lynn Byczynski was growing organic vegetables and cut flowers for market when she decided to create a magazine that would help market gardeners nationwide share experiences and information. Her first issue of Growing for Market appeared in January 1992 and it has been published continuously since then. GFM is renowned in the market gardening world for realistic articles that give growers practical, how-to information about growing and selling produce and flowers. Lynn is now partnering with Johnny's to provide similarly useful information for the website and other publications. Lynn, her husband Dan Nagengast, and their two children have grown vegetables and cut flowers since 1988, selling through a CSA, at farmers markets, to chefs, grocery stores, and florists. They currently grow cut flowers and hoophouse tomatoes on about 2 acres of their 20-acre farm near Lawrence, Kansas. Lynn is also the author of several books about market farming: The Flower Farmer: An Organic Grower's Guide to Raising and Selling Cut Flowers ; The Hoophouse Handbook ; Market Farming Success