tomatoes3 Ian Lucy and the Veggies

Walkin’ the Talk: How Do You Score?

Aug 20, 2012 11 Comments

We all know that the veggie boom is lasting longer than most (including me) thought it would, so as a writer and speaker who has been urging retailers to get serious in providing the “how-to” for their customers, I thought I should show that I do walk the talk. 

…showing some of my ‘credentials’

Bucolic Morn

It was calm and cool today so we walked over to the veggie garden to see what happened during the last few weeks of a busy travel and work schedule. Almost exactly an hour later we had harvested over 50 pounds of onions, 30 pounds of potatoes and a staggering 37 pounds of tomatoes – from just two plants of one variety, a mini-Roma type called “Juliette”! This crop will be preserved to add to the 12 jars already “in the can” as it were.

“The Answer Lies in the Soil”!

We’ve had a veggie bed, the height of one 2×12 board, running about 80 feet long by 12 ft wide for around 10 years producing the usual tomatoes, peppers, squash, egg plant and summer beans, plus Swiss chard, herbs, arugula and a hefty crop of spuds. I start the whole thing off with yummy fava beans (aka broad beans in the old country) planted in Feb and harvested in May. We have been very good about composting, tilling in all our Fall leaves and adding green manure, plus up to last year, the wholesome contribution from our donkey Earwig (R.I.P.).  So we now have about 10 inches of beautiful organic soil sitting on the heavy native clay of the California Central Valley.

An Irrigation Situation

Automatic watering is essential in our climate but with me coming from England and Lisa from Michigan we had to figure it out as we went along. After much trial and error, and no help from the local retail garden  industry, we settled on a faucet-based timer feeding on to a “ring-main” of ¾ inch black distribution pipe and “flag” emitters for each plant like a tomato or pepper. For row crops such as beans or spuds we lay a ¼ inch soaker hose running right down the row.

To Know Is To Grow

If this sounds like a bit too much detail, well it is but I am making a point (I hope). We both have Horticultural degrees, a lifetime in the garden business and parents who did this every year. Meanwhile our city-based friends are amazed when they visit and can’t contemplate what it takes to achieve what we take for granted.  New homeowners or offspring on non-gardeners face a pretty steep learning curve just to get a few “wins” let alone grow enough to enjoy months without supermarket veggies. Many consumers are clearly inspired enough to try an –off-the-grid approach to their veggies or at least to buy from Farmers Markets or CSAs and this trend is NOT going away any time soon. Healthier food is “IN.”

Does your “how-to-succeed” offer pass the beginner test ?

The retail garden store (of any shape, size or channel) should surely be the how-to place where a consumer can leave with confidence and excitement. They need assurance that it is do-able. They need short cuts, how-to tips and local-based information. They want to know they are not crazy and that it won’t absorb their entire waking hours. More than anything they need a first-time win at actually doing it (however small.)

So, how does your marketing, image, website, You-Tube how-to-succeed library, product selection, POP, employee training, visual merchandising and seminar offering help the first timer, or the dubious second-timer? Do you even carry all that is needed (don’t forget the timer)? What about preservation of produce? What about bed preparation and crop rotation for next year? Do you show how to scale all this down to a few pots on a patio (“Basil on your balcony in 3 easy steps”)? Will your next year’s veggies shopper score an easy, first time win to encourage a repeat performance, or will they head for the Farmer’s Market shaking their heads at what might have been?!

  1. john heaton
    Aug 21, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    What Knupper’s has done:
    1. Put in a 20 by 50 vegetable garden in the middle of our sales yard next to where we sell vegetables
    2. Collect vegetables at the garden center and take it to the food bank
    3. Have a how to use and keep your garden fruits and vegetables for winter use all day serious of seminars this coming weekend

  2. Ian Baldwin
    Aug 22, 2012 at 9:25 am

    excellent work John, thanks, don’t miss a PR opportunity with that food bank idea.

  3. Bob Sickles sickles
    Aug 23, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    We have a small garden in the annuals yard that is bearing fruit. We need to put one more front and center where most of te customers go this time of year. Since our heritage is in farming we should be doing a better job.

    Those Juliet’s are amazing and delicious. My dad grew a bunch of them. It is an easy and versatile tomato.
    Those little yellow ones you and Lisa grew are also very, very, tasty! I think we will look to focus newbie Gardener’s on small varieties as they seem so easy and prolific. They are rocking our tomato table right now as well as all the other bounty of summer in NJ

  4. Ian Baldwin
    Aug 24, 2012 at 9:17 am

    Bob, thanks for the comment, can Lisa trademark the recipe?! Great idea to focus newbies on the small, easy and immediacy of the small grape-type and sun gold type of tomatoes. Most of those never make it to the table they are so tasty and would give first-timers an instant gratification. Raise some early in 7 gal pots and have them in your store and nursery for shoppers top snack on as they wander.

  5. Ian Baldwin
    Sep 5, 2012 at 10:52 am

    I got 8 wasp stings and Lisa got three while pruning shrubs at the weekend, think I’ll take up Farmville instead of this contact sport called gardening!

  6. David Ruf
    Sep 10, 2012 at 10:02 pm

    I must ask that you do not bring Farmville to the table when you have all of those grat looking Juliet’s. I do believe that it is the soil that brings out the best in ones veggies. It seems that the flavor is better with more organics in the soil rather than any amount or type of fertilizer that one might wish to apply. Great job in walking the walk. David and Julie

    1. Ian Baldwin
      Sep 16, 2012 at 8:32 am

      Thanks David, the organic content is assured here, not because of a policy against chemicals (far from it), but because of how we have built the bed up over the years with fall leaves, garden/kitchen compost and of course up to last year, our beloved donkey – nothing more organic than his contribution!

      FYI we don’t need synthetics anymore, thanks to our crop rotation where beans play a big part (third crop picking right now) and just sensible ideas like those mentioned. Everything we don’t eat from the garden goes back in the garden, stems, roots and all.

      1. John Lingard
        Oct 3, 2012 at 11:46 am

        Tha nos nowt about t’irrigation that Chat Moss lads didn’t teach thi back in 1971. In those days thi degged butt wi’ a deggin can! Mechansation, drip-feed and hydroponics weren’t even ‘eard of and, if thi didn’t take tracta ‘ome for t’ dinner, th’d bloody lose it.
        Aye-up and up the clarets!

        1. Ian Baldwin
          Oct 6, 2012 at 8:41 am

          Well it had to happen, blogs are open to all and my Lancastrian past just caught up with me in the shape of a mate from my Manchester University days. I spent two happy years collecting performance data from farmers and growers on a range of greenhouse and field crops like lettuce or carrots and John’s comments here gives a pretty good example of how the older farmers talked in a strong Lancashire dialect. They were very good operators, fiercely independent and allus askin if “Tha were from t”Revenue” (taxman) before they shared their numbers with me!

          BTW: don’t be fooled by John L’s comments, this guy is an Econometrician of the highest level, World Bank, F.A.O. and so on. He once gave me his 40 page “paper” on the demand for nitrogen fertilizer and I was lost in the algebra half way down page 1. Thanks for making me smile John!

  7. percy thrower
    Oct 3, 2012 at 11:42 pm

    I am having trouble with slugs and snails eating my hostas in this damp summer. Do they call them “nematodes”? Can you get pest-resistant varieties or should I just pack up gardening and have a cuppa tea? It’s no fun all this hard work and cultivation only for these little blighters destroying the plants? I am a green and don’t believe in the use of herbicides and pesticides, can you please help?

  8. Ian Baldwin
    Oct 6, 2012 at 8:49 am

    Dear Mr Lingard-Thrower,

    Slugs love bad ale and, as you have told me many times, you have yet to find good ale in Newcastle, so perhaps you can use some of it to trap them. Very nice with a lemon-butter sauce I am told!

    Thanks mate!

Comments are now closed for this article.