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I know they’ve moved me from Zone 5 to Zone 6, but I’m still planting based on the Zone 5 frost date of May 10.

I always plant a range of home starts, nursery starts (although fewer and fewer of those) and direct. I like to do traditional seed starting, and a little winter sowing.

The hardest part of all this is to make sure that you’re planting, first, in a way that doesn’t overwhelm you, and second, so that your seedlings are ready to plant out when the proper weather hits– the cool weather ones in early April, the tender solanums not until almost June around here.

I use the wonderful “seed stash” tool at MyFolia.com to keep track of my seeds, but it’s most useful as a database. While it lets you note when you should plant indoors, and transplant, it doesn’t yet have a reminder function, and anyway, a pop-up box on my calendar or desktop is not a useful method for me. I like something really hands-on and visual, that puts it all in one place at a time.

I’m pretty organized, plus like all gardeners I get antsy (plantsy?) in the middle of winter and start wanting to do something–anything–that seems like gardening.  I used to sort by date into planting pots, but they tip over and get out of order. It’s really not optimal.

So what I’ve developed is a seed keeper system, organized not by type, but by planting date and method. It allows me to select out of the larger seed stash the seeds I’m actually planning to plant, so I’m not constantly pawing through seeds trying to remember what to do, and  I have a beautiful basket woven from recycled materials that a friend got me from Ten Thousand Villages which is a perfect size.

Here’s the method:

Make a card divider with the planting date on it, and list under it the method (indoor, winter sowing, direct) and the seeds you’ll plant. Those seeds go in front of it. I have my cool-weather, long growing season ones starting Feb 15 (leeks, brussels sprouts), then nothing for about a month. Here’s what they look like (hmmm, March 20 is a little bit early for tomatoes, may have to redo that one):

I use them year after year. As you can see, I used some old fliers from one of my clients. If I was the entrepreneurial type, I’d probably propose that NDiN market these with a logo and a guide book for the different zones!

Once I have my cards worked out, I pull out my seeds, all organized by type (as you can see, this task is yet to be completed) and start pulling packets, to load into the planting system.

When it’s all ready to go, it looks like this:

Ready to go.

How do you organize for the planting season?

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Even as little kids, most people have the desire to sell something and make a little cash, or a lot of cash.  So it is no surprise that we still have that desire as adults.  Who doesn’t want positive feedback, and if it pays all the better.

One thing you have to decide is how much time and effort do you want to devote to production and  then marketing that production.  Just making or growing something you love may not be enough.  If you live in an economically depressed area, high priced items may not find enough of a market to make your time spent worth the effort.  Do you want to ship items, or are you committed to local sales?  So many questions, and so many answers.  Is your family on board with this?  If you want to sell at a market, are you prepared to spend a good part of two days, preparing and then selling?  You may decide that you want to produce enough for your family and not sell, reaping the benefits of not paying taxes on your efforts.  But if the desire is strong to sell, here are a few ways to find a market.

A good way to gauge the need for your product is to visit markets that specialize in your wares.  Craft markets and farmers markets are a good place to check out.  Make notes about what is selling and what appears to be missing from the mix.  Your product may just be the thing that will fill in that gap.  If everyone is selling mesclun mix, you don’t want to show up with more.  If you can, find the market manager and inquire about what type of vendors they are looking for.  The manager will also have vendor guidelines that will be helpful in your decision making.  Some markets require that you stay until the market is over, if your production doesn’t meet your sales, you may be sitting there for hours, with potential customers passing your empty table.  It feels awkward.   Plan for these gaps and have an order sheet ready for the next market, your shortfall may appear to potential customers like you have sold out, which is true, they don’t really need to know that you didn’t plan it.  They will feel special, and you will have additional orders for the next week.

While you are doing market reconnaissance, make a note of the price swings.  You don’t want to price your products too high, or be the jerk who shows up and sells your eggs for a $1.00 a dozen.  You will have to assume the prices are in line with what people will pay in your particular area.  Pay attention to the booths that are busy and try to determine what is drawing the customers to it.  It may be low price and volume, or it may be an attractive display and smiling helpers. 

You will have to decide if you can make a profit at the going rate, or if you are going to charge more, be passionate and able to show your customers why they should buy your product instead of the next guy’s.  You need to figure in all your expenses plus labor and that includes all your time spent on this particular enterprise.   Sometimes the lowest cost to produce will be where you make your money, not your highest priced item.   A bakery we sold our small eggs to, made great products, but she always had a hard time with cash flow.  We dropped eggs off weekly and took her compost buckets home for our pigs.  When we got a look in the buckets, we saw why she had a hard time making ends meet.  Her menu was set in her mind stone, expensive delicious pastries, pies and breads along with fresh soup every day.  The buckets were filled with whole loaves of bread, pie dough and pastry scraps, and whole zested lemons.  Apparently she could cook, but she had never taken home economics.  She could have turned the stale bread into croutons or stuffing mix, the dough scraps into little spiced snails, and the lemons into lemon whatever – the possibilities were almost endless.  Our pigs loved it though, and she eventually went out of business in debt.

If you want to stay home and sell your wares, put out your sign, and state your days of business.  Do this only if you feel comfortable having drop in customers.  You may want to state on your sign BY APPOINTMENT ONLY giving you a little more control of your hours.  Before doing this though, make sure local ordinances allow this type of activity in your home. 

Depending on your product line, you may want to contact your local established CSA’s and see if maybe your product would fit with their offerings.  You could pre-sell your product and have one delivery point.  We sold eggs to CSA’s and restaurants and made one delivery a week.  It took all day, but it was preferable to spending a day at a market. 

Just remember, you have a great product and you want to seek out customers that have already forsaken the store mentality for their shopping.  Your potential customers are seeking your one-of-kind creations, or food that has been produced with loving care, and they won’t mind paying you for your efforts!

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