The following information on vegetable crops to avoid and choose comes from Five Acres and Independence by M. G. Kains. Five Acres and Independence is also available to purchase in print.
One of the most striking and interesting things that a visit to a large city market will reveal especially in New York, Washington, Chicago, New Orleans or San Francisco, is the varied assortment of vegetables offered for sale. The fact that many of these are not staples but yet are offered in commercial quantities indicates, first, that they are in demand and, second, that at least some growers consider them profitable because they appear year after year and in about the same amounts. They are bought mainly by people of Italian, French, German, Chinese, Japanese, Negro and other foreign descent.
Should you wish to grow such crops you will probably have to search through a dozen, a score or more catalogues to find seed because few American seedsmen carry more than one or two each of the more common ones. The others would have to be bought from foreign seedsmen who specialize in what, to Americans, are oddities. In fact, you might have to write to the growers of such vegetables to discover where seeds may be obtained.
So far as growing them for market is concerned, at least where there is no resident foreign population, you might find no demand because people are so slow to try strange foods that you might lose money by raising them for sale. They should therefore be the first to omit from any list of vegetables to be grown for commercial purposes.
The next vegetables to discard should be those known as “gamble crops”—the ones reputed to be difficult for one reason or another. To be sure, many growers find them profitable because they give the extra care these crops require. For instance, though mushrooms spring up spontaneously in lawns and pastures during favorable seasons in late summer and autumn they require “caves” or “cellars” in which to grow at other times and they are so subject to the attacks of insects and other enemies that many people fail with them.
If cauliflower, another gamble crop, were subject to only the insect and disease enemies of its close relative, cabbage, anyone could grow it, at least after a fashion. But as it demands cool weather, ample moisture in the soil and special attention to shade each head individually to make it blanch or whiten properly, it is a crop for only the man who will provide these favorable conditions and is willing to do the necessary fussing.
Watermelons, cantaloupes and cucumbers are gamble crops in many parts of the country because of “wilt,” a bacterial or fungous disease which destroys the vines usually just before the fruit would normally ripen. Though it is possible to prevent such disaster you, as a novice grower, are almost sure to belittle the methods or to follow them in an imperfect way with the result that after failing one or more times you will condemn them as worthless.
For these reasons it is advisable to limit yourself to the more or less simple crops until you have learned how to manage each one successfully. Before deciding to grow any or even all of these, however, be sure to learn as much as you can about each one so as to know what to expect, especially the points brought out in the reading pages and the tabulated data in the appendices of this book; notably, the proper time to sow each kind, the amount of time it requires to reach edible maturity, its ability to withstand frost; for many of the disappointments, if not total failures and losses, may thus be avoided.
To illustrate: If you sow corn when parsnip seed should be sown the seed will rot because the soil then is too wet and cold for it, or if seedlings do appear they are almost sure to be killed by frost. Conversely, if you sow parsnip seed at corn planting time it will probably not sprout because the soil is then too dry for it, or if it does start to grow the seedlings will be burned up by the sun or will have too short a season in which to mature.
When your aim is to make money quickly, avoid the long season crops such as leeks, salsify and parsnips because they occupy the ground from early spring until late fall and because at best they usually sell in only small quantities and at comparatively low prices. Choose the quicker crops that are in positive, good demand; for instance, scallions (green onions from “sets”), radishes, spinach, and lettuce for spring sales; garden peas, round beets, and “horn” carrots for early summer; early cabbage, tomatoes, corn and peppers for midsummer and early fall; and late cabbage, summer sown round beets and carrots for late fall and early winter. Not only do these crops each occupy the soil for only a short time but they combine well with one another as companion or succession crops (Chapter 29) so the same areas may be made to produce several crops instead of only one in a single season.
Though it is usually desirable to grow sufficient quantities of staple vegetables such as late potatoes, late cabbage, ripe onions and turnips to supply the family table, it may not be profitable to raise these crops for sale because of competition with commercial truckers who have special equipment for handling them on a large scale. And yet this suggestion must not be applied too sweepingly because some of them may be locally profitable in spite of commercial competition, especially when an extra choice variety is grown and can be sold fresh, when the quality of the stock is exceptionally fine or when the product may be placed on sale when the market is bare, at least of a comparable quality. For instance, home grown, well ripened tomatoes that come in competition with southern ones, particularly when the local ones are exceptionally early, will always command a premium price.
One of my truck-growing neighbors always plants his tomatoes a month to six weeks later than do his competitors, most of whom at first jeered at him for his “folly!” But, just before frost he gathers the fruit, ripens it on deep straw in coldframes which he covers at night and in cold and wet weather and sells during October and November when the market has only short supplies and therefore pays high prices. He makes more money out of his tomatoes at such prices than do his neighbors when the market is well supplied—and does it with much less work!
For repeat sales it is desirable to grow only high quality varieties. There are such of nearly all kinds of vegetables. The extra early varieties, particularly of corn and garden peas, have only their earliness to commend them. They are profitable because of this and because people are so glad to “get a first taste” that they are willing to forgive even serious shortcomings; but for midseason and late the high quality kinds are what produce repeat sales and enhance the local reputation of the grower. Therefore, be on the constant lookout for new kinds superior to anything you have already grown. Test the novelties in a small way the first year they are offered for sale; in fact, if you will gain and never betray the confidence of the seedsmen you may have the privilege of testing such novelties a year or more before they are offered to the general public.
In recent years many outstanding advances in plant breeding have occurred, and in no field, probably, is the advance more definite than in the new and improved varieties of hybrid corn. The new varieties have been as scientifically bred as the best strains of dairy cows or high-producing poultry. Without going into technical details, suffice it to say here that the breeders have combined the good points of many strains into one. The pollination of the parent strains is done by hand and the breeder knows exactly what the crop will be.
The small farmer who wants to raise an acre of one of the new hybrid sweet corn strains will find it a profitable crop if the corn borer can be controlled. Many farmers make $300 or more profit per acre from sweet corn. And if one wants to raise some field corn for the family cow, pig, or hens, the hybrids will produce from a third to a half more per acre than the old-line varieties. The hybrid corn produces big handsome ears.
There are two major points to be understood. The farmer must order seed each year. If seed is saved and planted, it will not come true. And second, be sure to raise a variety or varieties recommended by the state agricultural college. A variety that does well in one state will not succeed necessarily in another. It always pays to buy seed from a reputable dealer.
For sale, some varieties or some crops are better keepers than others. Hence when keeping does not oppose high quality these should be given preference for both home use and market. The seedsmen generally indicate which varieties are noted in these ways.
In some cases vegetables may be utilized or sold in several ways. These, therefore, offer more than one chance to make money out of them. For instance, set onions that cannot be sold as scallions may be allowed to mature for sale as dried ones and seedling onions may be thinned out and sold as scallions or “green boilers”; beans, especially white seeded and “kidney” varieties, may be sold as green “string beans” or dried seed; limas sell readily both as green and ripe beans; tomatoes have ready sale when ripe and in the fall green ones also sell fairly well for making pickles and relishes of various kinds.
When canning and pickling are added to the sources of income, tomatoes, peppers, onions and celery make many fine relish combinations which need only be sampled to be sold. Besides these surplus gherkins, “dill size” cucumbers, baby beets and carrots, pickling onions, rhubarb and asparagus all may be canned or pickled and sold at a profit, as many a farmer’s wife can attest.