What’s on tap for 2020’s farmstand

I’d like to thank the people who came to the farmstand this year. I met so many nice people, and I greatly appreciated the feedback I received. I am grateful that the food I have been growing has become something that people look forward to eating.

This time of year has always been the time when I start looking forward to next year’s season. We still have so much winter left to muscle through, but the colorful seed catalogs are an inspiration. So here are a few things I have planned for the 2020 growing season.

Berry expansion

This fall, after the farmstand closed, I increased the size of the garden area by about 25%, which brings the total area under cultivation to roughly 7,500 square feet. About one third of that is devoted to what seems to be the most popular item that I sell, fresh berries.

This year was my first year selling strawberries. I’ve got about 700 plants and sold a few hundred pints, and I couldn’t keep up with the demand. So I’ve decided to double my strawberry crop going forward. This spring I’ll be planting 2 new varieties of strawberries in the newly opened garden area. It takes a year for strawberries to produce a crop, so these berries will be on the stand in 2021.

This year I also increased by blueberry crop, planting 6 new bushes. I’m hopeful that they will start producing for 2020’s crop. I have blackberries and raspberries as well, but for now I think I’ll not expand on their footprint. Both of them have extremely short shelflife, and so I find that if they don’t sell within a few hours they go bad. That’s a lot of effort to put into a very perishable crop. Blueberries are the opposite — they have a fairly long shelflife, and are generally easier to grow.

More greens, more variety

Every year is a learning process for me. It’s interesting to see what customers want, and whether I can provide it.

One of the surprise hits was spinach. I’ve never had great luck with spinach, but I found a variety from Baker Seed Company that grows very well in the soil I have here (it’s very fertile, but is heavy with a lot of clay). I was able to have spinach on the stand on most days, and it almost always sold out. So next year I’ll be expanding the spinach crop.

The same goes for greens in general. I’ve watched upteen videos from small growers who all say that greens are must-have on a farmstand. In fact, some of them think that greens are the most important crop to have on a farmstand. So I’ve been trying to take their advice, looking for greens that will grow well here. Last year I grew a really tasty romaine — it was light green with red highlights. It grew well here and sold out completely. So I’ll be growing more of that. I’ll also be growing some mesclun-type mixes, as well as a really cool collection of radishes, plus I’m expanding on my beet and carrot crops.

Most of my seeds come from Fedco, a Maine-based cooperative seed company. They have an excellent variety of heirloom and standard seeds, and I really love their analysis of the seeds they offer — they seem genuine. I buy a few seeds from Baker Seeds too. They have many interesting varieties that you can’t find elsewhere, and they have the best catalog I’ve ever received.

Search for the perfect tomato

One of the reasons I started the farmstand is I love tomatoes. I’ve been growing them for 30+ years, and I am still searching for the best tomato. I have a few varieties that I really love and I will continue to sell — pink and yellow Brandywines, sungold cherries, Golden Jubilee yellow tomatoes, and Tappy’s Heritage salad tomatoes.

I had been growing 2 types of cherries — sungold and a red variety called Chadwick — but this year I found that the Chadwick’s flavor wasn’t quite cutting it. So I’m planning to try 2 Italian red cherries to see if they will be added to the list of favorites. They are Aosta Valley cherry and Principe Borghese.

For the handful of customers who love Brad’s Atomic tomatoes, I want to assure you I will be growing them again next year. They are the oddest tomato that I sell, and I think I may be the only person in the region who sells them. I’m personally not a huge fan of their flavor, but some of my customers feel strongly they are the best tomato they’ve ever eaten — and indeed Baker Seed Company considers them to be the best tomato that they sell. That’s a very high compliment!

I’m also in search of a reliable plum tomato. Last year I struck out with San Marzano Luongo, so this year I’ll be growing the more reliable Amish Paste.

A few things I’m dropping

Some things have been hard to grow here, or they just don’t have much of any following. So I’ve decided to drop a handful of items — chard, broccoli (I’m switching to a rabe broccoli instead), delicate squash, and peppers. I just can’t grow pepper plants here, it’s a mystery to me. Every year they wither.

Is there something that you’d like me to grow? I’d love to hear your ideas. Please email me at maconer@comcast.net.

Thanks and I look forward to seeing you in 2020!

John Macone owns and operates Farmer John’s Organic Farmstand, a small scale neighborhood farm in Amesbury, Mass.