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Ask any produce manager what the most popular vegetable is in their entire department, and they will tell you tomatoes are the hands-down winner. Because tomatoes are so popular, they also contribute a big chunk of the profits. So what could be better than growing tomatoes for market? Growing the tomatoes with the best taste and flavors – heirloom tomatoes. Those are the old-fashioned varieties that were grown by our grandparents and great-grandparents for eating, not shipping, like the bland, tasteless supermarket tomatoes. Heirlooms can be found in a rainbow of colors, from yellow to orange to green to era, even black. Most are not perfectly round like supermarket tomatoes, but have irregular shapes and sizes, including quite a few that regularly top 2 pounds each!
Customers love the taste of heirloom tomatoes. That’s the reason they are willing to pay twice as much for heirlooms as regular hybrid tomatoes. And that’s why more and more smart growers are planting heirloom tomatoes in their gardens and greenhouses. It’s a winning combination for market growers – great tasting tomatoes and high profits.
UNDERSTANDING THE OPPORTUNITY
It’s possible to make very high returns per square foot with heirloom tomatoes. They are one of the most profitable plants. Here’s how to make $40,000 with these tasty fruits…
First, understand growing heirloom tomatoes is not a get-rich-quick scheme at all. You certainly won’t make $40,000 overnight. But with some smart choices and hard work, you really can make a nice income growing them. As with any crop, it’s important to start small, growing just a few proven varieties the first year, and adding new varieties as your skills and knowledge grow and as you discover which varieties do best in your area.
So let’s do the math. Most commercial growers allow about 6 square feet per plant. Productive heirloom tomato varieties will produce 20 pounds or more of salable tomatoes, worth about $80 at retail prices. That’s a return of $13 per square foot of growing area. Planting about 3,000 square feet with 500 plants (that’s only 1/15th of an acre.) could bring $40,000.
When you’re ready to begin, the first thing to consider is your “microclimate.” Tomatoes need plenty of sun to produce a bumper crop. Be sure to choose heirloom varieties best suited for your area. There are hundreds of varieties to choose from – early varieties, mid-season varieties and late-season varieties. Early varieties that produce a crop in 52-65 days make sense in colder climates with a short growing season, while varieties that mature in 70-90 days are better for warmer areas and those with an extended growing season. Your county agricultural extension agent can help you pick the proven varieties for your area, as can the seed companies that supply heirloom tomato seeds.
Now you need to think about your growing soil. Adding humus, such as compost or well-aged manure, can turn most soils, from clays to sandy soils, into ideal growing soil for tomatoes.Most new growing areas need about 3 inches of humus applied the first year, then at least 1 inch every year when a crop is grown.
Producing organic tomatoes is the healthiest way to grow, both for the soil, the plants and our bodies. In addition, researchers have found growing organic makes good economic sense, as using organic fertilizers can actually cost less in the long run. I addition, more and more shoppers each year are insisting on organic produce for health reasons.
So what should you grow? Simply put, you need to grow the tomato varieties that sell best – the ones with proven demand, abundant production and disease resistance. Try for a “rainbow” of colors when choosing varieties, as nothing sells heirlooms faster than a big basket full of reds, oranges, greens, pinks and blacks.
SELLING YOUR HARVEST
When you are ready to harvest your heirloom tomato crop, you have many options. Here are just three of many:
- Direct retail sales. If your town permits it, you could sell right from your backyard garden. You get paid immediately, usually in cash, and get a chance to interact with your customers. It’s a great opportunity to do sampling and introduce the fabulous tastes and flavors or heirloom tomatoes to new customers.
- Chefs & restaurants. The “Eat Local” movement is growing every year, fueled in part by chefs who choose the freshest local produce to serve in their restaurant because they know it will taste better. Most creative chefs are eager to buy heirloom tomatoes from local growers as the customer-pleasing flavors are at their peak when fresh picked.
- Farmers markets. This is an ideal sales venue, as you keep the full retail price and the shopper turnout at most markets is huge, which translates into bigger profits. Folks have figured out that the produce at a farmers market is fresher and tastes better than days-old produce at most supermarkets. Sellers have learned that shoppers at a farmers market or Saturday market are even willing to pay a small premium over store process for better, higher quality produce.
As you can see, the profits are there for these premium tomatoes, and the demand just keeps getting stronger each year, as more and more shoppers discover the “heirloom tomato difference.” As one first-time customer said, “I never knew a tomato could taste this good!”
To discover how to get your share of the growing market for premium heirloom tomatoes, read Profitable Heirloom Tomatoes, which reveals 40 of the best, proven heirloom varieties for market growers, plus growing and marketing tips for both new and seasoned growers, as well as covering the best value-added products to turn “cull” tomatoes into profits.
Order now and start growing!
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