The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

The Market Gardener

The Market GardenerI kept hearing good things about The Market Gardener by Jean-Martin Fortier, but I put off picking the book up because I have no inclination to sell any of our homegrown food. Having now consumed this easy-to-read and gorgeously illustrated text, I now recommend it to just about every reader on this blog. If you're interested in producing food for a CSA or farmer's market, the book is a no-brainer. But it's also invaluable for intermediate-level home gardeners who want to streamline their production by focusing on techniques that really work.

Fortier's thesis is simple --- those of us gardening or farming on less than two acres need to minimize our startup costs, to focus on hand tools and light power tools, and to plan for high productivity in a small space using intensive methodology and season extension. He explains that you can expect to net between $30,000 and $50,000 per acre per year by working (long hours) for ten months selling directly to the public. His CSA, located in zone 5 of Quebec, for example, feeds 200 customers off 1.5 acres and pays his family's bills while also employing 3.5 workers in the process.

I won't go deeper into Fortier's methodology because the book is such a delight to read with its extensive drawings and short, punchy chapters that you're really better off going straight to the source. However, you probably will hear more about caterpillar tunnels here in later posts since The Market Gardener explained just the method I think I've been looking for to protect crops a bit more than quick hoops do, but without the permanence and expense of high tunnels or a greenhouse. So stay tuned to follow along with our experimentation in that direction this fall!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Oh, great.. this might be just the thing I have been looking for. I have already ordered it.

Sort of off topic, but I wonder if you wouldnt mind saying what kind of oats you use for winter cover crop. Was wo dering if I could just buy horse oats and use those?

Comment by Deb Tue Aug 25 07:21:26 2015

Deb --- I suspect you'll enjoy the book!

About oats --- we get whatever variety they have in 50 pound bags at the feed store. My garden spreadsheet says this has included Ogles, Noble, Common, and unlabeled varieties. The only problem we had was last year when I grazed the oats hard and they didn't winterkill, but I'm 99% sure that was the grazing and not the variety.

I'm not sure what horse oats are. If they're processed somehow for feed, they possibly might not sprout. But otherwise it should work. And the feed store is definitely the cheapest place to get cover crop seeds (by an order of magnitude sometimes!).

Comment by anna Tue Aug 25 07:36:35 2015

Excellent book! He's also an excellent speaker if you ever have a chance to attend a workshop in your area.

Oat variety does matter, or actually type. Spring oats, aka white oats may winter kill if you have cold enough weather,fall oats aka grey oats will not winter kill because they are meant to survive winter for a spring crop of grain. It's hard to know what you're getting if you just buy feed oats, as seed crops are much cleaner, meaning less weed seeds by law. So if you want oats to have a chance to winterkill, buy white oats. Even seed sellers get confused if you ask for oats to plant in the fall, because they assume you want them to survive. We never get cold enough weather for winterkill oats or barley, so I'm switching to sudan grass which really puts on biomass. With no irrigation, my sudan is already a foot tall + in less than a month.

Comment by Nita Tue Aug 25 09:06:33 2015
Jean-Marie taught a couple of workshops (to packed rooms) at last year's PA Sustainable Ag Conference, but I didn't go since, like you, I didn't plan to sell produce. So thanks so much for letting me know I could still get lots out of the book.
Comment by Julie Mason Tue Aug 25 11:19:08 2015
Nita --- I remember you saying that before about types of oats, but when I looked it up online I couldn't find anyone else making that distinction and assumed you were just confusing oats with wheat (where you often hear about winter vs. spring varieties). I'll have to do a second round of googling with the white vs. grey distinction. Thanks, as usual, for your thoughtful/thought-provoking reply!
Comment by anna Tue Aug 25 12:00:29 2015

Since I didn't know what a caterpillar tunnel is I googled it, and came across this article.

Some quotes:

They use a caterpillar for lettuce, spinach, salad mix, cucumbers, tomatoes, basil, chard and kale. [They use] Enviromesh anti-insect screen and 6-mil greenhouse poly on a caterpillar.


The caterpillar also saved the Nordell’s tomato crop last year. In the field, the first tomato harvest is normally the third week of August. But late blight, which was rampant all over the East in 2009, killed their field tomatoes in mid-July, before they started producing. But the tomatoes in caterpillars started bearing in early July and kept on going until late August, when they finally succumbed to late blight. In other words, the caterpillar provided six weeks of earliness and six weeks of late blight protection.

Comment by Roland_Smith Tue Aug 25 12:20:57 2015
We've never planted wheat, it doesn't grow here on the west side of the mountains, but oats I do have experience with. If we work up a pasture to reseed we always grow a nurse crop of oats to nurse the perennial plants along until they are established enough to withstand mowing or grazing. In the fall we plant grey or gray oats, and in the spring white oat oats. The most common cover crop oat is Cayuse which is a white spring oat, and does well for feed or cover crop. No matter what oat you decide to plant, or recommend seed oats are the way to go instead of feed oats just because of the weed issue. Since we started using chicken manure our annual weed picture has changed immensely, weed seeds that make it through processing and then the avian digestion system are some of the worst weeds I have ever experienced. At least with the cow manure I only had to deal with perennial grass seed that is much easier to deal with than a tough annual weed from a grain field.
Comment by Nita Tue Aug 25 16:26:03 2015

Thanks Anna and Nita for the oats comments. I meant feed oats when I said "horse oats".
I have used caterpillar tunnels, and find that theu provide about 4 degrees of frost protection.... with just the agribon row cover. With plastic, its more than that. I make mine out of 10 ft. Pvc, and make the hoops about 4 feet tall.

Comment by Deb Tue Aug 25 18:01:48 2015

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