Why I don't sell tomatoes early

savannah.jpgI wanted to comment on Sid's comment at my Speak up!post I had mentioned that “We don’t start selling tomatoes here in the foothill until the middle of April. Plant them sooner and odds are they will succumb from a late frost or the cold ground. My local Home Depot already is selling tomatoes. We get people in telling us they have already planted their tomatoes. Well they didn’t get them here! These are my customers, too. They mean well, they just saw all these great summer vegetables at The Depot.” Sid commented, “I don’t see anything irresponsible for selling early plants, just in not getting to know the customer and their expectations and then helping them enjoy eating a fresh own-grown tomato as early as they’d like if they’re willing and able to protect and grow it. If they can do that they can grow a lot of other things, and will be more inspired to do so.” I agree! As a matter of fact if I had a greenhouse or somewhere I could store tomatoes during the cold early spring I would have no problem selling a tomato early. Sure we would not recommend it, but maybe they have a greenhouse and want an early start, or just go ahead and try it in the ground. Fair enough.

This is where I think the regional differences show up at various garden outlets around the country. I was interviewed the other day for a magazine and the writer asked how we were cutting expenses or saving energy in our greenhouse. When I told her we don't have greenhouse she had a “ah ah” moment. This is California and we don't need a greenhouse. Unlike much of the country, most retail garden centers here in California don't have greenhouses. Since I don't have a greenhouse, we bring in our vegetables from our grower that does have a greenhouse. If I take these tomatoes and place them outside for sale in the cool nights of early spring, they will be stunted. Were still getting down into the thirties Fahrenheit at night. If we don't want to lose, or sell stunted vegetables we have to wait till mid to late April.

This is true of the local Home Depot, which like most California garden shops also does not have a greenhouse. They bring in vegetables, straight out of a growers greenhouse and display them outside day and night. The vegetables that are flying out of their store right now are not being nurtured by homeowners with greenhouses or “Wall of Waters”. They are planting them right out in the soil, just like they did where they moved from, Sacramento, the Bay Area, or Southern California. These places are either frost free or have a much earlier planting season than we do in the foothills and mountains. Of course with Home Depots policy of paying the vendors only after the plants have sold, they just throw out any that die in last nights frost and have more sent in. No monetary loss to the store, just some disappointed customers. That's o.k., since you can just take back your dead tomato and they give you a new one. No loss on The Depots part.

We offer a guarantee, too. We just don't have a vendor that will replace them for us. They want to paid, and any loss of tomatoes that we brought in, and had die is ours. A double loss, since we will replace the dead tomato for the customer. Actually a third loss since we have lost the trust of the customer, who finds out later as they get to know people in the area that planting a tomato in the foothills before May 1st is a big mistake. The soil has just not had enough time to warm up, even if we don't encounter a late frost, which we will.

I agree that if we had a place to store a few tomatoes and people wanted to buy them early, thats o.k. Where I have a problem is with displaying greenhouse tender plants outside when the threat of cold nights, mid thirties just the other day, are still a possibility. At that point it's not just a customer taking a chance, but a business selling plants that have not been hardened off for the local climate. That's where proper horticultural practices come into play.

Sid is right! Tomato season really is the beginning of the gardening season for most people. How I would love to capture some of that early season business. Alas, we have the same weather here that my customers have, and if I don't want to loose the vegetables that we sell, I have to wait. Meanwhile some of my customers are buying and planting tomatoes from Home Depot, because we didn't have them! Here is the up-coming forecast for Garden Valley.

The picture above is of my Granddaughter, Savannah. This was from an earlier post.