Growing greenhouse vegetables for harvested produce is a different ballgame than growing those same crops as starter plants or fruiting plants for consumers to take home and grow. Each can provide its own unique production challenges that you may not be used to with ornamental crops. But all have significant market potential with supermarkets that value and advertise local production, farm markets, local restaurants, or even your own retail operation.
There are any number of different produce crops you can try in the greenhouse, but here are some primary options you should check out if you’re considering adding vegetables to your mix.
1. Leafy greens are one of the most exciting opportunities for greenhouse produce, particularly the salad types and Bibb lettuces. Nearly all leafy greens will thrive in the same growing environments required for most ornamental crops, especially bedding plants. Therefore, aside from learning the growing techniques of leafy greens, whether in soil or hydroponics, little adjustment is needed by the ornamental industry to grow leafy veggies. The profitability can be excellent as long as sales are local and as direct to the consumer as possible. The types of greens covers a very wide range of colors, shapes and taste. Today, it is much more than just head lettuce.
2. Microgreens are very popular in restaurants. The types and flavors of microgreens are enormous. One can design different mixes of greens to provide different flavors for different food dishes. An example of different microgreens are Persian cress, Tatsoi, mustards, Pac Choi, radish, Shungiku, Amaranth, beet, Orach, etc. The future is incredible!
3. Spinach is another leafy green that has great possibilities. When grown and sold locally, it offers freshness and good taste. Grown in greenhouses it is clean, free of debris, dirt and excellent from a food safety standpoint. As a greenhouse crop it does tend to bolt, or go to seed, quite early depending on growing conditions and day length.
4. Cucumbers are popular. The long green cucumbers are more familiar greenhouse varieties for most consumers, but can be a little more difficult to produce, as they need to be shrink wrapped after harvest to keep them firm and fresh. A better choice for greenhouse growers may be the Beit alpha types that are really catching on. I call them “little snackers.” These small cukes are easy to package and don’t require shrink wrapping as do the long European types. The Beit Alpha types are tender, sweet and seedless–perfect for packing into school lunches.
5. Tomatoes are the most familiar and most common greenhouse vegetable crop, and there are many different options available in all colors, shapes and sizes. Cherries, grapes, tomatoes on the vine (or TOV), and beefsteaks are all popular options. Many growers I work with have been focusing on beefsteak varieties, since the TOV varieties are popular with some of the very largest growers that dominate the market.
6. Peppers have been another popular greenhouse crop. Americans love peppers and there are many types to choose from. Greenhouse bell types of peppers need exact humidity and temperature control, especially the varieties from Holland. They are excellent tasting but are probably the most difficult greenhouse crop to grow. However, there are numerous other types of peppers of all shapes, colors and flavors. One day soon, pepper plants will be sold as edible ornamentals, offering beauty in the home and may also be used to flavor many food dishes. Even with these production challenges, peppers should be a highly marketable crop. Multiple colors of peppers in a clamshell are irresistible.
7. Numerous herbs are available which can be packaged in many ways, with or without the roots. Basil, water cress, cilantro and many others are rapidly being discovered by greenhouse growers. Such crops have a great future in farm markets where sales can be direct to the consumer, allowing freshness and superb quality.
8. Green beans, grown in greenhouses, are in high demand, especially in the inner city, selling for incredible prices. Again, a variety of colors are available, along with different shapes and lengths. This is a great crop for direct sales to the consumer at farm markets.
9. Swiss chard and squash are great possibilities for greenhouse production if sold directly to the consumer. As with most vegetable crops, these two vegetables come in all shapes and colors.
10. Raspberries and strawberries, grown in greenhouses, are just around the corner. If grown and served with shortcake on the production site, it is a winner. It’s a big deal at Wimbledon, why not as part of one’s offering at a farm market? The very best tasting strawberries must be red throughout and not shipped in from thousands of miles away. The tastiest are very perishable but offer great opportunities when served on site.