The commercial grower desires, of course, to make maximum profits. He has for years been acting upon the assumption that if he produces a large crop of the best quality and places it upon the market in the usual style, whatever that may be, he has done all in his power; and if the gross receipts fail to cover the cost of production and marketing he is not responsible for the loss. We have learned, however, that the problem of marketing bears a closer relation to profits than the art of production, and that it is often more intricate. Experience has taught the gardener that modern methods of marketing must be used to realize the largest net returns. The problem is far reaching, for it begins at harvest and ends when the consumer has taken the last bite and has ordered the same dish for the next meal.
Some gardeners are experts as producers and failures as marketmen. This is to be expected because the problems are different. There is no reason, however, why successful producers should not meet with at least fair success in the disposition of their crops; but they must study and master the details of marketing just as zealously as they have studied and mastered every point that counts for successful production.
The ultimate aim of both grower and salesman should be to satisfy the consumer. This is the fundamental principle involved in the successful disposition of all kinds of produce, and obedience to it secures quick sales, good prices and increased demands. Too frequently the gardener does not look beyond the middleman. He may be jubilant over sales to the retailer or the wholesaler, but let us follow the vegetables to the consumer's table. The vegetables look fairly well perhaps when delivered and when served on the table, but nobody asks for a second helping and there is no request for the same vegetable the next meal or the next day. Thousands of experiences of this kind in a great city reduce subsequent purchases. In other words, poor quality necessarily results in low prices and slow sales. Now, suppose the vegetables are extra fine in quality. Every member of the family is pleased; each becomes enthusiastic and tells the neighbors; the demand increases, prices are maintained or raised and the problem of disposition has been solved.
The following considerations must be taken into account in the attempt to win the consumer: (1) High quality is essential. (2) Attractive appearance is exceedingly important. If an article appeals to the eye the sale is more than half made. This idea involves the grading of produce with reference to size, color, shape, ripeness and soundness; packages which are attractive; package ornaments, as laced paper and fancy covers; tying materials and branding. (3) Honesty in packing is essential. (4) The vegetable must be seasonable; i. e., ready for market when the consumer is most anxious for it. (5) The package must be convenient in size and shape; a neat handle is often a great advantage. (6) If vegetables are of high quality the package should contain the grower's name and address.
Some classes of vegetables, as sweet potatoes, are harvested at one time; that is, the entire crop on a given area is removed the same day, perhaps, and the ground is then available for something else. Other crops, as tomatoes, are not all ripe at one time and several or many pickings are required. Again, some vegetables, as melons, must be harvested and marketed as soon as they are ripe or mature; while others, as beets, may be left in the field for days or even weeks until market conditions become favorable, or until it is convenient to gather the crop.
When harvesting garden crops, consideration should be given as far as possible to soil and weather conditions. Heavy soils are seriously injured if tramped or disturbed when wet. This difficulty, however, is often unavoidable. It may be much better, and certainly it is more comfortable, to harvest crops in pleasant weather. Thousands of gardeners, however, go to market every day during the summer and the produce must be gathered regularly without regard to the character of the weather.
Promptness is of the greatest importance in harvesting the most perishable crops. A day's delay may result in heavy losses, especially in hot, sultry weather and in seasons when destructive frosts or freezes are likely to occur.
The organization of the field force of men demands careful study. It is imperative to have an alert, tactful foreman who is thoroughly familiar with every detail of harvesting and well qualified to direct men. It is usually possible to assign each laborer to one or two rows, and thus simplify the work of the foreman and place definite responsibility upon each person. If baskets are used, an ample supply should be kept close at hand, and when the force is large it may pay to have a boy look after this matter. He should see that an empty basket is within the reach of each picker the moment it is needed. Special roadways are necessary in collecting crops all of which are not harvested at one time. In some cases planting distances can be adjusted to make it possible for the wheels of the wagons to straddle a certain number of rows. With other crops the earliest maturing varieties may be planted on the strips wanted for roads. This ground will be almost if not entirely free when the later varieties are ready to harvest.
A great many different methods are used in collecting the crop. A bulky crop, such as cabbage, is often placed on the wagons immediately after cutting and hauled to market without further attention, while many crops, including cabbage, are frequently packed in the field in barrels or crates and then hauled to market or to the shipping station. Various types of two-wheel carts are in common use in collecting crops. Hundreds of them are employed by Norfolk truckers. In the Boston district the cart shown in Figure 44 is a popular type. At least 30 bushel boxes may be stacked on the large platform, and the broad tires will prevent the wheels from sinking very far into soft ground. Low platform wagons with broad tires are especially desirable. Wheelbarrows provided with large boxes are frequently used in small plantations. The picking basket should be well made and provided with strong drop handles, so that the baskets will nest snugly. Every possible effort should be made to prevent bruising the vegetables.