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Home  > Question of the Week

Question of the Week

Permalink What are some resources for information on guinea fowl production?

South Carolina

Answer: Thank you for contacting ATTRA with your request for information on the production of French guinea fowl.

Please refer to Raising Guinea Fowl (PDF/1MB), a publication by the USDA. The publication dates back to 1976 when the production of guinea fowl was more common, but much of the information is still relevant. The book, Guinea Fowl, by Van Hoesen/Stromberg discusses many aspects of guinea fowl production. Your local library may be able to get it through interlibrary loan at no charge. More information on the book can be found at Stromberg’s Hatchery website or by contacting them by phone (218-587-2222). Stromberg’s is also a source of guinea keets.

Guinea fowl associations such as The Guinea Fowl Breeders Association and The Guinea Fowl International Association have informative websites and an online forum where you can speak with guinea fowl producers who are often willing to discuss problems and answer questions.

Dr. Samuel Nahashon at Tennessee State University is an expert on guinea fowl and can be reached by phone (615-963-2575) or email (



Permalink What can you tell me about growing hot peppers for market?

Answer: Thank you for your recent request for information from ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service regarding growing hot peppers for market.

Before growing hot peppers for market, I recommend evaluating your clientele to see if there is indeed a market for this product. Has there been customers requesting them at the market? Is there an ethnic population in your region that attends your market and have an interest in buying hot peppers?

Hot peppers, in general, require a long growing season, warm soil and moderate air temperatures, and a fair amount of space. The space and temperature depend on the variety, but in general fruit set is hampered if temperatures are over 90 degrees and under 60 degrees. Most peppers are transplanted out because of their long growing season. Follow the spacing on the seed packet, but typically the spacing is 14 –18 inches (depending on the variety) apart and 36 inches in-between the rows.

The hot peppers can be divided into several categories:
Specialty ethnic varieties include are typically marketing to people who are of a particular ethnicity or who have an interest in cooking specific ethnic foods. Some popular varieties:
Hungarian Hot Wax

This category usually includes Anaheim peppers usually used for chile rellenos.
Anchos and poblanos—used for mole, and chile relleno
Cayenne are often dried and used as a spice.

A medium spiced chile indispensable in Mexican cooking

Paprika: a mild pepper, but it has a niche market similar to the other peppers above. Mostly used as a dry pepper.

The marketing tools for chiles and hot peppers are extensive, but many of these avenues do not bring a lot of revenue. Marketing can be through fresh sales at the market. Another option that would require some investment is buying or hiring a skilled welder to develop a chili roaster. The bags of roasted chilies can be sold in bags. At the Des Moines, IA market they are sold three pounds for $8 and six pounds for $15.

Many chiles are also sold in ristra form. Ristras are dried chilies strung up and hung, often decoratively, but they originated as a way of drying and preserving chiles through the winter months.

While there are certain pests that are specific to peppers, peppers typically have relatively few insect problems and a moderate disease pressure. Alfalfa and Tomato Mosaic virus are a few of the more damaging ones and are spread by aphids. These can be avoided through avoiding smoking near any solanaceae family of crops (typically potato, tomato, eggplant and peppers.) Blossom end rot is an abiotic disease and can be managed through adding calcium.

Referenced below is a fact sheet on growing chile peppers. While it was written in California, it is a good overview of the pest and pest management for chiles as well as general fertility requirements.

Smith, Richard, et al. 1998. Chili Pepper Production in California. University of California.



Permalink What information can you give me on growing saffron?


Answer: Thank you for requesting information from ATTRA on growing saffron.

In my saffron file, I have notes on a follow-up report by phone from a Texas farmer who, in the mid 1990s, had been very excited about growing saffron. He had been offered the chance to buy some saffron corms from a well-known Texas herbalist and had requested the ATTRA letter on history, production, and economics of this crop. Despite our warnings on potentially negative economic returns, he had gone ahead with the project and planted his bulbs in two halves of a 55-gal. plastic drum.

The farmer reported difficulties in keeping the beds at the right moisture level, and said he would, if he had it to do over, grow the corms in a raised bed framed by timbers or cement block where there would be more “interaction” with the outside. He said that since water tended to run right down the sides of the drums without saturating the interior, his plants dried out. He also had problems maintaining correct fertility levels. He hadn’t realized that precise watering and fertilization were so critical for success.

He eventually harvested some of the spice for home use before losing interest in the project. He did not remember how many blooms per corm he got, as they bloomed at different times.

His final assessment? “It’s the type of crop where people get real excited when they first hear about it, but when they run into the problems of harvesting and marketing it, they sort of cool off.”

Saffron crocus (Crocus sativus L.) is a fall-blooming plant. It should not, however, be confused with “autumn crocus,” or “meadow saffron” (Colchicum spp.), which appears on lists of poisonous plants.

Most saffron spice is currently imported from countries such as Iran and India (Kashmir), although some still comes from Spain, Italy, and Greece. Azerbaijan and Morocco are significant producers, and the crop has been suggested as a substitute for heroin poppy fields in Afghanistan. Organic and “boutique” crops are grown in New Zealand, The Netherlands, France, Switzerland, England, and the U.S. (Pennsylvania Dutch saffron). Almost 90% of world production in 2007 came from Iran.(1)

Extensive field trials on growing saffron as a crop in the Upper Midwest were conducted in 1997 by Daniel Smoley, a retired engineer for a major U.S. company. Mr. Smoley invested considerable personal resources in his experimental plots. Referenced below are reports of his research findings published in The Business of Herbs.

Saffron is extremely labor intensive—because the life of the flowers is less than a day and they bloom over a period of time, not all at once. Stigmas must be expertly removed in a short time from large quantities of freshly harvested flowers. The process has not been able to be mechanized. The crop requires an abundance of skilled, extremely low-cost or free (family) labor at certain times of the year. Production has somewhat declined in recent years in former traditional saffron-growing areas in the Mediterranean because young people have moved to cities in search of better pay, easier jobs, and more personal freedom. Countries with high labor costs and abundant job opportunities have not proved to be a good fit for large-scale saffron production.

Sources of corms

White Flower Farm

Nichols Garden Nursery

Dave’s garden lists 4 additional current sources of corms.

Daniel Smoley imported his bulbs from Holland through the International Bulb Co. Inc.(2), an Associate Member of the Massachusetts Flower Growers’ Association. This is a strictly wholesale company, requiring a $150 minimum order in the late 1990s (may be higher now). Different strains of saffron are characteristic of commercial production in various countries, but the best strains may be difficult to procure. Many saffron-growing countries do not export corms.

In addition to Mr. Smoley’s report, listed below is a more recent report with information on cultivation, fertilizing, weed control, pests/diseases, flowering, harvesting, drying, and yields (typically less than one pound of spice per acre).


1)McGimpsey, J.A., and M.H. Douglas. 1997. Evaluation of saffron production in New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Crop and Horticultural Science (abstract: A.R. Wallace).

2) International Bulb Company, Inc.
P.O. Box 545
5 Wortendyke Ave.
Montvale, NJ 07645


Rangahau, Mana Kai. 2003. Growing saffron—the world’s most expensive spice. Crop & Food. New Zealand Institute for Crop and Food Research, Ltd. Research Broadsheet No. 20. August. 4 p.

Smoley, Daniel J. 2001. Saffron Crocus as a Crop. Small Farm Today.
Part 1. March/April. p. 54–59. Part 2. May/June. p. 66–67.



Permalink What are some resources for information on small-scale market farming?

North Carolina

Answer: I am pleased to provide you with informational resources on small-scale market farming.

Many decisions about crops are made on an ad hoc basis, once production starts, since farming is weather-dependent, and unlike most farming, small-scale market farming is highly market-responsive. How certain crops perform is hard to predict so it must be understood that your initial planting plan is not a “plant it and forget about it” plan. It is a starting point that is guaranteed to need adjustment as the season progresses. The SPIN-Farming book details developing a planting plan, and the books Sustainable Vegetable Production from Start-Up to Market by Vern Grubinger and The New Organic Grower, Four Season Harvest, and Winter Harvest Manual by Eliot Coleman are excellent for helping you determine crop rotations and planting plans. In addition, I highly recommend Soil Resiliency and Health: Crop Rotation and Cover Cropping on the Organic Farm by Seth Kroeck, available for purchase from NOFA New York. Contact information for these publications is listed below.

There are many workbooks that are very helpful in working through the myriad of considerations in evaluating a new farming enterprise. Listed below are some resources to help guide you. The two that I have found most helpful for business planning are:

The Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture has recently developed a goal based workbook and resource list. The workbook, titled "Building a Sustainable Business: A Guide to Developing a Business Plan for Farms and Rural Businesses" is quite helpful in taking the reader through the steps that I outlined above.

Another very good training opportunity is the Growing New Farmers Program, by the New England Small Farm Institute. The workbooks and guides provide an excellent way for new farmers to access their resources and markets while researching new enterprises.

Two written resources I recommend for production and marketing information are as follows:

A great periodical for market gardeners is “Growing for Market.” It provides excellent practical production information for small-scale farmers, often times written by farmers. “Sustainable Vegetable Production from Start-up to Market,” by Vern Grubinger is an excellent book for start-up information. It has extensive production and marketing information. Contact information for these resources is detailed below.

Resources on Small-Scale Market Farming:

Growing New Farmers Program, New England Small Farm Institute
P.O. Box 937, 275 Jackson St., Belchertown, MA 01007. 413-323-4531

SPIN Farming (Small Plot Intensive)

The Small Farm Unit at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems
, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and North Carolina State University.

Growing for Market Magazine

You can find a list of resources and suppliers for market gardeners at The Growing for Market Web site at:

Grubinger, Vern. 1999. Sustainable Vegetable Production from Start-Up to Market
Publication number: NRAES-104. Available from: NRAES Cooperative Extension, Phone: (607) 255-7654

Eliot Coleman, Four Season Farm, 609 Weir Cove Road, Harborside, ME 04642
Books to consider include The New Organic Grower, Four Season Harvest, and Winter Harvest Manual.

Jeavons, John. 2006. How To Grow More Vegetables *(and fruit, nuts, berries, grains and other crops) than you ever thought possible on less land than you can imagine, 7th edition. Ecology Action, 5798 Ridgewood Road, Willits, CA 95490, (707) 459-0150.

Kroeck, Seth. 2004. Soil Resiliency and Health: Crop Rotation and Cover Cropping on the Organic Farm. Northeast Organic Farming Association. $9.50 from NOFA

Grace Gershuny. 2004. Compost, Vermicompost & Compost Tea, Feeding the Soil on the Organic Farm. Northeast Organic Farming Association.



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