Thinking about starting a market garden to earn money?
The satisfaction that comes from growing your own vegetables or having the yard that is the envy of passers-by, is just scratching the surface of what your love for gardening can bring to you and your family. With a little bit of imagination, creativity and manual labor, your market garden can generate cold hard cash.
Turning your green thumb into green in your bank account isn’t as difficult as you might think. And surprisingly, it doesn’t always require acres of land and expensive equipment. Once you decide you’re going to grow for profit, you need to decide what to grow, where to grow it, how much of it to grow and how to market and distribute it. Let’s look at each of these one at a time to give you the best start possible for successful market gardening.
What to grow
Following your climate’s natural growing season and planting zone schedule is the first step in deciding what can be grown. Next, study what others are selling. If more than one or two are selling it, don’t jump on that bandwagon. You wouldn’t think a bunch of farmers setting up tables at a market to sell their goods would constitute a competitive playing field. But it does. After eliminating what you aren’t going to grow, start narrowing down the possibilities. The varieties of fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers are literally endless. But to help narrow things down a bit consider the following:
1. Tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers and corn are a dollar a dozen (figuratively speaking) at every farmer’s market in the country. There are a few exceptions to this mindset — we’ll discuss those shortly.
2. For those in the south, west or southern-most regions of the Midwest, Chinese okra, or cee gwa, is a terrifically tasty and prolific veggie that has good market potential. Unlike traditional okra, this variety grows on vines, isn’t hairy, has deep-veined spines that are hard but edible, is nutty tasting and isn’t harvested until it reaches 8-16 inches in length! Two reliable sources for seed and growing tips are at Kitazawaseed.com and Evergreenseeds.com .
3. Growing salad, pizza, salsa or herb gardens is unique and presents marketing options typical growers don’t have. By selling a ‘package deal’ you are able to sell a variety of products as one — usually for a bit more money. A salad garden consists of a variety of greens, tiny tomatoes, and optional cucumbers and green onions. Pizza gardens are usually comprised of a couple of red, ripe tomatoes, an oregano plant, an onion and a pint of mushrooms. A salsa garden equals an onion, two or three varieties of hot peppers, and of course, a few of tomatoes or tomatillos. Herb gardens are usually large shallow containers with a variety of herbs cooks love to use.
4. Fresh flower bouquets filled with a variety of long-lasting blooms are a win-win situation. Tied with ribbon and displayed in brightly colored buckets or inexpensive vases, they’ll sell like the proverbial hotcake. Easy-to-grow and long-lasting blooms include zinnias, iris, dahlias, miniature sunflowers, daisies, and coneflowers.
5. Mushrooms require little room and less care than many other vegetables.
6. Unique varieties of peppers, salad tomatoes and sweet potatoes are all easy to grow and sell well.
Where to grow a market garden
The stereotypical acres and acres of neatly tilled ground with rows of plants to tend and harvest aren’t necessary for a market garden. An 8 ft. x 10 ft. flower bed in your back yard with good quality soil can easily produce enough fresh flower bouquets to gross in the neighborhood of $200 a week (20 bouquets at $10 each). The same size plot will sustain up to forty pepper plants, thirty salad tomato plants, fifty or sixty sweet potato slips and a plethora of herbs. Larger areas equal larger yields. The key is proper soil fertilization and drainage and proper plant care. For further help in laying out your garden, visit Humeseeds.com or Gardenguides.com .
Other options for the ‘where to grow’ question include raised beds, hot house beds, container gardening (for greens and herbs) or even community garden plots.
How much should you plant or grow in your market garden
How much you grow depends on the following….
1. How much space you have.
2. How much time you have to devote to weeding, fertilizing, harvesting and marketing/selling — when it’s not enjoyable, you’re too big.
3. Market demand — if you can’t sell it there’s no need to grow it.
4. How much money you want to make — is this a hobby or a full-time job?
How and where to sell what you grow in a market garden
You can sell what you grow as fresh produce and/or packaged deals (salad, salsa, etc. gardens) during the growing season and be done, or you can extend your sales through value-added products. Your state’s department of agriculture will have information on beginning your value-added program as well as tools to get you started.
You can sell your home grown goods at….
1. Local farmers’ markets or roadside stands
2. Food co-ops
3. Local restaurants or specialty shops
4. On line co-ops (www.localharvest.org is an excellent sales tool)
Growing for profit is a wonderful way to supplement your income, treat yourself to fresh air and exercise and give yourself a healthy dose of pride in a job well done.
Other Market Garden Resources
Check out this Market Garden Start-up Guide for a completely detailed look at every aspect of market gardening. They even have a PDF file you can download and print out!
Gardenweb has an active message board that’s specifically devoted to market gardening.
Marketing Garden Concepts sells a monthly bulletin, authored by a Canadian who shares her market gardening expertise.