U-Pick Market Gardens
U-Pick...what is it?
U-pick gardens and orchards can be found almost anywhere. They are basically a garden the property owner plants and maintains...then has others harvest it. They pay him a set price per pound or per item. If the farmer is asked to harvest, the customer pays a little more for his time. It is definitely cheaper for the customer to harvest themselves.
The property we now live on had a U-pick several years ago. The only thing remaining that produces anything are the saskatoon trees. I have spent the last couple of years getting them cleaned up, and we had a bountiful harvest this past August. Along with freezing several buckets full, we also gave several buckets to friends and family. If the weather co-operates again this year, I will be open to the public.
You don't need hundreds of acres to have a U-pick...an acre or two will do, depending on what you will be growing. If you will be putting in fruit trees, you will definitely need more space. If you're just doing produce, less acreage is okay. The next section goes a little more into detail on types of gardens.
The easiest way to earn money off your farm or acreage is by having a market garden. Aside from the initial planting, there is little maintenance required if you have a well mulched garden. The trick is to keep the weeds down so you don't spend hours upon hours getting rid of them. Plus, a weedy garden does not look very appealing to your customers.
Depending on the space you have, there are a couple of ways to go about planting your gardens. First of all, you could go with a traditional cultivated garden. Plant your vegetables in rows about twelve inches apart. This gives you enough room to walk between the rows and eliminate weeds. You can also lay a straw mulch down to keep shoes cleaner and weeds down. This method takes up a lot of space, and there is a higher chance of weeds growing. It is, however, easier to get a cultivator in between the rows.
The second method is to build garden beds out of wood (preferably cedar as it is naturally resistant to decay and insects). The ideal size for these is 4'X8' - and at least 8" deep, but they can be deeper...as much as 2' deep if desired. They are easier to maintain, and the family dog is less likely to dig in them. Plus, crops are planted closer together, and soil doesn't get compacted from being walked on. All weeding and cultivating is done from the outside edges. I would suggest leaving a two foot walkway between beds if you're having grass pathways...much easier to get a lawnmower in. If the pathways will be gravel, 20" is sufficient. If you wish to make the beds wheelchair accessible, the pathways will have to be at least 30" wide.
An advantage to using beds is the soil warms earlier in the Spring, so planting can be done earlier. Check your local weather station for last frost dates...just to be sure. Beds can be easily amended with compost, as there is no soil compaction. It is easily worked in with a garden trowel. Another little trick is to add compost materials to the beds over the winter...they will break down under the snow and you will have rich soil come Spring time. This method does vary by area and amount of snow cover.
A great book to read and implement is Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. It lists which plants can and should be planted together, as well as how many plants will do well per square foot. I borrowed a copy from the library several years ago, and wish I had bought my own. He has since written updated versions...it is definitely worth the investment,
There are several gardening books available on the best things to plant in your area. Be sure your garden will get at least 6 hours of sunlight a day...some plants require more. It is best to have your garden in full sunlight....row covers may be used to shade some crops if necessary. If using beds, hoops can be made to fit into brackets on the long edges, and plastic or row covers may be used, depending on the garden's needs.
Along with your garden, you may wish to grow some things in a greenhouse, such as tomatoes and cucumbers. These are excellent money makers, and several can be grown in a small space. An 8'X10' greenhouse should yield hundreds of dollars worth of produce, if grown properly. Be sure to stake tomatoes and let the cucumbers climb string to keep them off the ground. They will both produce much better this way.
What to Expect
What can you expect from your Market Garden?
If managed properly, you can expect many years of bountiful harvests. Crop rotation and planting popular produce will give you great rewards from Spring through Fall. You can also expect repeat customers year after year if your prices are competitive. Your demeanor will also play a big role in who comes back to your garden. When dealing with the public, you must be kind and courteous to everyone, no matter what kind of day you're having.
Something else to expect is unsatisfied customers...no matter what business you're in, there will always be a few. Be sure to treat them with respect, and do your best to resolve any issues as quickly as possible. If it means a lower profit margin, then so be it. One dis-satisfied customer could easily ruin your business.
Also, expect to carry liability insurance. When you have people coming and going, it is your responsibility to carry appropriate insurance as a safety measure. If someone falls on your property, they can make a claim against you. Your insurance will cover any pitfalls such as this.
Expect good years...and bad years. We are unable to control the weather, and bad things sometimes happen. Have enough of a variety of produce in case one crop doesn't do well. The entire season will not be bad, so do not despair if you lose one crop. There is always next year.
Good luck in your venture if this has inspired you to start your own market garden! If it hasn't, look for the nearest market garden in your area and support it.