Gardening for Profit
Garden in Spring
Profit From Your Garden
For those of us who enjoy gardening, there comes a time when we would like to see some monetary gain from our produce. Sometimes it is because we want to fund a vacation or a new car, but in many cases it is purely out of necessity. Cutbacks at work seem to be happening all over, and many people find themselves out of a job without warning.
The wonderful thing about growing vegetables and fruit is they are a consumable product. Everyone needs to eat, so why not tap into the market? Just today I received a copy of the list of producers listed with Alberta Farm Fresh Producers Association, and came to realize I am in an area where there are few Market Gardens and greenhouses. I understand there are most likely a few who are not registered, but for the most part it is an area without a lot of competition.
To get started, one has to be willing to commit to the entire season...which starts in late winter and goes on through to late fall and early winter. This is especially true if you will be starting your own seedlings. For those who will only be doing crops planted directly into the garden, early spring will be when you become busiest.
Most Market Gardens are planted in a very large space, with rows upon rows of produce. These are often ready at the same time, leaving the grower with a small window to harvest and market the produce. The difficult thing that can arise here is everyone is in the same boat. What happens if you can't sell one hundred heads of lettuce? Due to their short shelf life, the leftovers usually end up in the compost pile...which is what we are trying to avoid. True, the compost pile has its advantages, but our goal is to market every one of those heads of lettuce.
I am proposing to grow the produce in a smaller space, with staggered planting so there isn't a surplus of any one crop at any given time. That's not to say the same amount can't be grown...it will just be grown over a longer period of time. Upon reading Mel Bartholomew's Square Foot Gardening Book, I am totally convinced it can be done. He discusses how a family can have fresh produce all season long without having too much at any one time. He has also published a book on profitting from a Square Foot Garden, but I have not personally read that one.
I will be taking what I learned from his book, and increasing the number of garden beds to accomodate selling at our local Farmer's Markets. My family of four will be well fed, and I will also be able to provide produce on a weekly basis to others. I will be planting several of the crops in one or two week intervals to insure a steady supply without an abundance that just ends up going to waste.
To start your own Market Garden, the first thing you will need to do is prepare your soil and make your garden beds. I have made mine slightly raised, but the four foot by four foot blocks can be measured and marked directly in the garden. The important thing to remember is do not walk on the soil where your produce will be growing. The paths between the beds will withstand all of the foot traffic, and your beds will stay loose and friable to grow great crops.
Next, install a trellis approximately six feet high on the north side of each garden bed. Keep in mind the trellises should only be installed on the northern most beds, as they will shade the smaller crops if installed in each bed. If you wish to have six beds set up in a two by three setting, only the three northern beds will have trellises...the front three will be planted with lower growing crops, such as radishes, carrots, lettuce etc. The trellises will be support for crops such as peas, pole beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, nasturtiums (yes, they're edible), etc.
Mark your grid using string, lath, or the strips from old venetian blinds. Each four by four foot bed will have sixteen planting squares. My first bed is planted with Sugar Snap peas in the four north squares, and swiss chard, radishes, lettuce and salad greens in some of the remaining squares. I will be planting Homesteader peas in the next one, with carrots, beets, turnips, bush beans, etc. Due to the length of our growing season (or lack thereof), I will be harvesting the cool weather crops, and replanting with warm weather crops. All I will have to do is add some compost to each square I harvest, then replant. The squares will all be full at any given time, but will produce more than the long rows of traditional gardens. When the warm weather crops are harvested and cooler weather sets in again, I will once again be able to plant the cool weather crops for a fall harvest.
This method cuts down on weeding, watering and wasted space and compacted soil. This will leave you with more time to market your produce and enjoy the benefits of your efforts.
When wondering what to plant, check out your local grocery store to see what is in season. Things like radishes, green onion, lettuce, carrots and potatoes are always in the produce aisle. Make note of the prices marked on them, and price yours accordingly. Due to the minimal transportation costs involved in getting your produce to market, you can charge less than the grocery store and still make a handsome profit. Plus, the produce will be fresher and tastier than the grocery store has.
It also doesn't hurt to have something just a little different to keep things interesting. This year I planted watermelon radishes...something I've never tasted before. If you do have something unusual, be sure to have samples for your customers...you will get more sales this way. It also doesn't hurt to have samples of the usual veggies as well...when people taste how good homegrown produce is, they will buy. Plus, many will become repeat customers.
I do have to say I will most likely be planting my potatoes in the traditional garden row, but most everything else will be grown in my Square Foot Garden...and vining crops will be trained up support as opposed to being left to spread over the ground. My garden will be more compact and easier to care for, yet just as, if not more productive than, my neighbour's traditional row garden.
I wish everyone who tries this method of gardening luck, and encourage you to read Mel's books to gain a better understaning of how and why this method works so well. I know I can't wait for mine to start growing...so I can feed my family and sell the extras I will have. The profits from my market garden will be used to improve our acreage so we can add to our livestock...what will yours be used for?