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11 Cash Crops to Subsidize Your Paycheck
We live in an efficient society, or so we say. Every space must be utilized for some purpose or another or what's the point of having it, right? Some are driven crazy paying for absorbent rent only to know that most of that space is completely unused! No more. Whether you have a yard to work with, or an additional room in your house, this article will fill you in on some of the best crops for indoor and outdoor cultivation to help you utilize space and earn some additional income.
Why burden yourself with such a long list? What are my qualifications? My name is James Wray (Pronounced Ray) and I have years of experience growing Basil, Lavender and Oyster Mushrooms for fun and profit. I've grown both basil and oyster mushrooms indoor and outdoors to great success, while lavender remains strictly an outdoor plant, I have also grown a variety of other herbs for personal use. I am no professional pen, but if you can bare through my lacking English I'm sure you'll find what you're looking for.
Not only will I provide you with a list--in no particular order--but I will also provide you with high quality resources which will be listed at the bottom of the page and throughout the article so you can fact check EVERYTHING I say, and I sincerely hope that you do.
Hardiness Zone: 4 - 10
Value: Average of $12 USD per pound, fresh
Basil is a popular choice for newer gardeners as it's assumed to be among the easier plants to grow, is generally easy to sell and returns a good profit. Basil, like most herbs, can be sold directly to restaurants and small grocers that emphasize locally sourced food products. Restaurants will often pay premium prices for organic basil from the surrounding community, whereas grocers will most likely demand a lower price in order to resell for a reasonable profit, or take a fee for each unit sold. I personally have no experience with grocers, I like to do all of my business online which is preferable for those with little time to invest. Among small growers people most often sell fresh basil at farmers markets as many chefs tend to shop there, making them come to you instead of the other way around.
At the farmers market bundles of fresh basil, usually bound with a rubber band, are sold for $1-$3 a bundle. Sweet basil is used heavily in Italian cuisine, so if you live in an area with a large Italian/Italian-American population you should have no trouble selling basil locally while it's fresh. Alternatively, one selling strategy is to present your basil plants in pot at the farmers market and offer to pick orders fresh off the plants. It also wouldn't be a bad idea to leave around a small dish full of freshly dried and ground basil to attract customers with its pungent odor.
Basil grows best in areas with full sun exposure and a soil PH range of 6.0 - 7.5 is ideal. Basil is sensitive to cold weather and will likely not survive off season anywhere with cold winters, as such you may desire to move the plants indoors under a growing light if available.
Hardiness Zone: 3 - 8
Value: Average of $9.70 USD per pound, bulb
Often referred to as "The Mortgage Lifter." There are 3 varieties of "gourmet garlic", Porcelain, Purple Stripe and Rocambole. If "gourmet" didn't give it away, these varieties of garlic are touted as being vastly superior in flavor than its brother 'Softneck' that is the dominant variety that you find at your local grocery outlet.
A single acre of garlic can produce up to 15,000 pounds, at $9.70 a pound they don't call it the mortgage lifter for nothing. Garlic is great for beginners because they are virtually pest resistant, ally's of the cold and maintenance free, not to mention garlic's density, meaning that you can grow a lot of weight in a small space.
Garlic can be harvested with its long stem intact to produce a garlic braid upon drying, which may prove attractive to prospective buyers at the farmers market.
Garlic is a hearty plant, however, hardiness zone 5 and up seem to be ideal for cultivation. Because the garlic bulb grows underground it may be too space inefficient to grow indoors. Worth a shot if you don't mind smelling like garlic for the rest for your days!
Hardiness Zone: 3 - 10
Value: Average of $16 USD per pound, fresh
Chives are a perennial plant, it is widespread in nature across much of Europe, Asia and North America. Chives are a commonly used herb In the kitchen use. The scapes and the unopened, immature flower buds are diced and used as an ingredient for fish, potatoes, soups, and other dishes. Chives have insect-repelling properties that can be used in gardens to control pests.
A single pound of fresh chives sell for $16 in most places.
On a small scale chives are considered to be easy to grow, making them a good choice for backyard gardens. However, on a large scale chives can be anything but easy to grow. Weeding around chives is a time consuming task and old dried tips left over from previous trimmings will need to be meticulously removed before they can be sold. After the third or fourth cutting the growth of chives become slowed, meaning that you will need a rather large quantity of plants to sustain production rates.
Hardiness Zone: Varies by subspecies, withstands light frost
Value: Average of $18 USD per pound, fresh
Oregano is a perennial herb related to marjoram and occasionally referred to as wild marjoram. Oregano is an important culinary herb in Italian-American cuisine, used for the flavor of its leaves, which are often more flavorful when dried than fresh. It has an aromatic, warm, and slightly bitter taste, which can vary in intensity depending on the environment grown. The herbs popularity skyrocketed following WWII when American soldiers stationed in Italy had brought back a taste for the 'pizza herb'.
native to temperate western and southwestern Eurasia and the Mediterranean regions, oregano is use to mostly dry soil with full sun exposure. In colder climates oregano rarely survives winter. Fresh, organic oregano sells for $18 per pound. This herb is ideal for growing in areas with high Italian/Italian-american populations as it is used heavily in their cuisine. High end Italian restaurants will pay premium prices for high quality, organic oregano, especially in the winter months.
Oregano requires little space to prove profitable and is considered an easy herb to grow provided that the environment is suitable.
Hardiness Zone: 3 - 9
Value: Average of $17.60 USD per pound, fresh
"Fresh" is the word often used to describe parsley. Most often used to round out other spices, parsley is slightly peppery with faint hints of anise. Native to the central Mediterranean region, naturalized elsewhere in Europe, and widely cultivated as a herb, a spice, and a vegetable, parsley is widely used in European, Middle Eastern, and American cooking.
Fresh, organic parsley sells for $17.60 a pound and is widely used in Middle Eastern, European, Brazilian and American cooking.
Parsley can be one of the more difficult plants to grow as they may be plagued by swallowtail butterfly's which lay their eggs on the leaves, and parsley can take four to six weeks to spout, making it a time investment, however, parsley is an easy herb to grow indoors as long as it has a bright location and holes in the bottom of the pot to insure good drainage.
#6 JAPANESE MAPLE
Hardiness Zone: 5 - 8, generally more cold tolerant than heat tolerant
Value: Average of $80 - $120 USD per tree
These trees have been grown for centuries in Japan for its beauty. The Japanese maple is a woody plant that comes in a variety of shapes and sizes from delicate and lacy to variegated leaves in a rainbow of colors from red and green to pinks and white highlights and are extremely popular with landscapers and collectors.
Japanese maples can be grown with little to no gardening experience and can be grown to market ready specifications within a year, selling for $80 - $120, or allowed to continue growing to a trunk diameter of 2" which can be sold to landscapers and collectors for as much as $200. The value of Japanese maples rely on their visual appeal. A skilled tree trainer can manipulate the maples shape, much like bonsai growers, to demand a much higher price. Japanese maples are sold to nurseries, hobbyist and landscapers.
Japanese maples require very little space to prove profitable as they can be grown in pots and stored in close proximity. A one year old Japanese maple usually sits at 6 feet before it's ready for the market, meaning indoor cultivation could be out of the question.
Native to Japan, North Korea, South Korea, eastern Mongolia, and southeast Russia, common species of Japanese maple thrive in likewise conditions, although they are hearty and can be grown in any temperate climate and are cultivated throughout the world.
Hardiness Zone: 3 - 4
Value: Average of $8 per pound, dry, per potted plant
Catnip, otherwise known as kitten crack is a great for-profit crop for those with little space. Catnip is popular with cats, obviously, but more so their phone-camera ready owners itching for high jinks of the floof variety.
For those without cats you may not be aware, so let me fill you in. Catnip is expensive. Often sold in pet stores for use by cats in shredded dried form, or stuffed in cat toys, catnip can sell for up to $8 per dry pound. Many cat owners grow it for their own cats consumption, while some enterprising cat owners have even taken on to growing the stuff to fully cover their cats expenses. Catnip can also be used to make tea.
A versatile herb, catnip can be hard to kill. One reason for its ease of growth is the pungent oil it produces which repels most common pests. . . except stray cats of course. Catnip is also great for dryer climates, although it will require shade in areas where the sun exposure may be particularly harsh. Once roots have been established catnip rarely requires watering, making maintenance low cost, but will require extremely high volume to prove profitable.
Sell your catnip plants at local farmers markets, local small chain pet shops and online retailers will prefer the dried form, but may be willing to carry small, packages plants.
Catnip has a tendency do be sensitive to chemical fertilizers like miracle grow, and fresh manure will almost certainly see to it that your cats never end up on imgur or instagram.
#4 OYSTER MUSHROOMS
Hardiness Zone: 3 - 8
Value: Average of $4-7 USD per pound, fresh
With a nutty, almost anise like flavor oyster mushrooms are considered a versatile 'designer food' among North Western chefs and in mushroom enthusiast corners, that is often being served in Asian dishes, or fried with butter and spices. Certain varieties of oyster mushroom are also noted as having a fruity aroma, and come in colors of gray, blue, yellow, pink and white. With such variety these mushrooms are sure to please the eyes and palate equally.
Oyster mushrooms typically sell at $4-7 a pound, and are easier to sell directly to restaurants, as they are an uncommon gourmet food item in most places in the United States. With high yield per square foot oysters are perfect for those looking to generate additional income with limited space and can yield as much as 25 pounds per square foot in a single year. There are some people who find success growing these morsels in their apartments to subsidize rent.
Over the years mushrooms have seen a steady rise in popularity, particularly in North America and tend to be significantly more relevant in the culinary world. Mushrooms are ideal to grow in places such as the Pacific Northwest where wild mushrooms grow in abundance, as the local climate is best suited for outdoor, seasonal cultivation.
While oyster mushrooms are heralded as one of the most easily cultivated mushrooms, they will prove to be a challenge for those inexperienced with growing fungi as it is unlike the cultivation of most every other crop. These mushrooms require a high humidity environment with moderate to cool temperatures during fruiting, making them impossible to cultivate outdoors in all but a few places throughout the world.
Oyster mushrooms rank number 3 on this list for their fast fruiting bodies which take anywhere from 4 to 7 days to fruit to harvest from their mycelium colonized substrate. A single bag of colonized substrate can be harvested from multiple times before becoming spent.
One of the biggest challenges in selling mushrooms is the short shelf life. You will usually only have 3 days to sell your supply of mushrooms once you've harvested them, as they begin to break down and decay from the moment they have been picked. It's best to sell stock to restaurants ahead of time, sell what fresh mushrooms you have left at the farmers market, and dry what you couldn't sell and sell them online. Hands down, oyster mushrooms are one of the most profitable crops you can grow.
Hardiness Zone: 5 - 9, depending on subspecies
Value: Average of $8-11 USD per bundle, 2-4 ounces
With recorded use for over 2,500 years as a perfume and disinfectant, lavenders reputation is firmly established in just about ever major culture on earth. Unless you have an allergy to lavender, chances are you have lavender products in your home, or perhaps you have lavender growing in your garden for its beauty and aroma. This versatile crop has found its way into almost every aspect of our lives from endless hygiene products to uses in aromatherapy. Lavender is floral, sweet, with herbal notes and balsamic undertones, it's also very valuable.
Small scale farmers most often sell lavender to consumers in bunches, each weighing anywhere from 2 to 4 ounces selling around $6, but often as much as 8 - $11 each. That means that, conservatively, a pound of lavender can net you $24 per pound selling directly to the consumer.
Lavender requires little space to prove profitable for a hobby grower looking to make a little extra. A 20' x 20' plot of lavender can produce $1,800 each season in raw material, however, one can markup profits significantly by producing soaps, oils, herbal bags and other related products. What's more, lavender is extremely cheap to start growing!
With potential comes trial. With any crop, if it were easy everyone would be doing it. While lavender isn't particularly difficult to grow with a little practice, it will require a bit of maintenance, and requires sunny summers and cold winters, making Mediterranean climates, such as those found in France, ideal for large scale cultivation. Many large farms can also be found around the untied states, such as in the Pacific Northwest.
Hardiness Zone: 3 - 8
Value: Average of $75 USD per 100 leaves, fresh
Perilla is a herb of the mint family, Lamiaceae, and has a slight resemblance to the stinging nettle, though with rounder leaves. The perilla flowers, fruits, and seeds are used as a condiment or spice in Japan, medicine in China, in salads and with meats in Korea and as a fragrance in Laos.
Widely naturalized in the United States and Canada, Perilla is a suitable crop in any temperate climate. Perilla's seeds do not store well, requiring the grower to source seeds fresh from a farm for best results, after one year of storage germination rates become low. 100 perilla leaves can sell for $75 and are popular with Asian food markets and restaurants.
Perilla's seeds are hearty, making them a great choice for beginners, and take anywhere from three to four weeks to germinate.The leaves are not prone to disease and do not appear attractive to most insects. The weedy types found growing outside have often lost the characteristic perilla fragrance and are not suited for eating so foraging for the plants and their seeds will not be viable. Seeds can usually be purchased at you local gardening center.
#1 WASABIA JAPONICA
Value: Average of $100 USD per pound, whole stem, fresh
An oddball for sure, but real wasabi is no joke. We're not talking about the green powders and pastes you find in the grocery store, that's a combination of horseradish and spices. The real deal is more herbal, with only a mild sulfuric like burn to it in comparison to its horseradish faux and comes to us in the form of a stem that is then grated into a paste using a sharkskin paddle.
Wasabia Japonica, native to Japan, is partial to rocky stream-beds and gravel bars throughout the island, although it is rarely seen growing in nature thanks to its panda like propagating abilities.
There is a reason why you have likely never tried real wasabi, it's rare and extremely expensive. One pound of wasabia Japonica stem can set you back a whopping $100 and is often even pricier as most of the worlds supply comes straight from Japan where farmers have diverted streams to flow under beds of river rocks.
What's the catch? If it's so valuable why aren't more people out their cultivating this painfully delicious plant? Well here's the kicker. If growing the darn things in extremely specific conditions isn't hard enough, you will have to juggle the life of these difficult plants anywhere from 1 to 3 years before they're ready to harvest. Because of this time investment wasabi is only financially feasible if grown on a large scale, and it can, unfortunately, only be grown in a temperature and humidity controlled environment when being cultivated outside Japan and some parts of the Pacific Northwest, making start up costs high. However, if you've decided to anchor yourself down on a sizable chuck of land and are willing to put the work in you can pull off some serious profits.
On this long list of cons there is one shining pro, aside from the shear value, of course. You will never have trouble selling this stuff, high end sushi restaurants will practically beg you for your supply! Of course there is always the satisfaction of knowing that if you could grow wasabi you can grow just about anything.
What are you growing/planning to grow?
A PERSONAL CALL TO ACTION
Thank you for reading through my list. I would like to take a moment to shamelessly promote myself.
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