Garden Size to sell crops?

Leanne1May 11, 2013

Hello -

I would like to sell my crop production but I don't know how much bigger to make my crop? I am just starting off (small) - selling at local farmer's markets. My garden is about 3' by 12'. How much space do I REALLY need to make an impact?

Thanks so much!!


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I always had a large garden, and what I did was to double it the first year, and double each year after that. My garden was about 50'x50' to start. To me a 3'x 12' is a flower bed, IMHO.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2013 at 6:09PM
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It is possible to do herbs in such a small space, but people only by so many herbs. Another thing you could try is miniature varieties of vining plants (heavy producers), and trellis them up (think 10' tall). Cucumber for summer and sugar snap peas for winter/spring would do well in that space. Also, research square foot gardening, and vertical methods to maximize $/per square inch. I'm still a small scale operation but started with something like that as a test plot my first few weeks. If you plan to make any kind of money (ie: not go in the red all the time) you'll find that you will have to scale up quickly, but it can be a good place to do a test area if you've never grown. FYI, 3'x 12' yields an average of $30-50/month (selling at an upscale market, lower at rural markets) and will fill approx. 1 medium size basket & your table will look very empty. I did that my first season in our co-op sales area, and had to partner with a cousin's produce to even attract people to our somewhat scrimpy booth. Lost money due to insurance and booth costs (not even counting actual growing costs!) People don't like to buy from a scrimpy booth. It looks like you have more space than that...if true, try at least as much land as you can physically maintain with the amount of labor hours you have.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2013 at 9:17PM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

Yes, that is too small. Some of our beds are 3 foot wide, as a comparison.

With that said, maybe herbs or a double row of cherry tomatoes (2 rows of 12 planted one foot apart) would give you the quantity to entice people to stop and buy.


    Bookmark   May 11, 2013 at 11:42PM
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I started last year with eight 4x8' beds. That was enough for our family and selling 2-3 produce baskets (csa style) every week. I added 3,000 square feet this year, and it will be my first year growing for a farmers market. I think if you are smart about what you are planting (I.e. melons/winter squash etc that Take up less space, all things are possible. Start small, and grow with time... That's my advice

    Bookmark   May 12, 2013 at 12:33AM
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Our first market garden was 25' x 75'. Since we didn't know what we were doing it was enough space. The second year we did an acre and that was fine for a couple of years until that was too small and we did more land.

10' x 3' to me is not even a small garden and will be enough to generate maybe $50 gross income (and about $15 to $20 in net income) per year. If you want to make any money you need at least 1/2 acre of a well planned garden space.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2013 at 6:19AM
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3'x12' is a single bed - maybe enough to feed a couple of people (I think our tomato and cuke bed at our first house was about that size, it was on the end of the deck so maybe 2x12). Definitely not enough to make it worthwhile selling at market. right now I've got wild blueberries and blackberries (well, no blueberries the past 2 years and no blackberries last year but did well in 2011). 2011 was a disaster with cold rainy weather and only about a dozen tomato plants survived, a few cukes and squash, lots of hot peppers (which no one wanted to buy).

2012 was hot and dry but I managed to do OK (still didn't cover expenses) with over 100 tomato plants, 60 potato plants (about 10 lbs of seed potatoes). Peppers didn't do well, so let's not figure them in, potatoes and tomatoes took app. 300ft of row. Then another 13x50 (app.) area fenced in for lettuce, kale, chard (kale got eaten by loopers, chard and beets didn't sell, lettuce went bitter by July), cukes, squash, and eggplant (eggplant didn't produce well for the space it took).

Not counting the berries, I've got about 4000sf fenced off and prepped to plant, hope to break even this year, the berries would help but with a freeze predicted for early tomorrow morning I might lose most of them (the wild ones, maybe I can cover the 100sf of strawberries, the 6 cultivated blueberry bushes, and the 30-odd raspberry/blackberry canes I planted last year).

    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 8:16AM
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It depends on what you mean by "impact". You may not be able to make a profit on that amount of space, but you will be amazed at the amount of food that you CAN grow. If I were you I wouldn't worry about market this year, just grow as much food as you can for yourselves and maybe to trade with others. Looks like you have plenty of room so maybe you could lay down some mulch to kill the sod over the summer and be able to expand easier next season.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 8:26AM
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You need a bigger bed than that. Or specialize in a crop that is popular among cooks but uncommon in the markets.

The two "dabblers" in market gardening I know of have beds about 5x30 or longer, and they are growing specialty crops for local restaurants ... one grows nothing but okra and the other has trellises of Armenian cucumbers.

I second the suggestion that you use this year as a practice year, grow for yourself and maybe the neighbors, while you work on expanding the area for next year and research the markets and what sells.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 10:38AM
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I used my first year to practice and watch what others were growing for market. With that size, that's all I'd do.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 1:55PM
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Have you considered what kind of job you want to create for yourself?

This is my anniversary of being at a year round market. Mostly looking like a "dabbler" but last spring/summer I had a pretty good thing at two markets...selling about 800 a week in produce not including eggs. It was a thrill to some degree, but a heck of a lot of work went into that that I am not willing to repeat. This is supposed to be a fun thing for me, I have a lot of responsibilities besides the crops.

So anyway, I had an acre under crops, pretty well managed at one point but, I was working way too hard relative to my goals. This was all fork and shovel work and compost grown. I bought a tiller at the end of the summer but didn't like it and sold it last week. I don't have employees and don't want any. I quickly lost my "MOJO" and somewhat painfully limped back to dabbler and now intend to stay that way at least to get a fresh look at things. This is a place where the growing is year round because the markets are year round and the weather is marginally year round, so it's not like an annual push that is over in a few months.

Maybe I'll start over and gradually improve in efficiencies and crop choices....but now it looks like I will only grow what is most easily grown in a particular time of year and grow the way I like to which is really nurturing every bed, and growing things we eat or store a lot of in the house and try to be a respectable dabbler. For now the time and energy freed up to do other things(that I should do anyway) is a better investment.

So far my best deal this year, never even went in the garden and that was selling tomato plants. Out here, everyone pretty much has their plants so that is waning.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 3:37PM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

This is a joke right?

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 4:41PM
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Rustico, I totally understand about scaling back. We have.

Minnie, it does look like a joke market garden plot. A lot of beginners just don't realize how BIG a space you need. OR how much WORK there is involved.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 5:49PM
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Thanks, Marla.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2013 at 11:38AM
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Thanks Rustico for your perspective. As a new market gardener this is something I should also think about since our market is 52 weeks a year rain or shine. It is really a challenge to grow enough for 52 weeks. 8 of those weeks are low profit (late June to early Aug due to heat). Our winter market is the most profitable time of year and there is a wait list to be a vendor during that time of year (most due to all the citrus growers).

Rustico, we have similar market schedules. Do you mind if I ask what is your most profitable season?

    Bookmark   May 26, 2013 at 11:34AM
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Wow, I can't image having 52 weeks of market. To me, 26 is more than plenty, by the end, I'm ready to go hide from people for awhile.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2013 at 6:42PM
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hello, gama,

I am glad you asked that question. It triggered some thinking for me. Yes, our markets are all 52 weeks....and most are hard to get into. Some will not let you in unless you commit to one of their other markets(also 52 weeks).

My preference would be around daylight savings , spring forward date to Thanksgiving. It doesn't get that hot where I live....just enough to make great watermelons. That would give me a break and allow me to get my growing areas in order for the next 9 month market cycle. Though this is Southern California...people do not come out in the winter. Maybe to the really famous markets they do, but not the kind I work. Vendors are basically holding their spots for a few months.

I am ready to stop all markets and regroup, I have learned a lot....perhaps start over next year. First I am getting rid of my chicken flock... and finishing selling most of my onions and blackberries.

I may go back to other places to sell, but the markets do seem most convenient/reliable at least for the seasons I would like to participate, and I like working them.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2013 at 1:20AM
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Rustico, Let me tell you, not to stop completely for a year. People will forget you and others will absorb several of your customers. I did and it took 2 years to get some of those to 'find' me again.

Plus, check to see if the locations will hold your 'spot' or you may not have a place to come back to when you're ready.

I'm at a different market and helping to build it. I'm just hoping we can keep prices up to at least cover prices (we have one vendor that comes and prices his produce at barely covering gas money).

    Bookmark   May 27, 2013 at 10:24AM
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I am not too worried about not getting in markets, or losing customers, Marla. I would be bummed if someone gave me a commitment to a spot and didn't follow through with it, but for now, I am not asking. It will work out. I am one of the few at the market who actually grows what he sells, most are sales employees from relatively remote farms....and I am the most "local", by far compared to most.

I may never want to go back.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2013 at 10:58AM
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I so totally understand. I started out as only growing what I could grow myself with some help with 1 son and hubby. I seen that I could not grow near enough without help. I found other farmers that liked to grow, but didn't like to market. I make sure that the farmers were doing the growing, and not buying, making themselves a middleman.

I grew to a stage where other vendors wanted me to step back and let them have all my business. they succeeded by changing rules where I couldn't compete. Along with growing older and not being able to do the work needed to grow everything myself.

I'm now at a market, a very much smaller market. It's hard to not have the sales or prices that I was able to have at the larger market, but there are no rules. Stop, I guess the only rule is good produce that customers will buy. Otherwise, the customer is #1, just like they used to say in customer service related jobs.

I seriously debated whether to go back into the marketing, but this last year, a person asked me to grow several plants (1800 total) for him in January (way too early in our area). In February, he changed his mind and wanted 2-3x the number, so I started them. I delivered as many plants that were ready to be planted less than 6 weeks later (unfortunately for him, not enough to make him happy), but he didn't want the rest of the plants. So I got stuck with several plants that I wasn't ready to plant in my 'non-garden'.

Now I've added a few other items that customers requested that other vendors didn't plan on supplying. So now, I have a market again, but much less stress.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2013 at 2:20PM
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sturgeonguy(5a ON)

I currently have ~3000 sq.ft. in crops. I've just received settlement on my "retirement" and am thinking about moving into a year round operation. That means greenhouses over both the existing crop garden, and another area I have (I have 3.5 acres, but its mostly bush, I want to keep the bush as much as I can, shiitakes are growing there now).

Is this still consider "market gardening", or should I be in the "professional" forums? I would like to make a year-round living out of this (no mortgage to pay, but I still need like $50k a year).

    Bookmark   June 17, 2013 at 4:18PM
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I have about 4000sf in plus berries and I can't make $50K/yr. Maybe you can with shiitakes? Greenhouses will help too - ho many sf can you get under cover?

    Bookmark   June 17, 2013 at 5:32PM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

I have just over 20000 (1/2 acre). I do not clear $10000 by any means.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2013 at 8:00PM
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You can probably clear $50K with 3 acres of greenhouses (126K square Feet) and doing marketing/selling 12 months a year with maybe a week's break somewhere in there. But that is if you have a very high end crop and can sell all of it all of the time at top retail which pretty much never happens unless you live near an urban area with a great farmers market system and a lot of restaurants that are into locally raised whole foods.

You can expect to net $4K per acre realistically with high tunnels. On 3K square feet you can expect to net maybe $1000 annually, maybe up to $3K if you do a lot of succession planting and can have something to harvest and sell 12 months a year.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2013 at 9:26PM
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sturgeonguy(5a ON)

Well, I guess the first answer is this size of an operation is still considered a market garden.

To answer your questions. I could probably put something like 20k sq.ft. of greenhouses on the property. I'm ~145km/87m from downtown Toronto, my nearest huge urban area. There are several places outside of Toronto nearer to me which should support fine dining/good eating.

Thanks for the responses.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2013 at 7:55PM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

To me a market garden's produce goes to market- no matter size.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2013 at 11:18PM
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I would call it a market garden, yes.

You need to identify your market before you proceed with such a venture. Where will you sell? Restaurants, even high end ones, don't always accept farmers' market prices. Many already have a supply of vegetables from existing producers.

The highest value crops per sq ft. are herbs and leafy greens. You will need to have a facility to prep and clean this produce (this is way more time consuming than actually growing the stuff). If you want to gross anywhere near $50K, you need to hire people and then you have to factor in their wages.

A fairly profitable crop for me here in Saskatchewan is Swiss chard. In an unheated high tunnel, I can force production for about 5 1/2 months (late May to early November) and gross about $10/sq ft over the whole season. But this doesn't mean that half an acre of swiss chard will gross me $200,000. At some point, market demand will be the limiting factor. If there's a high demand for a crop, then there's probably someone growing that crop already. If not, why not? Just some things to ponder.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2013 at 2:24AM
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