Part time market gardening?

Slimy_Okra(2b)June 22, 2011

So I got my Master's degree, worked in academia for a couple years and have decided it's not really my thing. But the one advantage this type of career carries is stability.

I really love gardening. I got into market gardening just to try it out and I like it. But it's really not practical to do when working full time.

I'm married, no kids, no plans for kids.

So if I wanted to work 2-3 days a week at a normal job, and manage a market garden as well, how much land do you think would be reasonable to grow on, while still being worthwhile? An acre? Five acres? I am learning towards intensive, hoophouse culture of niche crops, early and late season crops with relatively low input (i.e. no heated greenhouses and stuff like that), mixed with more mainstream crops.

Niche crops and hoophouse crops have not really taken off in Canada like they have in the U.S, so there is opportunity in that here.

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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

I am a full time teacher during the school year Mid August through Late May. I am a full time market gardener Late May- Mid August and the rest of the time I am a Full time teacher and Market Gardener!

We garden intensively on about 1.25 acre. We live on 4.5 acres. We also have close to 7,000 square feet of growing space under high tunnels, in a year. We grow/harvest year around now.

The hardest part about working full time and market gardening is managing the high tunnels. In the spring and fall they need to be opened and closed almost daily. Then comes storms. I can handle winter storms, it is the severe weather that hurts. If you do go with high tunnels, make sure you have a plan for this.

I am married, have 4 kids and my wife is in school for another year. The garden/micro-farm allows her to stay at home in the summer and allows us to take trips, pay for winter propane, and all those things you never have money for. It is our living savings account. We also eat good too!

Check out our blog, you will see what we do.

Here is a link that might be useful: Jay's Jellies

    Bookmark   June 23, 2011 at 1:16AM
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Wow, Jay! That is awesome. To be honest, I don't know how you juggle all that - I would be burnt out! I have read some of your posts and I remember you mentioning that you sell your produce at two farmers' markets. Do you also market it any other way? If you don't mind me asking, how many years did it take to recover all your investments?

Do you start your early season crops indoors (or in a heated greenhouse)? If so, does the crop pay for the light and heat you have to invest at that time? Or do you sow them in the fall and let them overwinter?

    Bookmark   June 23, 2011 at 1:46AM
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i suggest you check out the marketing end of this first. where will you sell your produce? how much could you sell?
the amount you can grow also depends on what equipment you have. are you using a rotary tiller or hand digging?
its also important if you grow in high tunnels in the early spring and late fall that you have some idea of how many hours of sunlight you get at those times. between colder temperatures and less hours of daylight, things grow very slowly.
good luck and continue to ask a lot of questions.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2011 at 5:59AM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

We do sell at two markets, actually we sell at 4 markets. Two on Wednesday and two on Saturday. It is alot of work, but I enjoy the work. We also sell produce with our online market.

How long did it take to recover my investments, about one month. I didn't build all the buildings at once. I started with one, then two, then 3 more and finally one big one.
Using high tunnels, it is easy to sell early produce. You don't have any competition.

Everything I plant in my high tunnels is unheated. I just grow what is cold hardy. The over-wintered produce is planted from August to October and is harvested from October-March. I start all my seeds in my house on a grow rack with floresant shop lights.

I agree with Randy, how and where are you going to sell all your produce. Don't plant a seed without knowing how you are going to sell it.


    Bookmark   June 23, 2011 at 9:36AM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

It is really hard to compare this stuff accurately!

I work 2.5 days a week but also have household chores and cooking since I am a wife. I garden 1/3 acre or so but without a tractor. A tractor changes the amount of land you can handle significantly!
My schedule is thus:
M work and dinner
T pack CSAs then garden
W work and groceries and dinner and prep for market a little indoors
T pack for market- market- that is a long day
F garden
S family day and housecleaning
S work every other week otherwise garden

With this schedule I have been needing to garden until dark lately. Once the market and CSAs start that takes a good deal of time. I am always behind in the garden and at home and my husband complains. I do all the gardening nyself and have people relying on me so that is priority. CSAs take less time than markets but aren't quite as profitable since you give more produce than they would pay for at market.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2011 at 10:07AM
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