Growing for profit do's and do not's?

ibarney5(6)July 28, 2012

Just a couple of questions. We had a fairly successful garden this year which we mostly passed along to family and friends. Next year I would like to bump up the scale of the garden and was wondering if anyone could provide me with any words of wisdom. A few questions I have:

What are some good high profit crops that require minimal space for heavy yields?

What is the bare minimal space you would consider workable for a for profit operation?

What kind of rules and regulations would be involved with this?

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First of all, understand that all markets have different rules, also different states. Find your market, then ask the market manager.

As far as which items to grow, that will also depend upon your area. Tomatoes are something that produce a lot for the amount of space the plant that's,but everyone grows them. You need to do a lot of research before you jump into this.

Personally, I believe you would need to start with a minimum of 1/4 acre with LOTS of room to grow. So many people are starting this it is becoming less profitable each year.

If after all of that, you still want to continue, just increase what you are doing, and this year start checking out those nearby markets or starting you a stand. Also, those friends and family, start telling them that you will be charging for all those freebies, or ask for some donations for them JUST from them. You could even ask how much they thought what they got for free was worth. That will give you an idea of what kind of money you might be thinking.

Of course, keep really good records,not only of what income you bring in, but also every bit of money AND time is going out. You also need to keep track of what ANY volunteer labor would cost at minimum wage plus benefits. If you don't know what to price benefits,just double minimum wage and you might close for basic benefits like taxes that will need to pay and such, not counting health insurance.


    Bookmark   July 28, 2012 at 9:40AM
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High profit crops - tomatoes, chard, spinach, herbs, kale, beets, carrots (note, you will have to plan on combating bug issues in the leafy greens with row covers, Bt, etc).

Intensively gardened, which is not necessarily the easiest way to go about it, I'd say at least 5000 sq ft. That means succession planting, relay planting, interplanting, wide row planting and other labor intensive techniques.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2012 at 9:36PM
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First of all make sure you have a market for the crop. Just because you can grow the crop, does not mean you can sell it. Nothing sucks more than watching valuable produce waste away, because you can't move it. Been there, done that so many times the next ten t-shirts are free. Check with farmer's markets in your area if they are even going to have vendor openings, talk to caterers and restaurants I would have samples available.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2012 at 9:50PM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

I second Votum, make sure you have a market for an item before you grow it. If you are serious, check out high tunnels. They are a way to have produce before and after everyone else and since you are the only one with this produce, you can get higher prices.

You can make some big bucks with herbs, if there is a market for them. For me, there isn't.

Succession planting and I believe you have to grow all the regular items, then grow some different items to make people stop at your booth.


    Bookmark   July 30, 2012 at 12:45AM
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I think i've got a pretty good spot. $7 a day and theres usually spots open. I can supplement that with selling from my front porch. We live in the heart of downtown on a main access road. I worry more about the legal/tax/insurance ramifications. Thats what ive got to get a good grasp on. I know every place is different.

In terms of growing...ive got a few ideas. Everyday staples of course but I thought about doing a few things different. Heirloom tomatoes maybe. Candy onions havent hit here yet. Maybe try those. Eggplant, butternut squash, a large variety of peppers, etc.

In terms of tomatoes for high yield...would you suggest staking and havinv more plants or caging but less plants?

    Bookmark   July 30, 2012 at 12:33PM
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magz88(5a - Central Ontario)

You may want to look into the SPIN model which specializes in growing high-value crops on urban land. The creator has been very successful with the model as has a guy named Curtis Stone who makes his living solely via his urban plots. I only bought one or two of the pamphlets (since I feel they are way overpriced) but I got a lot of info out of the few I purchased as well as the access to their forum.

One thing to be said is that this takes A LOT of man hours. You have to be a work horse to do this along with a 40-hour per week job. Don't overextend yourself.

Our highest value/least space or least succession planting required crops to date are our potted perennials, cut flowers, cut and come again greens, and head lettuce. Carrots sell very quickly as well but are once and done so you need to get a succession plan down.

I think the timing of harvest and succession planting is the biggest thing I am learning so far.

Chard is amazing - you plant it once and it will yield every week or every other week the whole season long. It rarely bolts and is easy to harvest and prep. Where I live it sells a steady amount.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2012 at 2:49PM
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IMO, candy onions are the best onions I've sold so far, 2nd are red onions. Candy onions don't store well tho.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2012 at 4:17PM
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Tomatoes-heirlooms take a lot of education as most people believe there are 2 colors of tomato-red and yellow 9and yellows are strange to a lot of people) so trying to sell white, green, black, purple and striped maters can be a very hard sell. Stake them and use the Florida weave to keep them upright (this is around 20x faster than tying individual plants)

Accept you will have to spend 50% of your time marketing, and on-line marketing is a must these days. Local harvest has free listings, Facebook is an incredible marketing tool for small farms and a website and blog are pretty much essential these days.

if you claim to be Organic than learn the rules and regulations and follow them other wise don't go there. if you gross more than $5K annually you cannot use that term without certification.

Along with candy grow storage onions like copra and red onions (we do several kinds and are developing our own variety by saving seed each year). The yellow and red onions store well and will mean you have onions to sell in the fall winter and even the spring. Garlic and leeks are also excellent sellers and not many people do them. I can get $2 for a big leek and get $1 for a bulb of garlic.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2012 at 6:28AM
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Is Local Harvest free? I tried creating a listing and on the last page it asked me for a $25 membership fee, then never activated my listing. Maybe because I just signed out after that. But I couldn't figure out how to activate the listing - didn't let me finish without entering payment info.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2012 at 7:16AM
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Localharvest is fee, they ASK, but don't demand. I've never had a problem, but I've had mine for years.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2012 at 7:40AM
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Tried creating a listing May 8, got the email saying they'd let me know whn they activated it, never got activated. Started from scratch today, got same email, we'll see how it goes.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2012 at 11:33AM
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They may have changed things, I've only had 1-2 responses from it anyway. 1 was a long-lost cousin wanted to reconnect and buy.

Mine was activated immediately.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2012 at 1:00PM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

I get all my CSAs from local harvest.

Walla Walla are way better than Candy onion and are not a Monsanto owned seed.

It is hard to say what crops sell best because it changes so much by locale. I am still working out which crops are most profitable per foot. I do know that if they don't sell well they ain't making you a profit! Beans are one of those. I will grow less next year. Carrots and beets do very well for me. Beets need to be picked smallish to sell and I grow rainbow colored carrots, not a mix but purchased separately. Those produce a lot per square foot.

with heirloom tomatoes you can get a lot of production per plant or very little depending on your choice of varieties. I cut out anything that does not produce well in favor of what does.

Sweet corn is a loss IMO but my CSAs like it. Melons and squash are pretty good crops. Of course summer squash puts out the most per s/f of anything but not always easy to sell. Peas and beans and berries take so much man hours to pick I think they are not profitable. Onions, scallions, leeks, shallots and garlic are very profitable for me.

When broccoli did well for me in cooler summer that was a good crop, side shoot-wise. Cauliflower, cabbage and brussels don't give much psf.

baby green leaves and kale seem quite profitable. I find leafy head lettuce does better than baby lettuce for market which was surprising for me. Hot peppers are almost unsellable here and produce like mad.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2012 at 10:31PM
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I haven't been able to sell chard at all (except to 1 guy at DH's work, 1 week, don't know if he'll order more), only sold 1 bunch of beets (for the greens). No kale (though that gave out early on me). Arugula seems to be the thing everyone wants.

Won't plant summer squash again (except maybe a couple of plants just for us) - yellow squash just isn't selling, zucchini is of course notorious for (over) production, I did manage to sell a little but it's not worth the space. Took just a couple lbs of Blue Lake green beans to market Friday, those sold quickly, edamame was a little slower but the people who wanted it were very enthusiatic, I will plant all my seed (bought in 2011) next year. I thought it was supposed to ripen all at once but found mature pods and immature pods on same plants so ended up picking it like green beans, that does cut down on the profit but since I have the seed I will do big planting next year, maybe once it gets going I will find some of the bigger pods "holding" until the others catch up.

Berries are very big sellers but I am finding wild berries (esp. this year) take so long to pick not profitable. Maybe next year my blackberries will come in like they did in 2010. Hoping the cultivated ones will do better - my great-uncle's cultivated blueberries are very easy to pick.

Still trying to find the right tomatoes for tastes here - taking a chance on Black Krim this year, it's not something you find in the grocery store so takes education but may be a niche item.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2012 at 8:48AM
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I have found that my customers prefer the Candy onion over the Walla Walla, and so I do. I realize the Monsanto thing for you.

Also, for me zucchini, we NEED to plant a minimum of 40 plants just for the smaller market that the kids are at. At the big market, I had to plant 100+ plants and not have enough.

Wild berries are a trademark for us, but yes the man-hours are horrible. Then again, a few years, if we didn't do the berries, we would have been dead in the water.

Everything is based on local preferences and what others are growing.


    Bookmark   August 5, 2012 at 10:41AM
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