mikro backyard nursery

hedwig(QLD Brisbane)December 1, 2005


I am thinking about starting out a very small scaled micro nursery for selling at the market. What do you think of the following plan?

I want to raise herbs and perennial vegetable, perhaps some annuals as well. The market were I want to sell is a flea / vegetable market with some plant sellers, but more usual things. Later, with more experience perhaps at a farmers market.

Plants are quite cheap here, but I'll try to sell a bit unusual plants. I calculated selling plants for 3AUSD$ each (some might be cheaper, some more expensive). My very first and very rough calculation says that to produce one plant I can sell for 3$ I have to spent 1,5$ (market fees 25, transportation, potting mix, pots, seeds,..) Working hours not counted.

I calculated to sell 100 plants per market (in the first markets perhaps half of it) and perhaps 10/month at at the roadside/money in letterbox-system).

One of my problem is if I start seeding now I have to produce for the next three month at least or I sow make a market, see what I can sell and then decide wether I go on or not - but can make the next market only three month later. I count overall with a germination of 50% and of 50 % of sellable plants (some seeds are quite expensive). For selling 100 plants I have to bring perhaps the double to the market.

Do you think the idea is worth trying? Are my first rough calculations a bit realistic ($ = AUS$)?

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I am doing what you are planning to do. I sell at a large flea market (up to 10,000 visitors per day, only open on weekends, open all year, attendance cuts in half over the winter). There are a few plant vendors and a few produce vendors. I sell mostly edible plants like herbs and veggie seedlings as well as home made garden arts & crafts. I do all of it by myself, the growing, the loading, the hauling, the selling.

I have done this for one summer with plants, I sold crafts only the summer before. I plan on doing it as a part time job from now on. I keep things simple and my expectations low so that it doesn't overwhelm me on my precious weekends.

My small truck can only haul so many plants and tables. My back can only load and unload so many plants and tables. I only rent one space at the market (equal to a parking space). On a good day I sell 2/3 of what I bring, on an average day I sell 1/3. I structure my pricing around that fact. When I price a flat of seedlings I plan on only selling a third of them so I need to triple my prices to make money. I never really sell out of anything. Calculate your costs to produce the crop, divide by how many seedlings you have to sell, assume you will only sell a third of them, adjust the price so that you make money (extra money for any you sell past the 1/3 mark).

My market doesn't attract top quality plant shoppers (hopefully this will change). I watch the few other vendors spend the entire day with very few sales. Most of them bring a booth full of the same thing - gallon perennials or hanging baskets. I just don't see the demand for these crops. I sell small rooted cuttings and seedlings. I aim for the unusuall but I sell most of the common stuff. One funny thing that I have noticed is that when I offer gallon plants in the $5 to $10 range a customer will buy one or two and thats it for the day. When I have seedlings for $1 the same customer will buy $20 worth of plants. It must be that they feel they are getting more stuff for their money. Because of this I now almost exclusively offer seedlings and smaller plants. This may not work for everyone.

Rather than start all my seeds at the same time I work everything in two week cycles from mid winter til early summer. I plant in small amounts. My set up at home isn't perfect, my yard is mostly shade so it is hard to grow a lush full sized plant without a lot of effort. By working for small amounts of time throughout the week and keeping the crop size to a minimum I never get over run with plants, there is always an new crop ready to sell.

I will compost a plant rather than cut its price. My yard can always use the compost and once you start offering special deals the customers will expect it. I sell at a fair price and have no intention of being the cheapest place around to buy plants. I want good gardening customers, the kind that buy plants all season long.

I make more money selling crafts than I do selling plants but the two together help with the display and increase sales.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2005 at 11:27AM
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hedwig(QLD Brisbane)

sounds interesting! I calculated doubeling the price not tripeling. But yesterday I found a very cheap source of used pots. My garden is not that big and until now we need all of our compost to plant some vegetables and flowers (the soils here are poor) so I think to buy the seed raising mix. Do you mix your own? Or so you buy and change the misture if necessary? Yesterday I visited the market once more many eco-crafty things but the stall were people bought the most were cheap resellers of vegetables. Interesting is that you do not sell very good more uncommon things. and I think the germination rate of the uncommon things is much lower.
Do you buy your seeds at normal retailers? (here I have to count for less common seeds 3$ the normal packet).

    Bookmark   December 3, 2005 at 7:56PM
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hedwig(QLD Brisbane)

Hi John,
how many plants do you bring to the markets?
Do you grow common tomatos sunflowers etc or do you try to find rare species? Common vegetables I can buy seedpackets at 1 $, the more interesting things costs 3 $.In some packages there are only 8 to 15 seeds, for example tree seeds. If I count the germination rate and the rate of sellable plants it seems to me very expensive. On the other hand these plants are more interesting than rucola. and it seems to me very strange groiwng tomatos which everybody can grow on his own. Do you take care planting only desease resistant plants? Do you sell trees as well? And if you are away do the neighbours or a friend water your seeds?
I planned to make factsheets to give with the plant at least for the more uncommon ones but this will cost 10 ct every plant. Many questions! I hope not too much.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2005 at 9:04PM
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I have a growing garden at home (I've only lived here for 5 years) so I am constantly buying and planting new plants for the yard. My goal is to turn my yard into a showcase garden and offer garden craft workshops on weekends (it will take me another 5 years to get there). So most of the plants I sell are either cuttings from my garden or extra seedlings left over after I planted my garden. My customers really seem to like that these are plants from my yard and not from a greenhouse down south (meaning Florida, which is where a lot of plants around here come from).

I get seeds from all sorts of sources. For really unusuall seedlings I often get the seed by trading with other gardeners. I host plant swaps and seed swaps throughout the year and people are always giving me precious rarities as a reward for organizing the events (worth all the trouble). Some of these people enjoy the swaps so much that they basically shop for me during the year - they know what plants I collect and which species I am looking for. Sometimes they expect me to pay them for it but most often they seem to enjoy finding and giving me a gift plant for free. One other special thing about this area is that there are a few specialty nurseries in the area that have some of the most unusuall plants around (Plant Delights Nursery, Niche Gardens, Camellia Forest). So if I need something really special I don't have to go very far to get it. But, having these larger more established nurseries in the area also makes it hard for me to offer anything special. Keep in mind that because I grow in such small numbers I don't really need large quantities of seed.

There are market gardeners that can go to a festival or market and sell entire flats of herbs (the same type of herb). I have never been able to do that. I might sell a lot of something but I've never been able to sell an entire flat. Now I do get other vendors that want to buy an entire flat at a reduced price, I decline, I'm not a wholesaler, it screws up my profit margins to sell things so cheaply. You might find that your market will buy in those volumes. More than likely your market will shift in its buying habits from season to season. So how many basil seedlings you can sell in the spring will be different than how many you can sell in the summer and you will have to take all that data into account to determine the price you need for each plant. At my market it would hurt sales to have a spring price and a summer price - its the same customers every weekend, they will notice the difference and complain.

My truck can haul around 300 plants (a little more if they are mostly seedlings, a lot less if they are mostly gallons). So I have to make my money selling 100 plants. With an average price of $2 per plant I'm making $200 on plants. On an average day I can sell $50 of crafts (bird feeders, decorated pots). Though I sell fewer of them they cost me less to make and store. With the seedlings I have to sell them quick or they will grow to big and leggy (remember my yard is mostly shade) and no one will want them.

My biggest selling item isn't a homemade craft or a plant - it's decorative rock glass. Rock glass is the waste product of glass factories - old molten glass is left to cool and thrown away. I buy it cheaply and take colorful rocks about the size of a grapefruit or larger and sell them. I don't polish them, I don't clean them, I don't do anything to them and I can sell as many as I want to haul to the market. Now I could just devote my entire enterprise to selling rock glass but that would saturate the market and sales would eventually drop, so I sell a small quantity each weekend and keep the price up.

My original plan was to be the flea market vendor devoted to vegetable/herb gardeners in this area. In this region you can garden all year if you want, but most people don't. So my hope is to wean my customers off of petunias and get them growing food crops on a small scale in their own backyards. Veggie seedlings aren't the crowd pleaser that floral crops are and you really can sell more product with a flashy display so I've learned that I have to offer bedding plants. One thing I can do is buy flats of bedding plants at wholesale prices from some of the big box stores or specialty nurseries and grow them up bigger in my yard and sell them for more money. I don't make a lot of profit after spending that much time and effort on them but having some full bloom plants available helps out the display value.

I quess what I'm trying to say is that there is money in small scale market growing. It might be specializing in one crop and wholesaling it to area garden centers or it might be retailing it yourself. What I have learned is that the way things are described in books is not necessarily the way it works - at least not in my experience. At the flea market I can make between $75 - $250 per day. At my last part time job I only made $50 per day. If I found an 8 hour weekend job I would only make $80 per day. This way I make more money and I am in control of my weekend. If the weather is bad I stay home and work on crafts. If the weather is good I plan on staying longer at the flea market and selling more. If sales are down I can pack up and go home whenever I want.

Many people advise me to move my business to the local farmers market (which is actually closer to my house) but the farmers market doesn't have the volume of customers all year long, and it starts at a rediculous hour of the morning (vendors have to be there at 5am, customers arrive at 6am!!!) and there are 30 other people doing exactly what I am doing. Some of the vendors there only make $20 a day for their efforts. Also, many farmers markets sepparate craft selling from the plant vendors so I would have to only sell plants or crafts not both.

hope this helps.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2005 at 11:30AM
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hedwig(QLD Brisbane)

I think you have plenty of experience! I only fall into gardening.. and I cannot convert my garden in that waay you did it because we rented the site..My first approach will perhaps be sme country specifics perhaps cinese vegetables and herbs or south american plants or making a group of different basil (thai, hindu...), but I am not shure if I should wait a bit it is so hot at the moment.
But if I want to start out after summer holidays I should plant now.
How many plants do you carry to each market and how many species?

    Bookmark   December 5, 2005 at 10:37PM
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Heat is a big problem - plants look like hell in high heat and it becomes very hard to sell them. I focus my efforts on spring and fall sales and only go to market if the weather is mild during the summer.

I haul my own tables and place shade loving plants under the tables and sun loving plants on top. I mostly haul plants in wooden tote boxes that I made or plastic bulb crates (same size as the wooden boxes). Each crate or tote will hold about 18 small pots. I also stuff larger pots in all the spare spots in the truck, where ever they will fit. I can get about 300 items hauled (this includes totes filled with crafts - rocks and bird houses). I would say that about 100 or a third of them are herbs and vegetable seedlings, a third shade perennials and a third sun loving annuals/tropicals/houseplants. It all depends on what I have to sell. If something is growing well at home and in full bloom I will pack more of it. If the newspaper just ran a story about banana trees as patio plants then I will stuff in as many banana plants as possible. But mostly I grow a lot of odds and ends at home and whatever is looking the best is what gets taken to the market.

Lots of customers get excited about vegetable or herb gardening in the spring when the weather warms up, but they don't understand that many of their favorite plants have to be planted the preceeding fall in order to get a crop (like garlic). So I bring garlic plants that I started the past fall that have been through a winter so they will perform beautifully this summer. Something as cheap as garlic and I can get $1 per plant.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2005 at 10:08AM
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hedwig(QLD Brisbane)

so I have to start out now, to have plants for autumn ready (here there is a spring and an autumn planting). But I can sow only plants which can cope with the heat. A good hint are the crates. We have a wonderful shop "reverse-cycle" I hope finding them there. I plannend my first trial in February after chrismas holidays. Or perhaps later if the plants are not big enough.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2005 at 7:17PM
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I live in brisbane, plant it all now. As long as it gets some shade they will be fine, it looks like a wet christmas so it won't be a problem. I am presently growing heaps of herbs chillis eggplant and cherry tomatoes the only thing I'm worried about is the tomatoes with fruit fly and wilt and blight.
Just give it a go you will be suprised how much most things like our summer. Just watch the catiplillas.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2005 at 5:57PM
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The beauty of using the bulb crates (you can google the words and see pictures of them I believe) is that you can set them up with seedlings and pretty much grow them in the crate during the week and haul the whole crate to the market and sell directly out of the crate. Saves you a ton of time loading and unloading. A big problem I had before the crates was damage to the plants during transport. No matter how careful I was some of my seedlings would get battered pretty bad on the way to the market - this only makes them harder to sell. The crates stack one on top of the other and I can fit quite a number of them in the back of my truck (it has a camper shell covering it).

This spring I will use small wooden boards trimmed to fit the fronts of the crates. I will paint these boards with chalkboard paint and use cheap sidewalk chalk to write prices and names on them. Having these easy-to-change signs come in handy at the market when I move plants around or repack the crates because of one plant selling faster than another. Last year I mostly used my homemade wooden crates and I just painted the fronts of them this way. I'm a big fan of chalk signs - too easy and inexpensive.

Just grow what you can and take it to market. There is no way to guess what the customers will want. What they want one week isn't what they want the next. Just take the best products you can provide and see what moves. Once you get the business up and running you can fine tune it or bend it to different directions to better suit your plan.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2005 at 10:24AM
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hedwig(QLD Brisbane)

thanks for the answers! the best thing is that it seems not to be that bad the idea. Stillmanz were do you live in Brisbane? And do you sell on markets? (off topic: I grow tomatos for the possums). Triangle John, do you use bought seedraising and potting mix or do you mix on your own? It is a matter of finding sufficient material for composting.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2005 at 7:54PM
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I buy a brand here called Promix, they sell both commercial blends and retail mixes. I am not allegiant to any one brand, whatever I can find on sale or convenient. I start about half of my seedling directly in 4 inch pots (mostly large plants or fast growers) saves time on transplanting. The others I sow in flats and then pick them out and transplant one time into 4 inch pots. After they get to a certain size I toss them if I don't sell them. My yard is too shady to grow them the rest of the way.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2005 at 11:19AM
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I'm on the North side and we go to the West end green markets and some others smaller ones. We mainly sell the chilli sauce. It seems I mainly grow tomatoes for the fruit fly lol.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2005 at 6:35PM
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hedwig(QLD Brisbane)

I plan to go at West End as well. (I know chillies are not eaten by possums turkeys fruit flys tomato worms) but look in the Eden catalog they sell fruit fly resistant tomatos seeds (if it is true)

    Bookmark   December 11, 2005 at 7:19PM
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