Small Business: How to Garden for Profit

The Boot Straps column shares success stories of people who open small business ventures. Learn how to garden for profit on less than an acre of land.


| October/November 1997



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Mike, Linda, and their green gold mine.


PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

How to garden for profit on less than an acre of land. 

"Get Rich Quick." Open enough magazines or endure enough insomniac special late night TV and you'll be assaulted by "recipes for financial success" as diverse as swooping down on foreclosed real-estate and selling cosmetics over the Internet. While marginally more entertaining than the "Lassie" reruns they compete with, such ads are a tribute to the world's oldest industry (well, second oldest) . . . swindlery. You won't get rich quick folks, provided you aren't strewing the walkway of your very old uncle Rockefeller with cooking grease. But there are good ideas out there, and we discovered one while talking to Michael and Linda Harlan. Both in their late 40s, Mike and Linda have carved out a piece of the good life in northern California, and they earn a full-time income working part-time hours. Not enough for you? What about a commute which consists of a step out their back door. What is this thunderstrike of a notion that has kept a roof over their heads . . .? Gardening.

For the past 11 years the Harlans have cultivated a nursery in their Sacramento County backyard, something they say any industrious plant lover can do. A small nursery doesn't take a great deal of time, vast sums of start-up cash, or a sweeping expanse of property. The Harlans spend just four hours a day managing their business, which they started in their half-acre backyard with a $200 investment.

Their business strategy is a simple one when it comes to learning how to garden for profit. Buy young plants in six-pack flats, repot them into gallon containers, and, once grown, sell them to retail nurseries for a profit. There's a bit more to it than that, but the Harlans are the first to admit that their business idea is so straightforward that even a gardening novice can earn $5,000 growing container plants on a 1,000-square-foot plot of land.

What to plant. First, do some research. Read gardening magazines and journals to find out what's popular. Readers often go to retail nurseries specifically looking for the plants featured in the articles.

Next, pay a visit to the local nursery. Ask the manager which plants consistently sell out and what the nursery could always use more of. Don't be discouraged if the larger, more established nurseries have saturated the market with the most popular plants; try cultivating plants that are harder to find, such as ethnic or heirloom vegetables.





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