Starting a Market Gardening Business From the Ground Up

Starting a market gardening business from the ground up, includes how to grow and sell produce for profit, garden size for market, where to sell your produce and planning planting dates.

| December 1997/January 1998

First adventures in starting a market gardening business and making a profit. (See the market gardening charts in the image gallery.)

I never wanted to garden for money . . . honest. Some are born into the gardening business, others have it thrust upon them. I only intended to grow what I needed. My family had just moved to a new, somewhat secluded home and besides, I had retired (at the age of thirty something—the first of several retirements) and I wasn't about to compromise all that relaxation time. I tried to keep the garden small, and anyone who knows me knows that I'm not terribly compulsive. But I couldn't stop making it bigger.

It all started with a half dozen tomato plants which I planted in the largest area of sod I could till with a front-end tiller in a day: about 300 square feet. The next year I hired someone to till and the garden jumped to 3,000 square feet. After two years of gardening I had planted the same amount of square-footage that an average home contains. I was amazed.

Spurred on by my newfound industry, I started writing a weekly garden column for the local paper that winter. That was pretty nervy of me considering my very limited experience. Writing kept me focused on the garden. I read a lot and put a lot of time into planning. When spring came I had a well thought out garden on paper. Most gardens were planned during the winter before I ordered seeds. Those that were not planned in advance suffered.

My next garden doubled in size again. In this garden I was trying to meet all the family's vegetable needs for a year. I grew too much winter and summer squash, too many peas, beans, potatoes, cucumbers and spinach, just to name some of the surplus. Rather than admit to poor planning, I pretended that I was starting a market gardening business and trying to figure out how to grow produce for the market. I determined that 1,000 square feet planted intensively could produce a year's supply of vegetables for one person. Our family was two adults and two small children who didn't eat much. Three thousand square feet should have been more than enough.

I didn't cut back the next year, however. The 6,000 square feet had been worked a year. I didn't want that nice garden soil to go back to sod, so I planted with the thought of actually learning more about the possibility of selling vegetables. Having more space than I needed, I tried things like okra. The okra helped keep down the excess of food as a row produced only one edible pod. I planted my first asparagus bed. I also planted wheat, flint corn for corn meal, and pop corn.

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