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Backyard market gardening a myth?  RSS feed

 
William James
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We've recently underwent a re-design of our newly created company and have ruled out the cultivation and sale of vegetables for the market. It's a shame, since we have zero trouble selling. We live in a place where it is really a perfect market: lots of people with money to spend who are health-conscious and who really want to eat organic food. Local competition is near-zero, and other farmers welcome other growers, since they are supplying an almost endless market.

We made a type 1 error of trying to cultivate vegetables without water in a hostle weather (short growing season) and soil environment (heavy clay). The soil is improving, but the growth rate is too slow without dependable water. We estimated for 200 sq meters that we needed 40,000 liters of irrigation. We have 7 thousand liters and could expand to 11.

But the real show-stopper was both a realization of how much labor is involved vs. how much we actually profit from the activity. We are working intensely and in two years have lost money on the endeavour. The cost of the first year was 700 euros to produce 500 euros. The only thing that made it nearly profitable was our own shopping bill which was considerably less. This year is looking to be easily worse.

Adding water would increase our ability to get good soil and to get a faster, more dependable growth-rate, but we've estimated that it would cost us 1,200 euros/year to irrigate. I am not very unconvinced that with irrigation we could sell enough vegetables to break even. Plants, seeds, and irrigation and soil modification techniques are just too expensive and labor-intensive to do well at the small scale.

So, we've sort of taken Mark Shepard's advice: to paraphrase, throw all the remaning seeds in the middle of the field and if you sell something, anything, you make a profit. The objective is to perennialize as much as we can afford of the land and consentrate on other endeavours.

It seems to be a question of scale and volume. At the low end you can't really break even.

So. There was a book published recently "Market Farming Success: The business of growing and selling local food." which suggests that 'flipping' your backyard garden into a local enterprise is entirely possible.

Before spending even more money to buy a book for this failing enterprise of vegetable cultivation, it would be interesting to get some feedback. The book also suggests not doing microgreens, which is a fundamental part of our new strategy (a fad I know, but hoping it will 'obtain the yield' needed to do perennial polyculture)

Thanks,
William
 
Peter Ellis
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Seems to me your topic heading is probably answered in your post. It is not necessarily a myth, but, as with any enterprise, there are critical parameters for success and falling outside any of them is likely to lead to failure.
There are also issues of expectations. The first two years of any business are critical and usually difficult. It takes time to develop any business. The amount of work involved? There is a well worn quote to the effect "work for yourself and you'll work for the toughest boss you've ever known."
Making any small enterprise succeed requires a near fanatical dedication.
So, I do not think a backyard market garden is a myth, but I do not think it is simple or easy.
 
R Scott
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Most businesses fail. They just do. Even when they do everything right.

Most business plans underestimate the labor/time involved, regardless of the industry. The best estimator I knew taught me to estimate the time and money needed for a project. Then double it. If you had to deal with unions or the government, double it again.

Can you increase your prices and still sell enough product?

Can you pick just the items with bigger margins?

Since water is your problem, look at ways to reduce it--MULCH, precise irrigation, etc. Then look at what crops you get the most profit per water used. Use that data to adjust your crops to get the most money from your water.
 
oliver moss
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What were you growing that only produced 500 euros? -
I know it's very labour intensive, I'm doing it, but I made £1000(UK) of sales in the first year with only about £200 costs. Subsequent years have been gradually improving. I've needed to irrigate quite a bit but my water usage has been less than 100 m3 per year which if bought costs around £150, although my barn roof will collect that amount in a year.
I found baby leaf salads too time-consuming so am not growing them much now.
 
John Polk
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...how much labor is involved...

Yes, market gardening can be labor intensive...you also need to count the hours needed to transport your product to the consumer. But, the real labor is in the first few years. Doing the infrastructure to set up your growing beds. You have already done that (or most of it). It should become less labor intensive as your system matures.

Water shortages are an extreme handicap in a Mediterranean climate. No free water falling from the sky during the growing season. This is a classical example of the benefits of a perennial crop, vs. annuals that do their growth when water is not available. If you were to invest more time towards annual production, it should be towards converting the soil to be able to absorb and hold more water in the wet months, so that it can feed the plants longer into the drier months (growing season).

"Profitability" is a relative term. Very few market gardens show a true profit in the first few years, especially when you include the hours of labor needed to 'fine tune' the system. As a 'hobby', (or 'survival') it is always worth the time/effort. But, if it is expected to become the sole source of income, then it needs to be evaluated. There are "get rich quick" schemes out there, but farming is not considered one of them.

I agree with the previous post about the baby leaf greens. Very labor intensive, and I personally, very seldom buy them. In your climate, and demographics, asparagus and artichokes are two perennials that come to mind. Popular, high priced products that once established, require very little labor. Snow peas (Chinese peas) if planted before winter, will begin regrowth in early spring, while the rains are still falling. You should get a crop or two before the summer drought begins.

 
William James
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oliver moss wrote:What were you growing that only produced 500 euros?


We had boxed veggies, whatever was available. Sometimes mixed with figs or grapes. Selling for 3 euros a kilo.

Most of the usuals:
Fava beans, a few peas, onions, leeks, Lots of Tomatos, no peppers - nursery gave us the wrong variety, salad, boiling greens like chard, celery, a few herbs. Like I said, sales were no problem. Producing enough was the problem. People were waiting at the door to buy.

In my opinion, to be successful you need, minimum,
-an acre, better 1.5 acres.
-a small tractor + secure tractor storage
-weed eater
-mower attachment for tractor
-a drip irrigation system for some/most plants that comes from a spout
-easy access to mulch material, chip especially but also straw and compost
-2 medium-sized greenhouses for season extension
-a roto-tiller
-enough cheap water to last you through 3-4 months of drought
-a lot of good luck with the weather.
-a few water tanks
-cheap seed
-cheap plants (even our nursery, which is cheap, in the end was too expensive)

That would probably assure you something near the production needed to overcome the annual investment and would allow you to produce relatively easily. We got nowhere with a fork and a hoe and buckets of water.
William
 
John Polk
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-cheap plants (even our nursery, which is cheap, in the end was too expensive)

Ouch. I believe that if you are to show a profit from annuals, you need to start from seed (early !).
Even at wholesale, started plants cost too high of a percentage to yield suitable profits.

 
William James
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@John
thanks. lots of good suggestions. Asparagus is very high on our priority list, it goes for 9 euros a kilo. We're still going to seed annuals as part of our perennial polyculture planting design, but just for us really. If we have a surplus, ok, but it's no longer an objective.

For some reason people shy away from growing artichoke here. Maybe we're too north. It grows a crappy head, even when done by the local organic farmer with experience.

We're going to mimic our pioneer perennials that want to live here. That's black locust, elderberry, black-berry (thornless), wild cherry hawthorn (also to graft), hazelnut, chestnut. These things can be found for free and do well. Going to get an estimate for attaching water to the bigger 2.5 acres just to see the costs.

Microgreens sell for 16-20 euros for something (a seed tray) that takes 1.20 euros to grow. Even if we give restaurants huge price cuts we're coming out far ahead of the game. Plus people buy them just out of curiosity and restaurants seem to want something new. We're trying to outpace the fashion of microgreens while building the perennial polyculture that will be harvestable 5 years out. By the time microgreens are out the window, we'll already have something more dependable to sell.

We're experimenting with mass-selecting trees this year, a technique I really think will come in handy. It's a super-cheap way to decide who stays and who doesn't.
William
 
William James
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John Polk wrote:
-cheap plants (even our nursery, which is cheap, in the end was too expensive)

Ouch. I believe that if you are to show a profit from annuals, you need to start from seed (early !).
Even at wholesale, started plants cost too high of a percentage to yield suitable profits.


Yeah, we got burned on that one big-time. We just can't get tomatoes ready for April from seed, even with a non-heated greenhouse. Same with lots of others. Leeks and onions have to be transplanted, since they end up looking so much like grass. Totally pared back the nursery starts this year. The nursery even grows their peas from starts!

Salad/leaf veggies are some of the few things that works great with seeding. You can even transplant them out from a tight bed and they work so much better than the nursery stock.

But anyway, this year we spent 300 euros for 3-400 square meters of garden for seed from a wholesale representative. Not exactly pennies when last year you cleared 500 euros + personal consumption on a little less sq meters.
W
 
John Polk
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Asparagus is very high on our priority list, it goes for 9 euros a kilo.

Asparagus is not cheap anywhere. And, once established, is an easy crop. Very popular in Italian cuisine.
(Unless I do a Chinese stir-fry, it is always done in an Italian way in my house: either drizzled with olive oil, garlic and Parmasian cheese, and set under the broiler just until the cheese begins to melt, or a more Parma way: Parma prociutto ham smeared with creme cheese, then wrapped around the heads of asparagus...umm, delicious.)

You're near Roma, aren't you? The equivalent of USDA zone 9. Tons of possibilities if water isn't too big an issue.


If near Roma, there must be some Chinese restaurants that would love Snow Peas and other Chinese crops: Napa cabbage, pak choy, etc. They should all do well there. While the Italians are busy growing Italian crops, you could capture the Chinese market.

Good luck.
 
Mike Cantrell
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I spent a few years in northwest Arkansas, and it was a fairly challenging gardening environment, at least for starting a new garden. The ground is rocky and clay, very little organic matter, and rain in the growing season is rare.


We planted an enormous garden one year, and were astonished that one plant thrived where almost everything else barely held on. The super-survivor? Basil.

18 sq ft (2 sq m) yielded us so much basil that I'm still tired of it, five years later. We froze great big bags of pesto. Pesto, pesto, pesto, for the next two years.


So there's one idea. Basil thrives with poor soil and drought-like conditions, and then it brings prices similar to microgreens, at least here. Perhaps it could be your moneymaker?
 
Dan Tutor
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William James wrote:@John
thanks. lots of good suggestions. Asparagus is very high on our priority list, it goes for 9 euros a kilo. We're still going to seed annuals as part of our perennial polyculture planting design, but just for us really. If we have a surplus, ok, but it's no longer an objective.

For some reason people shy away from growing artichoke here. Maybe we're too north. It grows a crappy head, even when done by the local organic farmer with experience.

We're going to mimic our pioneer perennials that want to live here. That's black locust, elderberry, black-berry (thornless), wild cherry hawthorn (also to graft), hazelnut, chestnut. These things can be found for free and do well. Going to get an estimate for attaching water to the bigger 2.5 acres just to see the costs.

Microgreens sell for 16-20 euros for something (a seed tray) that takes 1.20 euros to grow. Even if we give restaurants huge price cuts we're coming out far ahead of the game. Plus people buy them just out of curiosity and restaurants seem to want something new. We're trying to outpace the fashion of microgreens while building the perennial polyculture that will be harvestable 5 years out. By the time microgreens are out the window, we'll already have something more dependable to sell.

We're experimenting with mass-selecting trees this year, a technique I really think will come in handy. It's a super-cheap way to decide who stays and who doesn't.
William


If water, bad soil, and limited equipment/resources are your limiting factors I would focus on improving and correcting what you can and working with what you can't.

As far as working with conditions you can't change, it sounds like you are on the right track with concentrating on using pioneer perrenials to create ground cover and shade for the earth which will improve water retention. Swales and hugulcultures are other obvious improvements that could be made, but they do take considerable labor or equipment.
Otherwise, I would install plastic covered hoop houses to mitigate your climate and prevent evaporation of water, as well as giving you the option of working with protected raised beds of good soil if you can source it.
Hoop houses should give you the option of raising your own seedlings, which you can always start inside your house if the hoop house is too cold, or you can provide heat under the seedling shelves through hot compost, large tanks of water, etc.
If microgreens are a cash crop, set up an aquaponic system to grow them in. It will use 90% less water, grow them faster, and eliminate any work weeding, pest control, cleaning, etc. you can also grow a huge amount in very small spaces.
I think you could set up a decent hoop house for not much more than you spent on vegetable starts last year, and a diy aquaponics system could be done for about 500-1000$.

How much farming or gardening experience did you have before starting this endeavor ?
It may take some time (like 5 years) to discover what works for you in a particular environment.
Cut your self some slack, learn from your mistakes, and try again, but above all, enjoy!
 
William James
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John Polk wrote:
You're near Roma, aren't you? The equivalent of USDA zone 9. Tons of possibilities if water isn't too big an issue.


I'm near milan, from the map (have been looking for that map for a long time) right on the border between zone 7 and 8. Kinda lowers the possibilities, doesn't it?

Mike Cantrell wrote:Basil thrives with poor soil and drought-like conditions, and then it brings prices similar to microgreens, at least here. Perhaps it could be your moneymaker?


Basil is weird here, especially from starters. Not really dependable so far. Right now it's just sitting there, waiting to root in the soil, and has been like that for weeks. Maybe it's the pH.
Probably could get it to grow if I really tried, and it does sell ok. A lot of people put it on their balcony, so it's something a lot of people have, but not enough for pesto.

Thanks for all the great suggestions.
William
 
John Polk
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Ah. Milan, the industrial heart of Italy. Still plenty of possibilities. It opens up quite a few fruits that need cooler winters than zone 9 will provide. I'm also guessing that you get more rain than the more southerly regions.

Not far from Valle d'Aosta, which is home to one of the world's greatest melting cheese: Fontina.
They make fine fondutas out of it. It is the origin of fondue, which spread to the French speaking parts of Switzerland, where it got its French pronunciation. Great dairy lands in the north. Butter is the main cooking oil in the north, while olive oil dominates the warmer/drier southern cooking.

I suspect that the northern areas would actually be better for farmers. The population seems more adapted to a wider variety of foods than in the south, where half a dozen crops dominate the cuisine.
 
Terri Matthews
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I pay a lot of attention to how much labor goes into crops, as I am handicapped.

Weeding. A tractor can be used to kill weeds between the plants, especially if you plant things like watermelons, which grow in patches. But, I do not have a tractor. Tillers are used to weed between rows but I cannot use the tiller very much now.

Corn. This year I am planting corn in clover. Frequent mowing between plants should not hurt the clover but I hope it kills the weeds. This is physically easy for me because I use a riding mower. Of course it is not worth it to space corn 4 feet apart and so I intend to plant hills of about 4 corn kernels per hill. I do not know how pollination will be affected and I do not know if this will work.

Tillers. A man had a 1 acre garden with relatively little work. He would kill the weeds with a tiller, sow seed heavily, and use the tiller to lightly cover the seeds. Then, when the seeds sprouted too thickly, he would thin the beds by using a metal rake. This would more or less give him the correct spacing. I have never tried this either. I read that this uses a lot more seeds but a lot less work.

Picking. Micro greens take me too long to pick and it tires me, so I no longer do micro greens. It is far easier to pick tomatos and bell peppers and other large vegetables! If I pick micro greens it can take me 20 minutes to pick enough for my family. It takes just 3 minutes for me to harvest enough kale and chard and cabbage for my family, and so that is the greens that I raise.

I can only harvest for 15 minutes and then I have to go inside to cool off: If I harvest microgreens then all I will have in 15 minutes is microgreens. If I raise large leafed plants like chard then my 15 minutes of harvesting will get me peppers, cucumbers, swiss chard, and tomatos in the same amount of time it took me to harvest only microgreens. There may be an easier way to harvest microgreens but I do not know what that might be.

Harvesting. The ideal vegetable to harvest is large and easy to pick. or example, blackberries are easy to pick but they are small and tomatos are large. I used to be able to pick a gallon of blackberries in an hour. In that time period I could pick gallons and gallons of tomatos and bell peppers! And bell peppers are a lot lighter than blackberries or tomatos. In my opinion bell peppers are the fastest and easiest crop to harvest. Onions re also very easy. Asparagus can be easy, though not if you try to keep the grass out of it: I do not weed my asparagus plants very often, and even then I only remove the big weeds.

For a lower labor crop, grow larger items. Things that are easy to harvest will be things that fit into your hand. And, they are things that you do not have to dig by hand: potatos are easy if you have a tractor but hard if you have to dig them with a shovel! This year I will try to raise potatos by covering them with straw. Because digging potatos up from the dirt is too hard to eat very many.

Water. Clay soil is not a problem if you have water! If you have a wet season you might try growing vegetables during the wet season and letting the garden go during the dry season.

SO! Weeding on the clay soil where I live is with tiller or with a tractor: I am trying out growing clover and planting widely spaced hills of vegetables that I will mow around. This only works with the larger vegetables and fruit.

I do not know what else I can say about water, excepting that if you can grow your annuals during the wet season it would be better.

OH! Edited to add: drip irrigation was invented to use much less water. I have never used it but you might research it!
 
William James
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Dan Tutor wrote:
How much farming or gardening experience did you have before starting this endeavor ?
It may take some time (like 5 years) to discover what works for you in a particular environment.
Cut your self some slack, learn from your mistakes, and try again, but above all, enjoy!


Put it this way: If we were a band, we would be a garage band.

We both had a couple years experience of gardening endeavors and we studied books and online a lot. When we started, we ramped up even more the study. When we realized what we had before us (no water and heavy clay) we did even more study. We're on the right path to building a decent soil, which will probably take another 2 years. But without water we're screwed. Hence moving toward taprooted species there and trying to get water at the other field for whatever we do in the future as a backup for all the water-building earthworks we're doing.

We're doing the impossible on a budget slightly in the red with enough possibility of success to keep us going. I'm pretty practical and if I didn't think it could work in the end I'd be the first to jump ship. Costs are potentially low, profit is potentially high and we're working on keeping our own labor down and potentially getting some help in the form of a wwoofer.

William
 
Terri Matthews
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HEY! AWESOME!!! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17uUD9MQ0po It harvests greens almost instantlyl!


 
Rebecca Treeseed
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I have had good results in dry weather with clay soil... it holds water very well. A bit of mulch keeps the soil friable and adds humus as it breaks down. I had a half acre and grew many vegetables without watering. I used free leaves mostly.

I moved and am creating a food forest on five acres in the mountains. My environment is pretty harsh and I am seeing what will work. I am also playing with native plants and have picked a couple that taste good and give results with no extra water as a specialty item.

I never discounted my ability to feed myself fresh, healthy foods... it is a major savings... and one of the few small businesses guaranteed to cover your food bill the first year.

My entry into market garden started with increasing food self sufficiency for my family. I started providing for poor families at church, and so it went.
 
chad Christopher
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Turn crops into a canned or dried food. Garlic is big bucks, mushrooms have outstanding return. Walk behind tractor are great. Look into Grillo or bcs. Medicinal herbs. Classes, anyone can teach a course on vermipost, or installing rain barrels. Infact, when your winter is barren, and slow, go buy a truck of olive barrels, and supplies to make rain barrels, and sell them in the spring. Potted plants sell for more than the produce they bear. As far as unheated green houses, your doing it wrong. Bioshelter market gardening, Darrell frey. Winter harvest handbook, elliot Coleman. Grow unique items, introduce 'forage' and 'native' weed greens and sell mixed with traditional greens. Find plant strains that produce outside of normal harvest times, to fill market niches. Make teas from your weeds and plants, blackberry leaf tea, with some edible weeds like violet and camomile, throw in some stevia, mint, etc. Medical tea, stomach calming mint, detox dandelion, aphrodisiac strawberry tea. Teach classes on composting, tea making, drying and curing, you make money AND, get free labor. I don't like churches myself, but hey, find a good one and ask to rent their commercial kitchen. In return for teaching canning and pickling. I guarantee, the people who attend the class will come to you, for their source of pickling cucumbers. And , now you can sell 3-4 cukes, for 5-7 dollars, plus 50ish cent loss on the jar. And if you grow my favorite money maker, garlic, don't forget to sell the scapes.
 
Aaron Martz
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William James wrote:
oliver moss wrote:What were you growing that only produced 500 euros?


We had boxed veggies, whatever was available. Sometimes mixed with figs or grapes. Selling for 3 euros a kilo.

Most of the usuals:
Fava beans, a few peas, onions, leeks, Lots of Tomatos, no peppers - nursery gave us the wrong variety, salad, boiling greens like chard, celery, a few herbs. Like I said, sales were no problem. Producing enough was the problem. People were waiting at the door to buy.

In my opinion, to be successful you need, minimum,
-an acre, better 1.5 acres.
-a small tractor + secure tractor storage
-weed eater
-mower attachment for tractor
-a drip irrigation system for some/most plants that comes from a spout
-easy access to mulch material, chip especially but also straw and compost
-2 medium-sized greenhouses for season extension
-a roto-tiller
-enough cheap water to last you through 3-4 months of drought
-a lot of good luck with the weather.
-a few water tanks
-cheap seed
-cheap plants (even our nursery, which is cheap, in the end was too expensive)

That would probably assure you something near the production needed to overcome the annual investment and would allow you to produce relatively easily. We got nowhere with a fork and a hoe and buckets of water.
William


My friend has a 16 member CSA and makes not a lot of money, but she is clearing even easy (16*$400 = $6400)

She has:
1/4 acre
Garden forks
Homemade broadfork
Starts her own seeds
Drip
Water access
One small greenhouse

She dug up her backyard and is gardening in slowly raising raised beds that are mostly permanent. No tractor, no tiller, no largescale mulching (though I think she should), small buying of compost and soil amendments. The only thing it sounds like she has that you don't is an abundant water source, though if you are really into the project and cut out your other nonessential expenses, water is a possibility from what you have described. This is one person working 4 days a week, and she thinks if she had a partner her productivity would be more than the 100% increase that might be expected from an additional person. I think if you can get water and start your own seeds you can do it. And yes, her yard was literally lawn that she dug up and flipped over.
 
Angelika Maier
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Market garden or not, I would invest in the biggest water tanks you can get. If you need 40.ooo litres of irrigation then you add 20.000 for your household. That is what you need. If your tank is bigger it is cheaper per liter. The temperatures in Europe have been extreme recently and I would not want to go without a decent tank. We had 7000 litres in Queensland. We only had a garden area of 300 sqm and this was barely enopugh.
I have no experience in market gardening. We have a coop here and I can bring stuff in they give me 70%, I sometimes bring in eggs but I really prefer giving it away because compared to the work it is not much you get. And if you give stuff away you often get something in return, they bring you day old bred from the bakery for example.
Woodchips by the way are great for improving the soil, but I don't know how much you pay for it. The climate in northern Italy is good for growing and the soil can't be worse than in Australia.
 
William James
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I sort of went through a revelation about this topic recently:
Based on this:
http://www.themarketgardener.com

Tight crop rotations, low-tech, battery-drill based infrastructure, a greenhouse, drip irrigation, 2-4 people doing it and doing 100K in sales yearly.
Helps to have a book deal and be diversifying into garden tools.
-W
 
Michael Cox
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Take a look at Joseph Lofthouse's work on landrace vegetables. Rather than trying to adapt the land to the vegetable he is breeding vegetable that are suitable for his soil and climate conditions. This approach minimises labor, water and other inputs for not much more than a bit of forward planning and careful thought.

I do agree though that soem decent water storage sounds like a must for your venture to be viable - you need the reliability of irrigation when conditions get bad.
 
Jay Grace
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Another thing to realize is when you're a market farmer growing annual plants and vegetables. Your labor is FREE. Row cropping and frequent crop rotation are very labor intensive.

Breaking it down to profit vs hours worked is a great way to become frustrated quickly.


If you have the room ( from personal experience) try selling heirloom tomato and pepper starts in the spring and/ or rooted berry bush cuttings.
High profit and on the berry bushes the longer you hold on to them the more they are worth.
Here in the states containered heirloom tomato and pepper plants can sell for $5+ easily.
You can start 500+ cuttings in a relatively small space.
500 rooted cuttings sold at $4+ each easily double your yearly profit.


... also if you have no problem selling everything you produce. Is it possible you are selling to cheap?
 
Dale Hodgins
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Stuff that just keeps coming is the least labor intensive for me. Swiss chard, Thai basil, ever bearing strawberries, kale and other leafy greens that regenerate without being replanted.
 
Lorenzo Costa
steward
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Location: Italy, Siena, Gaiole in Chianti zone 9
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Hi William, nice to see we're both still on board here at permies. I've read both market farming success, and the market gardener. You know while waiting to start farming and actually designing my land I've been reading (guess many of us undergo this phase as book jerks). Anyway they both have a very interesting message to share.
Market gardening success is more of a sort of manual that gives all the possible ideas on how to make a living from growing vegetables or flowers. The author actually stopped growing vegetables and started growing flowers, she shares that she made a better living selling flowers than veggies.
Anyway she has a very strong view on the entrepreneur side of market agrdening. She speaks a lot about the name you choose and the way you search for clients. especially restaurants. She speaks a lot of micro greens saying they are a good asset for finding restaurants. she explains how the best way to sell microgreens is to sell them by the flat without cutting so the chef decides what and when he wants them. the suggestion she gives is to start small and once you are sure about the greens you've been growing you sum up some more varieties. she suggests starting with six types and then you can get to 80 (!) varieties.
I'm intrigued by them.
the book essentially goes through every sort of farm you can try to set up. then she gets into the ways one can grow vegetables, how to propagate, and irrigation, weed control etc.
the second book is much more interesting I think for someone that is already into market gardening. Jean-Martin has a thirteen year experience by now and shares in his book all the solutions he found. He's growing in Quebec and that maybe sets a big difference with your climate.
the most interesting thing about his experience is he stresses the fact we have to start and stay small. the best extension is 1.5 acres. no big machinery, small things like two wheeled tractor (motocoltivatore), or rotary power harrow. fixed beds and great planning in advance all that you decide you can grow is because you know you'll manage to sell. fast growing vegetables, or good sotrable vegetables are good ideas. the important is planning, the author shares a very good sheme for planning he uses.
the other good book thinking while I'm writing is John Jeavons book, that maybe you already know, or otherwise you could search for la ferme du bec Hellouin they have got a webpage and good documents online where they explain there technique of intercropping and intensive growing. there is a very interesting document in english if you can't read french.
I really don't think backyard market gardening is a myth I think its damn hard! full of flaws and difficult moments. But one thing I can see is when ever you express your experiences and share your doubts you never once have put in discussion the decision you made to get where you wanted and thats a great thing.
I still have a lot to walk and who knows what I'll achieve but I'm trying and this already a lot.
 
William James
gardener
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Location: Northern Italy
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We're working on the irrigation thing.

We currently have 12K liters and will probably max out at 20K storage, run off of 2 roof rain gutters.

Plus I've caved in and am looking to get attached to the grid for a drought backup plan. This year was a dry disaster and we lost all annual production and had to put all our 12K into saving the 350+ seedlings we transplanted last year. And we still had to buy in 300 euros of water since the 12K wasn't in place early enough.

Partly to blame was that other more potentially lucrative things got in the way and we couldn't seed when we needed to. We lost the spring seeding due to an unseasonably dry spring. We had stuff from last year and a lot of weeds that helped us keep the trees shaded, but annual production was near-zero. Not even a tomato. Two eggplants. 4 pumpkins that checked out early. A disaster, but at least the trees are safe.

In the next few weeks when the rain finally comes we'll start the fall seeding and see how it goes. Right now we're working on water storage.
William


 
Angelika Maier
pollinator
Posts: 985
Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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WE don't have a market garden. We have 20.000 litres plumbed into the house. Our climate is not bad and we rarely expect several months without rain. And still it is the bare minimum. Sometimes there is a lot of rain and we could catch more water. Our house is 80sqm but there are verandas too, so overall it might be 100sqm. It is very important to look at your gutters, they mostlly slope to the wrong side, fix that or you'll lose water. Put a water tank to every roof you have shed, garage chicken house. Weather you buy a 20 or 40k liter tank the price difference is not very high. It is a backup for yourself if town water fails and if there's a fire (I don't know weather you have fires were you life, we have).
 
Joseph Lofthouse
gardener
Posts: 2579
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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Last time I calculated my hourly wage from farming, it was about $2 per hour. But with that, I fed myself, and my extended family, and donated about half of what I grew to the local food pantries, and put up lots of fruits and vegetables for winter eating. Plus, I didn't have expenses for seeds because I grow my own... I developed varieties of plants that thrive in my garden in spite of the soil, and the low humidity, and the cold nights, and the short season, and the bugs, and the farmer, and the mammals, and etc... Plant breeding takes about half of my time in the garden. It's a love affair for me, so no worries. I am breeding something like 70 varieties of 55 species. Some of them have rewarded me handsomely for my efforts. Some are still works in progress. (It wasn't until the 5th year or trying that I harvested a runner bean seed. Tonight, a few growing seasons later, I have a garden full of runner bean seeds. )

I estimate that with my climate and work habits, with abundant irrigation and a short growing season, that a mixed vegetable/fruit CSA garden could produce around $8000 gross per acre per year. And that a motivated, strong worker could manage up to 3 acres with help on pick-for-market day.



 
elle sagenev
Posts: 1282
Location: Zone 5 Wyoming
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Seems to me if the land isn't suited to growing food crops you look at something else. This year was enlightening for me as I watched our personal flock of 3 turkeys plow through the endless acres of sweet clover we aren't even trying to grow. It was a lightbulb moment. My Goodness, we can grow turkeys on this land with the expense of a good electronet fence and that's it.
 
Angelika Maier
pollinator
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Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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If you are close to Milan you could trial medicinal herbs too, or Chinese herbs. It is one thing to have a great farm with awesome soil but the next city is 500 km away. I think the closeness to the city is ahuge advantage.
 
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