I Am a Market Garden Wannabe!
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Loucinda Stanley
Posted on: August 19, 2000

I live in Northeastern Alberta near Cold Lake. I have a patch of land 300 feet by 100 feet. This year we are going to summer fallow and perhaps be ready next spring or the spring following to plant.

What I’d like to do is set up organic garden plots of tomatoes, asparagus, broccoli, garlic. Can you tell me if there is enough land to make this adventure feasible? I want this to be mostly a one man operation to supplement my income three to five thousand dollars a season.

I plan to buy my seeds from you (excluding asparagus; i.e. not as seeds) and start my own seedlings in a small greenhouse. Can you recommend plant varieties that are hardy for my zone?

In time I wish to expand this to organically grown fresh herbs and even fresh berries such as blueberry and raspberry.

Your 100 feet by 300 feet plot is just under three quarters of an acre. Certainly, it is possible to gross $5,000 a season from produce grown on this amount of land, but that’s if everything goes right and if there is always a premium market available for your product. For fresh produce, I would prefer you to think in terms of the low end of your range. Note that I am saying "gross" income which means that all out-of-pocket expenses must come out of that to get your net income.

Typically a market garden will supplement on-farm production with product from other farms. If you can arrange for organic off-farm produce you can increase sales substantially.

Another way to increase revenue is to make and sell value-added products using products from your farm. Herbs are especially suited for this. Herbs such as catnip can be dried and used to make pet toys for cats, or simply packaged in small plastic bags and sold in pet stores. You can make your own herb tea, potpourri and spice mixes from herbs grown on your plot. Even herbal medicines are a possibility.

A key consideration is your target market. Who do you think will come to buy at your market garden? Or, where can you take your product to sell? If you have a farmer’s market nearby that is often a good way to get started. If you have a great location on a busy highway or arterial road that can be a bonus. But whatever your target market, you need to assess what your customers are likely to be interested in.

Some small growers that are close to a major city have done well selling fresh herbs to local restaurants. For the fresh herb business I recommend Sandie Shores’ book "Growing and Selling Fresh Herbs" (available from Richters).

There are many directions your market garden business could take with success. However, I can say unequivocally that you are unlikely to succeed on your plot growing dried herbs for the bulk botanicals market. To be successful in that market you need at least 5-10 acres.

Which herbs are hardy in your area? For the most part this question is only relevant for perennial plants such as the perennial herbs. But even many of the perennial herbs can be grown successfully as annuals in colder zones. So, you should have success with herbs such as oregano, parsley, cilantro, savory, thyme, and many others. Basil may be a problem if your nighttime temperatures drop below 10 degrees Celsius regularly during the summer.

You will also have problems with herbs that are not harvestable until the second year or subsequent year. For example, lavender does not flower until the second summer and if it does not survive your winter obviously you won’t get a crop. Similarly, for herbs such as valerian and angelica; these may not be hardy for your area.

You can check the hardiness ratings of all of our herbs on the Richters website. Go to the Richters InfoCentre section to find the zone for your area, and then check the Richters Herb Growing Database for the zones ratings for each herb. The Richters catalogue also has hardiness zone ratings for each herb.

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