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Backyard growies part-time - can one make any income at all?

 
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Hi everyone: I know this there’s been talk on this subject already and that most people here say they farm for a better quality of life and not for an income. So, if anyone can point to a better forum for this subject, please do. I didn’t find any. Perhaps those types of micro-farmers are too busy or too competitive to post on forums. Neither do I really buy the books on the subject – as usual, they seem written to sell, just summarizing or spinning old, overly-optimistic ideas.

Can someone make any income at all out of growing something on, say, 1/2 acre or less in the backyard,  on a rather reduced part-time basis? I’m in zone 6 Connecticut, I’m willing to invest in a solid setup/infrastructure, manage it tightly, but I wouldn’t afford more than 1-2 hrs some days/week for it. Furthermore, I’m not a salesman, and neither would I want to take chances with produce (even mushrooms or micro-greens), so I’d like to market nationwide online bareroot or in containers.

Is there such a niche market without economy of scale, where an individual can compete just by careful management and selecting rare or difficult plants to grow perhaps? I’m not thinking ginger or bonsai trees, by the way, as they take years to grow, and neither flowers, as they need a fast, local market. Herbs, or dried herbs, don’t seem to do well or they’re abundant. Maybe trees or shrubs of some kind? Starting all this would be a big undertaking and any feedback will be much appreciated.
 
pollinator
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Until you have experience and success, I would personally suggest starting out small. Then build upon your success and expand.

I can't tell you what to grow because there are so many "depends" involved. But while living in New Jersey I saw a neighbor down the street and around the bend have a successful part time business growing miniature roses. He sold them mail order. He advertised in flower magazines. He also printed a glossy colored catalog which he handed out at flower shows (especially Philadelphia Flower Show). I was involved with growing African Violets at the time, so I was aware that people thought he was a large production. Little did they know he was growing the roses in his basement plus one greenhouse in his backyard. I often thought about switching to miniature roses, since they were far less work and expense than African Violets, but I had the opportunity to do something else, so I closed up the greenhouse business and moved on.
 
gardener
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You can make some supplemental income, but most of it will go towards covering supplies & business expenses.
With my little nursery side business I've had really good months and pretty poor months of sales, which averages out to show a small profit once I subtract the supplies, expenses and the time/labor I put in.
Online sales tend to me less profitable than setting up at farmers/markets. There are also more legal requirements for an online operation, and online sales still require the seller to hold a nursery license. Additionally, you have to check the laws of the state you're shipping to, to make sure there aren't any import restrictions in place for the plant(s)/seeds

Finally, I recommend you check out this book by David Good (he's on Permies), as it goes over lots of good information, like how to choose a niche and maximizing profit.
IMG_20191117_231158.jpg
home based plant nursery
home based plant nursery
 
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KC Simmons took the words out of my mouth. David the Good is the guy for you to read. His site is http://www.thesurvivalgardener.com/ and chock full of info.
 
gardener
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hau Luke,

To answer your question, yes you can make money on 1/2 acre. As Su Ba mentioned, it is best to start small and build as your experiences guide you.

Things I have seen work include; Nursery (grow plants for sale) this can be vegetable starter plants all the way up to trees, Micro greens (these can even be grown in the house and take up very little space per dollar earned from sales), vegetables (I know a guy that only grows squash and makes enough from farmer's market sales to support his family). I'm sure there are plenty of other items and ways to make money on 1/2 acre, the ones I've brought up are the ones I'm familiar with.

Redhawk
 
gardener
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I would look for the term " no known pest issues" for your growing area. This gets you beyond organic without the time/labor of dealing with critters.

Asparagus meets the definition for me. The only bug maintenance is to rake up the dropped seeds so they dont overwinter on the soil. I rarely do even that. Plant once, harvest for years. Because they last for decades, start with rich organic soil and top dress every year. In my area i can plant shallow in poor soil and add inches every year. Constantly improving the soil over time.

The tree that meets the definition for me is jujube. It can take our heat, has no natural enemies, and needs very little additional water. Unfortunately i have never eaten them and don't know about their marketability. I hope mine fruit in 2020.
 
pollinator
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I do make money on 1/2 acre of annual vegetables, This however would NOT work for you as while I probably average 1-2 hours a day over a year at peak season (harvest) it's 6-7 (up to 10 hours for a couple of weeks) hours a day and it has to be specific hours.

Have you considered seeds? So selling seeds of rarer plants, plants that are not going to get cross-polinated by anything close so you don't have to worry about that, but where the seeds are hard to get hold of. since plants for seeds don't need harvesting every day it might fit your available time.
containters would be better than bare root plants for you I feel as bare root plants are only sold for a few months so to get any volume you would have to put a lot of hours per day in for a couple of months, whereas the containers would spread the load more evenly.
 
pollinator
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You can make money on that size lot (and smaller).  You can do a lot on 1/2 acre.  An urban farmer in a farming group that I'm a part of grew 20,000 pounds of produce this past season on .10 acre.  Also, it doesn't have to be a huge undertaking.  It's usually actually better if you start out small.  Choose a few popular, easy to grow plants to start with and get a growing and propagating system for them down pat.  It's fairly easy to set a little stand (read table) up in your drive way (assuming it's legal where you are.... no HOA, township, county, etc. rules against it).  It's worth trying, in my opinion.  
 
Luke Leon
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Many thanks to all for sharing. To narrow down the subject, as I mentioned, I’m probably ruling out vegetables and any edibles due to their short seasonality and the need to find a local market. I’m not a good salesman and neither would it fit me to set up a booth in front of my house. I would need to opt for safer, more constant types of plants, even though that would provide for less revenue. The problem is, however, that whatever is more lasting and can be sold “at distance” would face terminal competition from large, pro farmers, some overseas.

I guess no one here (including the book gurus – forgive me for not being a believer) would be able to advise on a true niche market. Also, that knowledge probably transpires quickly and so the demand is filled – it’s a dynamic business. But I’d still like to believe that doing things very well, in the right area, can provide some income.

1. Flowering bushes/shrubs (sold online in small containers) are in theory a very attractive, pleasant option for me, but there seems to be solid supply out there. Like Su was saying, a single guy with a backyard business was a prominent regional supplier in a group of plants.

2. Skandi mentioned seeds. I don’t know much about it but is the collection and packaging tedious? And again, would you not have to compete with pro growers from far away? Otherwise it sounds like a more controlled kind of process that I’ll have to learn about.

3. Specialty trees sold online still seems like a safer, albeit less lucrative option, if anyone could share their knowledge about such market in the US.

While I’d love to be convinced otherwise, I’m inclined to think the way Kc Simmons mentioned above – that one would sort of just breakeven here.  So other shared experiences would be much welcomed.
 
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I made several hundred dollars digging weed bulbs out of my yard and selling them on eBay a couple years ago.  When I moved in, crocosmia and Spanish bluebells had taken over several beds and I didn't want them.  Both are incredibly prolific, so I sold them in lots of 25, 50, and 100 bulbs.  I undercut the other sellers of these plants a bit on price because I was just trying to get rid of them.  I would guess someone who was actually trying to turn it into a business could find some attractive but quickly reproducing bulbs and make a little extra income on it.  Just one bed 2 feet by 12 feet of crocosmia can produce thousands, possibly 10s of thousands of corms over a few years.

I also got rid of some naked lady bulbs via craigslist and eBay this year.  Same thing, an attempt to keep them from taking over.  They are more challenging to ship though.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau Leon, to actually be able to advise you on local niche markets we would have to know where on the planet you are. You didn't provide that information so no one could possibly tell you about opportunity in your area.

When it comes to trees, do a google search for tree sellers, you will be amazed at how many there are on the net.
Same goes for vegetables, but starter plants in the spring seems to be a fair market since most of these plants are shipped long distances which means they have "jet lag" or if they weren't kept properly moist, they might be on the fast road to croaking.

Now, since you made the statement of being a non-believer, no worries mate, I'll never offer you any options again.

Redhawk
 
pollinator
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Most of those big seed and tree companies you'd be competing with, work with small contract growers in order to get the number of varieties that they offer. If you prefer to focus on the growing and avoid the selling, that would be one way to go. Pick your favorite companies, and send them an email asking if they could use another contract grower. They'll each have their own criteria and their own application process, but in my experience they're usually good about walking you through it. They also each have their own pay rates, so it's good to ask questions and compare.


That's how I became a seed grower for Baker Creek.
 
Luke Leon
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:hau Leon, to actually be able to advise you on local niche markets we would have to know where on the planet you are. You didn't provide that information so no one could possibly tell you about opportunity in your area.
[...]
Now, since you made the statement of being a non-believer, no worries mate, I'll never offer you any options again.

Redhawk



Thank you. As I mentioned in my initial post, I'm in zone 6 Connecticut.
No offense necessary about "non-believer" - I just trust first-hand knowledge from doers rather than text written to sell, although there are exceptions.
 
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