Now that there are tried and true practices for season extension, Coleman recommended that Mainers and other market gardeners in cold climates take advantage of them and continue experimenting on their own to find out what works best for them.
“Expanding our season from just our traditional New England warm months and doing it by pioneering ideas of growing in unheated greenhouses, by sticking to the crops like spinach and scallions that are very cold hardy, that’s one of the best steps we’ve made,” Coleman said. “I recommend that.”
Wolff said you can
save money on gardening supplies by building your own infrastructure, like greenhouses and other season extenders.
“You don’t really have to sink that much money into a market garden,” said Adrienne Wolff, co-owner of
Buckwheat’s Market Garden in Central Lake, Michigan. “You can home-make tools We’ve found that YouTube is one of our best friends as far as that.” Step 5: Find a market
Finding a market to sell your crops is also an essential step to starting a market garden.
“Check around to see what your market is going to be,” Coleman said. “If you’re on a road and there are four other farm stands on your road, a farm stand is probably not going to be your best choice for marketing. You want to check and see what stores you might want to sell to.”
Coleman said there are a few surprising sources for markets, including local supermarkets.
“Not many of the local growers think of even selling there because they think, ‘Oh, supermarket — this is something that’s far too big,’” Coleman explained. “A lot of them are very committed to buying local food if they can find it.”
The market — and the most profitable crops to grow — will also depend on your location.
“Know where you’re living,” Coleman said. “Try to plan your cropping program to fit in with the reality of where you can sell it and who you can sell it to. If you’re way up in Northern Maine say you don’t want to specialize in arugula and mesclun because nobody up there is familiar with them. You want to specialize in Swiss chard, scallions and carrots.”
Step 6: Determine what you want to grow and sell
In the first few seasons, find out what you really enjoy growing.
“I think that when people start, they want to plant a million different things because they’re so excited,” Wolff said. “If you want to make something for profit, it’s good to first experiment and see what you enjoy growing.”
Those first few seasons of experimenting will help you determine
what crops are best for you to grow to make money.
“We cut out some things that aren’t efficient for us, like peas and string beans,” Zeigler said. “The amount of labor it takes to harvest those doesn’t always balance out. We also don’t grow much corn. It takes up a lot of space in the garden and they can grow it a lot cheaper at bigger farms. We whittled down to what was selling most at the market, and threw fun things in, like tomatillos and husk cherries
Choosing what you enjoy growing will also help you brand your market garden’s specialties, which is essential to finding the most profitable markets
where you are going to sell your produce.
“Figure out what kind of market garden you want to be,” Wolff said. “If you do want to sell for profit, I would grow things that you are proud to sell and plant things that can be planted or seeded close together so you’re using your space to its fullest potential.”
Step 7: Manage your expectations, but don’t get discouraged
No matter where you are, managing expectations is essential if you want to start a market garden. Zeigler said not compare yourself to others in the early days.
“The other thing we try to do is not compare ourselves to other farms or market gardens especially in the age of social media,” Zeigler said. “We find that if you just work hard and try not to overextend yourself you can actually make a pretty decent little profit off a market garden.”
Coleman said it may take a while to turn a profit on a market garden. Finding the work satisfying, he said, is the most important way to stay motivated in the early days.
“You don’t want to jump into it thinking it’s going to make you a fortune because it won’t,” Coleman said. “It’s hard work, but it’s satisfying work. I’ve never done anything I’ve found more satisfying than trying to grow the best possible most nutritious food for people.”