Gardening For a Fistful of Dollars

Here is a guest post by Joe on the subject of how to make extra money by gardening.   This is a great way to learn new skills, while increasing your own preparedness.

Howard

For those of us suffering from weeks-long periods of cold, grey, weather, there’s nothing like pictures of bright red vine ripened tomatoes, plump green pea pods and crisp, fresh orange carrots to make us think of spring. Of course, the publishers of seed catalogs know that.

In fact, the need for green (at least for those of us in certain parts of the country) is so strong that by the time the seed catalogs start rolling into our mailboxes, we’re more than dreaming of spring, many of us are absolutely lusting for it.

But what if I was to tell you that you could use your garden to grow vegetables, fill your pantry, and make a few dollars on the side? And what if I was to tell you that enlarging your garden and taking it semi-commercial might be easier than you think?

Mini-Farming

Here in Lancaster County, during the spring and summer, there’s a roadside stand about every quarter mile. Some are quite extensive with a separate building, parking lot and signs. Others are simply a small card table, sun umbrella and coin box with a little change in it out at the end of the driveway.

In this area, despite the massive competition, it’s not unusual for a roadside stand to bring in several thousand dollars a season.

At the first sign of spring, stands selling strawberries appear. Last year, strawberries hereabout were bringing in $4.25 a pint. If you’ve got a plot of strawberries going, they’re very prolific and people will come out of the woodwork to buy them. It’s an annual ritual around here. Maybe you can’t grow strawberries in your area but I’ll bet there‘s something else you could grow as a specialty. After a few years, you’ll find that people actually look for your stand and the strawberries.

When the regular crops begin to come in, put them out, too. You’d be surprised at how many people will stop the car, get out and buy a pound of green beans or a bucket of tomatoes. And it’s no work at all! (Except what you’ve already put into the garden.) In a lot of cases, no one even has to be at the stand. The produce, attractively displayed, sells itself.

We’ve put out plants and vegetables for years and always had it self-serve. Everything is plainly priced. Customers buy what they want and put the payment in a little box. They make their own change. In all the years we’ve done it, I can remember only one time that anything was taken without being paid for. In fact, we sometimes find more money in the box than there should be at the end of the day. We look at it this way. Even if someone does steal a pound of tomatoes, it’s not a really big loss for us. Maybe they really needed them.

Let’s Get Practical

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Using the plastic mulch to keep the weeds down

One thing that can kill the excitement of owning your own mini-farm is weeds and watering and unfortunately, the two go together. When you water your garden, you’re watering the weeds.

Every morning, just as the sun came up, I would go out and pull weeds for an hour. No matter what I did, no matter how hard I worked, I ended up on the losing side of the battle. Before long I was hacking my way through a jungle just to find the vegetables.

The idea of planting and maintaining a garden – of any size – can be daunting. And the larger the garden, the more the work. The idea here is to use technology to decrease the work load so that you can grow more vegetables more easily, increase your yields, and maybe make some money on the side.

A key to our operation is something called plastic mulch. The term “mulch” is misleading in that, in this case, it means plastic sheeting, not shredded material.

Plastic mulch is not used between the rows but as the rows. (See picture.) You put it down, keep it taut so the wind can’t get under it, cover the edges with dirt and poke a small hole in it for each plant. Big-time farmers put it down using a tractor-drawn machine. But mini-farmers can do it by hand, using a hoe. Be careful to lay out your rows straight and to avoid poking unwanted holes in the plastic, which is pretty thin. Any holes at all, no matter what the size, will have gushes of weeds pouring out of them after the first rain.

We buy plastic mulch by the roll from a horse and buggy place called Rain-Flo Irrigation (www.rainfloirrigation.com) in East Earl, Pennsylvania. You can get a 3’ x 2,400’ roll for just $52.25 plus shipping. What you don’t use this year, you can use next year. Twenty-four hundred feet goes a long way and it keeps so long as you don’t buy the compostable type. I’ve seen smaller quantities for sale in some of the popular garden catalogs.

Watering by Remote Control

Another time saver is the Garden Drip Irrigation Kit. It’s adaptable to any size vegetable patch from a kitchen door herb garden to a multi-acre project. Here’s how it works:

The heart of the system is plastic drip tape. Drip tape is a thin, flat, plastic tube with microscopic holes punched in the underside every 12 inches or so. You lay this tube along each row of vegetables, cutting it to whatever length you want. This tube carries the water to your plants in a steady, controlled, manner. When laid UNDER the plastic mulch, there’s less evaporation and the need for water is dramatically decreased. (It can be used without the mulch, too.)

You can put down as many rows of drip tape as you need and each is controlled by a simple valve. Some crops need to be watered every day, others less often. Turn the valves for that row off. Each row of drip tape is connected to a hard plastic header line. The header line connects to your garden hose. The system is genius in its simplicity. Turn it on. Walk away. Come back later, turn it off. And best of all, you’re watering your plants, not the weeds, like a sprinkler head or garden hose does.

Rain Flo Irrigation sells a complete kit, suitable for up to a ¼ acre, the price is $145.00. For gardens over an acre, the kit retails for $255.00. In my opinion, the kit is a real labor saver, it increases yields, and we’ve found that some, if not all, of the components can be used for more than one season if you clean them and properly store them at the end of the year.

The $144.00 Garden Kit comes with:

100 feet of head line

garden hose adapter

¾” filter and adapter

¾” pressure regulator

stake with gauge

end plug for header line

10 goof plugs

1,000’ of 10 mil drip line

20 drip line connects with valves

hole punch tool (for inserting the valves in the head line)

25 drip line end plugs

6 drip line repair couplings

You can download the entire Rain-Flo Irrigation catalog at http://www.rainfloirrigation.com/downloads/2014RainFloCatalogNew.pdf or you can call them at (717) 445-3000 and they’ll mail you a copy. The bulk of the catalog is for commercial growers but it’s interesting nonetheless. What you want is on page 13.

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Some Mini-Farming Considerations

Before you begin min-farming, you may need to think about things like collecting sales tax, the IRS and so forth. If you live in a gated community of $2.7 million homes, setting a card table filled with tomatoes out at the end of the driveway is probably not going to go down so well with the neighbors. On the other hand, if you live in a neighborhood of $2.7 million homes, you probably don’t need to make money selling vegetables.

There may also be other local regulations. Personally, we operate on the Amish plan, which is “It’s better to do and ask forgiveness than ask permission and be denied.” That may work out for you or it may bring the frowning face of a town father (or mother) at your front door. It’s your call.

Go Tell It On The Mountain

Now that you are mini-farming and the vegetables are beginning to come in, you need to tell people about it. In a lot of cases, your stand is an advertisement in itself. If you live off the beaten path, you may want to put a notice on store bulletin boards, at church, during club meetings. Tell your friends. Ask them to tell others. Don’t be bashful about it. Go online. Call the local newspaper, radio station or website and tell them what you’re doing. Call it “mini-farming” to get their attention. Be friendly when they come out. Give them free samples. Journalists love free samples. You’re not bribing them. You’re showing them how good your produce is and why it’s worthy of a write up. If you have extra produce and it’s high quality, offer it to the local senior center or food pantry. Word will get around.

All that advertising is free. But I’ve left the best and most effective advertising for last: word-of-mouth from happy customers. And the most satisfying thing is the jingle of change in your pocket from the produce you sold from your own mini-farm.

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