Planning your market garden

The planning phase is where you set targets for your business, estimate your sales and expenses, research the kinds of plants that are popular in your area, and what they sell for.

My suggestion to aspirant market gardeners would be to start off by preparing a basic ‘business model’ for yourself of what you want to achieve financially given the reality of your unique set of circumstances. A few questions that you should consider include:

  • How much ground do you have available for your garden and how much rent do you have to pay (if any) for your land.
  • What financial resources do you have? It takes time to establish a profitable market garden and initial returns could be small. Do you have enough money to sustain yourself until you can earn an income from the sales of your produce? It could take as long as a year or even longer for the garden to become properly established and one should not underestimate the challenges a new farmer faces during the setting up phase of your market garden. A wise approach in my opinion is to ‘Think Big, but start Small’. Make peace with the fact that there are many lessons to be learned along the way in terms of what grows in your area and which vegetables are in demand and which are not so profitable. You may find that a crop such as lettuce is in high demand in your area but that there is less of a demand for another type of vegetable which could result in you being left with excess produce. Initial crop failures can also take its toll as certain types of veg may do well on your land whilst certain varieties may not do so well due to pests or possible incorrect cultivation methods. One can have the best of intentions and have the most impressive plans on paper but the real test of your resilience to succeed as a market gardener will be on the ground and in your garden.
  • What other resources do you have available? Are you going to do the work yourself or do you have assistance from someone else like a family member or can you afford to hire a worker? Remember that labour costs could be one of the highest monthly operational cost items.
  • Do you have access to free clean water? How far is the primary water supply from your garden? This will have a bearing on the irrigation systems required for your garden.
  • Distance to market. This could impact on delivery and other costs such as fetching organic materials, fertilizers, etc.

Once you have an idea of the basic operational costs to start off your garden you will know the amount of sales that you need to generate in order to cover costs and to earn a living from your market garden.