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Small Business Home >> Home Business Opportunities >>

Backyard Cash Crops Yield High Profits

Many large farms have had trouble making a profit in the past few years. However, there are several good ways to make money farming small garden plots. Thousands of people are using these methods to earn part-time or full-time incomes. This report will outline several profitable ways that you can use to quickly begin producing cash crops.

Don't misunderstand, I'm not talking about growing common crops like tomatoes and so forth. No. The secret of cash crops from small gardens is growing special, hard-to-find products that will bring you premium prices. And, in many cases, the demand far outstrips the supply for these crops. You'll also learn how to open a small roadside stand selling common and special vegetables and fruits.

Something else. You will not have to engage in "backbreaking" labor. While there is some amount of work required, there are techniques that can reduce the amount of labor once you are established. For example: raspberries can be heavily mulched each year to eliminate future weeds.

BUSINESS OVERVIEW

Raising backyard crops is a fairly easy business to set up and operate. You'll need at least 1/2 acre of ground. Preferably, 1 acre or more. Then you'll need to master the gardening techniques for growing top quality crops. After that, it's simply a matter of choosing how you want to market your crops for cash.

PROFIT POTENTIAL

How much money can you earn with this type of business? It depends on several factors, including: crop selection, quality of your crop, amount of acreage planted, crop yields, and effective marketing. Your earnings can vary from $2,000 per acre up to $20,000 per acre each year with the specialty crops described in this report. So this is not a business that can make you rich "overnight," but with several profitable acres your income can be good to excellent.

KEYS TO SUCCESS

There are several keys to success in this type of business. They are:

(1) Plan ahead to grow the best kinds of crops for the amount of space you have, and type of soil and climate in your location.

(2) Learn the best growing techniques (and easiest methods) for producing high yield crops.

(3) Buy the best seeds, bulbs, trees, and vines and plant them in the proper manner.

(4) Learn good marketing skills for selling the crops.

These simple, and obvious steps are easy to take. Anyone can successfully raise cash producing crops with a little effort. Of course, some labor is involved in preparing the ground like weeding, trimming, packing and selling. However, some of these cash crops require less attention than common crops. Also, you could employ a high school student for 1 or 2 days per week to help out with portions of the work.

Raising cash crops is also a very low risk and low cost business to start. In most cases, your start up costs can be $100 to $200 (or less) if you already own a suitable section of land. So you are risking very little money and you should always get some cash return even in a poor growing season.

TOOLS NEEDED

You do not need a wide array of expensive tools at the start. A shovel, hoes, wheelbarrow, seeds, plants and fertilizer are about all that is needed. However, it's quite handy to have (or have access to) a 5 horsepower rototiller. A tiller is a powerful assistant in the upkeep and preparation of your garden. And, of course, you'll also want to purchase, or borrow, a few books about specific gardening techniques in your area and for the specific crop you'll be growing. You'll find some excellent guides in the Source section of this booklet.

LAND

How much land do you need to produce cash crops? In part, this will depend upon what you want to do. There are 3 different sizes of land that can be used: (1) less than 1 acre, (2) 1 to 2 acres, (3) 6 to 20 acres.

The size of your garden determines what your best crops will be in order to produce the most cash. For example: if you have one acre or less, you won't want to try growing apple and peach trees. You need more space for fruit trees. Instead, focus on crops like asparagus, strawberries, raspberries, herbs and other similar crops that can produce large amounts in small spaces.

The other important factor is the type of soil in your area. Most crops require certain kinds of soil to produce the highest yield and the best quality. The good news is that you can improve your soil by using fertilizers. I recommend that you use natural types of fertilizers, such as horse/cow/chicken manure, and limit (or, best of all, eliminate) the amount of chemical fertilizers you use. Most of your customers will prefer "organically grown" produce. Since most "store bought" produce is usually laced with some kind of chemical, featuring organically grown crops can assure you of increased sales. There's always a market for health oriented produce.

A great way to improve your soil is by composting. Composting turns leaves, grass clippings, scrap food, and other organic material into a rich soil. There are both long and short procedures for producing compost. Here's how:

Pick a spot for a compost pile (4x4 or 6x6 feet) and begin by putting down a 4 to 5 inch layer of leaves or grass clippings.

Cover with an inch or so of dirt and a shovel-full or two of manure. Then start another layer of organic matter. Continue in this manner until the pile is 3 or 4 feet high. You can sprinkle each layer lightly with water. If you like, you can construct an enclosed wire "box" for this compost pile.

If you want to use the protracted method for composting, simply let the pile "cook" for about 9 months. If you want a "faster" compost wait 8 to 9 days then mix the pile. Then wait 3 or 4 days and mix again. Do this until the pile has turned into a rich soil-like mixture. This compost can then be worked into your soil.

The purpose of composting is to develop heat and moisture within the pile. This will cause the organic matter to decompose into components that are usable by the plants. It will produce a lot of nitrogen-rich material as well as material rich with minerals. You may need to add a cup of lime or bone meal between the layers of the pile to make an even better compost.

You should have your soil tested to determine its acid, nitrogen, and mineral condition, or content. You'll then be able to determine what to add to the soil to correct any deficiencies.

You'll also be able to determine what grows best in your type of soil. There are low cost soil testing kits available, or you can find local testing groups, such as your local county extension office or the agriculture department at most colleges.

Most of the small cash crop growers I've talked with use a rototiller for preparing the soil. If the soil has never been used for a garden, you should have it worked up good with a tractor the first year. After that, a rototiller can do the job. Of course, if you have more than a one acre garden you may still want to save a lot of work and hire someone with a tractor to plow your soil. You should find several full time and part time farmers advertising in the classified section of your local newspaper for their tilling services.

The better prepared your soil is, the better the results will be. So take the time to find out the soil's current condition, add plenty of fertilizing material and work the soil up in preparation for planting.

Crop selection is largely a matter of preference and how you want to market your product. For example, some products can easily be sold only locally while other products can be sold nationally as well as locally. Herbs are examples of produce that can be sold both ways.

I recommend that you don't just plant one type of crop unless you have signed contracts to sell that crop, or have plenty of marketing experience. There are some exceptions to this rule: for example, specialized crops such as mushrooms and bamboo. Planting more than one type of produce will help avoid problems if something doesn't produce as well as expected, or if the market becomes saturated.

Using good mulching techniques will help to eliminate weeds and lessen the amount of labor you'll need to put into the garden. It will also keep the soil around your plants moist and produce stronger plants. Almost all successful small cash crop growers use the mulching method.

SMALL FRUITS

There are tremendous opportunities for part time fruit growers. Every large metropolitan area could use more fruit producers. This section will focus on the basic small fruit crops, such as blueberries, raspberries and strawberries. These fruits generally produce an excellent return on your investment.

Much of the demand is for "U-Pick" fields near larger cities. Thus, a few acres of small fruits can produce a substantial income. Except for strawberries, most of the fruit plants can keep producing for as long as 10 years, or more. Also, small fruit crops produce a high return per acre -- up to $15,000 gross income per acre.

Blueberries grow on small bushes and require an acid type soil. You can get about 1,000 bushes on an acre. Many farmers argue that blueberries are the best crop for "U-Pick" operations.

But blueberries take a little more care and careful adjustment of the soil acidity, and are a bit harder to grow than other berries. Yet once you have a good established stand of blueberries, they can produce an excellent income.

Grapes can be grown almost anywhere there is fertile, well drained soil. Grapevines will last decades (up to 80 years!) and, therefore, can produce a permanent income. Grapes can be used in "U-Pick" operations, and also sold via retail stores. It's important to study the proper pruning methods for grapes. Further information can be gleaned from U.S. Government agriculture publications found in most libraries or from the U.S. Government Printing Office in Washington, DC.

Raspberries can produce quick results and will continue producing for many years. The plants are low cost to purchase and establish, have little disease problems, and usually produce large crops. Best of all, there simply aren't enough of these delicious berries available. Thus, the demand is high and they will bring a large price per quart. You can easily propagate new plants yourself, adding to your crop each year. Raspberries require lots of sun, fertile, well drained soil, and effective mulching.

Strawberries are also an extremely popular crop. You can easily sell all you grow either by the "U-Pick" arrangement or sell direct to the consumer. The cost to establish a strawberry patch is generally low. And yields range from 6,000 to 15,000 pounds per acre.

Here are a few tips for "U-Pick" operations:

(1) Have adequate parking, signs, and portable restrooms available.

(2) Send each picker into assigned rows.

(3) Use reusable containers and sell by the container, instead of by the pound.

(4) Have plenty of empty containers to use, and make your customers feel at home.

Some growers are also producing other types of lesser-known crops such as kiwi, guavas, and Chinese dates. But, for most people just starting in the "cash crop" business, the 4 small fruits recommended in this section are the most cost effective.

FLOWERS

There are several different ways to make profits from flowers: selling flower bulbs, cut flowers, and flower plants. These can be sold in a variety of wholesale and retail ways.

A sizable flower business can be built upon 1/2 acre or less. Thus, flowers are an excellent choice if you have very little space. Here are a few examples of the most popular types of flowers:

(1) Bulbs -- canna, crocus, daffodils, gladiolus, iris, lilies, tulips.

(2) Cut flowers -- carnations, chrysanthemums, roses, snapdragons.

(3) Live flowers -- roses, violets, wildflowers, and virtually all other types of flowers.

Recently, a USDA horticulturist stated that the production of flowers is the fastest growing agriculture business today. The demand far outstrips the supply.

A great way to start making money from flowers is by building a greenhouse. You can then grow plants for selling to the many retail outlets that sell flowers in the spring. A number of people have reported that they completely paid for a $7,000 - $10,000 greenhouse in just one season using this method.

Flowers are always popular and will remain so. If you want to get into this business, you must become knowledgeable. And, more importantly, you must have or develop a love for flowers.

HERBS

Herb crops can be divided into 3 primary groupings. (There are some herbs that may fit into more than one of the following categories.)

(1) Culinary herbs -- used for flavorings, or as food.

(2) Fragrant herbs -- used for scents, potpourris, and sachets.

(3) Medicinal -- herbs used for as herbal remedies.

Herbs are continually becoming more in demand. The demand outstrips the current domestic supply, thus there is plenty of opportunity for growing and selling herbs. It's a pleasant business that costs little to start, takes little space and can produce a substantial income. One of the best things about herbs is that you can produce a fair amount of income per acre. Some growers produce as much as $12,000 - $15,000 per acre.

Another important fact is that almost all areas of the United States are suitable for growing some type of herbs. Most herb crops can begin producing incomes in the same year they are planted. Therefore, you can plan a herb crop this winter and reap the profits next fall!

You can find sources for herb plants and seeds by looking through the various gardening and farming magazines. Publications like, The Mother Earth News, Fine Gardening, Harrowsmith and Organic Gardening contain many ads for herb suppliers. Look in both the classified and display ad sections.

Herbs can be sold in a wide variety of ways: (1) Direct to the customer as plants. (2) Direct to the customer as a finished product. (3) Wholesaling to retail stores. (4) Wholesaling to bulk herb buyers. (5) Wholesaling to arts and crafts people who use the herbs in other products. (6) Fresh herbs to restaurants.

If you wish to become involved in growing herbs for profit, the first thing to do is to educate yourself about the different herbs. You'll discover that some herbs take special growing conditions to flourish. Then devise a plan to detail what herbs you will grow and how you'll market them.

Here are a few examples of some popular herbs from the 3 classes listed earlier.

(1) Culinary herbs -- Basil, sage, chives, dill, parsley, mints, savory, rosemary, thyme.

(2) Fragrant herbs -- mints, tansy, clove, rue, thyme, rosemary, chamomile.

(3) Medicinal herbs -- borage, catnip, ginseng, gold seal, lobelia, pennyroyal, valerian.

Most successful herb growers plant a variety of herbs. They also use several different marketing techniques, such as: direct to the consumer, selling herb plants to other growers, and selling to restaurants. Dried herbs can also be sold by mail order. A few herb growers concentrate on one or to varieties for which there is a big demand. Examples include: peppermint and catnip. Usually, they already have contracts for selling the product to large wholesalers or companies that use the herbs in their products.

VEGETABLES

Fresh, home grown vegetables is a constant in-demand product. You can often beat the large supermarket chain on prices, and always on product quality. You can even become a supplier to small grocery stores. But most of your profits will come from direct retail sales to consumers who are looking for "farm fresh, chemical free" produce.

There are literally dozens of different vegetable crops you can grow. I recommend that you pick 8 or 10 of the most popular vegetables. Using intensive gardening techniques can greatly increase the amount produced per acre. Some growers have reported incomes of up to $20,000 per acre!

These are a few of the most popular vegetables:

Asparagus -- yields up to 2,000 pounds per acre at $2 per pound. Plants are started as roots and are ready to use in about 3 years. And will continue producing for up to 20 years.

Beans -- always one of the most popular crops, and come in many easy-to-grow varieties. Beans will produce several crops each growing season.

Brussels Sprouts -- relatively easy to grow and can produce late into the year, even after a frost.

Carrots -- requires lots of loose fertile soil. There is a strong demand for "baby carrots."

Corn -- one of the most popular fresh picked vegetables, although it does have a slightly lower profitability per acre.

Lettuce -- a quick and easy-to-grow vegetable. You should grow several different varieties, and it can be planted very early.

Peppers -- both the mild and hot varieties. Peppers need a long warm growing season and well drained soil.

Other popular items include okra, onions, peas, radishes, spinach, squash, tomatoes, watermelon, and egg plant.

Vegetables can be marketed in a variety of ways. There are even many "U-Pick" vegetable operations. However, by far the best way to sell vegetables is by operating a small roadside stand, or at an established farmer's market. Most communities have a farmer's market operating on weekends.

There's a booming market for organically grown vegetables. And that market will continue. Chemical free produce will always bring you premium prices. Organically grown vegetables take a little more soil preparation and effort, but they can be well worth the extra effort.

Other ways to market vegetables are: directly to restaurants, local stores, and to food co-ops. The key to all of these marketing efforts is to have a high quality, chemical free products.

SPECIALITY CROPS

This section will briefly cover other special cash crops. Some of these crops can only be grown in certain section of the countries. Also, some must have special growing conditions.

LANDSCAPING PLANTS -- Special plants for landscaping are always in demand. These plants include shrubs such as: rhododendron, azaleas and juniper, as well as some decorative trees. Landscaping plants can be sold directly to the consumer or to landscaping companies.

If you begin supplying a landscape company or retail outlets with good stock, you'll soon have a steady source of income. A couple of important things to know about landscape plants are that they must be attractive and have a good survival rate. And you probably need to give some sort of guarantee that the plants are free from disease.

NUT CROPS -- Including almonds, chestnuts, filberts, pecans and walnuts. You can expect a wait of from 3 to 20 years for nut production. But some growers also produce and sell various aged nut trees for replanting. Nice two and three old trees will bring a premium price. Since nut tree crops require a long time to mature, some growers use a dual method ... they plant a raspberry crop between the nut trees.

It takes about 8 to 10 years to get nut trees into nut production. But, after they have produced crops, they can also be used for valuable lumber production in 30 years or so. Nut trees could make an excellent retirement crop if you plant them while you're young. Some arrow-straight walnut trees, black walnut specifically, have brought as much as $10,000 each!

BAMBOO -- This crop is grown for its edible shoots, and can produce 3 to 10 tons per acre. Bamboo is also used for a wide variety of construction items, including furniture. Currently, U.S. growers cannot keep up with the demand, so bamboo is being imported from Asia.

DRIED PLANTS -- Are used for decoration and fragrance. Dried floral arrangements are especially popular. Many arts and craft shops, gift stores and specialty shops need a constant supply of dried flowers.

There are two steps involved in producing these crops. First you must produce an attractive, quality plant. Next, you must use the proper drying techniques to preserve the plants while maintaining its looks.

MUSHROOMS -- Have become a very popular specialty food in fancy restaurants. The Shitake mushroom is specially adapted for production by small family farms. It can be harvested during the spring and fall. And it has both a meaty taste and medicinal properties.

These mushrooms are usually grown outdoors on 6 to 8 foot logs. The logs are prepared and then inoculated with the mushroom spores. Then it's a 6 to 8 month wait for the first crop. Recently, a few growers have developed indoor growing techniques which result in a shorter growing season.

OYSTER MUSHROOMS -- Is another variety that is fast becoming popular. These mushrooms are fast growing and produce high yields. They can be grown on easily available material, such as wheat straw.

The largest market for specialty mushrooms are restaurants, food co-ops, grocers and health food stores. You can enjoy a year round booming market for dried Shitake mushrooms.

SEEDS -- Many small growers are supplying the large seed companies with special crop seed. These include flower seeds, wildflowers seeds and hard-to-find vegetables. Some small producers occasionally sell directly to the consumer.

SPROUTS -- Growing sprouts can be ideal for those who have very little space. Fresh sprouts can be supplied to major grocery stores as well as to restaurants and health food stores.

MARKETING TECHNIQUES

There are a variety of selling techniques that can be used get cash from your crops. Some producers use several of the methods at the same time. Several things can help make your marketing efforts easier.

The first is quality. You want to produce the best product possible. Your product's good, clean, healthy appearance will impress buyers. Sub-par products will be hard to sell. The way to produce quality is by proper initial soil preparation, using good seeds and by adhering to accepted growing methods.

You should read books about gardening and carefully study any special growing requirements for each vegetable or fruit. Books covering most all special plants and produce are available at your library or from the U.S. Government Printing Office in Washington DC.

Also, you'll want to take steps to eliminate pests that injure your plants. There are many plants that act as natural repellents to some insect pests. For example: basil, catnip, marigolds, nasturtiums, savory, garlic, horseradish, tansy, and thyme.

An important marketing consideration is timing. If you can get a crop ready when other producers aren't, sales will be easy.

This can be done by using greenhouses, planting early, using hotbeds and, of course, good planning.

Pricing is also important. Most sellers recommend that you price your products 10% to 20% below those in grocery stores. (But don't lock yourself into a price war by trying to undercut your competition from other small producers.) Products that are grown using organic methods will most often bring higher prices. Check will all the local retail stores and at farmers markets to get a feel for your local current selling rates.

One of the most common marketing techniques is selling your wares at roadside stands. Two of the most important factors to consider before setting up your stand are signs and ample parking space. Your signs should be no longer than 6 to 8 words, neat, legible and easy to understand. Signs need to be placed far enough ahead of your stand to give the customer time to pull into your parking area.

Next, you want your stand to be well organized and neat in appearance. Make it easy for the customer to see the product and prices. Neatness and cleanliness will pay off. Combined with quality products and good prices, you'll enjoy a lot of free advertising by "word of mouth."

A variation of the roadside stand is to sell from the back of your pickup truck or car. You'll need to locate a well traveled road and a spot with parking that doesn't interfere with anyone. Of course, all of the previously mentioned factors apply.

Another common selling method is at farmer's markets and flea markets. These gatherings are held in most localities. If not, you'll want to get together with other producers and organize a farmer's market. All of these methods can also be aided by advertising in local newspapers, "penny saver" papers, radio stations, and by posting notices on bulletin boards.

Selling directly to retail grocery stores and restaurants is another good procedure. If you can provide them with a steady supply of fresh produce, sales should be easy. When contacting these stores, be prepared to offer a 30% to 40% discount from regular retail prices. This allows the retailer a good profit margin. If you are a reliable producer, you may be able to set up a weekly route to service several retail locations.

There are many food co-ops that are eager to buy large quantities of quality produce. You'll need to offer reasonable discounts. Too, you'll want to scout out these local co-ops and contact them directly. For some products you may have to prepare neat individualized packages of produce. Example: 1 or 2 ounces of herbs in labeled, plastic bags.

U-Pick operations have been discussed previously. This marketing method will work for almost any product. However, it does present some special problems. Example: you cannot let very young kids into the picking areas as they may get hurt and/or damage some crops.

In order to operate a successful U-Pick operation, you'll need to get along well with people. You also need to be friendly, courteous and treat everyone as if they are individually important which, of course, they are.

GETTING HELP

There's a variety of ways to get help with gardening and marketing your products. Almost every state offers free agriculture help through universities and state agriculture offices. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also offers many free programs.

Local bookstores, newsstands, and libraries also contain many informative sources. Study these diligently and become skillful in gardening. Finally, you'll be able to find many newsletters and growers associations advertised in the gardening magazines. These are often your best sources for plants, seeds, growing techniques, and marketing strategies.

SUCCESS ANALYSIS

Eight contributing factors are measured on a 1 to 10 basis (with 10 being excellent) based on analysis of this opportunity.

1. Time Investment 8 2. Start-up Costs 8 3. Gross Income Potential 8 4. New Income Potential 9 5. Income in Relation to Investment 9 6. Stability 7 7. Overall Risk 9 8. Potential for Growth 9

Overall Potential for Success: 8.38

CONCLUSION

This is basically a labor intensive business, relying on your learned skills and work. Preparing the soil, planting, nurturing, harvesting and marketing are all details to which you must attend to on a continuous basis.

Starting a backyard cash crop operation can be very, very rewarding. Plus, you'll not only get closer to nature while learning a valuable age-old skill, but you'll be producing a valuable, healthy product.

"Cash Crops" is an enjoyable business you can start with little money, nearly risk free. It can also give you wonderful personal satisfaction and, quite possibly, help to improve your health by working in the outdoors.

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