If you enjoy watching repeats of The Good Life, you may be tempted to turn your back garden into your income earner. Farming for profit or self-sufficiency on a small plot of land is called micro-farming. This is a more modest form of agriculture, born from high land and fuel prices and urban encroachment on farm land. When micro-farming for profit it is important to focus your efforts on plant or animal life that is relatively inexpensive to get started, grows well in a limited space and sells at a high retail price to yield the greatest profit-to-expense ratio.
Decide what you are going to raise. Animal-related products include rabbit projects, chicken and egg operations and beekeeping. Vegetable products include market gardens with popular vegetables and high-end herbs like thyme, mint and lavender. Animal and plant projects can both be grown on a single acre and prove mutually beneficial. Chickens can be used to control parasites among garden plants and their droppings and bedding can be composted for fertiliser. Bees increase the pollen transfer in a garden and produce honey products which can be sold as well.
Select both late and early crops and practice succession planting so that you can gain more than one harvest from the land.
Farm organically. Organic products earn, on average, 20 to 30 per cent higher than foods which have had chemicals used in their production. Use natural compost as fertilisation. Use Neem oil for pest and fungus control. Weed and hoe the land to control weeds rather than using an herbicide. Practice companion planting and crop rotation to help control pests naturally.
Harvest daily during the growing season. This prevents fruit from over ripening, or from being harvested before it is fully ripe. If farming for eggs, collect daily for freshness and to prevent broken eggs.
Package your product by count or weight in produce boxes, egg cartons or other appropriate containers. Make sure your packaging and labels look professional and enhance the quality of your product.
Find a market. If you can sell directly to the public by setting up a booth at a farmer's market or roadside stand, you can reap a larger profit because you are not paying a middleman. If you can sell in a health food shop or organic whole foods outlet you will not have to invest the time sitting with your product to sell it.
Work the soil at the end of the growing season so that it is ready to absorb winter's moisture, and to be planted again the following spring.
Look for alternative ways to market your product which could generate additional income, especially if it allows you to sell produce at a higher price per item. For example, if you have a chicken-egg operation consider incubating eggs or allowing hens to sit so that you can sell live chicks, or collect fertile eggs to sell as hatching eggs. If you have goats, consider selling goat cheese rather than milk. Both hatching eggs and live chicks sell at 3 or more times the price of a dozen eggs intended for eating and a gallon of goat cheese sells for twice as much as a gallon of plain milk
Pay attention to recommended planting date, seed depth, and spacing listed on the seed packages for each crop type. Cover plants late in the season with a tent made of greenhouse plastic, stretched over a PVC pipe or 5 by 10 cm (2 by 4 inch) board frame. This will allow you to pick continually bearing fruits, like tomatoes, until the first hard freeze.
Tips and warnings
- Pay attention to recommended planting date, seed depth, and spacing listed on the seed packages for each crop type.
- Cover plants late in the season with a tent made of greenhouse plastic, stretched over a PVC pipe or 5 by 10 cm (2 by 4 inch) board frame. This will allow you to pick continually bearing fruits, like tomatoes, until the first hard freeze.
- "Home Based Business for Dummies"; Paul Edwards, et al.; 2009
- "Market Gardening: Growing and Selling Produce"; Ric Staines; 1992
- "Small Farms Cultivate Way of Life"; Molly O'Neill; The New York Times;1992
- Urban Homesteading: The 10 elements of urban homesteading
- National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service: Market gardening -- a start up guide
- The Southern Region Small Fruit Consortium: Suggestions for organic blueberry production in Georgia
- "The Joy of Keeping Chickens: The Ultimate Guide..."; Jennifer Megyesi, et al.; 2009
- Outdoor Place: Backyard beekeeping
- "The Backyard Beekeeper: An Absoloute Beginner's Guide to Keeping Bees"; Kim Flottum; 2010
- Small Farm Permaculture And Sustainable Living: Breeding chickens -- small business ideas for farms