February 1989

Home Index Museums Blog Authors Site Map About


Gardening for Profit

A Guide to the Successful Cultivation
of the Market and Family Garden


Peter Henderson

first published in 1866, reprinted from 1874 edition
Index to selections from Gardening for Profit

Chapter II

The Amount of Capital Required, and Working Force Per Acre

The small amount of capital required to begin farming operations, creates great misconception of what is necessary for commercial gardening; for, judging from the small number of acres wanted for commencing a garden, many suppose that a few hundred dollars is all sufficient for a market gardener. For want of information on this subject, hundreds have failed, after years of toil and privation. At present prices, (1874), no one would be safe to start the business of vegetable market gardening, in the manner it is carried on in the neighborhood of New York, with a capital o f less than $300 per acre, for anything less than ten acres; if on a larger scale, it might not require quite so much. The first season rarely pays more than current expenses, and the capital of $300 per acre is all absorbed in horses, wagons, glass, manures, etc. If the capital be insufficient to procure these properly, the chance of success is correspondingly diminished.

I can call to mind at least a dozen cases that have occurred in my immediate neighborhood within the last five years, where steady industrious men have utterly failed, and lost every dollar they possessed, merely by attempting the business with insufficient capital. A few years ago, a man called upon me and stated that he was about to become my neighbor, that he had leased a place of twenty acres alongside of mine for ten years, for $600 per year for the purpose of growing vegetables, and asked me what I thought of his bargain. I replied that the place was cheap enough, only I was afraid he had got too much land for that purpose, if he attempted the working of it all. I further asked him what amount of capital he had, and he told me that he had about $1000. I said that I was sorry to discourage him, but that it was better for him to know that the amount was entirely inadequate to begin with, and that there was not once chance in fifty that he would succeed, and that it would be better, even then, to relinquish the attempt; but he had paid $150 for a quarter's rent in advance, and could not be persuaded from making the attempt. The result was as I expected; he began operations in March, his little capital was almost swallowed up in the first two months, and the few crops he had put in were so inferior, that they were hardly worth sending to market. Without money to pay for help, his place got enveloped in weeds, and by September of the same year, he abandoned the undertaking.

Had the same amount of capital and the same energy been expended on three or four acres, there is hardly a doubt that success would have followed. Those who wish to live by gardening, cannot be too often told the danger of spreading over too large an area, more particularly in starting. With a small capital, two or three acres may be profitably worked; while if ten or twelve were attempted with the same amount, it would most likely result in failure. Many would suppose, that if three acres could be leased for $100 per year, that twenty acres would be cheaper at $500; nothing can be more erroneous, unless the enterprise be backed up with the necessary capital—$300 per acre. For be it known, that the rental or interest on the ground used for gardening operations is usually only about 10 per cent of working expenses, so that an apparently cheap rent, or cheap purchase, does not very materially affect the result. It is very different from farming operations, where often the rent or interest on purchase money amounts to nearly half the expenses.

The number of men employed throughout the year on a market garden of ten acres, within three miles of market, planted in close crops, averages seven; this number is varied in proportion, somewhat, according to the quantity of glass in use. I have generally employed more that that; fully a man to an acre, but that was in consequence of having in use more than the ordinary proportion of sashes. This may seem to many an unnecessary force for such a small area; but all our experience proves, that any attempt to work with less, wil be unprofitable. What with the large quantity of manure indispensable, 75 tons per acre; the close planting of the crops, so that every foot will tell; the immense handling preparatory for market, to be done on a double crop each season, one marketed in mid-summer, another in fall and winter, a large and continued amount of labor is required. On lands within a short distance of market—say two miles—two horses are sufficient; but when double that distance, three are necessary. When three animals are required, it is most profitable to use a team of mules to do the plowing and heavy hauling of manure, etc., and do the marketing by a strong active horse. Every operation in cultivating the ground is done by horse labor, whenever practicable to do so; but it must be remembered that the crops of a garden are very different from those of a farm; the land is in most cases (particularly for the first crops) planted so close, that nothing will do to work with but the hoe.

About Peter Henderson
Index to selections from Peter Henderson's Gardening for Profit
Peter Henderson's Gardening Calendar
CLR Blog | Site Map | Contact CLR