Gardening for Profit
A Guide to the Successful Cultivation
of the Market and Family Garden
first published in 1866, reprinted from 1874 edition
Profits of Market Gardening
This is rather a difficult if not a delicate matter to touch, as the
profits are so large, is some instances, as almost to exceed belief, and
so trifling, under other conditions, as hardly to be worth naming. These
latter conditions, however, are generally where men have started on unsuitable
soils, too far from market, or without money enough to have ever got thoroughly
under way. But as the object of this work is to endeavor to show how the
business can be made a profitable one, I will endeavor to approximate
to our average profits per acre. As a rule, it may be premised that for
every additional acre over ten, the profits per acre will to some extent
diminish, from the fact that a larger area cannot be so thoroughly worked
as a smaller one; besides there will often be a loss in price by having
to crowd larger quantities of produce into market, and to leave it in
the hands of inexperienced salesmen; the majority of our products are
quickly perishable, and must be sold when ready.
The average profits for the past fifteen years on all well cultivated
market gardens in this vicinity, has certainly not been less than $300
per acre. For the past five years, (from 1861 to 1866), they have been
perhaps one-third more; but these were years of "war prices," such as
we will be well content never to see again. These profits are for the
products of the open gardens only, not of the frames or forcing pits,
which are alluded to elsewhere. These amounts are for the neighborhood
of New York, which I think, from the vast competition in business, is
likely to be a low average for the majority of towns and cities throughout
the country. Certain it is, that from our lands, even at a value of from
$1000 to $5000 per acre, we can and do profitably grow and supply the
majority of towns within fifty miles around New York with fresh vegetables.
In these cases, no doubt,. the consumer pays full double the price that
the raiser receives, for they generally pass through the hands of two
classes of "middle-men," before they reach the consumer; besides which
there are extra charges for packing, shipping, and freight. Thus the consumer,
in a country town, where land often is not as much in value per acre as
it is here per lot, pays twice the value for his partially stale vegetables
or fruits, which he receives rarely sooner than twenty-four hours after
they are gathered.
In most of such towns, market gardening, carried on after our manner,
would, unquestionably, be highly remunerative; for if these articles were
offered to the consumer fresh from the gardens, he would certainly be
willing to pay more for his home-grown products, than for the bruised
and battered ones that are freighted from the metropolis. Take for example
the article of Celery, which pays us very well at 2 cents per root. There
is hardly a city or town in the country, except New York, but where it
sells for twice, and is some cases six times, that price per root; yet
the great bulk of this article sold in Philadelphia, is sent from New
York, for which the consumer must pay at least double the price paid here,
for it is a bulky and expensive article to pack and ship, and must of
a necessity pay a profit, both to the agent here and inPhiladelphia which
of course comes out of the pocket of the consumer. This is only one of
many such articles of which the culture is imperfectly understood, and
which the great market of New York is looked to for a supply.
The following will show the rate of receipts and expenditures for one
acre of a few of the leading articles we cultivate, taking the average
of the past ten years, from the grounds that have been brought up to the
proper standard of fertility necessary to the market garden.
Expenditures For One Acre
Manure, 75 tons-------------------100
Wear and Tear of Tools, etc.------10
Cost of Selling---------------------100
Receipts For One Acre
12,000 Early Cabbages @ 5¢--$600
14,000 Lettuce @1¢--------------140
30,000 Celery @ 2¢--------------600
The rotation crops of Early Beets, or Onions, followed by Horseradish,
or Sweet Herbs, as a second crop, give nearly the same results.
The Market Gardens Near London
For years I have been anxious to see and compare the market gardens of
London with those of New York, and in the summer of 1872 I had an opportunity
to do so.
The extent and thorough culture of these gardens is something wonderful.
One of thre best I saw was in the vicinity of Tottenham, owned by a Mr.
Hollington. It comprised about a hundred acres, every foot of which was
planted in close crop, and, as far as could be seen, it would have been
difficult to have picked up a bushel of weeds on the whole of the hundred
acres. Mr. Hollington's success in twenty years equals, it it does not
surpass, any of which we have record in America. When he took possession
of these hundred acres, twenty years ago, he did so at a nominal rent,
but without a lease, with the condition, however (a very unfortunate one
for the owner), that the owner might enter upon possession at any time
by paying him the value of the crop upon it. Mr. H., a man of great energy
and shrewdness, at once saw his advantage, and took care that his grounds
should at all seasons be cropped to the fullest extent, a thing which
can be better done in England than with us. The result was that when the
owner one day took it into his head to take possession, he discovered
that he would have to pay more for the crop than the land was worth, and
there was nothing for him to do but to sell to the tenant, or go on receiving
the nominal sum for rent. The resuslt was that Mr. H. bought the land,
and is now perhaps the wealthiest market gardener around London.
The next grounds I visited were those of George Steele & Sons, of Fulham,
a point nearer to the city. These grounds were also a model of order and
neatness, although a week previous three-fourths of the workmen had struck
for higher wages, and had gone to hay-making, leaving the owners in a
bad plight. The garden comprised fifty acres, and the full number of hands
was seventy-five. Now there were less than twenty, and these second-rate.
Why, it may be asked, does it require seventy-five men for fifty acres?
Simply because John Bull will not believe that land can be better dug
with a plow and harrow than with a spade. I took some time to argue the
point with Mr. Steele, and he declared that the morrow would see for the
first time a plow in the market gardens of Fulham. Once there, it will
remain, for there is no one who has had practice with both methods but
knows that no digging with a spade or fork can bring the soil to the mellow
condition that the plow and harrow can. Upon grounds of the extent of
Mr. Steele's the use of the plow will save full one-third of the labor.
Here, too, and at Mr. Hollington's they were using another very primitive
tool, which I did not venture to say anything about, for I thought I had
trodden hard enough on John's conservative toes for one day. The tool
in question was a planting-stick made out of a spade-handle, just such
as was in use thirty years ago by the cottagers of England or Scotland
to set out a few dozen Cabbage or Lettuce plants for their own use. Yet
here, where millions on millions of plants had to be set out, no better
implement had been thought of. The spade-handle dibber, even in the most
experienced hands, is a waggling implement, and is hardly more to be compared
in effectiveness to the pistol-handled dibber in use by the gardeners
of New York than a sickle is to a cradle in a wheat-field.
I found one practice in Messrs, Streele's grounds which our market gardeners
might imitate with profit. The practice is a very old one, and has been
in use probably for fifty years, but it is not much followed, if at all,
by market gardeners in the vicinity of New York, Philadelphia, or Boston,
where its advantages would be even greater than those around London. It
is the use of the common hand-glass, of a size about two feet on the side.
These would cost with us probably 75¢ or $1 each. Messrs. Steele use these
glasses in large numbers to forward Cauliflower for heading. They are
placed at distances of two feet apart, and three plants of Cauliflower
are planted under each. The hand-glasses are tilted up for ventilation
in sunny weather—used, in fact, just as we use a hot-bed or cold-frame,
and the Cauliflowers are forwarded probably two weeks earlier than they
would be in the open ground. Of course there is not room under the glasses
for the three plants of Cauliflower to form their heads there, but the
object is to forward them so that they will be large enough to head in
the open ground when the glasses are taken off—a most important
matter with us, as we find the trouble always is that we can not get the
Cauliflowers large enough until they are checked by our hot and dry weather
in June. Thus forwarded in New York, I think it safe to say they would
readily bring $1.50 for each
Location, Situation, And Laying Out.
Location.—Before deciding on the spot for a garden, too much caution
cannot be used in selecting the locality; mistakes in this matter are
often the sole cause of want of success, even when all other conditions
are favorable. It is always better to pay a rent or interest of $50 or
even $100 per acre on land one or two miles from market, than to take
the same quality of land, 6 or 7 miles distant, for nothing; for the extra
expense of teaming, procuring manure, and often greater difficulty in
obtaining labor, far more than counterbalance the difference in the rental
of the land. Another great object in being near the market is, that one
can thereby take advantage of the condition of prices, which often, in
perishable commodities like garden produce, is very variable. It not unfrequently
happens that from scarcity or an unusual demand, there will be a difference
of $25 or $30 per load, even in one day, hence if near a market, larger
quantities can be thrown in than if at a distance, and the advantage of
higher rates be taken.
This disadvantage in distance only holds good in perishable articles,
that are bulky; the lighter and valuable crops, such as Tomatoes, Cucumbers,
Lettuce, Radishes, etc., from more southerly and earlier localities, are
grown often hundreds of miles distant, and freighted to market at handsome
profit. So with less perishable articles, such as dry roots of Carrots,
Beets, Parsnips, Horseradish, etc.; but the necessity of nearness to market
for the bulky and perisbable crops, is imperative.
Situation And Laying-Out.—
It is not always that choice can be made in the situation of or aspect
of the ground; but whenever it can be made, a level spot should be selected,
but if there be any slope, let it be to the south. Shelter is of great
importance in producing early crops, and if a position can be got where
the wind is broken off by woods or hills, to the north, or northwest,
such a situation would be very desirable. In the absence of this, we find
it necessary to protect, at least our forcing and framing grounds, with
high board fences, or better yet, belts of Norway Spruce. The most convenient
shape of the garden is a square or oblong form; if square, a road 12 feet
wide should be made through the centre, intersected by another road of
similar width; but if oblong, one road of the same width, running through
the centre in a plot of ten acres, will be sufficient.
Vegetable House, Wells, Etc.
Connected with every market garden is a vegetable house, usually about
25 feet square, having a frost-proof cellar, over which is the vegetable
or washing house. In the second story is a loft for seeds, storage, etc.
Immediately outside the vegetable house is the well, from which the water
is pumped to a tub in one corner of the building, on each side of which
are erected benches of convenient height on which the workmen tie and
wash the vegetables preparatory to sending them to market.