March 1989

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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 III

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.

Chapter IV.

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

Chapter V.

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.

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