They say when you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. Well, I love my garden and given a choice I’d be out there amongst my garden beds day and night. There’s a big difference between gardening and farming though, and while I love my garden I’m not cut out for the life of a farmer.
While bringing in a full-time gardening income is a bit tricky, making a side income from your garden is easier than you’d think.
Most people see gardening as a seasonal endeavor, that starts in the spring and ends in the fall, coming and going each year. Up here in Vermont, our summer growing season is only a sad 100 days or so, and if I confined my efforts to those short months it wouldn’t make for much of a side hustle. I think it’s important to find a way to earn a consistent side income, so I’m providing options for every month of the year (even in a cold climate like ours).
Beyond that, our land is mostly forested, which means the definition of “garden” is a bit loose. We grow mushrooms in the shady spots, and tap maple trees in season. We also forage the wild bounty that nature’s garden has provided, meaning that we don’t have to limit our “gardening” to a small tilled section of the yard.
Even if you’re lacking space in a small suburban lot, expanding outside of the traditional garden into local parks, or taking your garden indoors with salad sprouts, closet mushrooms, and seedling trays will allow you to make use of the space you have year round.
Here are a few options to earn a substantial side income from your garden every season of the year, with ideas for both city and country folk.
(Be sure to check local laws and restrictions before you start with anything, as those vary widely from place to place.)
Winter Garden Income
While you’d think winter would be the slow season for backyard garden income, believe it or not, it’s actually the best time for making money from your garden. You’re generally less busy with planting and weeding, but everyone is stuck inside dreaming of the garden bounty to come.
Indoor Salad Gardening
January is when everyone’s making new years resolutions to live healthier and eat more salads, but it’s a pretty rough time for gardening in most places. If right around the end of the year you plan ahead with an indoor salad gardening setup, you’ll be in the perfect position to market micro greens and sprouts when they’re in high demand.
Local farms around here sell winter micro greens CSA’s and unlike summer shares where they net less than a dollar on a head of lettuce, winter greens command high prices. A small bag of specialty micro greens runs $12 to 15 each. And I really mean a small bag, maybe 3 cups of at most.
The trick is to grow high quality, specialty greens that get people excited when the grocery store options are minimal. The book Year Round Indoor Salad Gardening is a great resource to get started, and covers all you’d need to know to grow your own greens. At that point, the problem is scaling up and marketing.
Start a Small Backyard Seed Company
You may think you need to be some kind of multi-national to sell seeds, but in reality, customers are looking toward sustainably grown seed for specialty heirloom varieties these days. It doesn’t get much more sustainable than a backyard garden, and buying seed locally ensures that you’ll get varieties perfectly suited to a particular growing region.
Choosing the right crops is key to generating a good income selling seeds. Tomato seed, for example, is very easy to save and a single tomato often has enough seed to supply a dozen seed packets. The flowers are self-contained, and it actually takes work for plant breeders to hybridize a variety, which means they’ll come true to variety even with many different types grown in the same garden.
Most importantly, people get really excited about tomatoes. Ever wonder why 1/3 of any seed catalog seems to be tomato seed? With all that love for tomatoes, customers are liable to drop $5 for a locally grown packet of seeds for a really great variety.
While tomatoes are really easy, there are many varieties that aren’t much harder. You need to know a bit about seed saving, not only harvesting and cleaning the seed, but about how pollination and selection works by variety. Some varieties require a minimum population size to avoid inbreeding in the long term, and all that’s important to know before you get started.
- Seed to Seed is generally recognized as the most encyclopedic book on seed saving, covering just about every variety you can imagine. It has great breadth to get you started, but not a whole lot of depth.
- The Seed Garden is hands down my favorite seed saving book. It’s well written and covers varieties in great depth. It’s authored by The Seed Savers Exchange which does great work in the field of preserving heirloom varieties.
- The Complete Guide to Seed Saving has a lot of stellar reviews, and it’s the next one I’m going to add to my gardening library.
Even in a small town environment here in Rural Vermont, there are about a dozen local seed companies. High Mowing Seed started out really small just down the road from us, and now they’re a big national brand. Milkweed Medicinals sells specialty seed that’s hard to find, and they now sell in all the local coops.
Find your niche and there’s a great income to be made with homegrown seed.
Even easier than saving seed, selling cuttings is an easy way to make a healthy income from your established plants in the winter months. There are a number of varieties, like grapes for example, that need to be cut back or pruned in the winter. Those cuttings are perfect for starting new plants and many gardeners are willing to pay good money for tiny pieces of your established crops.
I just bought 30 elderberry cuttings from Norms Farms at $4 each to propagate at home. Elderberries grow readily from cuttings, and it’s an economical way for me to get a huge bed of them started. Elderberry plants from a nursery cost about $30 each, so I’m happy with the transaction and the seller just made $120 off a tiny box of trimmings.
There are a number of plants that grow well from hardwood cuttings, some like black currants, are as simple as snipping off a tip and sticking it into the ground. Others require a bit more attention and prep work to the cuttings, but they’re still beginner level.
Scion wood, or cuttings from apple trees to be grafted onto rootstock, is similarly lucrative. All you need is a couple of established apple trees of known varieties and you can harvest cuttings for sale. Usually, each cutting is only a few inches long, so shipping them isn’t a big issue. There’s a marketplace on the seed savers exchange website, and a scion wood cutting sells for about $4 each.
Start by learning a thing or two about plant propagation, first so that you can establish your own cutting beds, and then so you can educate customers on how easy it is to grow plants from cuttings. Try reading Practical Woody Plant Propagation for Nursery Growers to get you started.
Growing Mushrooms Indoors
Learning to grow mushrooms is a bit different than most standard garden crops, so this one will take some studying for even seasoned gardeners. Still, there’s the potential to grow large crops from a small indoor space year round.
The book Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation describes an in detail how to set up a back closet, extra nook or spare bathroom to grow mushrooms with minimal time investment (2 hours a week). He has a great breakdown of costs, inputs, and yields…but in summary, you can make about $100 per week from a small setup that takes up a 4’x4′ footprint. The system scales easily, with minimal extra time investment, meaning you only need slightly more space to increase that to a grand per month.
The best part, they can grow in recycled 5-gallon buckets picked up from restaurants, and they consume waste products like spent coffee grounds, that you can often pick up for free.
If you have access to outdoor space and hardwood logs, growing shiitake mushrooms is also a great place to start for beginners, but outdoors, harvests would be in the warmer months rather than winter.
I don’t know about you, but when I had an office job my co-workers would have loved to buy fresh mushrooms to take home for a fancy Friday night meal.
Spring Garden Income
Spring is when everyone’s mind is dead set on their own gardens, and it’s a great time to capitalize the surge in interest in all things green.
Selling Dandelions (and other wild weeds)
While countless suburbanites are spraying their lawns trying to eradicate the dandelions, more savy gardeners are realizing that one person’s weed is another’s delicacy. Dandelions are edible root to shoot, and better yet, they’re also highly medicinal. Dandelion root tincture sells for about $12 per ounce, and it only takes a root or two per ounce. The spring greens are highly sought after by local food coops, where they sell for $4-5 per bundle. Not bad for a pile of weeds.
Beyond dandelions, there’s all manner of early spring green “weeds” that can command high prices if you know how to identify, harvest and process them. Chickweed is incredibly invasive, but also delicious, and chickweed tincture has plenty of medicinal uses too.
There’s nothing like making a bit of side income from weeding your garden early in the spring. You’ve got to do it anyway, might as well make it pay.
Growing Spring Ephemerals
An ephemeral is a crop that has a very short season, and it may only be around for a few weeks before the plants go dormant (or unharvestable) for a full year. Ramps, or wild leeks, are a slow-growing ephemeral that’s only around for a few weeks in the spring, but during that time they’re in high demand by both home cooks and fancy chefs. Knowing where to find a good wild patch is hard, but they’re actually remarkably easy to naturalize in your own back yard.
Growing ramps from seeds just requires the right conditions. Moist soil, under the shade of deciduous trees. The more leaf cover the better. You’re not growing anything else in that much shade, so growing your own ramps is a great way to earn top dollar from an otherwise unproductive patch of land. This is a long term venture though, as leeks are slow growing, and they’ll require about 5-7 years before your first harvest, but after that, a well-tended and sustainably harvested patch can last indefinitely.
Fiddleheads are another crop that’s generally wild foraged, but it’s remarkably easy to cultivate. They can actually be pretty invasive, and I spent a long time weeding them out of my garden so I could grow anything else. I just dug them up and tossed them into a heap, and they kept on growing and spreading from there as if nothing happened. Fiddleheads can be really productive, and they sell for about $20 a pound here in Vermont where they’re common. You might get even better prices somewhere they’re more scarce.
Since they’re productive, fern heads can be pickled to extend their season, so you can market the bumper crop a bit longer.
Selling Spring Seedlings
Selling spring veggie seedlings is an obvious choice. Tomato seeds cost about a tenth of a cent each, but a healthy started plant can easily sell for $5. Sure, there’s the cost for potting soil and pots, but the profit margin is still huge on seedling sales. The trick is, you’re investing your time and energy into starting plants off right, so other’s don’t have to. This is one of the most lucrative ways to make money from your garden if you invest in the right equipment and can master the process.
A greenhouse, even a small backyard model, is essential for producing seedlings early enough in the season. As for resources to get you started, The New Seed Starter’s Handbook covers everything in detail, including troubleshooting guides if your plants aren’t performing.
Beyond the income from selling seedlings, you’ll also save a boatload by starting your own seeds instead of purchasing starts. That’s one of those penny saved is a penny earned propositions, and any seedlings you don’t sell can just go right into your own garden.
Take a look at the local market this spring, and see if there are any gaps. Do all the tomato seedlings sell out quickly, or is the market flooded? If there’s plenty of other vendors, consider growing something niche like medicinal herbs.
Start a Backyard Nursery
Similar to growing out your own veggie seedlings, starting your own backyard nursery extends the income beyond the busy spring season. If you’re growing perennials, you don’t have to worry about any unsold plants at the end of the year. Just tuck them in for the winter and try to sell them next year.
Propagating plants from cuttings is remarkably easy, and all it takes is a bit of time and patience. Those elderberry cuttings that sold for $4 each (above) as trimmings will sell for $25 to $30 as full-sized potted bushes in a few years. Just the patience, time and space required to grow out the plants pays back in dividends later.
This is actually a big part of our retirement plan, and we’re putting in perennials throughout our land to serve as cutting sources later when we open our nursery. In the meantime, they’re beautiful, and most are edibles like elderberries, so we’re harvesting the fruit for our table while we patiently bide our time to retirement.
Summer Garden Income
Summer is peak growing season and it’s a great time to earn income from what you’re growing at home. The big farms and CSA operations have the lettuce market cornered, but backyard gardeners can break into the market by offering really novel crops. Start by focusing on high dollar items and unique crops that get people’s attention.
High Dollar Specialty Crops
You’re never going to compete with the 100 acre organic CSA down the road on most generic crops, but those big operations cant grow everything. They can grow a lot of the staples most families use every day, but backyard gardeners can grow small amounts of truly specialty crops that demand high prices. Here’s a few good options:
- Husk Cherries – Also known as ground cherries, these plants produce huge crops of sweet pineapple/strawberry flavored fruit. They grow on plants similar to tomatoes, and each bright orange fruit is wrapped in a papery husk. Just one taste and you’ll want more. Before we were growing our own, I’d buy them for $5 a pint…now I know that each plant can produce more than a gallon of fruit even with neglect. If you hand out samples, these will sell themselves. It also helps if you give people creative ways to use them.
- Cucamelons – Also known as mouse melons, these tiny little grape-sized cucumbers taste like a cross between a cucumber and lime. They’re really wonderful fresh out of hand, and they make great pickles or mixed drinks. The cuteness factor means that these sell for about $5 per half-pint.
Berry Pick Your Own
To compliment our backyard nursery retirement plans, we’re also planning a pick your own operation. This requires more space than most of the other ideas on this list, but after the initial setup, labor is pretty minimal. A while back I calculated the rate of return on a raspberry pick your own, and you’d need about 250-row feet to produce $1000 worth of raspberries. For us on 30 acres, that’s a drop in the bucket, but that may be more space than you can devote to any one crop.
Strawberries are similar, in that a plant generally yields about a pound of fruit in a season, and requires 1-row foot. At $4 per pound, you’d need the same amount of row feet as raspberries. The benefit there is, strawberry rows are much more closely spaced so this may be more practical for some.
Garden Tours, Tea Times & Classes
Though it’s not my cup of tea, garden tours and country tea times are a good option for flower gardeners. A local nurseryman around here makes a good side income hosting tea time in his home garden, and runs an annual tour of his extensive plantings, along with specialty days for big blooms (like daffodils). Our gardens are more down to earth and “homestead” than they are attractive, but many people’s are just the opposite.
All it takes is a few tables, a decent scone recipe, and a few good teapots, and you’re ready to run a weekly afternoon tea time in the garden. Add in tours and maybe a few gardening classes and you’ve got yourself a ready source of income from your own beautiful backyard.
With the increasing demand for more alternative remedies, there’s never been a better time to grow medicine in your backyard. Locally grown herbs are still hard to find in most areas, but plenty of people are looking for them.
Many medicinal herbs are perennials, which means you plant them once and you can harvest them for years. And the same compounds that make the plants medicinal also make them resistant to deer and insects, which means less maintenance than garden veggies. For the most part, they’re perennial, persistent and more importantly…profitable.
There’s a high demand for medicinal tinctures since they’re ready to use, and our local coop has half an aisle dedicated to them. Tinctures sell for $8 to $12 an ounce, but they only cost about $1 to $2 an ounce, even if you’re buying in the herbs rather than growing them. Add in another $1 for the tincture bottle, and you’re still making a pretty sizable profit per bottle. Choosing crops that are common and in high demand, like echinacea tincture can help you break into the market.
As you’re just getting started, I’d recommend Backyard Medicine as a way to dip your toe into harvesting and making your own herbal remedies, especially from wild crops. If you’re considering growing herbs for profit I’d highly recommend The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer: The Ultimate Guide to Producing High-Quality Herbs on a Market Scale. It’s written by farmers that grow just a few towns over from us, and they’ve inspired a lot of people to take up growing medicine for the market.
The Herbal Academy of New England also has a course designed specifically for herbal entrepreneurs. The course walks you through the basics of creating your own brand identity, marketing, sourcing herbal ingredients, manufacturing herbal remedies and creating a business plan around herbs and herbal remedies.
Fall Garden Income
The end of the garden season, fall is generally when the crops come in. In my mind though, it’s one of the more challenging times to make income as a small producer. There are a lot of products on the market, and it’s hard to stand out. With the holiday’s right around the corner though, marketing yourself as a niche producer of really unique homegrown gifts can work to your advantage.
Honey & Bee Products
Garden’s need bees and bees need gardeners! Raising honey bees is a great way to support pollinator communities, but with all the challenges that face hives these days, it’s best to be educated before you start. There’s a really great book called Natural Beekeeping: Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture that covers just about everything you need to know to keep your bees healthy naturally.
In a good year, with our short Vermont growing seasons, bees can produce as much as 100lbs of honey for harvest. The current bulk price at our coop, meaning bring your own container nothing fancy…is $7 per pound. Pre-packaged just in mason jars, honey goes for $10-12 per pound, and considerably more in specialty gift packaging.
Add in things like bee pollen or propolis for medicinal use, or comb honey, and you have yet more high dollar items to market.
Honey, especially locally sustainably raised honey is in high demand just about everywhere. People are realizing that bees are important to our environment, and many will be happy to pay for local honey just knowing that it means supporting someone whose stewarding such an important resource in their neighborhood.
Apples, Cider and Cider Press Rentals
My doctor has a small apple share side hustle that she runs with her sister, selling harvest shares to neighbors in her spare time. They have a few full sized apple trees, and each one produces around 100 to 120 pounds of apples per year. These days, conventionally grown supermarket apples are about $3 per pound…and locally grown apples fetch a premium above that.
She sells shares ahead of time, and then divides the harvest as each tree comes to bare. Distributing them to shareholders every week or two as each variety they ripens over the season.
We have other neighbors who sell fresh cider that they press from their trees, at $12 per gallon. Last year we pressed nearly 80 gallons from our trees, most of which went into hard cider and homemade cider syrup (like maple syrup), but we easily could have sold it instead. Instead of selling our cider, we have a different strategy for earning our income during apple season.
We invested in an efficient double barrel cider press, with the thought that we can rent it out to other small apple producers. People with one or two trees in their backyard love the novelty of pressing their own cider, and around these parts a press rents for about $50 for the afternoon. Over the course of the season that can really add up…
Year Round Garden Income
Beyond different things you can do seasonally to earn a few thousand a couple of months a year, there are things you can do year round to earn a steady income related to your garden.
I know, making income from blogging seems too good to be true, but writing about diy, gardening, and self-sufficiency is now my full-time job. Within 6 months of starting this blog, I started making an extra $1000 a month. After 9 months of writing, I was able to quit my day job, and now at 18 months in I bring in more each month than any job I’ve ever had.
The best part? All I do is write about what we’re already doing here in our daily lives, and I spend my days playing in the garden and out foraging in the woods with my kids.
I was inspired to take the leap into blogging when I read the book Make Money Blogging at Any Level by my blogger friend, Victoria at A Modern Homestead. She outlines in detail how to earn a substantial income, even from a very small blog. She was able to retire her husband and supports her family exclusively with her blog. If you’re considering blogging as a source of income it’s worth the investment. It’s $27 for the book, and I made that back in my first week with my blog following her tips.
If you’re having trouble reaching people, and you feel like your entire audience is your mom and your 3rd-grade teacher, try reading 0 to 10K pageview. Anna lays out how she went from 0 to 10K page views in just one month, which is a huge milestone for new bloggers. She also offers personalized blog coaching to get you off to a great start.
Making money on Instagram is all the rage these days, and you’d be surprised how many companies are willing to send you free product just for a promise that you’ll post at least 1 picture of it to Instagram with honest feedback. Once you have even a small following, companies will pay you for your time reviewing it (and you still get to keep it for free…)
Looking for a little inspiration? You can always follow along on my Instagram for ideas…
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A bit ago we dug up some of our brussel sprout plants and brought them into the basement in buckets. This will extend the harvest at least another month. Mmm…home grown brussels sprouts for new years! #vermont #offgridhomestead #vermontbyvermonters #802 #garden #fallgarden #autumn #ilovermont #gardening #zone4 #mygarden #rootcellar #foodpreservation
Hopefully, this helps inspire you to turn your gardening passion into a meaningful side hustle. If you have any other ideas, let me know in the comments below.
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