Install and maintain veggie gardens for neighbors?

gbig2(6)January 7, 2008

Just thinking out loud, looking for feedback...

Are there people out there who would love to have a veggie garden but don't have the time or the knowledge to do it but would gladly pay someone to start and maintain a veggie garden for them? Example, my neighborhood is all acre lots with plenty of room for veggie gardens. I love to garden, why not do it for neighbors and turn a hobbie into a part time business? From preparing the garden, to planting, watering, maybe even harvesting; a full service home veggie garden business?

I know rich people have gardeners who take care of the their whole property but are there businesses out there who specialize in just veggie/herb gardens for the "green" upper -middle class families?

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ole_dawg(7 UpCountry SC)

Sounds like a good idea, BUT, stop and think how much time and MONEY you really put into your own garden. Be honest and don't cook your books. LOL Most non garderners do not realize the cost and effort that goes into a good garden and MOST non garderners would not pay a fair return on your time and money.

1eyedJack and the Dawg

    Bookmark   January 7, 2008 at 5:27PM
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poppycock! (to the previous poster)

who says you have to spend a lot of money to garden? If you know what you're doing and do some simple seeds saving, you should be able to do more than cover your losses (remember you get stuff that you wouldn't even be able to FIND in stores, AND you don't have to drive to get them - gas is expensive)

I've always thought about this as a way of getting more land (or good land anyway - full sun and all) to garden on. Heck I'd be willing to PAY the landownder to garden!

you know the way you put it is a good idea. It wouldn't even have to be a business, just a commune of gardeners and some advertising. And like you said, with people going "green" nowadays, I'm sure some people would be willing to do this - especially for garden-fresh-actually- ripe tomatoes (the tomatoes in the stores are all really green tomatoes that have been reddened with ethylene - they're horrid, tasteless, little red lies).

Where in PA are you by the way? Do you do this with your neighbors? Any future-posters have land or know somebody who does in Northern NJ area?

    Bookmark   January 7, 2008 at 6:51PM
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Little red lies! I love it!

I'd like to pay someone to do the chores that I don't like...tilling, weeding, and mulching. But I suppose doing that stuff yourself makes the veggies taste better when you harvest them.


    Bookmark   January 7, 2008 at 7:01PM
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anney(Georgia 8)

My first thought was (unfortunately) negative. What if they paid you, you did all that work, and for some reason, weather, disease, insects, etc., the crops were ruined?

I'd personally like growing a lot of food and setting up a roadside stand better! Or maybe agree to supply neighbors with some vegetables throughout the summer that you'd deliver to them on a weekly basis. Charge a reasonable fee.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2008 at 7:25PM
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ole dawg, I agree with your comments about non-gardeners not realizing the time it takes to maintain a garden. It would be hard to be paid a fair return on my time. The money part of it is less of a concern, especially if planting by seeds/saving seeds, etc., but yes, I've put a lot of time and money into my garden. Although money is less of an issue as I'd have all the tools I need, could buy seeds in bulk, compost in bulk, etc.
Peanuttree, I'm about 20 minutes west of Allentown and I don't do this with my neighbors but I know some neighbors who might be interested in this.
Anney, there would have to be an upfront agreement that there is no guarantee of a perfect crop, just like with most CSA's. I do like your roadside stand idea, I've thought of that too. I just have to talk my wife into allowing me to convert the whole back half acre into farm land! :)
This whole idea kind of came to me after visiting Path to Freedom website (link below). Worth a couple minutes if you've never been to the site. Scroll down and watch the video. Amazing how much food they grow on 1/10 of an acre. Granted they have 4 seasons to grow, but still. Imagine if every family had a garden and used their land like they do...

Here is a link that might be useful: Path to Freedom

    Bookmark   January 7, 2008 at 8:11PM
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granite(z6 NC)

I'm not sure of the business aspect, I'm sure that veggie gardens can be established by a landscape business, etc. I personally feel that it is VERY important for everyone to establish close, locally grown food sources. We need to be more energy efficient and health conscious as a nation. WWI and WWII Victory gardens SAVED the USA; we could not do that on the same scale today due to the high number of people with no YARDS.

I've talked up composting, organic gardening, and conservation to the point that my employer is now a gardener. I'm proud of him and I've passed along a lot of tips for making gardening easier given his rheumatoid arthritis.

My neighborhood consists of a small cul-de-sac with 8 houses on it, each yard ranging from 1.5 acres to 8 acres. 3 of us garden, the others don't. When I have an abundance of produce, my son and I carry it to our neighbors that don't garden. Its warmly received and I've learned that if I send my son (he's 18) on his own he usually returns with a "trade." We also will take extra produce to the retirement village that is in the adjacent property. It makes for a friendly neighborhood.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2008 at 8:19PM
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naturegirl_2007 5B SW Michigan(5B SW Michigan)

I heard a talk on increasing revenue at farm markets and garden centers. The speaker indicated that many people are paying to have herb gardens installed. He suggested having a couple basic designs with a few add on options priced out to advertise to potential customers. He did not indicate that there was any demand for veggie gardens, though. I can see that some who hire lawn care and landscape maintenance might also pay for an herb garden addition. I do not know anyone who does this as a business, though.

I know of a few people who want more garden space for themselves who garden at other peoples homes. In return they share some of the harvest with the landowners. They do not get paid. One close neighbor with a shaded yard gardens next door. The former owner moved leaving a large garden area unused. The new owners are disabled and were happy to have someone ask to make use of the area. Both parties enjoy the fresh veggies alot. However, I don't think this is the setup you are suggesting.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2008 at 9:05PM
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cambse(8 - Renton WA)

Work up some prices, having varying price scales, according to how much labor and materials would be needed for each scenario, describing just what would be included. Write some flyers. Describe your abilities, add some photos of your garden. Tell the potential customer what the benefits are of having the best tasting, fresh vegetables that you can not buy in a supermarket. (Little red lies - really too, too funny!!!) Meet your neighbors, explaining what you are considering doing. Don't take on more that you are easily capable of doing in terms of time and energy. It's easy to add on bit by bit, failure because you are over extended hurts. Don't undervalue yourself. Have a contract!
I think you have a wonderful idea but you won't really know if it will work for you until you put out feelers. And just because some won't like the idea, don't worry, some will.
Best of luck,

    Bookmark   January 7, 2008 at 10:08PM
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It would depend so much on the quality of the land, availability of water, and the personalities of the parties involved, Gbig2.

Many gardeners have expressed their belief here on this forum that they cannot break even on the cost of vegetable gardening. Would a landowner with an expectation of a productive garden be willing to pay the costs to have one, including the price of labor?

The USDA lists 4,385 farmers markets currently operating in the United States. There is continuing growth in the opportunities for the sale of garden produce. Think about putting your skills to work with those sales in mind.

There's certainly land available for the effort, even if the gardener doesn't own it. However, people have such remarkably different notions on the value of things. Some folks with land to share would be willing to allow someone to garden and take 100% of the produce - just for the benefit of seeing the garden and not a field of weeds.

Other landowners would think that adequate payment is whatever they cared to carry out of the garden, whenever they cared to carry it out, along with a few armloads for their friends.

Others may think that a few hundred square feet to do with as one pleased should be worth a Summer of planting flower beds, lawnmowing, pruning, raking, running sprinklers, babysitting, and walking their dog.

On unirrigated ground around here, there are people who allow a farmer to grow crops on many acres for absolutely no rent. Additionally, there are plenty of farmers who have walked away from these opportunities because it hasn't paid for them to farm the land even rent-free.


    Bookmark   January 7, 2008 at 10:57PM
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I think it's a wonderful idea. But I would imagine that the homeowners that get to keep the produce would pay for all seeds, plants, and materials that went into the homeowner's garden. The landscapers in our area, who mow lawns, blow, prune, etc., get paid for all materials that get applied to the garden, plus labor. Well, that's one business model; you may choose another, of course.....

I was thinking of a few practical issues:
* If deer and bonnies are a probem in your area it would need to be addressed up front. Apart from the cost, installing a deer fence may (or may not) require a permit from the Town Hall.

* If you have assets in your name or shared assets, you would be wise to take out a business insurance policy; you need business insurance to protect your personal assets in case of a law suit. You might also consider making your business a Limited Liability entity.

* And then there are contracts. You'd need to have a well-written contract for your clients to sign. Otherwise, if people stiff you (and there wil be those who'll try), it might be difficult, perhaps impossible, for you to recoup what's owed.

I think there might be help available for setting up a small business. I've seen it mentioned but can't remember where.

Another reason for having business insurance is that your homeowner's insurance company may drop you if you have an uninsured business.

It happened to somebody who put an 'eggs-for-sale' sign at his driveway. The insurance company never told him why they had dropped him; they just did. He had a hard time finding another insurance company that would take him on.

And as already said above, keep honest books, that is, one set of books, not two, of income and expenses.

I think your idea is a great one and think you'd do well, especially if you impressed your clients with some outstandingly tasty tomatoes the first year. And peas! Sugar Snaps.....
.....And gardens could start out small and expand over time....
Good Luck!!!

    Bookmark   January 8, 2008 at 1:07AM
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Wow, so much feedback my head is spinning. Thanks!
I'm going to have to think about it some more. Just throwing this out there but if I combine some of the ideas above, I come up with the following business model:

Charge an upfront cost for installing the garden based on square footage, type of crops, etc. The upfront cost would be minimal, say $200-$300 a year for an average sized garden. That would cover my expenses each year for compost, seeds, plants, fertilizer, etc. Then to cover my labor I could have a sharecropping type of agreement with the neighbor? Meaning I would grow, say %50 more than the neighbor would use, and the surplus goes to me where I could sell at a roadside stand or farmers market? Of course, how do you split out the harvest 50/50?
As pointed out before, the costs and time to establish a new garden; planting, preparing the soil, mulching, weeding, harvesting are high. If just charging an upfront fee it would have to be pretty high, say $800 for a average sized garden. With the "sharecropping" idea, you lower the upfront cost....

    Bookmark   January 8, 2008 at 11:21AM
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I read one topic posted in this forum late last summer that dealt with using vacant land to grow on.
I've thought about this topic because I have very little land to grow on. I want to grow larger garden crops like melons and corn and also want to try different varieties.
Some of my main concerns have been irrigation, pest control and the proximity of the location to me and my resources(tools, etc.). Probably one the main reasons for the success of my garden is that I look out my kitchen window and get an urge to check on it, thinking about when to fertilize the tomatoes next. I take ownership of my garden. I can't control the weather, but I determine a lot.
I'm new to gardening so I've spent a good bit of time and money so my profit has not been in the form of grocery savings. This year it has not cost as much though. I make my own compost and use leaves and grass clippings from curbsides for mulch and compost.
I can see a committed partnership with someone working out. When money and services get involved it gets tricky and maybe gardening could become a burden instead of a joy.
I, personally, have thought of posting messages locally via internet, or at a local coffee shop to find someone interested in establishing a small garden( a quarter acre or smaller) with my help. We could split the start-up costs, buying compost and fertilizer in bulk to get the soil amended. They would provide the water of course. I would provide the knowledge and teach what little I know to my partner. I guess the yield could be split or the landowner could take the larger percentage. By the second year maybe I could just be a mentor. All of the arrangements would of course be discussed up front. Again, what I have envisioned is more of a friendly partnership sealed with a handshake, not a business arrangment.
Glad you brought up the topic and good luck


    Bookmark   January 8, 2008 at 2:35PM
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This could work but it could be a royal pain. If I were doing this I would start with something very easy like tomatoes and possibly herbs. Tomatoes don't require much maintenance and the owners can pick whenever they want.

The first time my ex wife had a home grown tomato she was floored at how good it was (from Boston), her words were "OH my God, that tomato is so good". That is part of the problem in getting people to sign up, they don't know what they are missing.

Delivering could work but you might need to charge quite a bit to make up for the delivery fee. Maybe you could charge everyone $10 (or more) a week to deliver a bag of food which included whatever was in season. Of course you will then get into a problem with "We don't like squash" so it would need to be customized.

The garden plots is a good idea if you have land faily close to a good population and it would also let these people spread the word about your growing services. Gas prices will influence people to buy produce closer to home.

I really disagree that you cannot grow a good garden and reap far more in dollars than you get back. Figure $1 a pound for tomatoes and compare that to the yield off one plant. Look at the cost of a pound of green bean seed and how many gallons of beans you obtain. Or the price of seed potatoes and the yield. Watermelons are $5 so if you get three melons off each vine. Just depends upon what you grow...

    Bookmark   January 9, 2008 at 10:56AM
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corapegia(z5 NY)

I do landscape gardening for a living. A couple of years ago a client asked us to plant veges inside the expensive custom designed fence around his pool, he wanted to teach his children where carrots came from. This will be the 4th year, I added great compost at his expense and plant a few things in a 1' wide area between the grass and the fence. I tie tomatoes to the fence, grow strawberries and raspberries, garlic, lettuces, carrots, swiss chard, parsley, sage, thyme, beets, climbing cukes and purple bush beans. They use some of the food (it's a weekend house) and I take some, some just gets composted.

I also add bright lights chard, purple kohlrabi, parsley and a couple of other things to some of the flower gardens I tend (with the owner's blessing) Many people have no idea how things grow and love to see it happen before their eyes. I charge the same rate for planting as everyting else I do, by the hour.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2008 at 5:11PM
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Belgianpup(Wa/Zone 7b)

What DO landscape gardeners get by the hour for their work??? I've always wondered about that!


    Bookmark   January 20, 2008 at 3:20PM
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Around here, the actual labor gets paid 15-20 per hour, and the client probably pays 30-35. I've been on countless sites but have only seen vegetables a few times, and similar to the scenario mentioned earlier, just a few token veggies and herbs, not a garden. The average client here could afford to have expert gardeners working year-round on spectacular manor-style food-gardens, but it's the same old story. Nobody wants to pay more per vegetable than they would at the stand or the market, no matter what their means.

Ole Dawg is dead right, if an average landscaping wage was paid to someone to raise vegetables on a small-scale, they would cost far more than at the market.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2008 at 6:15PM
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corapegia(z5 NY)

Let me be clear. I'm not getting rich doing gardening and in fact, could not affored to do it if I had to be self supporting. At my age (64) I think of it as semi retirement in a healthy environment. I get plenty of exercise and fresh air and spend my days in sort of a meditative state in really beautiful places.
The sustainable movement seems to be reaching more gardeners here now. Those who are willing to pay for landscape gardening (just to keep the place looking pretty) are more willing to pay for the bonus of a few vegetables. Most of our clients are weekenders who spend time here in the summer. The kids are out of school and it makes the garden part of the "summer experience"
The actual cost of the harvest is not really a consideration. My personal garden began as a way to get the veges not readily available (35 years ago the markets didn't carry bok choy or Asian eggplants or even mesclun)
I just love going to the garden before preparing dinner and planning the meal around whatever needs to be picked. Needless to say, we eat lots of veges in the summer and get plenty of vitamin D from the sun. In the winter, we supplement from the grocery.
Those clients interested in growing veges enjoy this same convenience.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2008 at 9:26AM
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I would love to hire help with some of my 'big' projects although I love to garden. Now that the kids are grown that is not something they want to do. And I have tried hiring people that are not garden savvy and it isn't worth it in terms of supervision and anxiety level.

I am not rich but I would be happy to pay for a day or two of those setups where some savvy and some muscle can really make a difference in how the end product comes out.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2008 at 5:27PM
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raining_in_or(Zone 8 OR)

I found a post on Craigslist offering the exact same services. They offer a website

Maybe you can contact them for advice... Good luck!

Here is a link that might be useful: Your Backyard Farmer

    Bookmark   January 23, 2008 at 10:40AM
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albert_135(Sunset 2 or 3)

My first thought was insurance concerns. I scanned the responses and I think someone else may have had insurance concerns too.

What do your zoning people and your business licensing people think of the idea?

And, don't most small businesses go broke?

Don't people who lurk and kibitz here do so because we enjoy the effort and with a bit of luck get to enjoy the product?

    Bookmark   January 24, 2008 at 11:41AM
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