What is a Small Holding?
If the truth be told at once, the whole art of market gardening lies not so much in the raising of the produce as in its ultimate disposal. If the rules observed in the average kitchen garden are followed out on a larger scale, a market garden will be perfectly successful from the point of view of culture.
When one comes to marketing produce, however, there are many unforeseen difficulties. There is the carriage, the packing, the market dues, market porterage, and the retailer to consider. Under each of these heads a sum, trifling perhaps in itself, but serious in the aggregate, is debited to the seller.
In spite of this, however, there are many women who prosper as market gardeners. In most cases, large businesses have been inherited from husband or father, but often women have battled for themselves against the inevitable obstacles and built up a connection.
There are two ways in which vegetable produce may be disposed of. The first is by way of a market, and the second is by-reaching the consumer direct.of the two the latter is infinitely the better. In the former instance, the grower would take or send her wares to the nearest market, where she would sell them herself or leave the matter in the hands of a deputy.
The Advantage of Direct Dealing
Under present circumstances, however, it needs a woman with exceptional opportunities to conduct her own market business, and when garden produce has to be disposed of in this way it will be better to engage the services of a thoroughly reliable commission agent.
In supplying the consumer direct, one benefits to the extent of all market dues and similar charges, but, on the other hand, one has to pack in smaller quantities and also to secure the customers. This is an easy matter if one has a large circle of friends, but more difficult if otherwise. True, one can advertise cheaply, and if goods of high merit are consistently supplied, the business will grow surely, each satisfied customer gaining others by the simple process of social intercourse.
In my opinion, the ideal way of disposing of market produce to the retail customer is by means of "family" hampers of vegetables. To the consumer in a town they will come as a weekly breath from the country, and if eggs, poultry, honey, home-made jam or chutney can be included, so much the better. The hampers can, however, be made to pay handsomely if they are filled entirely with vegetables.
Suppose, by way of example, that among your customers are some who have not very large families to provide for, and whose weekly supply of vegetables does not exceed half a crown in value. Institute for them a system of hampers to this amount, to be delivered on a certain fixed day - Saturday is usually most convenient - winter and summer alike.
For the supply of half a crown's worth of vegetables weekly you will need a strong basket, 18 by 12 inches inside measurement, and 10 inches in depth. It should be strongly made, and to the base you should have riveted two strong pieces of wood that are known technically as battens. Then there should be a stout staple and hasp, and a suitable padlock. The padlock will have two keys, one held by the customer, and the other by the grower.
The Duplicate Order Book
You should then institute a manifold order book. A book of this nature contains one hundred double sheets, and costs ninepence. By using carbon, you obtain a duplicate of each order, which you keep by you for reference, so that you may safeguard against close repetition, diversity being the point to aim at. Your object, in fact, should be to make up your hamper as much as possible in the form of a weekly "surprise packet." Further, the duplicate sheet can be used as a means of keeping account of payments when received.
The actual invoice which you send to your customer is detachable from your book, and the following are two specimen invoices taken at varying times of year.
1. From Miss ------ - (Address)
2 celery ............ 4d.
6 lb. potatoes .......... 6d.
3 lb. Brussels sprouts ...... 6d.
Bundle of leeks........ . . 3d.
Parsnips ............ 2d.
2 lb. apples .......... 6d.
2 lb. artichokes.......... 2d.
1 lb. onions .......... 1d.
2. From Miss ------ (Address)
July II. Mrs. Staples,
(Address) Please receive:
6 lb. potatoes .......... 6d.
3 beetroots........" .. .. 2d.
2 cabbages............ 4d.
3 lb. runner beans ........ 6d.
2 vegetable marrows........ 3d.
3 lb. apples .......... 6d.
Lettuce ............ 2d.
In precisely the same way baskets may be put up to the value of 5s., 7s. 6d., and so on, if you are so fortunate as to secure customers to take the larger quantities. The same general scheme applies to baskets of all sizes, but half-crown hampers are not to be despised, and a score of them a week would represent a useful turnover. You want, all the time, to maintain your prices at about the level of those of the retail greengrocer in a town.
Packing. This shows a packed basket in section. The heavy roots are packed at the bottom, lighter stuff at the top, and delicate produce in punnets. Note the cross section of basket-work in the centre.
In addition to the actual hamper, there are a few other receptacles necessary. Some punnets (a penny will purchase three or four) will be needed for use with strawberries, currants, and soft fruit, and a supply of small cardboard boxes costing no more than the punnets would prove serviceable. It is an excellent plan, also, to have partitions made the exact size of the interior of your hampers, to divide heavy vegetables from the lighter produce.
The cost of a hamper of the size named, including all fittings, should not exceed 6s., and the weight of it when packed for transit would average 35 lb., on the basis of well-assorted supplies to meet family demands. With regular weekly use it should last four years.
As to the question of carriage, this naturally depends upon circumstances. All our railway companies, however, now make a special quotation for the carriage of farm and country produce, and your local station-master would acquaint you with the actual rate. There is the return of the empty hampers to be considered, and arrangements should be made with the company for this. In many cases, small holders are dependent upon country carriers, and here again some concessions are due to the grower who despatches regular consignments. As for the payment of the carriage, it is a fair proposition for the grower to pay for the outward journey and for the customer to return empties.
There is another class of consumer for whom the market gardener may cater. I refer to clubs, hotels, boarding-house, and schools. In these cases it is usual to make a definite contract for the supply of vegetable produce, and, as it is naturally both and cheaper to pack in bulk than in small quantities, this is a very desirable type of business to seek. It is to be obtained chiefly by influence, though occasionally a well-worded advertisement will assist in forming a connection. The following is an advertisement that should prove attractive:
Market Garden Supplies. - A lady will undertake to supply hotels, schools, board-ing-houses, and public institutions with fresh vegetables by contract. Unfailing regularity. Apply (here insert address).
So much for the disposal of one's produce, which, as I have said, is one of the principal points in market gardening. Once you have established a profitable mart for your output, you have half won the battle.
The ideal site for a market garden is on a slight slope open to the south, sheltered from the north and east, and with a medium to light soil. A heavy clay soil is too cold for early produce, and too expensive in the working; a very light, sandy staple is not retentive of moisture.
The Law of Agricultural Holdings
What is needed is sufficient land within easy access of a market or railway station, if possible with the option of renting more land should the business progress, and, of course, with a reasonable rent. As much as £6 per acre may be demanded for land on the outskirts of a town, but, on the other hand, excellent sites are obtained in the open country for as little as £2 I0s. per acre.
It will usually happen, however, that a woman market gardener will rent house and land together at an inclusive charge; but I would warn my readers that with agricultural holdings there are often restrictions as to straw, manure, and such matters, and it is advisable to submit a proposed agreement to a solicitor who understands farming custom.
The contents of a half-crown hamper of vegetable produce during January and February