The profits in vegetable gardening are quite variable. In some instances they are so large that people are loath to believe the accounts, while in others the net returns are trifling. Considerable glass is used on places making the highest financial showing. At Cleveland, O., for example, a grower has been netting $10,000 a year on 12 acres, but the reader should know that about 2¾ acres of this ground is covered with greenhouses in which are grown lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers. The early vegetable plants are also started in these houses. The owner of this little farm is a master in everything that counts for success. Most growers, however, must be satisfied with much smaller returns. Peter Henderson regarded $200 an acre a fairly satisfactory profit in market gardening, while he frequently procured much larger returns. There are records of single acres yielding from $1,000 to $2,000, at least one-half of which sums should be net profits. It is hoped that these statements will not be misleading, for the best growers sometimes have very little profit from a season's work. In truck farming the profits range from a few dollars to several hundred dollars an acre. A great deal depends upon market and seasonal conditions. Commercial vegetable gardening is very generally regarded as one of the most profitable branches of horticulture, but success and failure depend more upon the ability of the man than upon any other factor.
Prices fluctuate greatly from year to year. In a season of low prices producers are likely to conclude that the vegetable business is being overdone. The next year, perhaps, prices are higher, the growers prosper, and increased areas are planted the following year. Prices for the past 10 years probably averaged as high as for the previous decade. This would not hold in all sections, but population is increasing rapidly and more vegetables will be required to meet future demands. Again, meat products will doubtless continue to bring higher and higher prices, and thus increase the demand for vegetables. Then, too, there is a growing sentiment for the use of more vegetables as well as more fruits, and this tendency will be for the benefit of commercial gardeners.
The large city markets are often crowded with a surplus of certain vegetables, but strictly high-grade products nearly always command good prices. The need of our cities is not more vegetables but better vegetables. When the problems of distribution and other questions concerning the marketing of produce have been satisfactorily solved, vegetable growers will be able to operate to better advantage and with greater surety.
Many important local markets are poorly supplied. In some sections little attention is given to grading and attractive marketing, and the offerings of locally grown vegetables are light during most of the year. Under such conditions wide awake growers should succeed. The production of special crops, as celery, onions, lettuce and cabbage, on a large scale, should not be undertaken without full assurance that soil, climate, labor, transportation and market conditions are favorable.
The capital required to the acre to equip and operate a vegetable garden or a farm depends upon the following factors: (1) The size of the farm. Small places require relatively more capital than larger ones. (2) The amount of glass desired. (3) The type of gardening to be followed. Market gardening requires much more capital to the acre than truck farming, and general truck farming requires more capital than special farming, as the growing of celery, onions, tomatoes and cabbage. The more intensive the business, the greater the capital needed. (4) The fertility of the land. Impoverished land requires heavy expenditures for manure and fertilizers to secure satisfactory crops. (5) Distance from market if produce is to be transported by wagon.
The estimates of capital required range from $20 to $500 an acre. Bailey states that the average in various sections is as follows: Florida, $95; Texas, $45; Illinois, $70; Norfolk, Va., $75 to $125; east end of Long Island, $75; west end of Long Island, $150; 10 miles out of Philadelphia, $200 to $300 an acre. Peter Henderson suggests $300 an acre for a 10-acre place, while Rawson claims that $500 an acre is not too great an expenditure for a 10-acre place under intensive cultivation. The reader should bear in mind that Rawson has always used a large amount of glass. To start on as comprehensive a scale as the gardener referred to at Cleveland, O., (7) would require much more capital an acre than the largest sum mentioned.
These figures should not be discouraging to beginners of limited means. It is possible to start on a few acres and succeed with very little capital. Progress is much slower, however, under such conditions, but it is better than to borrow money and to make heavy investments without certainty of financial success. Anyone who knows the value of horses, tools, wagons, sash, manure and fertilizers, as well as the cost of labor, must realize that considerable capital must be available before engaging in the business on even a fairly large scale.
Vegetable growers sometimes think their hours are longer and their hardships greater than those of any other class of husbandmen. It is true that they often work 12 or more hours a day and that they are sometimes exposed to unpleasant weather, but it is also true that there is usually good compensation for the long hours and the hardships, if they can be called hardships. Commercial gardeners, unless they use considerable glass, are practically free to rest on Sunday, while this cannot be said of men following some other lines of farming. With skillful management the gardener should get a profit on every hour of labor. Then, why should he not observe the same hours a day as other classes of producers, hiring extra help when necessary and paying for all service rendered in excess of 10 hours a day? The best service cannot be expected for more than 10 hours, and for this reason longer days should be avoided as much as possible and additional men employed to do the work required. Marketing by wagon often requires early rising and sometimes late retiring and salesmen should be well compensated for this work.