Would you like to make money from your garden doing something you love? Here are six ways to grow perennial crops as a side hustle.
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I’m excited to tell you that making money from your garden or micro homestead is within your reach, and perennial crops are an excellent place to start.
The following ideas can help you identify a service or product to sell that matches your skills, interest, and resources. With a little hustle, you’ll be on your way to a garden-focused side business in no time!
Why Grow Perennial Crops?
As a permaculture designer, I look for ways to meet my needs while being kind to the growing site. My goal is to yield a harvest without a lot of work or inputs (i.e., soil amendments, fertilizers, etc.), and perennial crops fit that bill.
One of the main advantages of perennial crops is that they come back every year without replanting. No need to rush each spring to prepare the soil or find that ‘Goldilocks’ moment to plant between rains.
That’s a huge benefit to micro-farmers who want to avoid the trap of over-work and micro-management. Here are some of the other merits of growing perennial crops:
- They are low maintenance. Harvest, prune, and (perhaps) fertilize just once a year.
- Pests are minimal when you use permaculture strategies like plant guilds.
- They’re not as demanding on the land as annuals and provide permanent habitat.
Permanent plantings of perennial crops allow you to generate income while improving ecological stability. Although annual crops frequently disrupt soil, perennial crops can increase soil fertility over time.
Of course, there are some initial downsides to growing perennial crops as a side hustle. There is an up-front cost to acquire plants. Additionally, perennials take some time to establish before yielding a harvest.
However, this is your chance to work with nature to yield an income.
The following are six ways to supplement your household income with perennial crops, without being a full-time farmer. However, a combination of several of these ideas and an entrepreneurial spirit may help you live your passion full time!
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I’m sure you have other talents just waiting to be tapped!
#1: Selecting Perennial Crops: Fruits
When you think about perennial crops, fruit probably comes to mind. This can be a wise option for a side hustle—fruit vendors at farmers’ markets always have a long line! Fruits typically yield a harvest in 2-3 years.
Fruit trees are common perennial crops for market growers. Soft fruits are equally popular—those berries that grow on bushes, brambles, or even strawberries. These fruits do well at market, but have a couple of drawbacks.
First, they can bruise easily while harvesting and packing. Second, they have a short window of marketability before they perish. Have a good system in place to get these fresh harvests to your customers.
When selecting fruit crops, here’s another thing to consider: the harvest window of each crop. Some people want crops that all bear fruit at the same time of year. In this arrangement, the harvest-and-market season comes all at once. It’s super hectic, but then it’s over.
Other growers prefer a more even-keeled approach of staggering harvests (and income) throughout the year. With this approach, select a variety of fruits with harvest windows from late spring through late fall.
This latter approach is safer for new growers still learning the ins-and-outs of growing each type of fruit. It takes time to establish routines for maintenance, harvesting, and marketing. This is a good way to protect the investment you’ve made into buying plants.
I found this out the hard way on my micro homestead. My currants, cherries, black raspberries, and strawberries were all ready to harvest within the same month every spring. I was overwhelmed—and I was only growing fruit for household use!
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#2: Selecting Perennial Crops: Nuts
Growing nut trees for food is a firm commitment to the long game of market crops. It can take an average of 4-5 years to get a harvest! Of course, one of the “biggest” considerations for nut trees is their size—an average of 50 feet tall!
However, they can provide food and steady income for generations of humans and wildlife. As the keystone species of forests, they can contribute to a long-term, economical and ecological plan.
Nut trees such as almonds, chestnuts, pecans, and walnuts produce delicious, edible nuts. Additionally, all except almond trees produce future income as high-value timber.
Hazelnut shrubs are a consideration for compact growing sites, taking up less space than a nut tree at maturity (15-18 feet tall). However, they may not bear fruit for 6-8 years.
While nut trees are growing slowly, you’ll have several years of good sunlight to cultivate a variety of crops. Years later, as they cast more shade, forest-dwelling perennial crops can yield financial and ecological benefits. See below for more about these types of shade crops.
#3: Selecting Perennial Crops: Vegetables, Vines, and Herbs
When thinking about perennial crops, you might not have immediately thought about vegetables, vines, and herbs. But they’re certainly worth a look for the side hustle!
Some crops in the perennial vegetable category for the small-scale, market operation are asparagus, rhubarb, horseradish, and Jerusalem artichoke.
Asparagus is an excellent perennial vegetable because it is the first to produce in the spring. It’s an excellent income generator early in the growing season. Both local consumers and chefs pay top dollar for this gourmet vegetable. Shelf-stable, dried asparagus can be marketed in the off season or used to make soups and stews for home use.
Rhubarb is another spring crop with lots of marketing possibility. Pair it with strawberries to hook new customers!
Horseradish and Jerusalem artichoke are perennial root vegetables to harvest throughout fall and winter. On the other hand, only consider growing them if you have the space—because they will spread!
Perennial vines such as hops, hardy kiwi, and grapes each have their own challenges and opportunities. Top of mind is the need to properly trellis and provide support for these vigorous growers. They need a fair bit of care to maintain, harvest, and market. In spite of that, if you’re up for a challenge, these perennial crops are for you!
Perennial herbs—both culinary and medicinal—are easy to grow, require almost no maintenance, and are extremely prolific. Herbs like chives, lavender, and oregano consistently command some of the highest profits per square foot.
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You’ll find loads of information just like this in my award-winning book, The Suburban Micro-Farm.
#4: Selecting Perennial Crops: Shade-Grown Plants
There are a number of perennial crops that naturally grow in the shade of the forest. Mushrooms, ramps, and medicinal herbs are a few examples of forest-dwellers that lend themselves well to the side hustle. That’s because they’re relatively low maintenance and command a high market price.
Log-grown mushrooms—such as shiitake, oyster, and lion’s mane—are probably the most well known varieties for micro-farming operations. Reishi is a log-grown mushroom known for its potent medicinal qualities.
The harvest-to-market shelf life is very short for quickly perishing mushrooms. Therefore, spend some time developing a marketing plan in advance.
Ramps are an early-season crop in the onion family, native to North American hardwood forests. They can help you start generating income early in the spring before other annual crops are even planted. However, the drawback is that they take five to seven years to be harvestable.
High-end local chefs would be over-the-moon to find a sustainable, reliable source of cultivated ramps. That’s because long-standing colonies of wild ramps are being over-harvested as this old-time favorite has fallen into gourmet popularity again.
Ramps grow where it stays shaded, cool, and moist year round, and contribute to the ecology of a forest. Read more about the benefits of ramps in the perennial garden.
Ginseng, goldenseal, and blue and black cohosh are a few of many forest-dwelling medicinal herbs. They can be wild-harvested or cultivated, and typically take around three to five years before they’re ready for harvest.
These medicinal herbs are sold as fresh roots, stems, bark, or leaves, but most often sold dried. Identify your market beforehand, whether it is a medicinal company searching for raw material or local herbalists.
#5: Creating an Edible Plant Nursery
Many perennial crops, such as berry bushes, brambles, and herbs, lend themselves to this easy and economical side hustle opportunity. In this strategy, take cuttings from existing plants to propagate new crops. Your startup costs will be low, and subsequently, so will be the risk.
Don’t worry, propagating perennials by cuttings is a low-tech strategy. No need to be an expert to get things going!
You don’t need a lot of space to start a plant nursery. That’s because plants can be planted close together since they don’t require a permanent location. This has the added benefit of cutting down on weeds and aiding in more efficient watering.
Plants generally take two to three years to be large enough to sell.
Choose plant types and varieties that suit your climate and sun conditions. This is a good time to ask potential customers what kinds of plants they’re looking for.
Herbs are another easy nursery crop to propagate through cuttings. They’re popular with home gardeners, so adding them to your collection can catapult plant sales. That’s because herbs root and grow quickly into well-sized seedlings. No need to wait years to have a product for market!
Here are some herbs to propagate from cuttings:
Lavender, lemon balm, and thyme are among my favorite herbs to grow in the medicine garden.
Some fruits that can be propagated from cuttings include blueberry, elderberry, and hardy kiwi. Learn more in my article about fruit to propagate for free from cuttings.
Fruit trees are a little more complex to propagate. However, once you get the hang of propagating perennial crops from cuttings, you’ll be ready to learn the process of fruit tree grafting. Then you’ll be well on your way to having a value-packed, micro-nursery business!
#6: Starting a Perennial Cut Flower Biz
If you have an eye for beautiful things, have you considered selling bouquets and passing on the cheer to others? With a perennial cut flower garden, you could have a cheerful side hustle that also makes your garden instantly lovely and a magnet for pollinators and insects.
Cut flowers need plenty of sunshine, so if you have a shady yard, this option is likely not for you. Another challenge is matching flower types to your growing season. You’ll want to choose flower varieties that have a long bloom time in your climate.
Flowers are usually sold by the bunch, bouquet, or individually. Start with a mixture of annual and perennial flowers to ensure that you always have something blooming. However, aim for mostly perennials once established.
That’s because annual flowers need to be planted frequently throughout the season to have a continuous supply of blooms. (Lots of work!) However, perennial flowers are reliable and more resistant to weather fluctuations.
Establish a variety of perennials that bloom in each season to build a low-work, continuous supply of predictable blooms. Here are some popular and abundant perennial flowers to grow for bouquets:
If you have an affinity for flowers, cut flowers may be the right way for you to leverage a perennial “crop” business.
Putting It All Together
Are you considering growing a single perennial crop for a side hustle, such as in an orchard setting? Instead, I might try to steer you toward a different model: the diversified, well-planned food forest. Planting a diversity of crops can be a smart economical, as well as ecological, decision.
By planting a diversity of crops we have hedged our bets and aren’t putting all of our eggs in one basket. If the season is good for one crop, it might not be for another.”
~ Mark Shepard, Restoration Agriculture
Restoration Agriculture is an excellent book for anyone considering growing perennial crops for market. Here are a few more books for the permaculture-minded entrepreneur:
- Farming the Woods: An Integrated Permaculture Approach to Growing Food and Medicinals in Temperate Forests by Ken Mudge and Steve Gabriel
- The Holistic Orchard: Tree Fruits and Berries the Biological Way by Michael Phillips
This low-maintenance, income-generating strategy is for the micro-farmer who wants to care for their land into the future. If you love growing a garden, a side hustle focused on perennial crops might be right for you.
Which perennial crops are you excited to try growing for profit?