Carpe Diem Greenhouses, unusual perennials, annuals and herbs grown from seed purchased from French, British and U.S. seed houses, grown to be sold at the Penticton Farmer’s Market was a fail and and yet it wasn’t. Despite a colossal financial flop, it’s one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever embarked on.
The premise was pretty solid: The Penticton Farmer’s Market is thriving and teaming with locals and visitors and gets bigger every year. Gardening is growing by leaps and bounds. People at the market buy lots of plants. There was no competition for my rare and unusual niche.
The due diligence: Not so diligent.
Here is a partial list of the costs to get up and running as well as ongoing costs:
- Seeds – $680.71
- Soil, perlite and grit – $152.84
- Greenhouse winterizing – $435 (Note, I’m not even including the cost of the greenhouse in this equation. I’m happy to have it for my own garden use luckily as it would skew my figures to the point of bankruptcy vs. simple fail)
- Pots, plug trays, domes – $354.28
- Fancier large pots – $329.58
- Heat mats – $139.00
- Extension cord – $159.00
- Plant markers – $42.00
- Heating the greenhouse (electric heater) – $400
- Lumber to retrofit our trailer to bring the plants to market – $200
- Market tent – $230
- Farmer’s market table rental – $30/week
- Banner – $150
- Misc. ?
- Labour – love
Starting to load the trailer on market day
Seed ordering is near the top of the list. Centaurea black boy, Kitaibelia Vitifolia, Digitalis Camelot Cream F1, Penstemon pinacolada violet blue, aquilegia chocolate soldiers, kniphofia traffic lights, nepeta blue moon, eurodium sweetheart, salpiglossis kew blue, aristolochia littoralis, blue myth, giant flower Edelweiss, Cerinthe kiwi blue…
My ambitious goal was to grow something different and not readily available at local garden centres that the keen gardner would like to try. I ordered from Plants of Distinction, the British branch of Thompson & Morgan, Seedman (U.S.) and a French seed house I’ve lost the receipt from.
Even more fun are the hours spent in the greenhouse. Radio, coffee and seeding. Radio, coffee, misting and watering. Radio, coffee thinning and transplanting. I would wake up earlier and earlier like a hopped up kid on a three-month long string of Christmas mornings. Opening the greenhouse door and then unzipping the plastic inner liner the Handyman added for heat retention, I could feel the humidity and smell the warm soil and eventually the blooms. Methodically working from one end of the greenhouse to the other, removing domes, misting, watering, these hours are some of the most satisfying times of my life. I smile now as I think of them.
Fun part three. The market experience rates highly as well. Waking up early to load and unload the trailer and set up was satisfying. After all the nurturing, moving trays and plants for hardening off, tagging and pricing to see them all displayed was an, “I made fire!” moment. My first customer was cool too. Having a line-up at one point was pretty great too. Talking about plants and growing and saying, “You need full sun for that one,” multiple times never got old.
I sold plants and made money. On my best Saturday I cleared $400 which was the heating bill sorted. I learned that my local clients were very price conscious and many happy to plant run-of-the mill geraniums and petunias at the incredibly cheap prices afforded by big-box operations. On the other hand, tourists were happy to try something new and found my prices very reasonable. Keen to go into a second year, we took a careful look at the cost/revenue picture and despite my enthusiasm and the fun of it all, the numbers just didn’t add up.
The priceless experience:
- A garden full of “left-overs” which were luckily largely perennials
- Seed starting and growing healthy plants knowledge
- Met some nice fellow vendors and locals
- Life-long memories of my early-morning greenhouse days which I call up in times of stress
- A bigger greenhouse than I really need which is an appreciated luxury
- Keen interest in affordable, renewable energy to heat my greenhouse in the future
- A better understanding of Farmer’s Market economics
The next venture…organic berries. We have 125 raspberry canes, about 25 blueberry bushes and a good-sized strawberry patch. Another 100 canes will be planted this spring. No heating bill, no ongoing costs for soil, pots, seeds, berries always sell out first at the market… Stay tuned.