Consider Growing Specialty Crops!

Lavender

Lavender farming can produce above-average profits for small growers, as it is such a versatile crop. The fresh flowers are sold in bundles or used for lavender oil. The flowers are also easy to dry, for sales to florists and crafters to make wreaths and floral arrangements. Lavender is also used to make value-added products such as sachets, herbal pillows, aromatherapy products and skin care products like soap. That’s the charm of growing lavender…nothing is wasted.


Gourmet mushrooms

Mushrooms are an ideal specialty crop for urban farmers, as they are grown indoors and produce a very high return per square foot. The two most widely grown gourmet mushrooms are oyster and shiitake, which are available fresh or dried in many grocery stores. Oyster mushrooms are especially productive, and can produce up to 25 pounds per square foot of growing area every year. Although both oyster and shiitake can be dried, most are sold fresh – an advantage for local growers who supply grocery stores and individuals at farmer’s markets.


Woody ornamentals

Also known as woody stems, woodies are trees and shrubs whose branches are harvested and sold to florists and individuals for arrangements and craft products such as wreaths. Most woodies have colorful stems, like Red Twig dogwood, odd stems like curly willow or stems with attractive berries, buds or flowers. Some of the well-known woodies include holly in winter, pussy willows in spring and forsythia and hydrangeas in late spring and summer. Unlike annual plants like vegetables, woodies can be harvested over and over again for decades, and produce a year-round harvest as different species are ready to harvest during all four seasons.


Bonsai plants

From tiny trees the size of a finger to mature maples and pines just 18 inches high, the world of bonsai is full of surprises. Because the hobby of bonsai is enjoying widespread and growing popularity, there is opportunity for new growers to sell bonsai trees and shrubs to hobbyists and collectors. Most bonsai growers specialize in one of four areas – starter trays of several young, untrained trees or shrubs, starter plants in individual pots, trained plants that have been trained to their first ceramic pot, and specimen plants. Becoming a bonsai grower requires very little growing area, as the plants are so compact, and seeds or seedlings and supplies.


Japanese maples

For hundreds of years, Japanese maples have been grown and admired by gardeners who view them as the ultimate collector’s tree because of their unique beauty. Because most retail garden centers don’t have room to display very many varieties, a small specialty grower who focuses on them can prosper with Japanese maples. Also, because Japanese maples are small trees, they can be grown in containers to allow more varieties to be grown in a small space – ideal for those with a limited growing area. With limited supply, these beautiful trees can become a profitable niche for a patient grower.


Bamboo

This amazing plant, a member of the grass family, has long been a landscaping favorite, as landscapers can pick a species of bamboo ranging from dwarf Sasa bamboo that is barely a foot tall, to giant timber bamboo that can reach 75 feet in height. By growing container bamboo for landscapers and homeowners, digging is eliminated, and the plants take up far less space. In fact, over 600 bamboo plants in 5-gallon pots can be grown in a 30′ x 40′ space.


Herbs

The use of herbs has enjoyed impressive growth in the last two decades as more people began using fresh herbs for cooking, and value-added herbal products such as soaps, candles, teas and bath oils. The biggest herb demand is for fresh culinary herbs for grocery stores and restaurants. Quite a few growers also supply new and regular customers at the saturday farmer’s markets. A popular value-added item there is a 4-herb windowsill size “instant’ herb garden, ready to start snipping. Other growers find dried culinary herbs in packets sell well at the farmer’s market. With hundreds of choices, including a broad range of ethnic herbs for serious cooks, growers can thrive with fresh herbs.