Picking out the land for your market garden is arguably the most important aspect to consider when trying to establish a successful market garden. 

There really is no such thing as a perfect site, but it is important that your land has some of the key features necessary for a top-notch market farm. 

Chances are, the land you choose is not going to hit ALL the characteristics I am going to discuss in this article, that’s O.K. 

Choosing a site for the wrong reasons can result in more work for the farmer (you!) for a very long time.

Since your goal is to be breaking ground and selling vegetables as soon as possible, it is important that your land be acceptable for market gardening.

How do I pick a garden spot?

It’s easy to get a little too excited when you visit a piece of land, maybe it’s cheap, has a good view, or is pleasing to the eye. 

However, these are not very good indicators of how good the land actually is for your market garden spot.

Knowing what to look for, and even having a checklist in hand (I am in the process of making one and will link to it when complete) forces you to critically and systematically analyze potential land so your decision is based on what is best for a market garden, not your own personal preferences.

As well, try not to jump on the first piece of land you see. Take the time to visit multiple sites so that you can compare and contrast the information gathered from your checklist.

By visiting different locations, you will only be gaining valuable experience on how to evaluate a site, so do not think of it as time wasted but as acquiring a new skill.

plant hardiness map Ontario

How do I know if my land is good for farming?

There are some key characteristics to keep in mind when determining if the potential land is good for market farming.


The regional climate of any site is the determining factor influencing crop growth.

The number of frost-free days and the average temperature regulate both the length of the growing season and the production potential.

Here in Ontario, there are plant hardiness zones, check them out here, that point out the regions where you are likely to have the most success growing crops for your market garden.

There are also maps called bioclimatic zone map where each area is assigned a zone according to different conditions affecting plant growth. 

These conditions include:

  • Soil type
  • Elevation
  • Proximity to major bodies of water
  • Specific typography

These are the different microclimates that affect plant growth. A bioclimatic map is a great way to investigate potential areas where local climates offer much better-growing conditions than others. 

Market Access

Having close access to the Farmer’s Market is an important aspect to keep in mind when searching for a potential market garden site.

Remember, you need to sell the vegetables you grow.

Enthusiastic consumers are ready to pay a premium for fresh organic produce. While they are typically located in large urban areas, many people living in small towns are supportive of locally grown, organic food.

You must find these enthusiastic customers and sell them your veg.

It’s important to note that some people are not willing to pay a higher price for their vegetables, as some people grow their own.

Some market farmers find that their demand always exceeds their supply, while others find it difficult to sell their veg no matter how good it is. 

Take the time to determine if the area you are considering buying land is already saturated with market farmers. 

Visit your local Farmer’s Market, snoop around, ask questions, make sure there is a demand for vegetables in your potential area.

The location of your farm should be close to the Farmer’s Market as well. The last thing you want is to have to leave at 4 am to get to the Farmer’s Market by 7 am in order to sell your produce.

This will inevitably lead to you being exhausted and not a whole lot of fun to be around by the end of the market season.

Not to mention that it takes you away from the farm for many more hours than if you lived only an hour or less away. 

Remember, an hour spent on the road is an hour not spent maintaining the garden and ensuring a great harvest – J.M. Fortier

By having your farm located near your customer base, you have less time off the farm and can become a well-known and trusted source of fresh vegetables in your community, which really should be your goal.

market garden land

Growing Space

How large of property you want to buy will typically depend on how you want to develop your land. Small-scale farming is typically based on 5 acres or less. 

Keeping that in mind, it’s your farm and it can be as big or small as you want it to be.

To give some perspective, J.M. Fortier advises anyone cultivating one full acre of diverse vegetables as a lot of work for one person to manage alone, outside labour will have to be hired. 

So, if you are a lone wolf, consider cultivating less than an acre. If you have a team in mind, an acre or more may be attainable.

Also, consider your own experience. If you are inexperienced at market farming, go smaller. Don’t overwhelm yourself by going big your first year. There is so much to learn in the first years, it’s best not to complicate it by cultivating a huge portion of land. There’s no shame in taking it slow!

That being said, if you are an experienced gardener, you might want to start a little bigger. The choice is yours.

However, bigger is not always better.

Successful market gardening requires a lot of energy and focus.

Having vacant acres might allow for space for raising animals, orchards, growing berries, etc., but these additional ventures require extra planning and labour. 

Considering time is a limited resource, you need to prioritize what is important and if you actually have the time and money required for cultivating those extra acres.

dry soil

Soil Quality

In small-scale organic farming, yields are largely dependent on the quality of the soil that nourishes the plants.

The ideal soil:

  • Is loose
  • Drains well
  • Is high in nutritional content

You can make any soil fertile by building it up with the proper amendments, but it takes time and energy to do so. 

This is why it is important to know the kind of soil a potential site has to offer.

Consider if you are renting land with the intention of moving to a permanent site. Making long term investments on the rented land is less advantageous than finding land with the best possible soil in the first place. 

You don’t want to be spending your hard-earned coin improving other people’s land only to have to do it on your own land a year or two later.

The quality of soil is determined by its type (clay, sand, or loam) and its percentage of organic matter.

It is recommended that you send a soil sample for proper analysis.

Soil tests will allow you to have a better understanding of the soil type, soil organic matter content, pH, and its chemical balance. 

All of these aspects will need to be assessed at one time or another, so might as well get a soil test done right out of the gate.

Since soil tests take a while, there is a rudimentary way to determine your soil type while you wait for the more thorough analysis from the lab.

To determine the proportions of clay, silt, sand, and gravel in your soil, simply:

  1. Grab a mason jar
  2. Put two inches of soil in it
  3. Fill the rest of the jar with water
  4. Add a teaspoon of dish detergent (acts as a surfactant that helps separate out the different soil particles)
  5. Shake the jar well
  6. Let it sit for a day

mason jar test

The separation of the soil into layers of different thicknesses will tell you the dominant characteristics of your soil. 

Please, do not underestimate how important good soil is for growing vegetables. This is your livelihood we’re talking about.

Good vegetables grow in good soil. 

Starting with the best possible soil is a smart investment.


Topography affects how well the soil drains, how quickly it warms up, and how fast it can be planted.

The ideal site for a market garden is on a gentle and steady south-facing slope with no depressions.

Since topography can’t be changed on a site, it needs to be considered carefully.


A gentle slope (less than 5% to limit erosion) is a great asset in springtime. When the snow starts to melt, the incline of the terrain will allow excess water to be channeled away from the growing area. This is true with excessive rainfall as well.

A south-facing slope means that the maximum day temperature will be reached in the morning.

Therefore, gardens oriented to the south or southeast will warm up more quickly each day.

A faster-drying soil in the spring means earlier crops, which could give you a considerable competitive advantage over other producers at the market by being the first at the market with certain veg.

You can command a higher price for those veggies since there is no competition.

Avoid north-facing slopes so the opposite does not happen and you are the last market gardener at the market with your veggies.


The steepness of the slope, coupled with the location of the plot will also play a major role in how air circulates in the garden.

Cold air is heavier than hot air, so it flows downward, creating natural ventilation that stirs up any stagnant air that could otherwise lead to fungal disease in crops.

This natural ventilation will also help avoid frost damage early in the season.

For this reason, a market garden should NEVER be located at the bottom of a slope, hill, or valley where it would feel the effects of frost much earlier than if it were situated on the upper half of the slope.

rain on field


Living in a 4-season climate, most market farmers have to deal with snowmelt and spring rainfall that will inevitably lead to excess water in the garden that must be dealt with. 

Poor soil drainage can be a major problem for optimum plant growth. 

Perhaps an even bigger problem is that it can prevent access to the garden when you need to get work done. 

This may prevent you from being first at the market with your veg, which should be a priority so you can be competitive with other farms as well as be selling your veg for as long as you possibly can in the short growing season.

Locating your plots on top of a gentle slope will help with drainage and is the best way to manage surface runoff. 

Alternatively, digging channels that lead the water to a ditch or reservoir can quickly divert excess water.

When visiting potential market garden sites, look for spots where water pools. If pooling is present, you must determine if it can be corrected and how much it is going to cost.

The best way to make out a slope or grade with the naked eye is to watch the terrain closely during heavy rain and observe the flow of the runoff.

Returning to the site a few days later will allow for more accurate observation of wet areas.

Wherever soil tends to stay waterlogged more than elsewhere, that is a concerning area.

The simplest solution is to avoid growing crops there.

If there is a lot of pooling, correcting the landscape with heavy machinery is an option, but an expensive one at that.

A less expensive option is to install surface drainage tiles. This is not a straightforward process and while less expensive than a total landscape overhaul with heavy equipment, it still needs planning and still costs money.

You will more than likely need a professional to help do the job correctly.

Access to Water

A productive vegetable garden is highly dependent on a consistent and sufficient water supply. 

Rainfall is often unpredictable, erratic, and insufficient. 

A successful market garden requires an irrigation system that will ensure water is always available for providing proper soil moisture for all crops, especially in a drought.

Therefore, a potential site must have a water source that meets the needs and size of the operation.

A well may suffice for a small home garden, but anything over an acre of cultivation will require more than a well.

Water reservoirs such as a pond, lake, or river will be needed to sufficiently water your crops.

If your potential site has no pond or lake, digging a reservoir is inevitable and will require planning and money.


Your land will require more than just gardens. A market garden needs a building, driveway, electricity, and water. 

These features are where big investments are more than likely going to have to be made.

It’s extremely important to plan out where all of your infrastructures will be designed because they will have a long-term effect on the day to day operations, so consider them thoroughly before constructing anything permanent.

For example, if a site has no driveway or road and one must be built, you will need to find out the municipal standards that have to be followed. Constructing a simple access way can involve enormous costs. Perform your due diligence BEFORE considering a site with no existing vehicle access, or you might be sorry.

Assessing Possible Pollution Problems

External pollutants are a reality in almost any area. 

If you’re not sure about the potential site’s history, a chemical soil analysis should be done to check for the presence of inorganic pollutants. 

When a potential site borders conventional farming, this is a cause for concern. Synthetic chemicals being sprayed near the edges of an organic farm can be catastrophic for the reputation of any organic grower.

Organic certification requires you to have a 25-foot buffer zone or windbreak between your garden and a neighbouring field. 

Bottom Line

Keeping these important factors in mind when picking out the land for your market garden should assist you in choosing the most suitable site.

If all goes well, choosing the right land will lead to a successful market garden season sooner than later and with more money in your bank account.

Be sure to check out J.M. Fortier’s the market gardener for more in-depth information on starting a market farm.

As well, check out our article here highlighting books to read before you start your market garden journey.

What were the most important factors that influenced the location of your market garden?

Let us know in the comments below.

Stay Local,

Kathy & Jon

Your friendly neighbourhood gardeners


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