A row of trees bent low with ripening fruit is an appealing sight, rich with the mouthwatering promise of fresh flavors and sweet, sticky juice. If your home is on a larger than usual plot, or if you live in a semirural area, you might have the option of planting a small home orchard and enjoying that very pleasure. If you choose to market your produce, the money you make can subsidize the orchard's costs or even turn into a viable secondary income.
Before you rush out to start buying seedlings, plan your orchard. Your local county extension office can advise you on appropriate varieties for your area and provide practical details about situating your trees for the best exposure to sun. You'll also need to decide how your trees will grow. Typically that means pruning and arranging the trees into compact, easy-to-pick shapes, but some -- such as apples and pears -- also lend themselves to "espalier" planting. That method requires training and pruning the trees to grow along a fence, with low, horizontal branches. It's less picturesque but highly efficient, and the fruit is easy to harvest.
It typically takes five years or longer for most fruit or nut trees to begin bearing, so you'll have time to find markets for your fruit. Selling directly to volume wholesalers might not be possible for home growers, unless you can arrange with a commercial orchardist to piggyback your harvest with his. Alternatively, you might negotiate with a local supermarket or produce market to supply the market directly. This can be more rewarding for small-scale producers, especially if you're growing artisanal or heirloom varieties.
If you live near a population center, you probably have farmers markets nearby. For a minimal cost, you can sell your fruit directly to the public and earn a retail price, rather than a wholesale price, on every item. The downside to market sales is that they require a substantial investment of time. If you live on or near a well-traveled road, selling from a small stand on your own property might be a lower-key way to make money from your orchard if local laws permit such sales.
If you have plenty of room for parking, a you-pick orchard might be an even better option. You'll need to screen the property carefully for potential hazards and purchase extra liability coverage, but this creates lots of opportunities for generating extra revenue. Sell cold beverages and ice cream, or offer corn boils and hot dog roasts, so your guests can turn the work into a family day trip. You can even save and chip the branches you prune and sell them to your guests all summer for creating smoke on the barbecue.
Operating even a small orchard is probably more work than you realize, so canvass your local orchardists for learning opportunities or even internships in their orchards. If you live in a fruit-growing area, the local university might offer learning opportunities at a demonstration orchard. Before you begin, check with your local municipality to ensure your zoning permits you to operate an orchard. Offering cooked food on site usually requires additional licensing and permits, though the added profit is usually worth it.