1000’s of Trees and Half an Acre: Small Scale Nursery Business with Akiva Silver
“I think the most important thing is to grow what you use. What you use in your landscape, and what you’re excited about and want to see other people grow..”Akiva Silver
“We now know how to breed plants. In the short span of a few years we can surpass the results of centuries of chance breeding. The plant kingdom has become almost as clay in the hands of the potter. Where we now have one good crop plant, we may someday have five or ten. We need to start in earnest to apply some of our science to producing genius trees – trees that are to other trees as human geniuses are to other men.
Genius trees produced either by chance or design can be propagated a million or ten million times, as was done with the one chance navel orange tree […] For experiments in breeding, the tree has one great advantage over most of the annuals. We propagate trees by twig or bud, grafting or budding. Therefore, a wild, unstable freak, any helpless malformation like the navel orange which cannot reprocess itself, can be made into a million trees by the nurseryman.” J. Russell Smith, Tree Crops, 1929
In the spirit of J. Russell Smith’s work I’ve had a bunch of past episodes highlighting trees in some form – Phil Rutter, Byron Joel, Mark Shepard, Ben Falk, Ben Kotnik… Many of these guests have envisioned a future full of trees, just like J. Russell Smith described in the early 1929.
Have you ever thought about how all of those trees are going to get started?
Have you ever thought about how those trees will get into the landscape?
The answer is you.
Because we are in a time where most commercial nurseries can’t service the demand or provide the biome specific plant material that we need, and will need, to establish these types of permaculture based, tree crop landscapes.
That is where small scale nurseries come in; permaculture and tree crop focused nurseries that raise plants locally, adapted to that particular biome.
These nurseries can be used to grow trees commercially or for personal use on your own land. Either way the subject of small scale nursery is important and there is some potential opportunity there.
But where to start and do you have enough room?
What if you had to plant out 1000 trees, how would you go about it?
What spacing would you use? Would you plant them in pots?
At first most people would probably go about it the wrong way. Or at least a way that is more water and space intensive.
As my guest today Akiva Silver will explain, you can start a small scale nursery with very little space. Maximizing the efficiency by starting a lot of trees on really tight spacings…I mean A LOT of trees on REALLY tight spacings.
When you hear it, intuitively your first thought is probably, that’s way too close. The trees will suffer and the roots will tangle up.
But that is not the results that Akiva Silver has had.
Akiva has a small nursery business where he grows over 1000 trees on a half an acre. Thousands of trees plant tightly together in loose, friable soil. Very tight spacings that force trees to grow tall and straight in competition with their neighbors resulting in a lot of nursery stock that can be sold in the first year.
How many people out there have some extra space where they could grow a few hundred trees?
Trees to use in the development of your own property or to sell. If you sold each tree for $5 or $10, then we are talking about some significant money given the amount of space it takes.
We aren’t talking about any sort of gimmicks here. It is simple, but it does take time, and the setup can be hard work. Like anything else it is about putting the time, work, and care in, to nurse these trees along to the point where you can sell them.
As Akiva says, “In the spring I work long days. It takes time to prepare beds, haul in and make compost, mix potting soils, fill pots, collect cuttings and seeds, mulch, pull weeds, and water. There are many nights where I will stay up late grafting trees after the kids have gone to bed. And of course, there is always the many plants I start that don’t sprout, root or look good, but I have put the work into and can never sell. It works well for me because I love the plants I am growing, and I think it can be a really profitable business for anyone motivated enough.”
- Start selling on Craigslist as a low cost way to sell.
- Use the plant material for trades.
- Consider selling perennials such as comfrey root cuttings.
- Use educational events and talks for marketing.
- When you grow what people recognize you don’t have to explain what they are. They sell themselves.
- The business can be started cheaply and on the side.