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First Year Income for Tree Nursery

 
Alain D'Aoust
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Hi folks,

I'm located in Ontario and am planning a 1 acre permaculture nursery. I'll be growing mostly trees from cuttings intensively planted in permanent raised beds for sale at market and online. We've begun erecting a 30'×52' high tunnel as well.

Can a nursery like this profit in year 1? What can I do to earn a living from my farm in the first year without taking space away from the nursery?

We do sell eggs from 200 hens, but profit from that enterprise is not impressive as of yet.

Thanks in advance!
 
John Wolfram
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Location: Lafayette, Indiana
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Alain D'Aoust wrote: I'll be growing mostly trees from cuttings intensively planted in permanent raised beds for sale at market and online...Can a nursery like this profit in year 1? What can I do to earn a living from my farm in the first year without taking space away from the nursery?

What are you planning on selling your first year, cuttings that have only been rooting for a few weeks/months? That sounds like a recipe for a lot of ticked off or disappointed customers.
 
Alain D'Aoust
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I would allow the cuttings to root for at least an entire season. In fact, I anticipate allowing trees to grow for a couple seasons, but I haven't figured all of that out yet. I suppose I'm wondering what I could grow within that first year that could be sold within that same season, as I wait for a consistent return on bare root stock.
 
Mike Haych
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Location: Eastern Canada, Zone 5a
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Alain D'Aoust wrote:Hi folks,

I'm located in Ontario and am planning a 1 acre permaculture nursery. I'll be growing mostly trees from cuttings intensively planted in permanent raised beds for sale at market and online. We've begun erecting a 30'×52' high tunnel as well.

Can a nursery like this profit in year 1? What can I do to earn a living from my farm in the first year without taking space away from the nursery?

We do sell eggs from 200 hens, but profit from that enterprise is not impressive as of yet.

Thanks in advance!


Yes. But 1 acre is far too much space to start with unless you are planning to sell big trees which is not a good idea - too much negative cash flow at the beginning and lots of size related logistical problems. If you start with a 4 x 8 misting bed, you'll have lots of cuttings started. Right now one of my beds is half full with hardwood cuttings and has around 500 cuttings in it. Transplanting to 7" pots will take up less than 500 square feet. Unless you live in a really big market place such as Toronto, you won't generate much volume at markets. Online is a far better bet. You need to keep shipping costs down so that means that your plants should be small if you are looking to do volume. It's more likely that permies are interested in 12 aronia 12" seedlings at $7-10 each with Xpress shipping under $20 that they are in 12 aronia seedlings at 2-3' at $15-20 with Xpress shipping of $40-60. It's really easy to go broke buying in expensive plants. Some permies have deep pockets but many don't Having larger plants presents other logistical problems, pot size, space, watering, etc. If you have parent plants, you have an unlimited supply of cuttings. Each spring when I know what has rooted, I go through prior year plants that have not sold and get rid of the ones that are too large to sell. Some get gifted, some get planted along the roadside beyond the reach of the municipal brushing butchers and some go to the compost pile after the soil is knocked off the roots. I'm not interested in running a warehouse business.

Wholesale to local nurseries, which is what I do, is even better. Check out what they are offering (they've done your market research for you) in the spring because that's what you're going to offer them. Local nurseries like to buy locally because they know that the plants are acclimatized to local weather conditions, in particular cold temperatures. Your plants do have to be larger so I grow my 7" pots for at least a year depending on what the growing season is like. My plants are inoculated with mycorrhizal fungi and have rock dust in the pots as well. Some numbers? My clients buy in lots of a dozen at a minimum of $5/plant so I gross $60 per lot. What do they want? Black currants, red currants, white currants, gooseberries, grapes (I have 6 cold hardy, sweet seedless varieties), thornless blackberry, elderberry, hardy kiwi, 5 cherry plums (not chums). So 20+ plants by $60 is the minimum with a single nursery. And they usually sell out of a few of the plants. I sell to 5 different nurseries. Gross is +/-$6000. Ongoing costs are 40 cents/pot or about $500 although I do scrounge the garden centres, especially Loblaw. I make my own potting soil. So the net is around $5500, say $5000 since bits and pieces tend to add up. Start up costs: <$500 for a single misting bed. Significant start up costs: learning how to propagate. Some stuff is easy, some stuff isn't. Don't underestimate the learning curve. What's the timeline on that? Hard to say. If you start small with fairly foolproof plants such as grapes, you could have something to sell the first year. But you also need to stick a lot of hardwood and greenwood cuttings to learn the tricks. It took me a number of years of hit and miss until I discovered misting beds. Then things changed dramatically and my results were more consistent and more wide ranging. If you have any horticultural experience at all, then I think that it's possible to be up and running using a misting bed in two maybe three years.

Don't even talk to anyone until you've figured out how to propagate cuttings. I find that the best sales pitch is to walk in with a healthy looking Concord grape in a 7" pot and ask the question are you interested in buying a dozen of these. I ask the question but the Concord does the selling.

Be careful with what you plan to sell. For example, selling Borealis Haskap without a propagator's licence will get you in trouble. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has a "breeders rights" section that lists what is protected. Here's the info on blue honeysuckle - http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/plaveg/pbrpov/cropreport/bluehe.shtml

Doug Bullock has written a pretty good introduction A How-To for Starting a Permaculture Nursery and Why You Should. The first reference he lists, The Reference Manual of Woody Plant Propagation: From Seed to Tissue Culture : A Practical Working Guide to the Propagation of over 1100 Species, is invaluable.
 
Alain D'Aoust
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Mike, thank you for taking the time to write this. The information and references here are indispensable.

 
Dave Dahlsrud
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It seems like annual starts might be good money maker for your first year, then transition into perennials as you get established.
 
David Irby
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Location: Locust Grove, VA
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Mike Haych wrote:I make my own potting soil.


Mike - would you be willing to share your potting soil "recipe" and maybe a little more detail on the mychorrizal fungi you are using as well?

Thanks,
Dave.
 
Mike Haych
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Location: Eastern Canada, Zone 5a
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Dave Dahlsrud wrote:It seems like annual starts might be good money maker for your first year, then transition into perennials as you get established.


I have no direct experience in this area so my thoughts probably have holes in them.

Lots of up front labour and infrastructure needed. I'm not sure where in Ontario Alain is located but it doesn't really matter. In the warmest growing location near Niagara Falls, you still have to start annuals indoors. They have to be ready to sell by Mother's Day if they are flowers and June first if they are vegetables. Any later and buyers have missed the growing season. A few years back I had a tour of a small annual propagation nursery. It's a really complex setup with overhead misters to disperse nutrients, growth inhibitors, etc. So scale has nasty upfront costs if you want your plants to look as good as or better than the competition's plants. Competition is a problem - every bigbox store and supermarket has its garden center under full sail and sells a ton of peripheral product. Seems to me that annuals are a tough game.

Annuals also seem to be a very segmented industry. I know a nursery that specializes in hanging baskets of annual flowers. They buy in plugs from another nursery and create hanging baskets. They sell like crazy on the Mothers Day weekend but that's it although I believe that they also have a contract with a city to do some/all (?) of their hanging baskets. Their infrastructure is significant - at least 10 heated and ventilated large hoop houses.

Not saying that this isn't doable but I think it needs a ton of research up front to figure out how to do it without sending money down the rabbit hole.
 
Mike Haych
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Location: Eastern Canada, Zone 5a
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David Irby wrote:
Mike Haych wrote:I make my own potting soil.


Mike - would you be willing to share your potting soil "recipe" and maybe a little more detail on the mychorrizal fungi you are using as well?

Thanks,
Dave.


Nothing special other than no peatmoss or coir. Too expensive and poor water characteristics - either too wet or too dry. I try to mimic what nature does which is KISS in general but complex in the detail beyond my ability to understand. Basically, a forest floor is rotting down branches and leaves with the periodic tree included. I chip as much material as I can from the property and I grow a certain amount of miscanthus giganteus but I can't keep up. A number of years ago I discovered that finely shredded bark mulch - not wood chips that include trunk wood - deteriorates within a couple of years into this incredibly dark rich compost material that plants love to grow in. It's got a porosity to it that prevents it from water logging under normal rain/watering conditions. So every year, I buy in 2-3 yards of the stuff for $70-$105 and let it sit. It goes such a long way that I don't factor it into the cost of a plant. I don't do anything to it other than rake the top off the pile so that it's flat and catches the rain. I don't try to mix green waste into it; I don't turn it; I don't do anything to it since Nature seems to have it well under control. Some of the older piles have lots of worms in them so I figure Nature is doing a good job. I'm not sure that I'll buy in this year since I've got a number of piles that have matured nicely. I still haven't figured out how to balance what I buy in with what I use. It's not that big a deal since I don't have to worry about space.

Mycorrhizal fungi is sold everywhere it seems with all kinds of magical properties associated with some of the products. As far as I can tell, the main producer of most of the retail product is Premier Tech Biotechnologies - http://www.usemyke.com/mycorise/welcome/index.htm. Premier Tech is a massive horticultural/agricultural company. They sell things like ProMix.

This is the product that I use - http://www.usemyke.com/mycorise/gardening/tree/myketree/myketree.htm. Everything that I plant/transplant has its roots dusted. It goes a long way since each dusting uses about 1 tbsp. I could try producing my own but I don't want to take the chance of having plants that don't do well because I have no quality control. Without a microscope and training, I'm not willing to take the risk. And I've seen the results of using this product. I can look at 3-4' cedars in a hedge that I planted 5 years ago that have not been inoculated compared to 18" cedars in a hedge planted two years ago that were inoculated. ow it's difficult to see much difference in size. And they are planted within 15 feet of each other in subsoil. So I'm a firm believer in inoculating bare root plants. Even plants grown in pots get their exposed roots dusted when planted out.
 
Simone Gar
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Location: Alberta, zone 3
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Great advice. Thanks for posting Mike!
 
John Polk
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Here is a PDF from Oklahoma State Univ. regarding setting up a misting setup.
Misting system for plant propagation
 
Mike Haych
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Location: Eastern Canada, Zone 5a
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John Polk wrote:Here is a PDF from Oklahoma State Univ. regarding setting up a misting setup.
Misting system for plant propagation


Yep, it's not bad but it's a lot more complicated that it needs to be and there are some details that are not included.

My misting beds are on the ground which greatly simplifies construction and greatly reduces cost. I don't use bottom heat. The beds are 8 inches deep to accommodate longer cuttings such as grapes. They are filled with coarse sand not play sand which is too fine and will waterlog. Most extension plans show 110 volt timers and some show 24 volt solenoid valves. I use a this timer - http://www.sprinklerwarehouse.com/DIG-Drip-Irrigation-AC-Controller-p/5006-ip.htm - as suggested in this permies thread - http://www.permies.com/t/3706/permaculture/propagation-bed. I don't have to mess around with 110 volts or transform it to drive a 24 volt solenoid valve.

These aren't my pictures but they are my system. They come from http://mikesbackyardnursery.com/2013/12/how-to-root-hundreds-if-not-thousands-of-cuttings-at-one-time/. You can either build your own as I did or buy his package. If I were doing it again, I'd probably buy his system since the timer is a bit tricky to set up and the solenoid valve can stick over time. Given the cost of the timer, 24 volt solenoid valve and mister/risers, his package is a pretty good deal since you're buying his first-hand knowledge and experience. McGroarty does a lot of marketing and a lot of it looks like a come-on but it's not. He does do a fair bit of duplication so it can be tiresome sometimes. Nonetheless, a beginner can learn a great deal from him. And what's not to trust when someone wears overalls all the time. LOL

 
Simone Gar
Posts: 86
Location: Alberta, zone 3
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Hi Mike,
Thanks for the information again. Very helpful and valuable.
Could you please talk a bit about the misting part of the system. I have a hard time finding the right parts. Part of it might be that I am in Canada and lots of suggestions and links are for US products/stores. Thanks!
 
Mike Haych
Posts: 225
Location: Eastern Canada, Zone 5a
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Simone Gar wrote:Hi Mike,
Thanks for the information again. Very helpful and valuable.
Could you please talk a bit about the misting part of the system. I have a hard time finding the right parts. Part of it might be that I am in Canada and lots of suggestions and links are for US products/stores. Thanks!


Check your Prairie Tough email account.

 
Miranda Converse
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Have you thought about hatching chicks to get you through until your plants are established? With 200 chickens (as long as you have some roosters) you could easily hatch out 100 chicks a week. At a minimum, you should be able to get at least $3/chick, more if you have an in demand breed. That's more than most would sell a dozen eggs for. So even if you only had a %50 hatch rate, you would multiply your profits by 6.

You can also sell fertile eggs for others to hatch. A lot of times I will see hatching eggs go for as much as a chick would cost. That's one way to not have to deal with the whole incubation process and still make more than you would just selling eating eggs...



 
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