William Horvath

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since Nov 20, 2014
Ordinary person pursuing extraordinary knowledge. 

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Recent posts by William Horvath

Hey guys recently I had a pleasure to attend Mark's Shepard's Restoration Agriculture workshop. It was really an eye opener for so many things he discussed - setting goals, biome analysis, water management, agroforestry, farm economy...

Most importantly Mark had a message for all of us trying to make a living from farming and he said: “If you think you can move somewhere, buy land and make your living just from agriculture – you should think again”. Later I learned how he approached this problem and I made sure to write everything down.

Here are steps he took to get where he is today:

1. First start with your goals
2. Don’t quit your day job just yet!
3. Analyse your local biome and grow the trees that want to grow
4. Develop your property using keyline water management
5. Focus on planting woody perennials and use STUN to select the best-adapted ones
6. Use agroforestry practices to diversify and start generating some income
7. Now you start upgrading your infrastructure
8. Join a Co-op so you can easier compete with big Ag
9. Gradually increase profits from farming and other related activities
10. Quit your Job and enjoy the good life

And here is the whole post if you want to read more.

We can learn so much from his life experience!
4 years ago
Yea when you buy you don't get much. I love the planting seeds in the wild, that's the easiest thing to do and let nature decide who is a survivor.

4 years ago
Last year I was collecting lots of seeds from trees in the wild but from cultivated varieties too. I also ordered from various places lots of N - fixing tree seeds and other fruiting varieties I would like to grow.

My plan is to grow lots of them on my site and use Mark Shepard's STUN method on finding the most adaptable ones. Seeds from the naturalised trees will be good rootstocks and I'll be experimenting with the cultivated ones.

I was researching on the best way to germinate those seeds and grow the trees so I came up with this options:

OPTION#1 The natural way to grow tree seeds

You sow your seeds in plastic nursery containers or buckets like Mark Shepard and mix in some potting soil.

--Seedbeds/Nursery beds
You can sow some seeds, particularly those native to your area, outside in raised seedbeds.

--Direct Seeding On the site – Sepp Holzer style
This method involves seeding out considerable numbers of seeds in the area you want your trees to grow.

OPTION #2. Mimic nature and assist the seeds grow

Step 1. Work out what treatment the seed needs
Different plants have different needs, some seeds like warmth, some require cold, and some have to be germinated with light. The easiest way to find out these is to go to Plants for a future database and look there.

Step 2. Treat the seeds to stimulate the germination process
Many seeds require one or more treatment steps to stimulate the germination process. These steps include: 1) Scarification, 2) Cold Stratification, and 3) Warm Stratification.

Step 3. Prepare your seed potting mix
For this soil mix is usually preferred, to garden soil, most frequently equal parts peat moss (or substitute coconut coir) and perlite, with a pinch of compost to give seeds something to chew on.

Step 4. Sow the seeds and make them germinate by providing right conditions
Give the seeds, warmth, moisture and light…

Step 5. Transplant and harden off the young plants
After a month, you might want to consider repotting or planting out to avoid a pot-bound root system. Also, now you should gradually expose your plants to outside conditions so they can harden off a little before permanently putting them outside to brave the elements.

Step 6. Plant on your site in the desired location and select the most adapted ones
Plant the young trees in the desired locations. You can do this by planting way too many, way too close – as per Mark Shepard’s STUN method recommendation – let them grow and then remove the losers.

I wrote a detailed post about this whole process. If you would like to read more about it here is the link.
4 years ago
Great response!

You have plenty of ideas what to do for an income just beware of falling into a trap of doing too many things at once. If you had to choose only one what would it be?

5 years ago
Thanks Su Ba, your 10th point is spot on and comes from real life experience.

You guys were pretty dedicated and what lots of people don't understand is that this kind of dedication is necessary if you want to succeed in this game.

What enterprises have you stacked to eventually end up with the livable income?

5 years ago
I heard a lot of people struggle with how to get started once they have land and a farm.

It is the easiest when it's done in stages which build upon each other. That’s why I have created a multi-stage plan based upon the components of the ‘keyline scale of permanence’ and added few other notable additions.

Here are the steps so you don't have to read the whole guide.

1. Start with Good Maps and an Understanding of Your Local Climate

The most permanent agricultural factor is climate, and it is fundamental to every aspect of your farm. Temperature, insolation, wind, the annual distribution of humidity and rainfall – these are essentially ‘the rules of the game’, as Darren Doherty would put it.

Geography concerns the location of your farm within the region, shape and form of the land, along with underlying rocks and your proximity to potential markets. If climate sets rules for the game, geography is the board on which you play.

These two factors form the environment into which you must place your farm. These are your design parameters – study them, gather the historical information, produce new data, observe, consider your local geography and geology and study its influence on your farm. Most importantly, obtain good maps depicting your property.

2. Develop Water Supply First

In essence, water and rainfall will determine your farm’s development. The harvesting, storage and distribution of water form the foundation upon which you will build, because all the water lines: diversions, swales, terraces, dams/ponds, channels, will become permanent land features that other infrastructure components will follow.

When developing your water systems you will need to consider the storage, harvesting and reticulation of the available water.

3. Define Access Points

The location of the access points is influenced by climate, land shape and the water supply network you developed in the previous step. On gentler slopes the location of the permanent farm roads is more subjective. However, as soon as you get into steeper terrain, the siting of the farm roads is heavily dependant on climate and land shape.

The best location for the main road is on the ridge crests, which divide watersheds – this road will be high and dry, and, most importantly, easy to maintain. Some other potential road locations are along boundary lines and by water channels such as diversion channels, irrigation channels, and irrigation areas.

4. Restore Existing Buildings and Introduce New Structures

You should always look after what you start with, then restore what you can, finally introducing new elements into the systems. You can start slowly from your house and work outwards – renovate the house first, perhaps extend it with a greenhouse, introduce plant nursery and keep on expanding…

Your buildings shouldn’t be overly exposed and they should have good solar access and protection from the winds, ideally on a slope. If you’re building sheds or other structures, try to position them higher than the house in order to utilize their water tanks for a gravity-fed water source for your home.

5. Subdivide Your Farm With Fencing

The easiest way to subdivide your farm is to work in accordance with more permanent infrastructure elements. All such factors will clearly indicate the pattern of the subdivision. Your main fences will generally be closely associated with the roads and follow their pattern, enclosing the paddocks and planting areas. Your farm zones can also offer useful guidance for subdividing your property.

6. Improve Your Soil

When developing a farm, you should be building your soil as soon as you are able. The goal is to improve the fertility of the soil in order for it to provide the maximum benefits when first planting your crops.

Simple techniques can be used to build soil and you can begin the soil conditioning in the earthworks (infrastructure) stage. This can include keyline ploughing, cover cropping, mulching, erosion control, and even the starting of microbial inoculation through biofertilizers and compost teas.

7. Plant Trees and Crops

In this step you look at establishment of the main systems of the farm – savannahs, orchards, woodlots, farm forestry, pastures, market gardens etc.

In most cases you should begin by establishing windbreaks for the protection of your plantings. Once you have this ready you can start planting trees, woody crops, and annual and perennial plants. In doing so, you might wish to focus on establishing pastures and annual crop lands prior to planting tree-based systems. This will provide a source of income and a quick return on your investment in time and money.

8. Introduce Animals

The natural progression is to introduce your animals once you have established your seedling trees. Nonetheless, animals can be introduced at the same time as your plants, although this will place additional pressure on your funds.

When starting out, consider pigs and chickens. They are easier to care for, have a quick turnaround to get your cash flow going and they are omnivores – giving you more feeding options. Temporary fencing will give you the flexibility to move them around, to protect your trees and other plants, and you can also use them for animal tractoring for an additional boost to the fertility.

9. Develop Farm Economy

Once you got your farm up and running you need to consider the financial aspects and expand your influence in the local community.

Making your farm financially sustainable is entirely dependant on your ability to create a narrative about your farm. You should always aim at developing a personal relationship with your customers.

The markets are very dynamic, and are constantly changing and evolving over time. However, the good news is that market analysis, and your access to these markets, are also only a few clicks away. Setting up an e-commerce site such as Shopify and selling directly to a consumer really changes the approach to selling.


If you found this useful I also created a checklist to aid you in the process of the farm establishment. You can download it in the post itself, I'm not sure if I can link it here.
5 years ago

duane hennon wrote:

hi William,

nice list

my only comment is on #4
maximize water retention

maybe "optimize" water retention
some places can have too much water

Totally Agree. Thanks!
5 years ago
Hi everyone. I have been writing this post for a long time. After reading Edible Forest Gardens, Creating a Forest Garden, Holistic Orchard and other books I boiled down the info into small actionable steps.

I believe this would be a great resource for anyone just starting out like I am. The basic framework of setting up clear goals>>analasys & assesment>>design>>site preparation>>establishment is still the foundation, but I tried to break down a lot of information from the books into a simple blog post and throw in few of my ideas.

Here is just an outline of the post:

1. What do you want from your food forest?
2. Explore, Sit Quietly and Observe, Analyse
-Explore your local forest so you’ll have an idea what will grow best in your area
-Sit quietly and observe your site
-Do a site survey and make a basic map

3. Design – Create a layout and choose the plants
-Choose a general layout – orchard, woodland, savannah
-Start by outlaying your infrastructure first
-Make a list master list of plants you wish to grow
-Create guilds from your master list of plants
-Do a patch design – define your planting areas and plant spacing

4. Prepare the site
-Adapt your site if necessary
-Shape the earth to your advantage and maximise water retention
-Set up infrastructure and put down irrigation, pathways and fencing
-Build up your soil and improve the soil structure

5. Source the plants and start planting
-Start a nursery or buy plants – your choice
-Phase your project and plant in stages
-Finally put your plants in the ground

You can read the post here

Now, I'm not an expert but if you have any question I would be happy to give you my perspective on things. Let me know here in the thread or send me a PM.
5 years ago
Hey guys,

I really admire Grant and what he did with Verasland. In short Versaland is a 145-acre farm, laboratory and homestead in Iowa City, Mid-West USA.

He started mid-April 2013 – that’s just 2.5 years ago and bootstrapped his venture from nothing - no infrastructure, just bare land, yet today he has a thriving business.

I took the time to compile all the data from this forum, podcasts and other websites into a case study post.

In short the Versaland model is:

1. Location and Size - 145-acre farm located in Iowa City, Midwest USA. It’s in the USDA Plant Hardiness zone 5, and in a cool temperate climate.
2. Agroforestry system – silvopasture with a keyline layout - trees and livestock, producing high-value fruit crops for direct marketing and U-pick while grazing livestock in alleys.
3. Basic infrastructure and low housing cost - No big water earthworks yet, as vocal proponent of mobile infrastructure Grant lives in FEMA mobile classroom of under 250 square feet
4. On-site Permaculture Nursery - The nursery provides 30,000+ trees annually and, from what I saw, can pass on wholesale prices to potential buyers.
5. Using government grants and low interest loans
6. Polyculture of incomes - The farm itself is a major income stream, with several on-farm enterprises.
7. Entrepreneurial mindset and continuous innovation - He is building farm hack inventions, inventing new tools and constantly devising more productive ways of doing things that offer better ROI.

Read the full post here.

5 years ago

It's always easier with a partner who supports you. Especially if you plan to move somewhere and start from scratch to work on your dream.

Although I could try to prove to you that it's possible to make it alone, I'll ask you this instead: If we were having this discussion three years from today, and you were looking back over those three years, what has to have happened in your life, both personally and professionally, for you to feel happy with your progress?”

Think about it and let me know.

5 years ago