Question to folks running a backyard nursery

I’m about 11 years away from retirement so I’m using my time to build my infrastructure and learn what I need to learn. Such as today; I just grafted 14 apple trees. I must say it took me much longer than I expected. Even getting better at it and developing a good workflow it is a slow process. You guys running micro and nano backyard nurseries, for fruit trees are you grafting or working with bareroots from a wholesale propagator?

3 Likes

@don1357

Don’t do this myself but yes have friends that do. Frequently they are to busy to propagate trees themselves so they deal with a 3rd party for rootstock eg. Copenhaven or Williamette. There are less wholesalers every year. One of the reasons I do what I do with encouraging people to use callery as rootstock is I want everyone to be self sufficient. If you grow your own food your not subject to shortages like other people. In addition to your business being independent it’s much more profitable. My entire life all my farmer friends have a recurring theme of losing everything. Let me explain how it happens they count on other people. Imagine raising pigs life is good you calculate costs and set up your buyers. Your corn supplier raises their rates. Your raising beef and your supplier says I shipped all my hay to Texas where I got $100 a bail during the drought. Same thing for fruit trees you take your orders and a quarantine happens in Oregon so your shut down ! This really happened a few years ago Why are pear scions and rootstocks so hard to get this year? Quarantine is not just Corvallis . Do not fall into these business practices and lose your independence. I’m not suggesting you don’t deal with the above nurseries they are great I’m saying have a backup plan and 6 or 7 years cash on hand if not 10. Your not ready to run a farm until you can weather a 5 or 10 year drought.

9 Likes

I’m setting myself up for doing this on the side on a very small scale to start while I work full time still. This year and last year I have been purchasing/trading for root stock but also have been looking for seed and setting up the beginning of stooling beds as applicable. So for me the answer is both, with the caveat that I intend to just do it myself when I can, because frankly I enjoy starting seeds and it is more fun and rewarding to me than just buying rootstock. The way I see it, time is my most valuable resource currently, so just buying a bunch of rootstock wholesale is a great value for the couple of hours I have to work to purchase them. On the flip side, it takes a lot of time and effort to do certain tasks related to raising seedlings, but once you have a method it should be easier. Once you are retired, you should have more time so if it was me I’d just get set up to do it myself.

If you don’t already have a copy, I highly recommend So You Want to Start a Nursery book by Tony Avent to go over pros and cons.

5 Likes

I plan on having a niche backyard nursery someday. I know myself well enough that i need to take a couple of years to only focus on what im interested in…or else i will end up with something like this.

4 Likes

Making any significant money in the nursery business isn’t easy. Growing, selling, and shipping even 1,000 trees a year is a lot of work. If the trees sell for $30 what’s your profit margin, $10 per tree if everything goes right? You can make more than that doing almost anything.

You’ve got to have something with much bigger profit margins to make much money.

16 Likes

I’ve tried to sell fig trees but unless you have a good visible retail site
few people will look for you.
And
Craigslist is almost useless.

6 Likes

@fruitnut

Exactly that is spoken like someone who has done it because you do and your good at it. Primarily what I do with my fruit business is I eat for free in the summer. Its true i sell what I can so I always win even if my farm profit is $500 a year. I’m not hungry or rich. Always make money and if someone doesn’t buy the fruit I eat it. If a buyer comes along I sell whatever I can hay, aronias, pears, vegetables etc.

9 Likes

The USPS rate increase is going to probably kill alot of deals.

  • Packages that exceed 30 inches in length: $15.00 additional charge
  • Packages that are greater than 2 cubic feet in volume: $15.00 additional charge

Unless everything u sell is less than 30 inches the customer will be asked to pay around $30 for shipping.

Not sure if UPS and FEDup is better or worse.

3 Likes

Great stuff guys, let’s keep it going.

clarkinks, I hear ya; I’m in Alaska where only 4% of the food consumed here is produced here. The government keep coming up with yet another hairbrained idea to spend millions on swats of commercial farming somewhere (most likely people just making sure they get their government pork) when it will never work; we live in a world with prices set globally but costs set locally, there is no competition at the industrial level. But home orchards and victory gardens? The same ones that outproduced industrial farming on fruits and vegetables during WWII? That’s were a huge chunk of our self reliance lies.

Just to provide a bit more background on my plans for world domination; my hopes is to setup so I can move 500 to 700 plants a year. Most is stuff I can propagate such as the currant family, haskaps, and the likes. Right now I’m working out the best protocols for our environment and building up the infrastructure to support my targets. My best guestimations is that larger than this is when you start hitting a huge wall of diminished returns; the amount of costs, efforts, and infrastructure start going up with no real gains on margins which in fact can put you on the red unless you jump production to the next level. I would rather scale my business plan down instead of up if need be. Life balances and all that.

As stated bread and butter will be starter bushes I can reproduce from cuttings. I still feel that trees are important for our food independence so I would like to work with those in a way that works for me. Rootstocks seem to be a viable way as they are light and ship for a reasonable amount, and I have access to plenty of scion wood to go around. Small bareroots would work even better if I can find a decent price point.

3 Likes

I’d say any farmer that has 8 to 10 years cash to get by any lean times…before he gets into farming…is a hobbyist that made his money and bought a farm so he can lose money and pay less taxes. Most farmers are out of business or borrowing from anyone and everyone just to keep their checks from bouncing if they have a year of inputs and have no crop…lost the crop and had no insurance. (Or they inherited the farm and didn’t have to buy it.)

1 Like

Most real farmers I know have a day job.

8 Likes

I’m working on establishing stool beds for rootstock. Minimum orders for wholesale rootstock are more than I need for a year as I focus on growing a wide diversity of plants; a little of this and a little of that rather than a large number of each plant.

Even when I do try to buy stuff it’s no guarantee wholesalers will even respond to me due to the small size of my nursery. I could only find one supplier for a certain rootstock variety and they never even responded to me when I asked what their minimum order quantity was.

1 Like

I’ve run a greenhouse for nearly 20 years propagating and selling tomatoes, peppers, onions, and brassicas. Of all the tips I can give, the most important is to learn how to manage a greenhouse.

There are two hurdles to overcome. The first is access to rootstock as noted many times above. The only way to be self-reliant is to produce your own. If purchasing, you will always be at the mercy of the commercial business selling them to you.

The second hurdle is marketing what you produce. It is not good enough to wait for people to come to you. I went to farmers markets all over the area to get my business rolling. Do you have a way to do something similar in your area?

4 Likes

There are tricks you can do. On the years the local fruit growers association gets their shit together I can get my stuff through them. Other years I can band up with several members so we can pool an order. There is also a local small nursery that orders for their spring grafting classes; they don’t graft commercially so they don’t feel like this is competition and don’t mind to order extras for me.

I’ve switched from USPS to UPS for the reasons you mention. So far UPS is doing OK. The USPS rate increase would have been an extra 500 to 1000 in shipping charges every week.

4 Likes

Farmers in my area are either good and profit or bad and fail. They do have wealth saved because bad years will happen. Unfortunately farming is gambling on weather, prices and many other factors. If you don’t have wealth stop before you start because when farming things will happen. Many gamble big whereas my risks are small so my gains are small. I’ve seen farmers in tears from the things that happen to us. A friend of mine grows vegetables on the river bottoms and they make big money selling them. The successful farmers all have one thing in common they are doing what Noone else does in the area. The things they sell people want and they don’t flood their market and compete with themselves. In my days of dirt farming I made more and gambled more but every time a wind storm, hail storm, puff of smoke , heard of deer ,whatever happened I was wringing sweat out of my shirt. It was terrifying knowing I risked 50k to make 1k or more. Equipment, Fertilizer, Seed, Fuel, labor, chemical all are not cheap so before you plant 1 bean you spent 50k. In the event your crop fails you lose 50k. People have not experienced stress until they dirt farmed. Every crop has different risks. If you cannot make your tractor , combine, tax payments from the crop your done and you lose everything. We Farmed like that several years using gmo aka roundup ready among others and I will never forget it. Made money every year I did it but it’s hard on the environment and hard on me so I stopped. Make close to equal money over time not doing anything bad on the environment without the huge risks now. I’m sure gmo would be more profitable short term. Long term cancer and other things are not much fun and some of my friends experienced it.

3 Likes

You can’t sell locally and make much on anything I know of. Certainly not in a small town in west Texas like where I’m at. So I sell at auction on the web and ship to anyone nationwide that wants my plants. It’s taken 7 yrs working 7 days a week to go from 10K sales the first year to maybe 150K this year. Most of that is return to my labor. But I’m too old for this and will be shutting it down very soon.

9 Likes

@fruitnut

In terms of plant expert your as good as they get. Someone with less knowledge will not be able to be that successful until they can match your skill. Making 150k a year is highly skilled at not just growing but also marketing.

5 Likes

i plan to start rooting cuttings from heirloom fruit that roots easily and sell them once growing. theres guys on esty that are doing that getting $5-10 each. not as glorious as selling trees but much less work involved and less resources needed.

2 Likes

If you can root honeyberry cuttings regularly, I’d think there should be good money there.

I acquired one apple this year (graft successful) that supposedly can be propagated by cuttngsl

2 Likes