1000’s of Trees and Half an Acre. Small Scale Nursery Business with Akiva Silver (PVP063)

“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

Akiva Silver Permaculture Voices

“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.

1000’s of Trees and Half an Acre, with Akiva Silver..

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Akiva with bareroot mulberry trees.

Akiva with bareroot mulberry trees.

Key Takeaways:

  • 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.

Planting Bareroot Stock:

  • Plant into beds high in organic matter with deep, loose soil.
  • Plant in ultra tight spacing with the row and 12 inches between rows.
  • Avoid pots.  Pots dry out too fast.  Grow in loose soil.
  • When plant cuttings take 6 to 8 inch cuttings, cut from vigorous water sprouts.  Bury them right up to the top bud.


  • “If you grow things that people know, they’re really easy to sell.”
  • “If something is a lot of work and you’re into it, you’ll do it and be happy about it.”
  • “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 what you want to see other people growing.”

Akiva's nursery beds.

Akiva’s nursery beds.

nursery bed


If you grow things that people know, they’re really easy to sell.Akiva Silver

Bareroot versus Potted Trees

by Akiva Silver

“The difference is huge. Convenient wrapped up, propped up, root bound, resource depleting, polluting trees stand outside our box stores waiting to be bought by consumers on a whim to begin their short life in the ground. At the same time real nurseries grow trees in living soil. The season for transplanting is short for these plants which have more root mass than top growth. Bare root trees are not convenient, they are real, they make sense for the grower, and are cheaper.

Lets start with the potted fruit tree standing in front of lowe’s in late May, when gardeners around here are in a frenzy. Where did this tree come from? Most likely it started out as a field grown tree from a large nursery. Meaning it was one of thousands of little trees growing in an agricultural field somewhere in the U.S. 

As the tree grew it was shipped off to a different type of large nursery. Imagine acres and acres of greenhouses in Florida. Here the tree has it’s roots trimmed and is put in a pot. The roots have nowhere to go, but round and round. Trying to correct this habit when planting can be difficult and involves cutting roots, if it works at all. Often pot bound trees will strangle themselves with a girdling root 10 or 20 years after planting.

The pot our tree is in has to be filled with some material that comes from another place, usually it is a combination of shredded bark, perlite, vermiculite, and peat moss. The growing medium is almost always something sterile (this is done to prevent disease and to let the grower scientifically add the ‘proper’ nutrition).”

Read the full article here.

Pot in Pot Nursery Production


by UK University Extension

““Pot-in-pot” describes a nursery production system that uses containers (production pots) placed inside permanent in-ground containers (socket pots). Pot-in-pot is used for the production of caliper-sized shade trees, flowering trees, and large shrubs. The pot-in-pot system combines many of the benefits of field production with the marketing flexibility of container production. Container-grown plants can be sold at any time of year and with relatively short notice, whereas harvesting of field-grown plants requires more planning and is typically not done during the summer or extremely wet periods. Advantages of pot-in-pot versus above-ground container production include: root protection from extreme hot and cold temperatures, greater pot stability for reduced tipping over, and ability of plants to both grow and overwinter in a single fixed location.”

Read the full article here.

Links mentioned in this episode:


71pTeP8u7GLAmerican Chestnut on Amazon


More information on Akiva Silver:

Twisted Tree Farm



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Comments 9

  1. Great interview! makes me wonder why I haven’t started doing this already! I always thought I needed a ton of land to do this but after listening to this interview I have hope its possible. Thanks Diego & Akiva!

  2. Very timely and helpful. I’d add that there is a huge market for restoration species as well, especially local ecotype grasses and forbs (varies with region). I interplant melons and sweet potatoes in my young tree beds as water conserving mulch and additional yield here in Texas. Many thx!

  3. I truly enjoy the majority of your podcasts but i felt I needed to voice how much I appreciate the beauty and simplicity of Akiva’s plan. In addition, his willingness to share his enterprise is refreshing. Thanks for all you do. I may integrate his nursery concepts on my 10 acres here in TN. Thanks to you both-Wayne.


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  5. Hi Diego,

    Thank you for the sparkling interviews with Akiva!

    Do you know in which year Akiva started building the soil in his nursery beds? Relistening both episodes I can’t find a reference to the year. I would love to know how long it took him to build such rich, deep soil.

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  6. I really appreciate how Akiva shares what he does and how he does it. You don’t get such an information very often.

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