Starting a new business is no easy task. Fellow business owners will tell you that if you want to run a successful small business and enjoy what you do at the same time, then you should turn your hobby into your business. That is exactly what happened to a friend of mine that got bitten by the palm bug a few years back. Josh Allen is a palm lover who is realizing a dream and starting a nursery.
Almost 3 years ago Josh and his wife bought an investment property in the hills of northern Vista in Southern California. The property that will become his nursery is located on 3 acres and was covered in very old, stressed-out avocado trees. His first step in starting his nursery was to cut all those trees down and begin to grade the property. The concept from the start was to offer a wide variety of palm trees, from the small seedlings to full sun-grown plants ready to to go into the ground.
The first thing you need when starting a palm tree nursery is a place to grow and protect them while they are small. The reality is that if you want to sell the harder-to-find palm trees to people, you need a greenhouse to make them look their best. Josh has built what I consider to be one of the nicest greenhouses for palm trees that I have seen. His custom-made Conley’s greenhouse totals 4,850 square feet in size. Shade cloth is used to cover most of it to lessen the effects of full Vista CA sun.
The entrance has a nice big sliding door to get the big stuff in and out.
Here is our proud owner displaying the back entrance.
When you walk out the back entrance of the greenhouse you walk into the shade house. Shade houses are a requirement in my opinion for successful palm growth. Plants that come right out of a greenhouse and are sold to buyers can suffer once planted. Many burn or stress and some will just die from the shock. A shade house provides that intermediate from the greenhouse to finally being able to plant a palm into full sun in Southern California. It saves the buyer from having to spend time with this acclimation period.
Josh plans on having a lot of inventory so he built a large, two-level shade house.
Cooling a greenhouse can prove difficult, especially when you consider where Josh’s nursery is located. His property will be guaranteed multiple days of 100-degree heat a year. You have to replace that heat with cooler air outside. Josh installed one of the more innovative ways to do just this. On both sides of the greenhouse are rollup sidewall vents. When both sides of the greenhouse are opened up with these sidewall vents, the breeze coming off the coast a few miles away begins to cool the greenhouse at no cost. You can immediately feel the difference once the sidewall vents are opened.
The sidewall manual hand crank winch for Josh’s greenhouse ventilation is made by Bootstrap Farmer.
Even with the sidewall vents open, heat will accumulate and can kill tender tropical palm seedlings pretty quickly. One of the best ways to remove the heat is to forcefully replace it with cooler air from the outside. Josh has installed two large Schaefer exhaust fans to help with this. One is a six-foot fan and the other a four-footer.
You always need to circulate the air in the greenhouse. It keeps pests in check, cuts down on fungus and helps prevent greenhouse mold and mildew problems. Schaefer circulation fans are installed and lined up throughout the greenhouse. These have not been connected to a power source yet, as electricity was just being installed when I visited.
Growing tropical plants in Southern California comes with many challenges thanks to the diversity of our climate. In the course of a year we can suffer through a few weeks of 100-degree heat with only 8% relative humidity, and months later have to fend off frost, or some years—deep freezes. You have to plan for this when building a greenhouse here. From above you can see how Josh will cool the greenhouse, so let’s look at how he will heat it in the winter. One of the most cost-effective ways to heat a greenhouse is with a technique Josh put in place. The entire roof is made up of a double layer of heavy-duty plastic. An air inflator hose is placed in between those two layers, and when turned on, the air helps insulate the greenhouse from heat loss in winter. When fully inflated it can provide a 5° level of protection. So if it is 30° F outside it will be 34°-35° F inside.
For most years the inflation of the roof will be enough to protect the palms in the greenhouse, as the climate where Josh built his greenhouse is pretty good. However, every once in a while that area can get hit with freezing temperatures. It is better to be safe than sorry when you have perishable inventory. So for those possible freeze events Josh had two high-efficiency, gas-fired Modine heaters put in. I believe each has a 150,000 BTU rating.
To power everything in the greenhouse Josh has installed 10-20 AMP circuits.
Water is all run underground with only the connections to the sprinkler valves above ground. Once completed, most of the watering will come from sprinklers mounted above the plants.
A common sight in many older greenhouses is that of rotting benches. Usually due to cost, greenhouse owners put in wood grow benches. Over time they rot. Josh decided to spend a little more money and have Conley build custom, stainless steal grow benches.
Even though the greenhouse is not finished, that didn’t stop Josh from getting a jump on stocking it. A few big orders have come in from Hawaii and were making their way onto those new stainless steal grow benches. The majority of the small palms shown below came from Floribunda Palms – my personal favorite place to buy palm seedlings.
Josh is ready for the day those small palms in the greenhouse grow to require bigger containers like those shown below.
Josh started selling plants from his property a few years ago, long before the greenhouse was ordered from Conley. He has a nice selection of sun-hardened palms that are ready to go into the ground. He is on a never-ending quest to find new inventory, so it seems every few weeks he has a bunch of new palms to offer for sale.
To go along with his nursery plants, Josh decided to build an incredible display garden for people to tour before they buy palms. Started just over a year ago, it now includes over 75 plants, all surrounded by 855 feet of concrete walkways. Most of the palms in the display garden were either transplanted out of other peoples’ gardens or imported from Florida. This way he was able to get larger display specimens for the garden he is building.
The soil at Josh’s place is as good as it gets in Southern California. It has about a 2-foot, mineral-rich, clay silt cap with pure decomposed granite under it. I know how good this soil is because I take some home with me sometimes after visiting a garden I did a recent post on aloes about. I use it to amend my soil when I plant new palms and they love it.
When starting a nursery, most people would have a name already picked out. As of right now Josh has not decided on a name for his new palm nursery. He is taking requests. Josh still has some neat things to add that are in the works. One of which is instilling a custom-made tiki bar to be used for the checkout area. I plan on updating this post over the years to show the progress. It has been fun to watch this dream come to life and some plants from the nursery have already made their way to my garden.
Josh has been documenting most of his accomplishments on a forum thread on PalmTalk. If you want to read in more detail about him realizing a dream and starting a nursery, check the thread.