Most homesteads, even those aiming for very high self-sufficiency, cannot live entirely free from finances. We all live in the modern world, even when we like to be able to forget that from time to time. So making money from your patch of land, no matter how large or small, can be important. Monetizing your efforts can be an important part of homesteading.
In this article, we’ll explore making money from trees on your homestead. We’ll explore how trees can be the key to making your homestead financially sustainable, as well as sustainable in other ways. As a permaculture designer and sustainability consultant, I help homesteaders diversify and make the most of their land. If I get asked one question more than any other it is: “I love homesteading. But how can I make it pay?” Planting more trees can often be a big part of the picture.
My own humble homestead is just 1/3 of an acre. But as well as utility areas, vegetable beds and a polytunnel, chickens, a wildlife pond and more, we have more than 50 trees. Some are large, some are small. All are immensely useful in their own different ways. Some are part of my food forest, or established forest garden—a mature walled orchard that I have turned into a more biodiverse and productive food forest over the past five years.
Why Grow Trees For Your Money-Making Scheme?
Before we go on to discuss the various methods for making money from trees, let’s take a moment to think about why trees in particular are a good avenue to explore.
The first and most obvious answer is that trees can provide far more than just tangible monetary yields. Finances, of course, are not everything. When we look beyond how much something is “worth” in purely monetary terms, we begin to appreciate the real, true, and lasting value of trees.
Trees have great worth—to us, on our homesteads, to humanity in general, and of course, for our planet and all its varied inhabitants. They sequester carbon. They catch and store water and keep it around. They can stabilize and enrich the soil. They provide food, shelter, and habitat for a huge range of wildlife… And that is before we even begin to consider the many things that they can give us—from fuel to fruit, from timber to shade.
Many trees can make us money when we chop them down. But trees can have far more value, in every sense, when we keep them around. Thinking holistically about return on investment usually means working with standing trees, not making money from clear-felling. This can make fiscal sense, as well as being the best thing for people and the planet.
Making Money From Trees You Don’t Cut Down At All
When it comes to making money from trees without cutting them down, there are certain key categories to consider, namely:
- Edible yield.
- Other non-timber forest products.
- Propagation potential.
- Appeal to human visitors.
By exploring each of these avenues, you can find the best trees to grow, and may even find new ways to make money from trees already on your property.
Edible Yield: Growing Trees for Food
Of course, one way of making money from trees on your homestead is to grow trees for fruit and nuts.
For best returns, if you are planning on selling fresh fruit and nuts, I would recommend growing unusual heritage fruit tree varieties (that cannot be found in supermarkets and therefore command a higher price and receive more interest from restaurants, small stores, and at farmers’ markets.)
But to really capitalize on the edible yields trees have to offer, it is a good idea to:
- Process fruit or nuts to make higher-profit goods to sell, rather than just selling fruit directly. (Jams, jellies, chutneys, fruit leathers, fruit wines/cider, baked goods, and dried fruit and nut mixes are just some examples.) Do some market research to see what sells well in your area.
- Maximize profits by finding ways to make use of windfalls too.
- Create guilds of companion plants to aid your fruit and nut trees. (The guild plants can also provide many additional yields.)
- Fungi can bring profits too. Wild forage for fungi in your area and grow mushrooms in fallen logs or add some mushroom mycelium below your trees, In some areas, you may also be able to consider increasing profits from a fruit tree orchard by inoculating your trees with truffle mycelium. This creates the potential for high-value truffles to bring additional profits.
- Consider what else fruit and nut trees have to offer. For example, fallen and pruned branches might be monetized in some way. (Carved or crafted, or sold as firewood/kindling.)
In addition to considering fruit and nut trees, you may also be able to branch out into other trees with different edible yields (maples for sap and syrup, birch sap, trees with edible leaves, etc..).
Making Money From Non-Timber Forest Products
Edible yields from trees and the plants that surround them are not the only yields with the potential to make money for your homestead. Other non-timber forest or woodland products could also become another small revenue stream. You might consider, for example, having a sideline in:
- Medicinal plants/herbal remedies.
- Decorative plants (think holly and ivy for Christmas decorations, for example).
- Plants for fiber, dye, crafting, and art (or items you’ve made from them).
Remember, trees bring in wildlife, and create ideal forage and habitat for certain livestock. So, wild or managed game or silvopasture meats/dairy/eggs could also be described as yields your trees provide.
Propagating and Selling Saplings (or Larger Trees)
No matter how large or small your homestead may be, there is always room for trees (even if they are only very small ones). One other interesting avenue to explore when it comes to making money from trees on your property is propagating and selling saplings.
You might even go out on a limb and consider growing on saplings to provide larger trees for home gardeners to buy for instant gratification. Or grafting fruit trees to create trees ideally suited to growing in your area that will appeal to the local market.
How Trees Could Attract Paying People
One way of making money from trees on your homestead that you might not have considered is their capacity to attract people. Guests may pay a premium, for example, to spend a night camping or glamping under their boughs, or in a delightful woodland glade. They might also pay to hold an event (such as a woodland wedding) among your trees. Tree-clad homesteads may well be able to become a venue for all sorts of artist’s retreats, photography weekends, birdwatching breaks, etc..
You might even be able to create a tree-themed attraction. (For example, a treehouse/adventure playground for kids, a wildlife-watching tree-top boardwalk, a zip line, etc.)
Running educational workshops or courses related to forest gardening/orchard maintenance/coppicing, etc., could provide another revenue stream for your property.
Making Money From Timber or Fuel Without Clear Felling
In certain circumstances, however, it can be beneficial to grow trees for fuel or timber. Of course, this will involve getting out your saws or axes. But if you avoid clear-felling, you can keep your stand of trees and manage the woodlot to make money by selling timber or fuel without losing the many benefits of keeping the trees standing.
The key is to use coppicing techniques, meaning to selectively and judiciously remove single trees to give remaining trees the space they need to grow, and to introduce more biodiversity into the system by creating open glades. You can make a profit from trees you fell, while still maintaining a vibrant and productive ecosystem.
Walnut and hybrid chestnut both produce high-quality, high-value timber, and stands could be thinned a little while remaining most of the trees intact for the future. Oaks, hickory, and maple are all also quality hardwoods to consider.
Oak, ash, alder, hazel, and willow are among the excellent options to consider for a coppicing system, for firewood, and for timber for a range of uses.
The more you think about trees, the more you will see the potential for making money for trees on your homestead. If you want to diversify and boost self-sufficiency and resilience, planting more trees is often a great way to go.