Herbs are often called the useful plants, and with good reason. They are valuable for culinary, cosmetic, medicinal, and ornamental products offering a world of possibilities for commercial growers. They can be sold as live plants all season long, sold fresh cut for culinary use, made into herbal bouquets, or dried and used in herbal crafts. Take up the study of herbs yourself and become a local herb expert. As you help people see the many ways they can use herbs in their daily lives, your herb business will prosper. Here are a few ways to make herbs a profitable part of your market garden:
- Grow large plantings of the basic culinary herbs such as basil, dill and parsley, because restaurant chefs usually purchase them by the pound. Succession plant so you have a constant supply of fresh product. Pay particular attention to storage requirements of the culinary herbs because some are damaged by cold temperatures.
- Some chefs like to buy the less common culinary herbs in pots that they can keep in the kitchen until they are needed in a recipe. If you're selling cut herbs to chefs, offer to grow herbs such as lemon basil and French tarragon in 4-inch pots. The chefs will get the freshest herbs possible and maybe even some regrowth if they can give the potted herbs sunshine and water between cuttings.
- For home cooks, pot up big patio containers of mixed herbs, with a few edible flowers such as violas and calendulas for color. Think about the shape of the planting when its mature: use a tall, spiky plant in the center and surround it with mounding and cascading plants in different colors and textures. For best results, combine plants with similar water and sun requirements, such as rosemary, oregano and thyme, which like it dry, or basils, parsley and salad burnet, which like more water.
- In fall, sell potted herbs in attractive pots that can be brought inside when frost threatens; use the herbs everyone needs for Thanksgiving dinner rosemary, sage, and thyme.
- At winter markets, sell a "Natures Remedies" combination of potted or dried herbs known to help with colds, fevers, and flu. For example, an infusion of savory can be gargled for sore throat, a steam bath with rosemary helps open nasal passages, and thyme tea helps soothe coughs.
- Cater to the cat fanciers in your market. Catnip is easy to grow and can be sold potted, dried, or crafted into cat toys. Plant pots of cat grass wheat, rye or barley seeds planted bumper-to-bumper and grown to about 4 inches tall.
- Create your own line of gift items to sell or give. Dried lavender sachets, herb vinegars, herbal teas and similar non-perishable items can bring in a significant amount of late-season revenue, if you plan ahead and grow enough for fall and winter events.
- Johnny's herb disks are an easy way to make bounteous pots of fresh herbs that are perfect for a kitchen counter or windowsill. You can plant the herb disks yourself in 6-inch pots and sell them when the plants are a few inches tall. Or make a gift package for customers who don't want to transport a live plant. Put a bag of your favorite potting mix into a pot along with the herb disk. Attach a tag with planting instructions and your business logo, and tie it all up with a ribbon.
Lynn Byczynski is the editor of Growing for Market and the publisher of The Hoophouse Handbook.