Growing herb plants for direct market sales

By Lynn Byczynski

Herb plants are popular offerings at farmers markets and retail garden centers. Most herbs can be started easily from seed and grown into marketable size in a few months. A few perennial herbs are more difficult or time-consuming to grow from seed or they are cultivars that won't come true from seed, so these are often grown from softwood cuttings. This article is an introduction to propagating culinary herbs for plant sales.

Herbs from seed

The most popular culinary herbs are also the easiest to grow from seed. Basil, chives, dill, marjoram, oregano, parsley, and sage can all be started in the greenhouse using the same methods used to start vegetable transplants. Herb buyers may be especially interested in organically grown herb plants, which require organic seed starting and potting mixes as well as organic fertilizers. Organic seed is increasingly available for herb varieties. Check the Johnny's catalog for organic seeds and seed-starting supplies.

Herb seeds are usually started in a channel tray or open flat on a heat mat and then transplanted into the final pot or cell pack when they have two sets of true leaves. Many herb seeds require light for germination and should not be covered with soil or a dark cover, nor started in a dark germination chamber. Instead, the growing mix should be wetted first, then the seeds should be placed on top of the growing mix. A sprinkling of sand or vermiculite will help keep the seeds moist without burying them. A clear plastic dome or piece of row cover can be used to increase humidity, and if the flat does need to be watered, it should be either bottom-watered or misted, to prevent the seed from being covered. Plastic domes should be removed as soon as the first seeds germinate, to keep from overheating the tiny seedlings.

The chart below shows germination requirements for the top culinary herbs that are typically grown from seed.

Germination requirements for seed-grown culinary herbs
Common name Germination temperature Cover seeds? Days to germinate
Basil 70F/21C yes 5-10
Chives 70F/21C
yes 7-14
Dill 60F/15C
no 10-21
Marjoram 70F/21C no 7-14
Oregano 60F/15C no 7-14
Parsley 70F/21C yes 21
Sage 70F/21C yes 7-21
Thyme 70F/21C no 14-21

Lynn Byczynski is the editor of Growing for Market and the publisher of The Hoophouse Handbook.

Articles by Lynn Byczynski

About the author:

Lynn Byczynski was growing organic vegetables and cut flowers for market when she decided to create a magazine that would help market gardeners nationwide share experiences and information. Her first issue of Growing for Market appeared in January 1992 and it has been published continuously since then. GFM is renowned in the market gardening world for realistic articles that give growers practical, how-to information about growing and selling produce and flowers. Lynn is now partnering with Johnny's to provide similarly useful information for the website and other publications. Lynn, her husband Dan Nagengast, and their two children have grown vegetables and cut flowers since 1988, selling through a CSA, at farmers markets, to chefs, grocery stores, and florists. They currently grow cut flowers and hoophouse tomatoes on about 2 acres of their 20-acre farm near Lawrence, Kansas. Lynn is also the author of several books about market farming: The Flower Farmer: An Organic Grower's Guide to Raising and Selling Cut Flowers ; The Hoophouse Handbook ; Market Farming Success