DRIED HERBS & SPICES FOR THE FLORAL TRADE
by Richard Alan Miller
(HMR-8-9, Sept., 1992)
Page Updated: 03-08-05
Many who wish to begin a small farm venture do not have mainline farming experience. Most certainly do not have either the land or the capital equipment, as well. Yet there is a desire to attempt something profitable from the land which is owned, usually 5 to 25 acres and a small home. A new market has emerged, allowing some flexibility for small, new growers with little experience. This is marketing dried herbs and spices to the floral trade.
It is perfect for the small farm. Most all expenses are in labor, so it is much like truck farming, with most farms ranging from 2 to 25 acres. If specific crops look well-suited to the region, these are ones which could be expanded for normal spice production on 40 to 200-acre fields. These fields could be leased, rather than owned. The advantage is the experience in growing the crop in smaller parcels, with less risk in the "learning curve" of cultivating these specific crops.
For example: This new floral trade really likes Licorice Mint (Agastache foeniculum L.) and Orange Mint (Mentha cirtrata Ehrh.). The first three years, the new grower could attempt to grow 0.5 acres of each for the floral trade. Once it was learned how these plants grow in the region, larger fields could be put up in subsequent years to develop a new flavor for the herb tea markets. The farm investment for capital equipment should follow experience in growing the crop. The larger herb tea fields will require a combine.
By putting the first three years of the crop up as a dried floral, all investments will be primarily around labor, supplies for packaging, and storage. Marketing could be handled by a broker (like NWB). Right now, Northwest Botanicals hold a contract for 2,000,000 bunches of dried herbs and spices. This represents only one mass-market super-chain on the East Coast. There are potentially an additional 12 mass-market super-chains which could market these crops, and of course, Japan.
What These Mass-Market Super-Chain
For the mass-market super-chain type stores, the following "price points" are essentially "written in stone." There are only two kinds of "pack" in these herb and spice market:
Consumer Pack 1.75-oz bunch $1.00/bunch Floral Pack 3.5-oz bunch $1.60/bunch
These should be packed in a UPS-sized box (84" = length+girth). One example of this sized box is 31"x16"x9". This box will hold from 40-60 bunches Consumer Pack, or 20-30 bunches Floral Pack, depending on stem-length. Stem length should be 22", 18",a or 12", with the markets preferring the longer lengths. Why? They set in deep baskets well for impulse sales at the front of a cash register.
With a broker, you are often drop-shipping directly to the end buyer, reducing freight costs and other profit margins from secondary warehousing. By having the box dimensions under the 84-inch UPS definition, allows the product to be billed on weight. Oversized boxes are charged a 25-pound minimum even if it only has 16 pounds.
Larger buyers who do take 50 to 100 case lots into their warehouse will then drop-ship to various retail and small wholesale. This UPS-sized box provides them less handling, so they also show better profit margins. UPS 100-Weight Program often provides a cheaper landed cost than LTL ("less-than-load"). Many LTL freight forwarders (CF, Viking, Yellow, etc.) will offer discounts off published rates (up to 55%, depending on traffic).
The "break-even" point seems to be around 400 pounds, depending on "cube." Cube is the dimension of all the boxes in a square pile. It is measured in cubic-feet. It is this cube which determines the actual cost for delivery. UPS has become very competitive with loads less than 600 pounds. There are requirements for qualifying for UPS 100-Weight Program, including how many shipments per month you make.
Let's Explore Economics
For most crops, like basil and licorice mint, there are 12,000 to 15,000 plants per acre. Most begin starts in greenhouses in February, "harden them off" in April (put them outside to climatize), and then transplant them into rows in May. A drip irrigation system will be discussed in a later issue of HMR which is best suited for this type of row-cropping. The only plant to receive water is the herb or spice, minimizing cultivation costs and labor. Overhead irrigation only creates weeds and cultivation expenses.
Perennials will not produce enough foliage for first-year harvests. They become the higher yielders within three years, however, making them worth the first-year no-incomes worth the effort. Once "mother-blocs" of rootstock is formed, like sage and oregano, the profit margins for these crops far exceeds the annuals, like basil.
Once the mother-blocs have formed a solid "hedge" in the row, at least three cuttings are possible per year. Each cutting will yield at least one consumer pack, netting more than 45,000 bunches per acre (through the season). This offers more than $30,000 per acre for labor. If you put up 0.25-acres, you could gross $12,000 for labor on this project. With ten to twelve herbs, 30 percent being annuals, the potential growth of this as a stepping-stone to full-scale farming is much more likely to succeed.
Boxing is your largest expense. You can often find box companies that specialize in used boxes, or overruns (standard sizes). Most "200-pound test" boxes should cost around $1.50 (or less) for a UPS-sized box. This averages about $0.037/bunch for consumer pack sizes. Sleeving is less, averaging about $0.02/bunch. Storage should be semi-heated during the winter, and dry. What you need to avoid is large changes in temperature, causing moisture to condense and start molds.
Some perennials can be grown like annuals. Licorice mint is a good example. First-year starts will produce at least one good cutting. By the third year, at least four cuttings are possible with good sun and water at critical post-harvest periods. Feverfew and Origanum vulgare are other examples. Not all are taken for their flower spikes. Basils are generally harvested with less than 10 percent flower. In this stage, the stems are still herbaceous, and not woody. It is the fragrant foliage that is preferred in this case.
Where do you find greenhouse space to start up this venture? A portion of the field could hold a simple greenhouse made with PVC tubing and special UV-type plastic sheeting. Inexpensive kits are available from Jim Curry (a member of the Trinity Alps Botanical Project) at (916) 628-4208. He had to develop a system that worked for more than 208 individual growers in the TAB project.
Current 2nd-year incomes now indicate that it is possible to make more than $25/hour in this venture, after expenses. Of course, this will vary from farm to farm, and various techniques used for cultivation and harvest. Water delivery techniques alone can double the labor required to keep the crops weeded (grasses and annuals).
While organic methods may not often work for so-called "economy of scale" large agribusiness farms, most of these crops are easily weeded by hand when using a drip irrigation type system. In fact, while the horticultural markets are not as sensitive to "Certified Organic" labels, most of the crops that you might consider growing have no "label" for use with specific herbicides. What would you use for sage, for example?
If you can learn how to grow sage via this method, then it becomes easier to expand your farm program to include larger fields for the meat packing industry. Rootstock from the floral production will allow expansion as a field crop. Even with the larger farm program, certain crops will always prefer a drip system over conventional overhead styles of delivery - especially in drought-prone regions of North America.
by Jim Curry (Trinity Alps Botanical, Hayfork, CA)
Editor's note: I discussed the cultivation of herbs and spice for the floral trade. This sequels that discussion by one of the people participating in the Trinity Alps Botanical project. This is a discussion of the types of equipment they found most feasible for this kind of project. (HMR-8-10, Oct., 1992)
We have seen the future, and this is it! If you have any doubts about the efficiency, ease and prefer ability of this method of starting our herbs and plants, you should feast your eyes on a photograph we took of our corn growing in our "plug." You will see a full-sized ear of corn growing out of a "plug" which never made it to the garden. The other unplanted corn "plugs" in the Curry greenhouse are about 4 feet in height, and many have such full ears.
Anyone who has struggled with seeding trays in mid-winter (trying to keep them at the proper temperature, wet but not too damp, agonizing over "dampening off" problems, etc.) will probably be as open as we all were to hearing about these alternative planting procedure. Here's the scoop:
A regular starting soil mix is used. As we've been previously instructed, the watering solution should be either a compost tea, fish emulsion or kelp-mix. Rather than starting out with seeding trays four months prior to planting outdoors, however (and without any necessity for transplanting from the seeding trays into the 75-plants per tray, and all of the work and time which that entails), our work need begin only six weeks prior to planting outdoors. It's been found that the plants are healthy and happy with this one transplanting only, that is, from the "plug" where they were initially seeded to the ground where they will remain.
This method is much less time-consuming for the gardener (you!). Also, as there is no need for artificial light, less energy is consumed, less heat is required as you're "waking up" the seeds much closer to spring, and the entire process is taking place in closer proximity to the garden/greenhouse, (hopefully) not in your living rooms. The only transplanting you will do is to put the plugs directly into the ground. The arduous and time-consuming step of pre-transplanting the seedling starts from their "starter" trays to their "finishing" trays is eliminated altogether. There is no transplant shock.
A machine capable of seeding four flats per minute, 162 seeds per flat, is available to our project. No seeds are wasted. If you have many flats to seed, the machine can come to you if you wish.
A companion machine is also available to us that plants the plugs when the plants within the plugs are sufficiently mature at the rate of up to one seedling/plug per second, 60 per minute, up to three acres per day!
Another related machine, also available, forms the raised bed, places a drip irrigation line down the center of the bed (should you so wish), stretches mulch over the bed (either plastic sheeting or a new horticultural paper product, which breaks down nicely over time and which we feel is preferable to the plastic mulch), and then buries the edges of the mulching material, all in one pass!
If your current project garden is under 1/4 acre in size, use of the transplanting machine probably wouldn't be economical, but the seeds-into-plugs machine would be a boon, and useful, for us all. If you want to use the plug culture but choose to forego the mechanical planting and irrigation mulching placing steps, a simple dent made in the earth with the end of a broomstick will provide the perfect home for your plants-in-plugs which are easily transplanted by hand.
How much does this innovative technique cost? It is VERY affordable. There is a sliding fee, based upon acreage and/or number of trays you wish seeded. Please feel free to inquire. We feel certain you will be pleasantly surprised at the low cost. For further details on the equipment described, contact Jim Curry at (916) 628-4208 for more information and pricing.
SINGLE ROW MULCH/POT PLANTER
(HMR-8-10, Oct., 1992)
The Trinity Alps Botanicals project uses the Holland Mulch/Pot Planter, Model 1265. It is one of the most efficient ways you can plant plugs, cells or pots. The positive action discs and plant holder spades plant into bare ground or directly through plastic mulch.
Interchangeable spades enable the planting of different sized cells or pots. From 3/4" to 4" in size, including Jiffy Pots, Speedlings, or similar style round or square pots. Ideal for transplanting tomatoes, melons, cucumbers, peppers and other potted plants. It is the only transplanter able to plant a 3" pot deep enough to avoid wicking.
As the plant holder rotates past the operator he drops the plant in place. The holder spades automatically piece through the plastic (if used) and opens a hold in the soil below. At the bottom of the cycle the spades open and the plant slides into the hole. A guide holds the spades open as they are removed from around the plant, providing clearance between the spades and the plant, leaving the plant undisturbed in the ground. Packing wheels immediately close soil back around the newly planted plant - all neatly done in one operation.
An optional water valve is available to supply a preset amount of water on both sides of the new plant. For more information write Holland Transplanter Co., 510 East 16th. St., Holland, MI 49423 or call (616) 392-3579.
As a footnote: The mulch layer used by the Trinity Alps Botanical project was a Model 90 from Mechanical Transplanter Co., 1150 S. Central Ave. at US-31, Holland, MI 49423 or call (800) 757-5268
VERTICILLIUM WILT OF MINT CROPS
(HMR-8-9, Sept., 1992)
Verticillium wilt disease of peppermint was first reported in 1926 by Ray Nelson (Michigan State University). However, it is likely the disease was present, but unrecognized, much earlier in Michigan and elsewhere. Although unsubstantiated, this disease was likely a factor in the transiency of commercial mint production in the U.S. from its beginning in the early 1880's.
Once recognized, the disease was reported in Indiana, and later in Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, and other regions where commercial plantings of peppermint were established. To better appreciate the challenges to developing methods for control of Verticillium wilt disease in peppermint, we need a clear understanding of both the pathogen and the unique characteristics of peppermint as a commercial crop.
The disease is caused by the soilborne fungus Verticillium dahiae, which has a host range of more than 300 plant species, and is distributed World-wide. In crops where genetic resistance is unknown, it causes major economic losses and is difficult to control through cultural management techniques. This is due, at least in part, to the production of a resistant, resting stage in the soil that persists for many years. Also, the fungus can be readily spread with infected planting stock, crop debris, contaminated machinery, irrigation water, and even windblown soil.
Peppermint and other commercially grown mints are sterile, genetically complex natural hybrids. They are vegetatively propagated, perennial (3 to 10+ years), and intensively grown in adapted areas. Verticillium wilt disease spreads rapidly both within regions where the mints are grown, and between regions as planting stocks, equipment, and machinery are exchanged.
Nelson (MSU), M.J. Murray (geneticist, A.M. Todd Co.), and others quickly demonstrated that there was little likelihood of finding selection within populations of Black Mitcham peppermint resistant to this disease. This variety is a clonal selection made more than 100 years ago that is seed-sterile and highly uniform genetically. Nelson made the obvious decision to screen other mint species as sources of resistance to the wilt disease. He successfully crossed Mentha crispa with M. piperita var. Black Mitcham and selected apparent hybrids with field resistance. However, because of the exacting oil quality requirements of the industries using peppermint oil, none of these hybrids was considered acceptable. M.J. Murray and others continued this breeding work, but it was eventually dropped because acceptable oil quality could not be achieved.
Losses caused by Verticillium wilt, especially in Michigan, Indiana and the Willamette Valley area of Oregon, became so severe during the period of 1940-50 that these otherwise adapted areas for mint production were threatened. A series of research meetings was held in 1946048, and industry-buyer-grower support was mobilized to expand research on methods for control. This was the beginning of the present MIRC organization.
It was recognized, that, since mint production and management practices differed from region to region, research should be expanded and concentrate on a better understanding of the biology and soil ecology of the wilt fungus, and in adapting management practices to minimize disease losses. From this research in Oregon-Washington come such programs as certified wilt-free rootstock, soil fumigation, stubble flaming, and other crop management practices to reduce disease losses. In the Midwest, crop rotation and cropping sequences, deep plowing, and soil fumigation, along with increased use of irrigation and better fertilization practices, was initiated. To be effective, these practices required larger land holdings, and there was a consolidation of mint production into larger, but fewer units.
A major breakthrough for wilt control came in 1972, and in 1977, when the wilt resistant peppermint cultivars Todd's Mitcham and Murray Mitcham, respectively, were introduced. These two cultivars, developed by M.J. Murray, are apparent mutants of Black Mitcham peppermint derived by irradiation-induced mutation, and are considered identical in oil characteristics to the original line. Murray Mitcham cultivar, in particular, proved helpful in disease management, especially when incorporated with other cultural practices. Unfortunately, many growers failed to realized that these new varieties are not immune to Verticillium wilt, and in many areas pathogen levels built up in the soil to the point that this resistance was overcome.
The history of Verticillium wilt disease in the spearmints is similar to that in peppermint, except that both Native spearmint Mentha spicata and Scotch spearmint Mentha cardiaca are genetically more resistant than Black Mitcham peppermint. In fact, Native spearmint can usually be successfully grown on land that will no longer support either Black Mitcham peppermint or Scotch spearmint. This resistance is not well understood, but is assumed to be multi-genic, and can be affected by drought and other weather factors, fertility, other diseases and pests, and other factors.
In summary, peppermint production can probably be maintained in the present regions where it is grown, using the best management practices and available resistant varieties. However, it is unlikely that production can be fully stabilized within these regions without higher levels of genetic resistance to Verticillium wilt in commercially acceptable and adapted peppermint varieties. New techniques using gene transformation and other methods for introduction of new germplasm into current peppermint varieties may prove useful in attaining the level of resistance needed to maintain production for the long term in current adapted regions.
Dried Flower Resources
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0746-973X). NAL Call No.: SB1.N86
Ohio florists' association. Bulletin. Ohio Florists' Association, 700 Ackerman Road. No.
230, Columbus, OH 43202. (614) 488-1867. Monthly. (ISSN 0030-090X).
SAF. Society of American Florists, 1601 Duke Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. (800) 336-4743.
or (703) 836-8700 Monthly. (ISSN 0747-1408). NAL Call No.: SB443.3.S4
ASSOCIATIONS, ORGANIZATIONS AND AGENCIES
American Floral Marketing Council. c/o Society of American Florists, 1601 Duke Street,
Alexandria, VA 22314. (703) 836-8700.
Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers. 155 Elm Street, Oberlin, OH 44074.
Color Association of the United States. 343 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10016.
Floral Marketing Division, Produce Marketing Association. 1500 Casho Mill Road, P.O.
Box 6036, Newark, DE 19714. (302) 738-7100.
Florists' Transworld Delivery Association. 29200 Northwestern Highway, Southfield, MI
48037. (313) 335-9300
Society of American Florists, 1601 Duke Stret, Alexandria, VA 22314. (703) 836-8700.
U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Foreign Agricultural Service, Agricultural Information and
Marketing Services, Room 4649, South Building, 14th & Independence avenue, S.W.,
Washington, D.C. 20250. (202) 447-7103 or (800) FAS-AIMS.
Wholesale Florists & Florist Suppliers of America. 5313 Lee Highway, Arlington, VA
22207. (703) 241-1100.
In addition, you can visit Richard Alan Miller's home page for a listing of his writings, also containing links to related subjects, and direction in the keywords Metaphysics, Occult, Magick, Parapsychology, Alternative Agriculture, Herb and Spice Farming, Foraging and Wildcrafting, and related Cottage Industries. Richard Alan Miller is available for lectures and as an Outside Consultant. No part of this material, including but not limited to, manuscripts, books, library data, and/or layout of electronic media, icons, et al, may be reproduced or transmitted in any form, by any means (photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of Richard Alan Miller, the Publisher (and Author).