Echinacea and Other Herbs in Southern Alberta
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Mike Kolenosky
Posted on: March 2, 2000

I am starting a small organic herb growing operation in southeastern Alberta. I need some help I am planting 10,000 echinacea angustifolia this spring and was wondering about pest and weed control in an organic environment.

Weed control is one of the top concerns for organic herb farmers. There are no organic weed sprays that are economic for field production. Typically, organic operations rely on plastic barriers for weed control, or mechanical cultivation supplemented more or less with hand weeding. In the case of Echinacea angustifolia, growers are finding that plastic barriers can cause root rot, and can interfere with root harvest. So that leaves cultivation, both mechanical and hand.

Weed control starts before planting, however. A clean field with few weeds to begin with will make the job of weed control much easier. Remember that E. angustifolia is a 3-4 year crop, so if weeds get a head start early, it will be very difficult to control weeds in the later years. One or two green manure crops before planting echinacea will help clean up your field and get the soil ready for your crop.

Also, I am looking for another herb or two to grow (you know the old saying about all your eggs in one basket). I am looking for annual and perennial herbs, and I need to know cost of production, what the market is paying for the product, how to grow, how to care for, and how to harvest. The herbs I have been thinking about are milk thistle, garlic, maralroot, marshmallow, sage, yucca, yarrow, buckwheat, black eyed susan, horsetail, wild indigo, and indian tobacco. If any or none of these will work for my area, Taber/Brooks, Alberta, please let me know, or let me know where I can find info on how to grow any of these and their market values.

Cost of production data and farmgate prices are very difficult to provide, especially for smaller crops such as those ask about. Maralroot, for example, has no established market in North America, although we believe that there will be a good demand once product becomes available. What the price will be is anyone’s guess right as of March 2000.

In general, prices for herbs are in flux because of shifting demand and supply, which adds to the uncertainty.

Starting with the 2000 Richters catalogue, we have added more commercial production and market information for key herb crops. You will find useful information about milk thistle in this year’s catalogue. Some of the others can be found in several books, including Richard Alan Miller’s "The Potential of Herbs as a Cash Crop" and "Medicinal Herbs in the Garden, Field & Marketplace" by Lee Sturdivant and Tim Blakley (both available from Richters).

Except for garlic, milk thistle and sage, these herbs are considered minor herb crops. All of the crops mentioned should grow successfully in your area. All except black-eyed susan are in the trade and should be marketable. Horsetail grows in wet sand, and is wildcrafted and not cultivated. Sage may be only marginally hardy in your area, meaning that plants may survive some winters but not every winter. Others such as wild indigo are just now entering into commercial cultivation and there is little reliable growing information available.

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