Herb Growing in South Dakota.
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Cecile
Posted on: December 10, 2000

I am a Canadian woman who lives in Montreal. I have lived in Montreal since I was 18 years old. For many years I have been growing herbs for myself and of course my family and friends.

Nine months ago I met through the internet a man and we fell in love. We have been commuting back and forth. I will be moving there in Feb. 2001.

He has a 26 acre piece of land and we are now planning to start growing herbs commercially. A dream come true. I know nothing of the weather and the earth in that area. Can I grow herbs like summer savory, thyme, basil, parsley etc.(tomatoes and cucumbers also) in that kind of earth or can I grow them in a hot house? Ideally I would like to do both. What other kind of herbs can I grow? He is situated on the boundaries of Hot Springs, South Dakota. I would appreciate any information you could give me.

Also how big or small should I start off this business the first year? At the beginning we will only be the two of us, and we plan to travel about four months a year.

South Dakota is in USDA zone 4 which means that some common perennial herbs such as english thyme and garden sage may not survive winter in your area. There are some islands of warmer zone 5, so you should check the hardiness zone map on the Richters website to determine exactly which zone your partner’s farm is situated in. If it is zone 5, thyme and sage and many other perennial herbs will survive the winter, although you may need to provide some winter mulch protection.

Even if your partner is located in zone 4 and herbs such as sage and thyme do not survive the winter, you can still grow them as annual crops. Herbs can be started from seeds in plugs in a greenhouse and then transplanted in rows in the field as soon as the threat of spring frosts is over. There are only a handful of the common culinary herbs that may not do well in your area; herbs such as basil which is sensitive to cool temperatures below 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit). If the herb produces a harvest in the first year of growth, you can grow grow it as an annual if it is not winter hardy.

It is worthwhile to consider building a small greenhouse to grow the plug transplants, or finding a grower to produce the plugs for you. Some herbs such as dill and fennel can be sown directly in the field, but most of the rest need to be started in plugs and then transplanted to the field.

A key consideration is your potential market. If you have large enough metropolitan markets within driving distance, you could consider growing for the fresh cut herb market, selling to produce wholesalers, grocers or even top restaurants directly. If you do not have nearby fresh cut markets, then you will have to grow a dried product, or produce a value-added product that you can ship to major markets.

There are many possibilities. And yes, it is possible to organize your business so that get four months of vacation during the winter.

The best investment for you and your partner is to read as much as you can about the commercial herb farming industry. A good reading list to start with includes Rick Miller’s new e-book, "Getting Started", and his classic, "The Potential of Herbs as a Cash Crop". For culinary herbs, Sandie Shores’ book "Growing and Selling Fresh Cut Herbs" is excellent. These and other books for commercial herb growers are all available from Richters.

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