Herb Farm on Prince Edward Island, Canada
Answered by: Richard Alan Miller
Question from: Candi and Ken Bingham
Posted on: June 26, 2001

My partner and I have been playing with herbs for the last two years. And have had a lot of fun watching them grow. A good example is that my rosemary has wed itself to the catnip! They have reached for each other and are now entwined. Definitely a pair of plants with attitude in abundance.

Recently we bought a new house that has 4.4 acres of organic land with some established small herb gardens already. We are now in the process of getting certified organic. We live in New Glasgow, PEI and are a zone 6.

As PEI is a very new player into the area of herbs and alternative crops we would like to see if we can enlist some government assistance in herbs as an alternative crop as well as make a business from it.

We are not only looking at alternative crop cultivation, but row covers for infestation control and lengthens the season.

We realize that we will start small. Our five year plan includes landscaping for an "open to the public" herbal gardens with the more classical herbs.

But first and foremost I would like to look at an initial acre of land that can be expanded to two and I am wondering about the advisability of St. John’s Wort and Stevia. Is there another herb that you would recommend? We have also just purchased 6 ginkgo seedlings from Richters partly because I feel there is a market for the leaves and also because I am quite taken with the history and lore with this tree. It is a little bit different and we do like to be different. We are looking at a small ginkgo grove in the near future.

There is a fairly new farm that offers kiln drying for plant materials so I feel that that would definitely be the way to go. They are already in production for value added products.

We have some access to a farmer and therefore a tractor. However as the main crop of PEI as you no doubt know is potatoes, harvesting will be done by hand.

Another question would be in if we are able to get some government funding (our resources are limited with 6 children) would you be able to consult, and do you know where or how we get dried products to market. I have read a lot of the Q&A comments and don’t understand how to go about getting a broker, nor how to tell what the dried product would even be worth.

My final question is, when the new plants arrive how do I go about making them happy? From what I have read you do not plant them for some time in a permanent location. Should they be planted in containers? And how long would it be before we can expect any real leaf for processing?

I want to thank you for your assistance. I have found Richters to be invaluable in information.

I had to go to the Internet to determine what PEI meant (Prince Edward Island). Once I knew where you were located (Zone 6), I had a better understanding of what you might be able to do ("wood consciousness"). I have lived in such cold regions, and nearly lost my marriage. ha ha

You mention Catnip and Rosemary. Neither have exciting markets right now, but Rosemary can be topiaried. Are either of you inclined toward artistic expression? (Edward Scissorhand). I would think there would an excellent market for beginning topiary in the horticultural markets (like food stores and other garden outlets). In such a remote region and with small acreage, you must consider cottage industries for best returns.

Soil amendments for row crops should include Fenugreek and Buckwheat. Both are excellent for more sticky soils and can also yield by-products. The Fenugreek seed is used as a fake maple syrup, while Buckwheat can be dyed and sold as floral grains. Both are recommended for your region and soils.

Classic herb gardens are a great destination-type business, like Bed & Breakfasts. Peaceable Kingdom, a Quaker retreat in Sandpoint, ID had more than 38 acres of various gardens styles, and worth a visit for ideas. Lois Wythe still publishes her newsletter, and offers workshops and study groups. Her incomes do not come from selling raw materials, but how she "displays them."

Ginkgo and Stevia are good bets, while St. John’s Wort (SJW) has no growth. And with more than 10,000 acres now available, you can’t give it away right now. What should determine your crops should be dictated by your cottage industry ideas. Stevia may get some good growth because of the new Aspertame (NutraSweet) reports as a serious toxin.

When the temperature of Aspartame exceeds 86 degrees F; the wood alcohol in Aspartame converts to formaldehyde and then to formic acid, which in turn causes metabolic acidosis. (Formic acid is the poison found in the sting of fire ants). The methanol toxicity mimics multiple sclerosis thus peoples were being diagnosed with having multiple sclerosis in error.

Ginkgo is a good bet because everyone wants to be smarter. I grew up in Washington, where our Ginkgo was petrified. I’ve sold some quantities already cultivated from Toronto growers, and most buyers seek COG (like Stevia). This is the future for "best quality" ingredients in anything you might use in manufacturing.

Kiln drying can be done a number of ways, to include grain bins and plywood kilns. Most "herb dryers" are basically "toys" when one considers production on a farm level and volume. For flowers and related grains, old barns where rows of hanging plants can be slowly dried in mild air movement can be much cheaper than "custom drying" and labor.

If your primary crops include potatoes, it would seem like you should consider root crops. Dandelion and Chicory looks good in the future, especially when marketed as a coffee substitute. Molasses and Sorghum also are grown in your region, and the Fenugreek might add flavor. You could call it "Acadian Coffee."

Yes, I am available as an outside consultant. I plan to offer intensive workshops at Richters October 5th, and then again in Winnipeg October 20th. I have details if that is worth consideration. I could also offer something in your region, where I could help a number of you begin a "project." It’s a way for me to be able to travel, meet new growers, and get a sense of the regions. Each has it’s own "identity."

New plants always like a drink when getting off an airplane. I also like to add some fish or algae to their "cocktail." I suspect Conrad Richter could offer more detail of each specific plant crop. Keep them in their original plugs until they have "harden off" outside and "acclimatized" to local weather. For planting cedar trees, for example, you must always plant North to North. That’s why they are marked.

In my mini-book "Getting Started" (www.herbfarminfo.com), we took our greenhouse plugs (72 plugs/tray) and placed them outside for almost three weeks before setting them into rows. I like a good 6-inch plant in the plug to go into the ground. They often come out of the greenhouse only 4 inches tall.

First harvest yields depend on many variables, to include which crops and zones. Some years may also be in a drought, and available irrigation can often make a large difference (like with alfalfa). Stevia might take two years, while some mints (like catnip) can offer first year yields over 2,000 lbs./acre. Do you have any elves living on the property?

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