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| Catnip Crop Disappeared after Second Season |
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Greg Madden
Posted on: July 28, 2004
This email is regarding a problem I have experienced with S1670 Nepeta cataria that I purchased in bulk from your company.
I have called the store and spoke with Kelly at the order desk who forwarded me to Jo-Anne who said that Kathy would be a better person to speak to regarding this matter but she would not be in until tomorrow. She also mentioned that I should email you as you were in a meeting when I called and unable to come to the phone and this matter would be of interest to you. I would like to say that each of your employees that I spoke with were very polite and helpful.
Before doing my initial order of this seed I spent countless hours researching this plant and it was confirmed that this plant would reseed itself up to 6 years from the original plant. I was also informed that at least 2 cutting per summer could be expected with three usually being possible. The first year the yield was very low but the quality and aroma of the buds and leaves were very good (only one cut). The second year the plants reseeded and the yield was at least 10 fold. All the while the quality and aroma of the fruit was very good (again, only one cut). This year there was nothing! I am at a loss. I have never used any products on the field and all sowing and harvesting was done by hand.
The productiveness and survival of any herb is dependent on many factors. Soil, hardiness, and growing conditions are big factors, as are the planting and care of the crop. In your case I suspect that the harsh winter last year in Ontario had something to do with the disappearance of the crop. Catnip is rated hardy from zones 3 to 9. Your zone is at the low end of this range. That means that catnip will likely survive a normal winter, but late last winter there were several spells of warmth followed by severe cold and this is deadly to shallow-rooted plants such as catnip. We lost many mints last winter and they are shallow-rooted also. (Botanically catnip is a member of the mint family.) So it is not surprising to us that you lost your catnip.
According to our ProGrowers report on catnip (see The Grower Zone section of our website http://www.richters.com/Growers/) catnip can yield 3-6 metric tonnes of dried herb per hectare (about 1-2 tons per acre) in the second to fifth years. Generally, the first year doesn’t produce much as you have already discovered and it is not counted in the above yield figure. In fact it is better not to harvest the first year so that plants will be better able to withstand the first winter. To be at the high end of the yield range you need multiple cuts per season and that requires warmer zones, say zones 6-7.
In some areas catnip is treated as a biennial crop even though it is technically a perennial. As perennials go though catnip is short-lived, so that even under ideal conditions it does not last more than 4-5 years. Catnip does reseed itself hence you can have what appears to be a lasting patch of catnip. But if you are harvesting the crop at the flowering stage well before the seeds mature then natural reseeding will not occur.
Commercial growers generally treat catnip as a 2-3 year crop. After the second or third year they prefer to plow the crop under and start again because of the build up of weeds and because the crop is short-lived anyway.
I need to rectify this situation immediately as I supply this product across Canada at the retail, wholesale, and distribution level. The resulting product has begun to gather an extensive following and my concern is now that I have done so much work building up this product I will run out before Christmas. I noticed that on your website this plant can be sown late summer and early fall. If this is true I could have some product by mid summer but this will not solve my situation now. Can this product be sown indoors under the appropriate lights? Other than mulching in late fall, what should be done to best guarantee a strong early initial harvest next spring? Please let me know if there in anything your company can do to help me in my current situation.
A mid summer sowing will not give you much to harvest this year and in any case I wouldn’t recommend harvesting this year because a cut will weaken the plants and threaten their survival. A summer or early fall sowing is, however, a good idea for next year’s crop because the plants will have a quicker start in spring, and you may even find that you can get multiple crops if the weather is good. There is always the risk of losses over winter and you must make a decision whether that risk is acceptable to you or not. Certainly there is the benefit of the early start next spring which can be significant.
Starting catnip in plugs indoors in a greenhouse is always a option and actually most growers prefer this. The drawback is the cost of production is much higher. You have to so in plug trays and you need greenhouse space during the spring when greenhouse space generally is at a premium if you have to rent. Sowing catnip direct is much cheaper, but weeds can be a bigger problem. Some growers do both as a way to hedge their bets on this crop.
Unfortunately there is not enough time to grow any catnip for this winter and you will be left short. This is a common situation: crops do fail and you need to be prepared for that. It appears that you will need to purchase catnip to tide you over. If you decide to purchase some Richters can help; email your needs to the commercial department at email@example.com. We will quote special pricing for 10 kilograms and up.