Growing herbs: 8 steps to starting an herb farm
Updated: Apr 29, 2020
I'm not sure I ever knew "what I wanted to be when I grew up" until I owned a piece of wasted, battered land. In the process of restoring the land that I found my calling. It turns out that all the cumulative and ever changing jobs I've done were assets. You need to be a scientist/horticulturalist, a ditch digger, an electrician, a plumber, a heavy machinery operator, and a business savvy entrepreneur. Even though I've been learning about plants my whole life, I come from a family of farmers and botanists, am pretty handy and have been learning about running a business since I was 4, you don't really know what you need until you need it.
Here is a list of things that we needed as we set up our herb farm.
Step 1: Plan, what plan?
Setting up an herb farm starts with a business plan. What are you going to sell? Who are you going to sell it to? When/Where and Why. The why is the differentiator. What makes you different? This is an important step that most people overlook because let's face it, it's not the fun part. But doing the un-fun is part of this too.
Step 2: Landing land
There are lots of options for finding some land. Maybe you're renting some, maybe you were able to buy some or - best case - were given some. Whatever the case, look for that piece of land and start planning it a year before you plan to sell anything. (This is where your business plan comes in.) You already know what you're going to sell but now you start planning where you're going to grow things, how you're going to rotate, what you'll augment the soil with, etc. And last but not least, what equipment you'll need. Can you rent it, borrow it or do you need to own it. The last option gets pricey.
Step 3: Implementation
This is a fancy way of saying for doing all the things. There's a lot of moving soil, manure, mulch and compost. There is also the all important task of moving around water. I live in Colorado and if I don't get water to a plant, it's probably going to die. So, where are you getting water? Where are you getting seeds, soil, manure and compost. (Just start a compost pile as one of your first tasks.) Are you going to have a greenhouse? What are you going to grow in the greenhouse? Is it going to be a 4 season greenhouse? Your late winter and spring are going to be busy. Gentlemen/women start your starts.
Step 4: Growing
Getting those plants from seed to plant growing in the field can be tricky, depending on the plant, the weather and your careful supervision. This can be a whole blog by itself - look for more posts - What I'll say here is it's important to know what you want to grow and what growing conditions it likes. (Does it grow in your zone?)
Step 5: Weed management
This gets it's own section because it's that big a deal. There are 2 reasons: 1.) You want to make sure the weeds don't compete for the space your herbs are growing. 2.) You want to make sure the pant you're harvesting is ONLY that plant. No weeds or other plants allowed.
The funny thing about this is most herbs are weeds to other people. I look at a dandelion and see it as both medicine for our family and food for the bees (and my family). I think weeds are awesome and some of the most beneficial plants we have available to us. Just grow them separately.
Step 6: Harvesting & drying
Harvesting your herbs is a really rewarding time. All your hard work and effort is producing a product! How exciting! You need to make sure that you take care when you're harvesting to harvest at the right time. Not when the plant is covered in dew, is healthy/not diseased or covered in bugs. Plan this when the plant is at it's prime harvesting time and that you have a place to put it to dry (and many helpers).
Drying your herbs is also very rewarding. Monitor this process carefully. You want there to be lots of airflow. Depending on the plant there are different light and temperature considerations. Do your research on this.
Step 7: Processing and storing
Process your herbs with the end user in mind but be careful of your own health. The roots are washed and chopped and dried. The leaves are garbled. (Put through a stainless steel mesh into a food safe container.) It's a good rule to use sanitary processes like you would in a kitchen. Wear your hair back, wear gloves (the kind that won't shred) and masks for your protection.
Store your herbs in containers that are food grade and in a dark, cool spot so that the quality of the herbs stays fresh.
Step 8: Selling and other business practices
Find places to sell, get a really nice display and online store, and sell those herbs!
Keep up with all the business-y stuff like taxes, licenses, insurance and profit and loss. These things can be tracked with software like the one we created, Farmbrite. Or use a different one, a spreadsheet or whatever works for you. It's just important to know what's working in your business and what isn't so you can make good business decisions.
Good luck on your herb farm!