Growing Herbs: Starting Out (part 1)
- Created: 31 July 2014
The question that I get asked again and again is;
‘What can I grow?’
This is such a broad question that it is necessary narrow it down by taking into consideration factors that will be influencing your herb growing.
The first thing you will need before anything else is to find or have a place to grow herbs.
If you are already a land owner then problem solved. If your block of land is large, then the question might be ‘where do I grow?’
If you are leasing land then the time frame of your lease would be an influencing factor. It would not be recommended to plant a long term tree crop on land that is not your own. Tree crops can take up to 15 years to establish and it would be heart breaking to create such a long term investment and then to lose it so close to harvest.
If you have not purchased land and you are looking to buy land for the purpose of herb growing, them you might need to take into consideration some factors in regards to the location of the possible herb growing patch before purchasing the block. This might save some regrets later on.
Remember that each site for herb growing will have its own unique microclimate. Even on one block there may be many different microclimate variations. These variations will be from factors such as other established plants or trees, wind directions, slope of the land, water, sun exposure etc.
It is possible to find herbs to suit your microclimate, as there are so many to choose from, though if you want to grow specific herbs, then it may be the case of creating a microclimate to suit those specific herbs. Creating your own microclimate for these herbs can take time. You might need to establish wind breaks, plant shade trees or do major earthworks to build an environment to suit those herbs.
General guidelines for WA climates would be an area that is sheltered from hot summer winds, (these can wipe out crops in 1 day), preferably with some afternoon shade. I have found these conditions suit a large number of herbs that have been grown here on Bogbean Farm. The afternoon sun is always hotter than the morning sun and the air is hotter and drier.
A northern facing slope will increase heat in summer and in cooler southern regions in WA this might be beneficial. Slope will also play a factor on wind exposure.
What way does your land slope?
What is the direction of your summer or winter winds?
The many varying microclimates on your block of land and especially larger blocks can be used for planting different types of herbs, though would you want patches of herbs scattered, or are you aiming to focus on just one site?
These are questions that you may need to consider.
There is not much that you can do about the environmental climates, though it is possible to change microclimates, remembering though that this can take time.
It is possible to create changes in microclimates using larger herbs such as shrubs and trees. You might not have any shelter from the winds for your liquorice crop, so why not plant some shrub or tree crops next to the liquorice to help give it shelter from the hot winds.
Planting trees and shrubs in the right locations and they will mutually benefit other plants and herbs on your block.
Every herb is very different in its requirements. Herbs originate from many cultures and countries around the world. It could be a possibility to liken your environment to a certain country and then choose to grow herbs that originate from that area. This is one way of deciding what to grow.
There may still be modifications that will be needed to be made, though these modifications may not be as major than if your were building a microclimate from scratch. Watering and shade are examples of modifications that may be necessary, as is creating a 70% shade area to grow a crop such as goldenseal.
WA does have optimal requirements for herb growing with good rainfall during the winter months (on a normal year) and dryer and warmer summer months to help with drying the herbs and for weed control. Warm summer months are great for constituent levels and high volatile oil production with aromatic herbs.
Keep in mind every herb you grow will be unique in its requirements and every site you choose will also be unique in its microclimate.
Plants need water, oxygen and light to grow. A well balanced and nutrient rich soil is very important when it comes to herbs coping with more harsh or extreme conditions. (See Part 2 for Soil Conditions).
Rainfall affects herbs in many ways. There are selected winter crops that are not reliant on irrigation, though they will not benefit from flooding. These can be grown through the wetter periods of the season.
‘Real’ rain is great for the growth and vitality of herbs, though rain at harvest time make harvesting and drying very hard. Having the right rainfall at the right time is something that can not always be guaranteed. (As we all know from the previous 2 years).
To put a figure on rainfall, 750mm to 1000mm is a good range for rainfall. Providing of course it is at the right times. Some places, more so in the southern regions might receive much more rainfall and this can be beneficial as irrigation through those summer months might then not be needed. Wet boggy areas in winter might be beneficial to some herbs, though they might need water to keep them alive during the summer months.
If you have plenty of water then rainfall is not a problem. You could irrigate all year round.
If you land is high in clay then waterlogging would be a problem in winter, especially for those herbs prone to root rot or fungal diseases. If you soil is has good drainage then this will not be a problem during high rainfall periods.
Optimal conditions are moist soils with dry sunny weather to give good growth. Drizzly rain that continues for days can hinder growth and decrease vitality. Though, on the other hand dry conditions will stop growth all together. Balance is the key when it comes to water requirements.
To summarize, do some research as to what your chosen location will be and what is the average rainfall in that areas and during what months. This research will pay off in the long run.