Growing Herbs: Starting Out (part 3)
- Created: 31 July 2014
So far in this Starting Out article we have discussed many requirements that are needed to start herb growing. We have discussed soil types, micro-climates, rainfall and other subjects relative to what environment you will be growing your herbs on.
We will finish this article by talking about equipment and machinery that you might need when starting out. This subject is one that can often be limited by finances, though it is possible to start out using a few hand tools. I started out with minimal equipment and it is something that I have acquired over time as needs have arisen. I will admit, it is much easier to use a machine to do a more labour intensive chore.
On a smaller area, it is possible to do a lot of work by hand. This is very time consuming and labour intensive, though if managed properly it can get less labour intensive over time.
The more area you will be farming the more machinery that you might be need. It is deemed that for an area of about 2 acres you might need the following equipment. You may find it possible to beg, borrow or hire machinery from neighbours and friends. It even is possible to have a joint ownership of some machinery, bearing in mind that you both do not want to use the equipment at the same time.
A tractor is useful to till the ground, especially for your first cultivation. A tractor in the 25-40hp range is suitable for smaller acre herb farming. A forage harvester is also helpful to gathering large amounts of compost materials. If you could afford it a front end loader can be very handy, as would a rear-silage fork that can be used to stack and turn large composts.
Small machinery like a medium sized rotary hoe (5-8hp) is good for general cultivation and perimeters cultivation. One downfall of rotary hoes is that they can disturb and kill earthworms and other micro-flora. A largish mower or self-propelled slasher is good for boundary weeds and grasses as well as reducing stubble after harvesting certain plants.
Most growers get by with using hand tools; I certainly did not have any mechanised machinery for the first 2 years of my herb growing. I found that over time I purchased machinery. Had I started out again I might have invested in a rotary hoe to start with.
A fork and a spade are essential to start with and having used a few of them over the years, I would recommend that it pays to purchase good sturdy hand tools. Cheaper forks, trowels and spades tend to break easily if you are using them heavily.
Harvesting herbs can quite easily be done by hand and to be honest the herb harvesting machinery that is available on the market is almost non-existent. I do find it preferable to harvest by hand as it is much easier to undertake quality control when harvesting than it is once the herb has dried. I find I am very particular to only harvest healthy and good colour herbs that are not pest infected.
When harvesting on an intermediate scale a modified scythe and sickle or reaping hook for leaf crops. Depending on what crops you are growing you might need to look at different means of modifying tools to help you harvest your material. You can modify a dustpan to put a comb edge on it to make flower harvesting easier.
Hand tools are also necessary for weed control. At certain times of the year, namely now, weeds can be a problem that can strangle the growth of your herbs. Selections of various hoes are handy, especially for the smaller gardens. Hoes can also be modified to make weeding between rows much easier. A wheel hoe could be also useful as would any implement that would help to weed close to the herbs. I still tend to do a lot of weeding by hand, as I choose to compost my weeds. I have found that over time they do reduce in numbers by constant weeding. I do choose to leave some weeds to encourage pest predators.
For you to get a better price for your herbs, it would be better to value add and dry and process them. To dry herbs you will need a covered area. I started in a shed and have since moved to a bigger shed. It is essential for most herbs that they are dried out of direct sunlight.
The space needs to be reasonably close to where the herbs are and it needs to be vermin proof as well as be able to be closed up. Adequate ventilation is required. These can easily be achieved by modifying an existing shed or something like a sea-container. Sea-containers actually make good drying sheds, because if placed in the right direction for the air flow and the air vents are put into appropriate places, you get a good air flow going through the container. It will be necessary to line it first though to keep it clean and secure.
To dry the herbs it will be necessary to construct drying racks. I was able to purchase some old shop fittings and I modified some racks and they work quite adequately. I use flyscreen racks that are about 2 metres by 60cm. These I purchased from a salvage yard. They allow for adequate ventilation as the material to be dried is spread out on them. I then space them about 12 inches apart.
We are lucky in WA to have the climate we have and it is not always necessary to heat your drying area. The bulk of harvesting is undertaken in the summer months when the temperatures are best. We will discuss herb drying in more detail in another newsletter.
Depending on what crops you grow will be dependant on what processing equipment you need. Wire mesh screen for rubbing will be necessary and their size will be dependant on the volumes you will be processing. This equipment is not essential initially and it can be purchased, built or created whilst the herbs are growing in the garden. You will need to have this equipment ready when harvesting your herbs though.