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Herbs intended for fresh-cut sales are started either from seed or by a species-appropriate vegetative method—often as plugs—then grown out in bags of growing medium or in a hydroponic system. For information on the propagation method for a specific herb, see Table 1. For more information on organic plug production, see the ATTRA publications Plug and Transplant Production for Organic Systems and Potting Mixes for Certified Organic Production.

Organically grown seed of all types is currently in short supply. To produce organic seeds, an operation must be certified by a USDA-accredited certifier (see current list at www.ams.usda.gov/nop).

Premium pricing can be critical to the viability of organic greenhouse operations, because production costs are often higher than those for conventional greenhouses. Organic pest control, particularly in labor costs, is generally more expensive than conventional practices. Yield and quality can vary widely, depending on the growing season and management practices. To achieve a satisfactory return on investment, organic growers must be prepared to develop innovative production and marketing strategies.

There are tradeoffs in every marketing strategy. A successful grower must develop markets in which the price for organic produce adequately compensates for all production costs. Additionally, the marketing process must be compatible with the grower's personality and business skills. The particular combination of components in any grower's marketing strategy will depend on local marketing opportunities, as well as the grower's desire to be directly involved in marketing, tolerance for stress, and ability to balance a variety of risk factors. For more information, request the ATTRA publications Agricultural Business Planning Templates and Resources, Keys to Success in Value-Added Agriculture, and Direct Marketing.

If you are considering building greenhouse facilities for organic production, research the market to assess the economic feasibility. Once you have made the most realistic cost estimates possible, you can develop a plan to adjust your production system, revise your marketing plan, or walk away while you still have your shirt.

ATTRA Greenhouse Publications

Greenhouse and Hydroponic Vegetable Production Resources on the Internet

Greenhouse IPM: Sustainable Aphid Control

Greenhouse IPM: Sustainable Thrips Control

Greenhouse IPM: Sustainable Whitefly Control

Integrated Pest Management for Greenhouse Crops

Solar Greenhouses Resource List

Organic Greenhouse Vegetable Production

Plug and Transplant Production for Organic Systems

Potting Mixes for Certified Organic Production

Root Zone Heating for Greenhouse Crops

Compost-heated Greenhouses

Foliar Fertilization

Table 1. Popular Herbs

Herb

Type or cultivar

Recommended Propagation Method

Comments

Sweet basil (A)

Genovese, Italian Large Leaf, Thai, Mammoth

Seed

The most popular herb. Be careful not to start too early. Remove flowers as they appear for greater leaf production.

Dwarf basil (A)

Spicy Globe

Seed

See above.

Purple basil (A)

Dark Opal, Purple Ruffles

Seed

See above.

Chives (P)

Grolau

Seed

Be careful not to start too early. Rose-pink flowers borne in spring/summer. Chefs prefer fine-leaved types, but thick-leaved types hold up better in packages.

Cilantro (A)

Santo, Jantar

Seed

Easier to harvest if planted in clusters.

Dill (A)

Fernleaf

Seed

Ready for sale at 6-8 inches high. 'Dukat' is extra bushy.

Lavender (M)(P)

Munstead, Grosso

Cuttings

Seed does not come true to type.

Sweet marjoram (M)(P)

Cuttings

Best to use cuttings of true Origanum majorana. USDA has released hybrid Origanum x majoricum hardy to Zone 6

Mint (P)

Peppermint, spearmint, pineapple mint

Cuttings

May be erect or trailing. Many foliage variations. Can be invasive. Variegated good as ornamentals.

Oregano (M)(P)

Greek

Cuttings

Those with white flowers are preferred.

Parsley (A)

Curly

Seed

Can be used in containers. Makes a good edging plant. Technically a biennial, it's grown as an annual.

Parsley (A)

Flat leaf, cv. Italian Dark Green

Seed

Best for culinary use. Because of its fine flavor, prices are usually higher than for curly type.

Rosemary (M)(P)

Cuttings of a good-flavored variety

Erect and trailing forms available. Erect forms are best for culinary use. 'Arp,' while winter-hardy, is not recommended for culinary use.

Sage (M)(P)

Dalmation is best for fresh-cut herbs.

Seed or cuttings

Common sage is usually grown from seed; those with colored foliage are usually grown from cuttings. Erect and speading forms. Suitable for containers. Try 'Purpurescens,' 'Tri-color,' or 'Aurea' for potted ornamentals.

Scented geraniums (A)

Lemon, peppermint, rose

Cuttings

Flowers of scented geraniums are smaller and less showy than those of bedding geraniums.

Tarragon (P)

French

Cuttings

Requires dormancy. Unusual growth pattern. "Russian" tarragon is of no commercial value.

Thyme (M)(P)

Lemon, French, English, silver, creeping, winter.

Cuttings

Cuttings ensure true-to-type. Best flowering is on older plants. Slow to grow back after cutting.

M = Mediterranean herb; A = Annual; P = Perennial

If organic seed is not available, conventionally produced non-GMO untreated seed may be used for an organic annual herb crop, according to §205.204(a)(1) of the National Organic Program rules. Perennials must be raised for at least a year under organic management in order to be considered organic. See text of the Final Rule on sources of propagation material for organic production, below. For a list of companies selling certified organic and untreated seed, see the new ATTRA Web-only database Suppliers of Seed for Certified Organic Production. An Internet search on specific herbs is also advisable.

NOP Rule §205.204 Seeds and planting stock practice standard

  • a) The producer must use organically grown seeds, annual seedlings, and planting stock: Except, That,
  • 1) Nonorganically produced, untreated seeds and planting stock may be used to produce an organic crop when an equivalent organically produced variety is not commercially available, Except, That, organically produced seed must be used for the production of edible sprouts;
  • 2) Nonorganically produced seeds and planting stock that have been treated with a substance included on the National List of synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production may be used to produce an organic crop when an equivalent organically produced or untreated variety is not commercially available;
  • 3) Nonorganically produced annual seedlings may be used to produce an organic crop when a temporary variance has been granted in accordance with §205.290(a)(2);
  • 4) Nonorganically produced planting stock to be used to produce a perennial crop may be sold, labeled, or represented as organically produced only after the planting stock has been maintained under a system of organic management for a period of no less than 1 year; and
  • 5) Seeds, annual seedlings, and planting stock treated with prohibited substances may be used to produce an organic crop when the application of the materials is a requirement of Federal or State phytosanitary regulations.

National Organic Program Final Rule, www.ams.usda.gov/nop

For vegetatively propagated perennial herbs, greenhouse herb producers often take cuttings from their own "mother plants." This practice gives producers already certified a decided advantage over start-up businesses, since they can procure organic starts at any time without any waiting period. Economies of scale have caused rapid consolidation in organic herb production. Growers seeking first-time organic certification or switching to a new certifier, as well as individuals planning to construct greenhouses for organic production, do well to secure their perennial herbs early in the mandatory three-year transitional period. After certification of a greenhouse operation, any new perennial plant stock must come from a certified organic source or be raised for at least one year under an approved organic management system before products derived from those plants can legally be sold as organic. This applies to foundation stock for potted plant production, as well as perennials for fresh-cut herb production. Section 205.204 is subject to interpretation by the accredited certifier for a given operation.

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Building Your Own Greenhouse

Building Your Own Greenhouse

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