Episode 252. Herbs

This is The ChangeUnderground for the 12th of April 2021.

I’m your host, Jon Moore

Decarbonise the Air, Recarbonise the Soil!

A quick reminder that The ChangeUnderground is supporting the Bubugo Conservation Trust in Uganda through a percentage of the course sales and the Buy Me a coffee link at WorldOrganicNews.com (Link in the show notes)

Now to to-day’s episode: Herbs!

When we think of gardening, we generally think: veggies. But what if there were other options?

What if?

Turns out there are. As you can tell from the title of today’s episode, Herbs are options. 

Why would we go down that route?

Well, time might be an issue, A love of perennials might be too. 

Let’s look at the perennial angle. Say we chose, thyme, rosemary, sage and some mints as the key herbs we are interested in. These are all perennial and would not need reseeding each year. They could form the skeletal structure of garden beds around which we could plant annual herbs or veggies. 

The advantages are many. Especially if you live in suburbia or even a flat with a balcony. For the flat, containers would be an obvious way to go. Apart from the permanence benefits of planting directly into the soil, all the other reasons for going this way apply.

In a suburban area, these plants could replace all the non-edible flowering species in a front garden or be laid out in production spaces in the backyard. With the permanent plantings comes the development of mycorrhizal structures in the soil. These could be nurtured and the herbs left to flourish on the mycorrhizal systems. Each year they would develop much deeper, stronger root systems, building drought tolerance over time. 

Once established, either in pots or in the soil, other opportunities arise. Rosemary strikes from cuttings so regularly that it could almost be a weed. That being said, small cuttings raised for a few months would be worth around $5 dollars in our local markets. Check where you are and do the maths but this can be a viable side hustle and even a full time income. Thyme and sage alway strike relatively easily but not quite as strongly as rosemary. Little shrubs for sale again, for the entrepreneurially minded. 

The mints really can become weeds if you’re not careful. There is, though, in many places a strong demand for mint. So strong I was surprised. My propagation teacher at TAFE College pointed out his first job in the industry was propagating mint in five centimetre pots (about 2”). This consisted of him, initially filling 10 flat plastic trays of 54 cells with two leaf cuttings. Keeping these moist and a week later when they’d reached the four leaf stage, he pinched off the top two leaves and planted them into a new set of trays. The original was then left to grow for two weeks then planted out into the five centimeter pots and left to grow for another four weeks then sold on to nurseries. And the cycle continued. He experimented with lemon balm, peppermint and chocolate mints but none of these ever sold as heavily as the standard mints. Eventually he was doing this job five days a week for half a day each day with many more trays.

Now he was based in a greenhouse with under tray heating and automatic misting irrigation but such a thing could be set up in a backyard situation once the market had been identified. The retail nurseries sold the pots for $4 and they bought them from my teacher for $1.50. If you grab the retail nursery price you’d be on a winner but even at the wholesale price a little mathematics reveals 54 cells by 10 trays = 540 plants or $810 a week or just over $42,000 a year. Not bad for a side hustle and maybe three hours labour a week? The number of cuttings and price per grown pot may vary where you are but it would definitely be worth a look. The cost of the set up would need to be taken into account but if you started in summer the greenhouse/polytunnel would not be a necessity to begin with.

I’m sure similar numbers could be had for the other perennials mentioned, rosemary, sage and thyme but the growing period would definitely be longer.

If we toss into the mix, annual herbs, a full time living starts to propose itself.

Where I lived in the Blue Mountains a couple used to hold two herb weekends a year, April and October. They grew the perennials and lots of annuals. Many of them used in medicinal herbal practice. Their front yard was laid out with tables groaning under the weight of propagated cuttings and ready to use annuals. I clearly remember the basil disappearing early in the mornings. They also sold bunches of fresh parsley, mints and basil. If I recall correctly, they grew about fifteen different varieties of basil. Some ten were the same each year and they experimented with different varieties too. Some of the herbs they dehydrated and sold those too.

I think they both had part time jobs a few days a week and the rest of their income came from the two Herbal Fairs. Maybe one every season would make more sense, I’m not entirely sure. It is a thing to consider if your local authority allows such home based Fairs. If not you may need to go through a farmer’s market  or a retailer. It’s not the sort of thing I have great knowledge or expertise in but it could make a decent living, I think.

And there would be nothing to stop you having a garden bed or two of vegetables for your own table. 

Indeed, writing this episode has me twitching to hit a spreadsheet and run some numbers. Now that the spelt, oats, wheat and barley are in for the run through winter, a little light propagation does sound appealing.  

So give herbs a thought, even if you only grow enough for your household, you’ll be adding biodiversity to your gardens and that’s a good thing.

If you have any questions, thoughts or suggestions, I opened a new Facebook group with just myself in there at the moment. I’ve called it, imaginatively, ChangeUnderground Podcast Group. You search on the FB or there’s a link in the show notes and in the transcript over at WorldOrganicNews.com episode 252. 

Even growing herbs we can decarbonise the air and recarbonise the soil.

Thank you all for listening and I’ll be back next week.




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