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Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

Posted by basilicocam OH (My Page) on
Wed, Jun 20, 12 at 6:05

Hello, I am new to this forum and wanted some ideas for some of the materials I need for an organic herb business I am starting from my home. Please forgive the long post.

I wanted to know if anyone knew where I could purchase growing media locally (around Columbus, OH) in bulk for herbs. At the moment, I am just growing basil, to make pesto until the end of time. I have bought a few thousand plastic containers to supply nurseries and local garden centers. These I fortunately got in bulk at a reasonable price per unit, and I wanted to do the same with the growing media. I am looking at 150 cubic feet of growing media for my basil crop. I have already grown around 600 plants (about 18 different basil varieties - some were not too hardy) in custom mixes, Organic Choice (Miracle Gro), and Pro-Mix. Eventually, I want to plant my other 50 varieties. I started in late March and am still doing research with books from the public library and the help of Google and youtube while I get the hang of this.

Pro-mix has given me the healthiest-looking and fastest-growing plants, so I would like to keep using it, or a similar mix I can make on my own (my back just wants to spasm when I think about that). Also, Miracle Gro had too many large pieces of bark and sticks that were a nightmare for seeding, so I want to avoid it if possible. Local retailers, like Straders, charge about $17 for 2.5 cubic feet of Pro-Mix with Mycorrhizae or the less cost-effective $29 for a 3.8 ft^3 bale. I will try a few other distributors today, but it seems that most function exclusively as wholesalers. Their retailers also have a two to three week lead time, which shortens my growing season. Online I read about farmer's supply stores in other states, but who do I contact here?

Although I have plans to eventually bring a few hundred of my plants indoors (unused portions of the garage and basement - I can purchase the remaining grow lights and shelving units with relative ease) to endure the cold winter ahead and get a head start next year, I want to get as many started in the sun room and the backyard now while it is still warm.

I would appreciate any advice on who to contact in order to purchase the following:

CHOICE A
*150 cubic feet of Pro-Mix� HP Mycorrhizae� (this one has more perlite than the one I have used, but this may be more suitable for me as it has been raining frequently lately and currently I have set out most of the pots in the backyard)

CHOICE B (my poor imitation of CHOICE A)
*100 cubic feet of peat moss or coconut coir (or cocopeat?)
*50 cubic feet of perlite (horticultural grade or any other suitable
*Sufficient wetting agent (Yucca extract or biodegradable polymers) compatible with organic crops
*Sufficient Mycorrhizae inoculate (endomycorrhizal fungi, such as, Glomus intraradices)
*Sufficient dolomitic lime (or similar pH adjuster)
*Sufficient organic seaweed fertilizer (or similar product) for at least 4 applications (once per month)

My goal is to get each cubic foot of growing media, either custom-made or professional grade, costing me no more than $4 per cubic foot. This must include taxes and freight shipping (or me just driving back and forth to pick it up 100 miles away with my brother's help).

Again, I would appreciate any helpful suggestions, and I will keep searching online and asking local merchants if they can work out a large order deal (or free shipping).


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

First of all, let me state that I'm not organic and don't know all in regards to that.

Second, your reasoning about cost effectiveness of the 3.8 bale versus 2.5 is flawed. The 3.8 COMPRESSED bale is actual 7.0, so it is much cheaper. I didn't believe it until I used 7 bales of it this last year. Make sure you have a container 2x-3x larger than what you need to hold the dry bale to water (plump) it back up.

Third, if your back is aching (from the thought of mixing), then find a concrete mixer to do the mixing for you. It is SO much easier to do so for large batches.

Now, being from the Midwest myself, if you want to travel to pick up, you can come over to Danville, IL and pick up the Pro-Mix Bx at greenhousemegastore for $30/bale plus IL tax. just call or order online at http://www.greenhousemegastore.com
They are supernice and very helpful. Just call ahead and start driving. Personally if you can buy locally for $29, it's cheaper to buy from your local person. If you can buy local and get everything you need, perhaps they will offer a discount.

I know that these are hard choices and it seems like you are spending LOTS of money before you get any, but at the end of your year, it should look better.

Marla


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RE: Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

Thanks Marla for your feedback.

I am not sure I follow what you are saying; both the 2.5 and the 3.8 cubic feet bales are compressed in their respective original packages. In terms of dry compressed material, the former costs $6.80 per cubic foot, and the latter costs $7.63 per cubic foot. Again, both are compressed bales just different sizes. But if they double in size when wet, then that's even better (I will probably need more pots and seed then).

I was thinking about a cement mixer and agree it would make my life easier, but $350 seemed a bit much for one that could handle 8 cubic feet. I will check Home Depot to see if they have one in the Tool Rental department for less.

For some reason, vermiculite and my basil don't mix. I might over water as I've already done in the past and get fungus gnats and wilting. That is why I am ordering HP and not BX.

The retailer does not offer bulk discount, or maybe just not to me because I am not a longtime customer. I spoke with another local distributor that does limited retail it seems, so I am looking at $5.50 per bale. This is not ideal, but until I get my vendor's license, I don't have many alternatives.


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RE: Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

What I found was the 2.5 was bagged but not as compressed as the 3.8. I have bought the 3.8 bales this year (10 of them) and found that after I watered it to potting soil moisture content, it was about 7 cubic ft.

I was not thinking about a new concrete mixer to start with, but either a rental or used. Ask around the rental places, like Suncoast or United, if you have those. I've found that they can be cheaper and heavier duty equipment. They also sell them after a certain time period.

Don't know what Ohio's requirements are for vendor license, but in Indiana, all you need is Retail Merchant Certificate, which is thru the State Revenue Office. Basically, walk in, fill out paperwork, pay fee, and get certificate.

I've only used the BX, so I may be totally wrong.

You are buying seed in bulk, I hope. A pound of basil seed makes alot of plants. I buy a pound at a time, and it lasts me for several years, planting a few hundred per year.

Unfortunately, all these costs MUST be included in your price that you pass on. Lots of people think that soil is super cheap and so are seeds, so plants should be cheap. It's not, and they shouldn't be either. Plus nobody thinks about the time that we invest in taking care of these plants, or the ones that don't survive.

Right at this time, I'm not selling, due to a mega greenhouse (Bonnie's) coming into my area and flooding it with their plants at almost every retailer. Their prices are just barely what I can sell for, with my costs, so I can't compete. So many of the big retailers are closing the small Mom and Pop stores down.

Marla


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RE: Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

I came across this data a couple years ago when I was trying to convince Dad that getting compressed bales was less expensive than getting regular potting soil at the big box. It's for Fafard but it should be pretty close for Promix (that's what we use). If you scroll down a partway there is a chart showing the number of various sized pots you get from different bags - pretty handy for planning how much soil you need to get in the spring.

Tom

Here is a link that might be useful: Fafard mix charts


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RE: Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

Tom, I knew you would have some data hidden somewhere. I think I'll be trying the Fafard, since I can get it more locally for me.

Marla


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RE: Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

If you want to sell these as Organic you have to gross under $5k annually (and so you cannot make anything close to a living selling herbs as not certified Organic) and you cannot use soil mixes such as Miracle Gro Organic or Pro-Mix as both have petroleum based wetting agents in them. And here is the kicker the National organic program does not cover things like fertilizers and potting soils and that means any one can put the word Organic on any soil mix or fertilizer and sell it as such even though it cannot be used on a certified organic farm.

I make my own from coir, compost, perlite and trace ingredients (blood meal, soft rock phosphate, green sand and a few other things) and it works great for vegetables and herbs. of you use coir which is hydrophilic, you do not need a wetting agent but you do for peat based soiless mixes as pear is hydrophobic


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RE: Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

Thanks Tom for the information. I need to check my estimates once more to see what I need.

Also, boulderbelt, your statements, although informative and enlightening, just made this more difficult for me. I thought OMRI certified organic Pro-Mix wouldn't have artificial (at least not made from petroleum) wetting agents. Fortunately, since I am still waiting a few more weeks for my order, I may be able to switch it to Choice B with coir as I wanted to try it out and see if I can purchase it for less than the peat moss. I will call the supplier later today and see what is available.

Additionally, I am not planting anything into any real soil, so what I am doing is more like a deconstructed greenhouse than a farm, if even that. I did not consider official certification because I imagined it wouldn't apply to potted plants I grew in my backyard and sun room.


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RE: Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

Basil, if the pro-mix id OMRI certified than it is okay for organic production (OMRI is NOT organic certification, BTW)

Organic certification applies to all food items no matter if they are grown in the ground, pots or hydroponically. I strongly suggest you go to the OEFFA website and review the Organic cert rules especially if you intend to sell your stuff as organic as you have to follow the law to the letter to do so even if you are not getting certified organic to sell things as Organic.

You might be better off just dropping the "O" word altogther and calling your stuff natural, locally grown, chem free or other unregulated terms that will get your point across.

That said (and I don't say this to be mean), herbs are nit big sellers and I seriously doubt you will gross $5k in herb sales annually as herbs simply are not all that popular, they should be but most Americans do not know how to use them so they don't buy them very often and the people who use them a lot have figured out they are easy to grow and grow their own. basil is the only herb I have ever had decent sales with and even that was not a great deal, maybe $50 a week on a very, very good week.


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RE: Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

I agree, it will be hard to retail $5K of basil over a season. Also, unless you already have buyers for these plants, you'll do good to sell 500 in 1 season.

I went back and reread your posts. You do realize that the plants that you're planning on taking inside will need to stay above 50 degrees consisently and will get spindly over the winter.

don't want to bust your bubble, but I think you might need to think more about this and start off small.

Marla


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RE: Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

Boulderbelt, I agree. I am not claiming that I am a certified organic grower to customers; I know there are fees and applications to fill, and it would be a legal nightmare if I tried to bypass all that. I just want to grow my basil with organic media because my family and I also consume it regularly. Cancer and other diseases run amok in my family tree, so I don't want to make anyone sick/sicker by using toxic chemicals. When selling it, I plan to tell potential customers that I use OMRI-certified growing media and fertilizers (e.g. blood and bone meal) if asked, which is exactly what I have done, and I expect to keep doing that. As for a label for market, I suppose I was leaning more toward locally grown (this one seems especially popular) and pesticide/chemical free for the foreseeable future.

Additionally, I don't need to make $5K over the first season; it would be great (and the year is far from over), but I understand I am still learning as I go and establishing a client base. I have sold $150 already through a yard sale and also to people I work with, so I know it starts out small/slow. Marla, I also did learn that very few people know what to do with it (exactly as you said) or just eat out 24/7, but many are interested to learn what they could prepare with lemon and cinnamon basil. I was dumbfounded by this since pizza is big where I live, and basil is so prominent in local menus. Overall, I do believe I should try to expand now while I have the time and flexibility to do so.

Bringing the plants indoors is not that big of an issue. I started my first 600 basil plants indoors, and yes, quite a few were spindly until I got FLT46 lights. Better lights and frequent pruning corrected their leggy behavior, and once it got warm enough, the sun and the outdoors fixed the rest (i.e., fungus gnats and mold). Basil is finicky, but it can also be very resilient. Some plants that seemed like they were going to be perpetual seedlings grew "overnight" once I transplanted them to bigger pots and put them under brighter lights. For me, this began as a fun experiment; I now want to transform it into a legitimate side business. I am more worried about letting them grow outside because of the current heat wave, the swarm of Japanese beetles around my house (thankfully, they have ignored my basil for nearby rose bushes), and severe thunderstorms.

I would appreciate it if you could answer another question I had. What seems to be more profitable? Selling basil to restaurants and supermarkets after cutting leaves and some stems, or selling it at the farmer's market and nurseries as potted plants. I contacted Straders, one of the local garden centers, and they said they normally paid $1.50 for a pot, so in a tray of 18, then that would be $27. Unfortunately for me, they usually grow their own. Oakland Nurseries were a little bit more receptive, but I need to start transplanting plants back to the smaller pots. On my own, I have sold larger plants for $5, and for the yard sale, I brought that down to $2.50 for the ones with only 3 to 4 sets of large true leaves. Is it better to focus on wholesale or retail for the first season? The books I have found told me it depends on where I live, but that just means I have to wait a few years to know for certain what worked out best for me. During winter, I already have an idea of what I want to do, but since basil is abundant right now, what is the best venue for increased sales.


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RE: Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

Also, where do you normally buy bulk seed for rare basils? I had a hard time finding green pepper basil, and cloning takes a while and a few tries. A few people I have talked to are very interested in it, but I can't sell my 3 plants (I don't have any others).

Have you guys tried selling plants online? Again, I know some of the rarer varieties sell really quickly.


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RE: Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

I would go with the farmers markets/yard sale/roadside stand before going commercial wholesale. Gets your feet wet more and more able to get feedback directly from customers. You can also try out some oddities on them.

Haven't tried online, but was thinking along that line. I know you can't send into certain states or countries without a big hassle. I would like to know more, if someone can volunteer that info.

I usually sell Large Leaf Italian, and I buy my seeds from Jordan Seeds, they are very nice to deal with and very affordable. the other company that has received my business is Hummert. Jordan is online at jordanseeds.com. I've been doing business with both companies for several years, with no problems or complaints.

I believe your nursery is probably asking for 4" pots, and to me that is a good price for wholesale.

Marla


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RE: Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

Also, where do you normally buy bulk seed for rare basils? I had a hard time finding green pepper basil, and cloning takes a while and a few tries. A few people I have talked to are very interested in it, but I can't sell my 3 plants (I don't have any others).

Have you guys tried selling plants online? Again, I know some of the rarer varieties sell really quickly.


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RE: Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

Sorry, that message posted twice. I bought the rarer basils and those that I could not find locally on ebay from Colonial Creek and other sellers, so I know that can be setup.

Indeed, the nursery and garden centers want 4" pots (or 3.5" would also work as I saw many of them use Nu Pot 4's). It is too bad that my basils' roots have outgrown that size. When transplanting, I will need to trim off some excess.


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RE: Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

This is a link to their ebay store if you are interested:

http://stores.ebay.com/Colonial-Creek-Farm


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RE: Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

I would NOT transplant ANY plant into a smaller pot, it would be like strangling it. Easier just to start new ones, they grow SO fast.

Marla


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RE: Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

I didn't think about it that way. I thought circling roots were no longer working properly when the plant was root-bound, or that's what I saw on several Youtube videos, such as this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkZiYpLVQlU.

I will refrain from transplanting down, except for cuttings/clones, but it would take much longer to start new plants.


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RE: Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

Also, from the picture, you can see that something is eating my basil. I don't know what it is and have searched for some beetle or caterpillar, but I never find anything on the leaves other than specks of dirt the wind blows onto the plant.


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RE: Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

Japaneese Beatles maybe? Flea Beatles also like basil but the holes do not look atypical of their damage. How big are the droppings?


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RE: Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

Slugs are notorious for feeding on basil at night. Are you seeing any slime trails? Scouting after dark?


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RE: Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

My basil looked like that, but never found anything. Also, all the other vendors had the same look, whether organic or over-loaded chemicaled. Thought maybe it was just the nature of basil.


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RE: Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

I stumbled on one of the possible culprits. I noticed that some of the leaves of my sweet mammoth basil were severely gnawed at. I was picking some leaves for a family meal for the 4th. of July, and I saw the bug. It is a beetle 1/2 to 3/4 of the size of a Japanese beetle, but it is yellow with noticeable black spots on its carapace/outer wings. I saw it again today. It has a black head, and it was on another type of basil. I need to be camera ready today or tomorrow. Once I get the picture, I will post it.


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RE: Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

Cucumber beetles are attacking the sweet mammoth basil, according to Google.

I just got my vendors license, so I will be heading to the closest Farmer's market on Wednesday.


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RE: Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

FYI you do not need a vendors license to sell at any farmers market in Ohio. The FM management takes care of such things for its' vendors. You do need liability insurance to sell at most markets (though I have yet to have one actually check out if I had it or not) but not a vendors license. But now you should be able to set up on any street corner in your town and sell regardless if there is a farmers market running or not.


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RE: Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

In Indiana, if you sell plants you need a retail merchant certificate. It isn't exactly a vendors license, but you do have to have it.


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RE: Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

Boulderbelt, that's odd... The farmer's market in Canal Winchester states:
14. It is the vendor's responsibility to obtain all licenses and permits, and to pay the fees required by Local and State governing bodies. This includes the vendor's license for goods sold for which a sales tax must be collected.
15. It is the vendor�s responsibility to obtain premises and physical liability insurance.

Good thing you also brought that up. How do I go about selling basil on a street corner? Do I need permission from the police or the owners of the nearby buildings, houses, or businesses? Also, could I go to a strip mall near a Whole Foods or any area with a lot of pedestrian traffic, or do I need permits? The yard sale was at our house, so I did not worry about that.

Where would I check if I need to charge a sales tax for potted herbs, in my case basil? I can do so if necessary according to the lady that helped me from the Small Business Development Center after I paid for the license, but she said to look it up to be sure. I will contact the Ohio Business Gateway tomorrow to see if anyone knows.

Here is a link that might be useful: Canal Winchester Farmer's Market Vendor Application


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RE: Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

I forgot to mention that I never found any true droppings (just dirt flecks under leaves) nor slime trails. I think some of the plants are affected by leaf miners. Some other strange black beetles have also been noted. I am starting to wish I had pursued graduate degrees in business, agricultural sciences, botany, and entomology. The swarm of Japanese beetles fortunately ignored my basil.


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RE: Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

The person(s) who created the rules for the farmers market were given wrong information about the licensing (but the info they got would fund the town a bit by making vendors get licensing they do not need). That is one of the purposes of the FM is to provide a space so farmers and others can sell their stuff without needing a vendors license. That said you still need other licensing for food sales (if it doesn't fall under Cottage Industry regs), Organic cert, etc..

i have started several farmers markets in Ohio complete with being charged with writing the rules and never ever required a vendors license with the vendors.

Selling on the street, with the license and as long as it is a public spot (i.e. city owned and not privately owned such as any parking lot that is not a municipal lot) should be okay because you have the VL. To sell on private sites all you have to do is ask the owner and for those you do not need a VL (because you are on private property). But if you don't want to be harassed you check with the same folks who sold you the vendors license.


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RE: Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

Our local market has additional rules (in IN) on top of state rules. That might be the case. Plus getting more money into the government coffers.


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RE: Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

Sales at the farmer's market were underwhelming. The yard sale turned out to be more lucrative. I also brought all the paperwork, and no one even checked. I will try a co-op this coming week and other farmer's markets in the area.


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RE: Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

Customers at farmers markets take awhile before they seed out new vendors. If this was your first week, and the market has been running for awhile this year, it will take longer for you to see regular customers.

Bad thing about selling plants, you will only see that regular customer 1-2 per variety of plant. If they like Lg Leaf Italian Sweet Basil, they will buy 1-2 plants all season, not each week. By this time, around me, the plant people are gone.

You didn't state how your prices were in comparison to any other vendor with basil plants. You CAN and should compare your basil with others, people don't realize that there are different 'flavors' of basil.

Marla


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RE: Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

Sorry, I have been running around lately getting supplies and selling plants. A change of venue worked wonders.

Canal Winchester 7/11/2012 5-7P.M. $8 total (4 plants for $2 each, sold as a 2 for 1 deal)
Bexley 7/18/2012 4-7P.M. $108 total ($4 freshly cut plant, 12 plants for $5, and a bulk sale to the health store of 11 plants for $4 per plant)

I sold several plants to a local natural market /co-op health store for $4 per plant. They also hold a farmer's market on Wednesdays, and I sold potted plants for $5 per pot. Finally, I sold a freshly cut anise/licorice (?) basil for $4. One of my fellow vendors at the first farmer's market suggested that I should try the Bexley locale; I actually met him first at the yard sale earlier this summer. He also started this year, but he grows peppers, tomatoes, oregano, thyme, etc. He always charges $5 for each mature potted basil plant, but I was desperate for a sale in Canal Winchester and dropped my prices too low when I noticed no one was buying. I also confirmed that basil likes deeper pots vs. wider ones (assuming same volume of media).

I have many varieties, so the intense purple ones sold out first and then the sweet mammoth and Thai Siam Queen. A few sweet and Italian Large leaf ones were also gone by 7:00P.M. The lemon and lime varieties were not as popular since many people have them already.

Indeed, many people already told me they have tons of basil and can't turn it all into pesto, but many of the people that bought plants from me told me they have a few other big plants in their gardens. I have concluded that people who really love basil and can afford it (in terms of sunny window or space in the garden) will collect different varieties. Additionally, I started growing more of a rare basil from organic seed as there seems to be a market for the dried leaf for medicinal purposes.


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RE: Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

You are really inspiring me. I'm working on selling plants next Spring, not basil, but many herbs. What are your plans over Fall/Winter to get ready for next Spring?


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RE: Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

Arugula and kale grow really well during late fall and early winter. The baby greens sell out quickly when freshly cut, but it is more work than selling potted plants. Moreover, arugula grows back eventually, so a single organic seed packet goes a long way in a whiskey barrel. My other side business has taken over most of my week, so while the carrots, spinach, and cilantro mature, I am planning on setting up my aeroponic system to semi-automatically keep mass producing basil over the winter. For the spring, I have tons of bargain organic and heirloom seeds for vegetables and herbs of all kinds. I am thinking of preparing raised beds as well as using larger pots as I got all the potting soil I need for the near future. I have to dehydrate more basil to sell online also. Unfortunately, many of the last seedlings I planted succumbed to some mold. It's trial and error, but I like it.


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RE: Growing Media for Fledgling Herb Business

Note: I will not be using the Pro Mix in the future. I'm much happier with Miracle Grow with Moisture Control. The plants seemed to be better, stronger with it.


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