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Business Booming For Herb Farmers
Business is booming for a Wisconsin couple's "herb" farm. Harley Rouse and his wife, Melva, of Elkhorn, raise about 200 different kinds of herbs which are used in making various herb teas, for mixing with salads (when the leaves are young and tender), for making herb vinegar and for potpourri's. Some of the herbs they raise also have medicinal value.
"It all began when my mother started raising herbs as house plants," Melva Rouse told FARM SHOW. "I became interested in growing them, too, so my husband built me a small green house. I grew an over-supply and folks asked me if I would sell them. They've been corning to the farm to buy herbs ever since."
Today, the Rouse's herb farm is flourishing by leaps and bounds. Theirs is the only herb farm for miles around so they don't have much competition.
The Rouses who also have bees, have discovered that borage is a great bee food, as are the herbs catnip, lavender and winter savory. "Bees seem to take a liking to these herbs and the honey they produce from it makes a good extra cash crop," says Melva. She has become very involved in herb growing and went to school to study herbalism. She also has read all the books she could find on the subject and is often called on to give talks on her herb growing.
"On the East side of our barn we have a 10 x 28 ft. greenhouse that's surrounded by three acres of herbs," explains Harley. "We had poor soil when we started but we have been mulching the herb area. We are organic farmers and don't use sprays or insecticides of any kind."
The Rouses use old and preferably moldy hay or straw for mulch. They have found it to be a real protector of their herbs during the cold winter months. The heavy mulch also helps control weeds, and helps hold moisture in the soil.
"People can grow herb plants in their home and have leaves to use in their salads and for making teas," suggests Melva. "Some people raise certain herbs for medicinal purposes."
She adds that herbs are much easier to grow from plants, rather than starting out from seeds as she does in the greenhouse. She says that parsley, chives, and thyme are cooking herbs that most anyone can grow in their garden.
"I've discovered that rosemary, lavender, lovage and others can be hard to germinate," says Melva. "Some love poor soil while others prefer the garden type. Some flourish with average water, and others with very little.
"The wormwood is the only plant that doesn't seem to have a bug that loves it," explains Melva. "But lady bugs love it for raising their young. Because the lady bug is carnivorous, it feeds upon other insects in our herb garden. We believe, however, that herbs help keep the insects away."
The Rouses sell herb plants from their green house which customers can grow in their own homes. The Rouses also dry and sell herbs for bouquets and other displays.
"The comfrey herb makes a delicious tea," Melva points out. "Its tender leaves are good for making salads. The leaves are also good for a general tonic."
The Rouses use their 80 year old 40 by 60 ft. barn for drying the herbs and flowers they raise. They hang them in the haybarn where they dry nicely. "Never attempt to dry herbs in direct sun. And, the darker you can keep the drying area, the better."
One unusual herb called "Colt's Foot" is generally used for landscaping purposes. In past years, it has been used to treat lung troubles, and some people have dried and smoked it," Melva points out.
"Most herbs have some sort of medicinal value but you have to know what part of the herb to use. Even the leaves of rhubarb, for example, are poisonous if you eat them."

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1981 - Volume #5, Issue #6