The meteoric rise in popularity of Living Basil has prompted the construction of a third greenhouse at HerbCo in Duvall WA. "We’ve been astounded at the customer response,” said Dave Lykins, National Sales Mangler. “We opened our second greenhouse just this January, and by September we had practically maxed out capacity. We’re gratified that our customers love its flavor, aroma, and ease of use."
The new greenhouse measures 8,000 square feet and features two separate growing systems so that other products with different nutritional needs may be grown. The greenhouse uses computer monitoring for temperature, humidity and nutrition, and incorporates wireless alert capability to ensure quick response to any alarm. Construction is now complete, with the first harvest initiated December 13th. (see photos below).
The Coachella Valley is well known for two things: their popular annual Music and Arts Festival, and 60,000 acres of fertile farmland that in 2007 produced a half billion dollars worth of fruits and vegetables. While we’re all music lovers at HerbCo, it was the incredible farmland and 300 frost-free days a year that drew us late last year to lease over 100 acres in this lush valley. Formerly tended by Cal-Organic Farms, this parcel is now growing 12 herb varieties, including basil, dill, mint and oregano, and is organically certified by Oregon Tilth. We’re proud to have 20 folks on our payroll who are producing great looking product destined exclusively for our HerbCo customers.This farm makes such a great addition because it introduces a new growing area and climate to HerbCo’s rapidly growing family of farms. Having farms in multiple growing regions greatly reduces the risk of any one weather event - be it major flooding, a hurricane or massive windstorm – significantly affecting overall supply. Another plus to this location is its proximity by air to other HerbCo locations: flying through Seattle, product can be harvested, cooled and shipped to Denver, Dallas or Chicago within a 24 hour time period.
There’s nothing soft or fluffy about downy mildew, a devastating disease that rapidly kills basil plants of virtually every marketable variety. After rearing its ugly head in Europe 10 years ago, it hit the shores of the U.S. in 2007 and is now responsible for wiping out basil crops from Florida to Hawaii, and all states in between. Its appetite for high humidity, lower temperature environments was hungrily fueled by this winter’s relatively mild climate across the United States and Mexico.
What is downy mildew? It’s a fungus that spreads mainly through windborne spores. The spores germinate and release a parasite that attacks and kills basil leaves rapidly, sometimes within hours of infection. There is no known cure for this disease. The most effective control program is defense: the regular application of fungicides (organic ones, in our case) before the disease strikes. As with another now-endemic basil pest – fusarium – the most promising preventative strategy may be developing a downy mildew-resistant strain of seed.
Until then, basil lovers must literally weather the challenges basil farmers and packers face: planting up to double the usual basil acreage during wintertime to plan for likely downy mildew crop failures; experiencing increasing losses at both the harvesting and packing levels; and overall degradation of basil quality.
On a positive note, the effects of downy mildew should substantially diminish as spring approaches and days get longer, drier and warmer. Basil inventories throughout the Northern Hemisphere will increase with this favorable trifecta, and downy mildew will hopefully be downgraded to a nuisance till next winter.
Not surprisingly, fresh herb plants thrive in the Hawaiian islands for the same reasons humans love to visit there: warm, but not too hot days and nights; little monthly variation in climate, and great sandy beaches for snorkeling – ok, maybe we’re stretching it there. Capitalizing on the success of our Waianae farm on Oahu, we’ve leased acreage on the south side of the Garden Isle of Kauai. Located just outside of Poipu, this 7 acre parcel is growing certified organic basil, rosemary, sage, tarragon and mint. So far, the rich Hawaiian soil has blessed us with excellent quality product and impressive yields to the point that an additional 5 acres is being prepared for production. It’s no surprise that of all the HerbCo Farms, this one receives more HerbCo staff visit requests by far!