An herb garden can be a profitable business because herbs don't need a lot of space, soil inputs or water compared with vegetables or flowers. Prices are high for relatively small amounts of herbs, which can be sold fresh or dried. You can sell herbs to wholesalers, grocery stores, restaurants or naturopaths. You can also sell them yourself from a stand or at a local farmer's market.
Grow herbs that are universally popular and suited to most growing regions, like parsley, rosemary, basil, thyme, chives, tarragon and mint. Herbs like these have both culinary and medicinal uses. Also, learn about herbs that are sought after for ethnic cooking in your community.
Plan your herb garden around the plants' needs, and group plants with similar requirements together. Most herbs require well-drained soil and full sunlight, but some plants such as tarragon or mint need partial shade. Mint does well in moist soil while oregano and lavender need drier conditions. Lavender and rosemary both like soil with lots of lime, but oregano fares better in poor soil.
Choose high quality seeds and cuttings. Annual herbs like cilantro and basil grow well from seed, while perennials like thyme and rosemary are easier to start from cuttings. Buy seeds from a reputable company that knows about your growing region, or harvest seeds from your best plants. Take cuttings from hardy plants that produce abundant, pungent herbs.
Plant more herbs than you think you'll need. For a market gardener, it's usually better to have too much than not enough. Stagger plantings of annual herbs to get a longer harvest. Dry unsold herbs to keep them from going to waste.
Keep your herb plants producing for longer by pinching off flowers before they bloom. The flavor of most herbs starts to deteriorate after flowering. Some exceptions to this are dill and fennel, which have the best-tasting leaves just after the flowers appear. Harvest flower herbs like chamomile and lavender just as the flowers begin to open.
Find out your buyers' preferences for packaging and bunching herbs. Some buyers might want bunches to be a certain size or weight. Others might want to buy leaves only, stems with leaves only, or stems with the roots still on them. How you prepare your harvested herbs depends on the herb type and your buyers' requests.
Harvest your herbs in the late morning, just after the dew has gone off them. The oils in the herbs are most pungent at this time. Use strong, sharp clean clippers.
Cut tender stalks of new growth on perennials like thyme, sage, rosemary and lavender. The growth on the older, woodier stems is sparser and not as tasty as the new growth.
Start cutting annual herbs such as basil, parsley and mint as soon as the plants have enough growth to support themselves. Cut off entire stalks with the leaves on, leaving enough stalk at the bottom to tie or band them in bunches.
Store your herbs in a refrigerator until you're ready to sell them. Gently shake off any dust, but do not wash the herbs prior to storage, as this will decrease the quality of the oils and cause them to rot faster. Sell the herbs within four days of harvesting to ensure the best product.
About this Author
Sarah Metzker Erdemir is an expat writer and ESL teacher living in Istanbul since 2002. A fiction writer for more than 25 years, she began freelance writing and editing in 2000. Ms. Metzker Erdemir holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in Romance languages and linguistics as well as a TESOL Master of Arts degree. She has written articles for eHow, Garden Guides, and ConnectEd.