Growing Mint for Commercial Hydroponics
Hydroponic farming is attracting new levels of interest since you can grow more crops, in less space, and with fewer environmental constraints. However, choosing crops for your vertical hydroponic farm can be difficult.
First and foremost, you want to grow crops that your markets demand. Otherwise... how will you sell them?
You also want to choose crops that work well with your particular growing technique, your system and your climate.
Mint just might be that golden crop.
Our farmer Haydn Christensen with Bayberry Fresh has had great success with mint; it’s his second most popular herb behind basil.
Here's why he likes it so well.
1. Markets are crazy about mint.
The aromatic compounds in mint are pungent, refreshing, and unique. They also degrade pretty quickly, which means that mint has a shelf life. By the time a restaurant or bar receives mint, it's lost that freshness quality.
Which is fine... if you've never had freshly harvested mint. But once you have, there's no going back.
This means that chefs who have used your product - and their customers who have tasted it - want more and more. Where as days-old mint can be drab and mediocre, fresh mint quickly rises to star status when it's used in a dish.
And where there's star produce, there's growing demand.
Growing demand is a great thing to have, but it can be intimidating if you can't keep up production. Which is why it's a good thing that mint is so easy to scale.
2. Mint is easy to scale because it propagates easily.
Mint is one of the most vigorously growing plants that we've ever worked with.
From mint cuttings, or "clones", mint roots out and grows to maturity within a few weeks.
This means that if a produce manager comes to you and asks if you can double the mint starting next month, you don't have to hem and haw. You can say "Sure. I can even triple it for you if you want," with confidence.
3. Cuttings are easy to take, either from stem cuttings or from root cuttings.
For stem cuttings, you can select healthy green sprigs and simply set them in water.
We've used cotton or loose soil to set cuttings, but Haydn takes it one step further and just drops his mint cuttings in the gutter that runs below the tower.
By using this method, he makes cloning a seconds-long task.
For root cuttings, you can pull out the media when a mature tower becomes overgrown (mint is the only crop we've seen overgrown in the towers), remove some root material to populate a new tower, and simply tuck the root material in the new media to pull into the tower.
Then replant both towers - one with old and one with new roots material - and voila! You have two towers of mint where previously you only had one, and you've trimmed up an overgrown tower.
Mint will grow from seed and exhibit great germination rates, but growing mint from seeds takes considerably longer, and you will want to avoid it if you can.
4. It works with live sales.
Mint grows into lush, green, full towers that look beautiful wherever they are, whether in your greenhouse, a restaurant, or a grocery store.
This makes them superb candidates for live sales and displays.
5. AND it works as a cut product.
Because it grows so fresh and tender, it also makes a great cut product for day-of-harvest deliveries.
Both of these sales models are viable, easy solutions and have proven to be well received by clients.
Take a look at Smart Greens who services several local restaurants with a cut product.
They simply harvest the herbs and walk them down the block!
6. Harvesting a tower only takes a few seconds.
Harvesting mint couldn't be easier.
Because it will grow from virtually any part or amount of plant matter, you can shear down the front of the tower with a knife in one action, cutting to about 3 inches from the face of the tower, then rehang the tower to be harvested again in only 2-3 weeks, once it has grown out to about 8 inches.