Archive for Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Herb grower finds satisfaction with ‘Wild Thyme’

September 1, 2004

An upcoming weekend retreat at Wild Thyme Herb Farm grew out of a local woman's interest in making soap.

When Cindy Sartin's great-aunt died, she wondered who would keep the family supplied with lye soap. For as long as she could remember, Sartin's family had used her great-aunt's homemade soap to ward off chiggers and ticks.

So she set about to make her own soap, prepared with the family recipe, a large kettle and a wooden paddle.

But heeding her grandfather's worry that she was going to "blow the place up," Sartin decided to try a more modern method.

"I came inside, got on the Internet and typed in how to make soap," she said.

Once her supplies were in place she went to work.

"In about a half hour, I had made lye soap, which took my great-aunt all day to make," Sartin said.

Next, Sartin decided to make other kinds of soap, buying the oils and herbs she needed.

From there, her soapmaking hobby took a twist.

"I started thinking if I'm buying the oils for the soaps to smell good, why can't I grow the plants and use my own oil?" Sartin said.

So she started researching. She and her husband, Jim, and their son, Ryan, decided an herb garden could be a hobby they could work on as a family.

Don't look back

It's obvious Cindy is thrilled with her new garden.

She walks through the rows, easily reciting the plants' names and uses. She's as excited to see the delicate blossoms on a marshmallow plant as she is to see a dozen or so caterpillars stripping the leaves off her fennel. This proves, she said, that fennel can be grown as an alternative plant -- to keep the butterflies from damaging other plants without having to use insecticides.

According to textbook advice, Sartin's garden should have failed. She ordered plants through a supplier, but in early March learned they weren't organically grown. So she canceled that order and found a company that sold organic seed.

"So here I am in April, and I'm ordering seeds and they should have already been in the ground," Sartin said.

She built cold frames to get the plants started. Jim and Ryan helped prepare the garden plot, plowing and anchoring weed barrier cloth. Then finally, when the weather warmed and her seedlings were large enough to transplant, Cindy started on her work.

"It was tweezerville out here," she said, noting the seedlings were so small she practically had to use tweezers to plant them.

It must have been a daunting task -- 15 flats of seedlings, each flat containing almost 200 plants.

Jeanie DeArmond at K-State gave her sage advice.

"She said just keep looking at what you're doing," Sartin said. "Don't look at how many more plants you have left to plant."

Cindy started planting the second week of June.

"I was up at 4:30 every morning and down there by 5 o'clock," she said. "I really wouldn't stop until about 9 o'clock when it got dark."

Ryan helped his mother, making x-shaped cuts in the cloth for the plants.

By the end of the month she had all her plants in the ground.

And then Jeanie called from K-State, asking if Cindy would be interested in taking another 300 or so plants, and keep data on their growth.

Sartin readily agreed, and so added these plants to her garden as well.

Though, technically, she was a little late in getting started, frequent rains and cooler than normal summer temperatures gave the plants a good start.

Today, her garden looks established.

Cindy is proud of what she's accomplished, and she wants to share it with the community.

On their 17-acre site, she plans eventually to build a handicapped-accessible garden so area residents can come out to put in gardens of their own. And, she hopes as the herb farm grows, there will be other ways to draw visitors out there.

"I want to share what I'm learning with others," Sartin said. "That's what this is all about."

Going organic

Jeanie DeArmond -- a research assistant in horticulture extension at K-State -- said Sartin has "done a super job" with her garden.

As part of her work, she's helped establish the Great Plains Herb Growers Association.

If the right crops and markets were located, farmers might make money on growing alternative crops, such as herbs, DeArmond said.

"It could be a few thousand dollars an acre or more, depending on the crop," she said.

But it's a competitive market, with many buyers preferring to purchase lower-priced products from other countries.

DeArmond said K-State is trying to educate consumers that it's important to buy high-quality organic herbs.

And, she's hoping in the future, growers will work together to market their crops.

"With more people like Cindy starting to grow herbs, the association members will have a project to go together and sell it as a group," DeArmond said. "... It's been a great project -- the alternative thing is becoming more popular."

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