Organic Farmer October/November 2019

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Growing Herbs the Old School Way

By DANITA CAHILL | Contributing Writer

The herb display garden, producing

seeds at the end of the season. All

photos courtesy of Danita Cahill.

DIVERSITY, LOTS OF HANDSon

labor, and staying on top of

chores are three keys to the longevity

and success of this Alsea, Oregon

herb business. Not only do Rolfe and

Janet Hagen and their daughters grow

herbs using natural, organic methods,

the family also grew their business in

an organic way, by following the natural

procession of things.

The Beginning

The couple started out with a country

restaurant in the small rural town of

Alsea. Janet used fresh herbs in the

dishes she prepared, so she and Rolfe

planted herb beds around the restaurant.

The herb plants produced seeds, which

they harvested and sold, resulting in The

Thyme Garden Seed Company.

In 1989, the couple sold their home that

Rolfe custom built—his profession before

the foray into a restaurant and herbs—

and bought a modest home on a nearby

80-acre parcel. The land was overgrown

with blackberries, but also had old

growth forest interwoven with wildland

streams. Excited about the property’s

potential, the couple rolled up their

sleeves and started clearing briars and

planting herbs. A year later, in 1990, they

opened The Thyme Garden to the public.

A Family Affair

Rolfe and Janet raised their two daughters

among the trees, bees, butterflies and

herbs. The daughters, Emily Stimac and

Bethany Glanville, are now grown with

families of their own.

Janet, the cook, has passed her chef

torch down to Emily. Emily inherited

a passion for food and experimenting

in the kitchen, especially with herbs. “I

like creating amazing meals with all the

flavors,” she said. Emily also inherited

all the juggling skills needed to organize

events for a crowd.

Rolfe is the gardener; Bethany has

accepted the herbal torch from him.

She inherited a green thumb, a keen

interest in herbs, along with a curiosity

and passion for growing and harvesting

plants, flowers and seeds. “That helps me

a lot,” Rolfe said. “She starts all the germination

of cuttings and seeds.”

“I love the herbs, knowing when the

seeds are ready to harvest,” Bethany said.

Rolfe is also smitten with herbs. “I so fell

in love with them. The power of what

herbs can do. The power of plants, what’s

going on behind the scenes, what’s going

on inside that plant.”

Growing the Old School Way

“All of our seeds are naturally, organically

grown. We grow herbs the old

school way,” Rolfe said. The family uses

no systemic chemicals and no artificial

fertilizers. In fact, they use no sprays of

any kind in the herb garden, only in the

greenhouses when pests or disease, such

as aphids or fungus becomes an issue.

And then they use natural products, such

as insecticidal oil and pyrethrum. “It’s

a contact spray. It breaks down within

hours of spraying,” Rolfe said. As a fungicide

they use sulfur.

About pests in the greenhouse, Bethany

said, “It’s perfect growing conditions. You

create this terrific oasis for things, even

things you don’t want.” Both she and

her dad noted that the aphid and spider

mite populations have been low this year.

They credit that to achieving a natural

balance. In years when spider mites get

out of hand—end of summer tends to be

the worst—the family buys and releases

beneficial insects from an outfit out of

Southern Oregon.

The farm produces its own population

of beneficial insects. “We have a massive

amount of ladybugs,” Bethany said. “They

overwinter in the ground by the fence

row.” She said the ladybugs hang out

around the hops field in the early part of

the day. “In the afternoon you’ll hear a

buzzing and see these clouds of red flying

to the herb garden.” Ladybug adults

and nymphs have a voracious appetite

for aphids.

Continued on Page 44

Rolfe and Janet Hagen in the hops field, with

their grandson Micah Glanville, and their

daughters, Bethany Glanville and Emily Stimac.

42

Organic Farmer October/November 2019

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