Introduction to Organic Mint Farming, Cultivation Practices
Mints belong to the genus Mentha, in the Labiatae family which contains other usually grown essential oil-yielding plants such as basil, rosemary, sage, marjoram, pennyroyal, lavender, and thyme. Within the genus Mentha there are many commercially grown species, varying in their major chemical content, aroma, and end-use. Their derived aroma compounds and oils are traded worldwide. It is also called Pudina Patta, Pudhinaa, Puthina, Pudian, Hara Pudina, Marga pallo, Phodina, Fudino, Putiyina, and Pudyanu, etc.
A Step by Step Guide to Organic Mint Farming, Growing Practices
Mentha is an energizing herb and adds flavour to dishes. Mint oil is used for flavouring toothpaste, mouthwashes, and pharmaceutical preparations. Mint helps in stomach and digestion disorders. It also helps in controlling headache and nausea.
Commonly Cultivated Mint Species
The four most commonly cultivated species are;
- Japanese Mint/Menthol Mint
- Bergamot mint
It grows from underground runners and thrives on abundant water. It’s not fussy about light or soil, but sufficient water is mandatory for success. To prepare planting sites, dig in rich organic compost. Avoid using animal manures with potential weed seeds since weeding becomes problematic in an established mint patch.
Organic Soil Preparation for Mint Farming
Mint is a vigorous grower that likes well-draining soil, organically-rich with a neutral pH value of 6.0 to 7.0. Mint prefers a rich soil with a slightly acidic pH value between 6.5 and 7.0. If the soil is slightly lean, top-dress yearly with organic matter and apply an organic fertilizer mid-season after shearing.
Mint hay compost is 100% natural. It adds organic material to growing beds and can be used for soil amendment. As a byproduct, using mint compost promotes sustainable agriculture. Using mint as mulch improves water retention in soil and reduces the need for irrigation. It contains natural humus, which improves both sandy and clay soils.
Process of Organic Mint Farming
Step 1) Mint is propagated by vegetative methods only through runners and stolons. The suckers are cut into 10 to 14 cm length each before sowing. About 450 to 500 kg suckers are required per hectare. The suckers must be set in furrows. Plant the suckers end to end with a spacing of around 40 cm in rows and 60 cm apart.
Step 2) Mint can be cultivated in a wide range of soils, sandy loam, but loam, or deep soils rich in organic matter are best suited for its cultivation. Avoid water stagnation. Mint can be cultivated in red and black soils as well. If the pH value is less than 5.5, then liming is recommended.
Step 3) However, it’s quite simple to grow mint from seed, you will have little idea what the plant will look like in the long run because mint plants tend to cross-pollinate with each other and produce hybrid seeds. Some varieties, like peppermint, are almost impossible to grow from seed. This isn’t a problem for everyone, but if you want to grow a specific variety of mint, it’s usually best to start with a transplant or cutting.
Step 4) If you decide to grow mint from seed, you can start your plants indoors roughly seven weeks before the last frost and transplant them outdoors to have a thriving mint supply all summer long.
Step 5) Mint seeds should be thinly spread on potting soil and left uncovered because they need light to germinate. In many cases, germination should occur within 2 weeks if you keep the temperature between 20 to 24°C. Once the plants have their second set of leaves, they are ready to be moved outside.
Mint Plant Spacing or Distance in Organic Farming
The stolons are cut into small pieces (7 to 10 cm) and planted in shallow furrows about 7 to 10 cm deep with a row-to-row distance of 45 to 60 cm, mechanically or manually. While planting on ridges, the stolons are planted half-way down on the inner sides of the ridges. The plot is irrigated immediately after planting.
Sow mint seeds indoors (4 to 6 weeks before the last frost) just beneath the soil surface. Transplant outdoors after all danger of frost has passed in late spring. Can also be direct sown outdoors just before the last spring frost. Space plants around 1 to 2 feet apart in all directions and mulch to hold moisture and maintain leaves clean. Mentha is easy to propagate from cuttings. Older plants can be divided up every 4 to 5 years.
Planting Mint by Root Division and Stem Cuttings
If you decide to risk the invasion and plant mint in your garden, the best time to do so is in the spring. Mint isn’t too picky about its soil conditions and can thrive in pH values ranging from 5.6 to 7.5. In most cases, it grows best in well-drained, rich soil that gets full sunlight throughout much of the day. Organic fertilizer can be a benefit for mint plants, but be sure to avoid using any type that might contain weed seeds, as weeds can quickly overtake a young mint patch.
When you plant your mint, it’s best to plant the rooted sprig just below the tip of the soil. If you plant multiple seedlings, be sure to space them at least 15inches apart to give them enough room to grow. As the plants grow bigger you may require thinning them down farther.
Planting Mint by Root Division in Organic Farming
- Autumn is the ideal time to take root cuttings, but early spring works as well.
- Choose a rootbound container plant and gently remove the rootball from the pot. Using a hand saw or garden shears, cut the rootball into quarters.
- A close up of the rootballs of a mint plant that has been separated, set on the ground in front of a blue plastic container.
- Fill small 2- to 4-inch pots or trays with a soil mix of 1/3 well-aged compost, 1/3 vermiculite or peat moss, and 1/3 landscape sand. Water well until the soil is evenly moist.
- Repot 2 or 3 of the quarters in fresh soil and divide the remaining quarter to create several smaller root cuttings, each with at least one stem.
- Trim off the top growth and prune the hairy roots to fit in your containers.
- Set the cuttings in place than top up with soil and firm gently.
- Water lightly then set out in a cold frame or a protected site with bright, indirect light and steady moisture.
Planting Mint by Stem Cutting in Organic Farming
- Choose strong stems with fresh, healthy green leaves.
- A close up of the stems of a Mentha plant, taken as cutting and placed in the water showing the new root development. The background is a striped fabric.
- Cut off 4- to 6-inch pieces, removing the lower 3 or 4 sets of leaves. Cut the stem just below a set of leaf nodes to prevent the stem from curling in water.
- Longer stems are preferable because roots sprout from the leaf nodes – more leaf nodes from long stems mean more roots and a strong plant.
- Place stems in a small glass of water and set in a light, airy windowsill until healthy roots have formed.
- The roots start to form in 10 to 14 days and can be planted out in 3 to 4 weeks.
- Once a strong root system has formed, pot up the stems into containers 6 to 8 inches deep and wide, filled with sterile, well-draining potting soil.
- Firm the soil around the stems and water gently.
- Keep the pots in a sheltered spot for 4 to 6 weeks, ensuring the soil stays moist but not waterlogged. After plants are established, transplant into the garden to their permanent locations.
Growing Organic Mint in Containers
- Grow mint in containers of rich, well-draining soil amended with 1/3 organic matter such as aged compost. You can add 1/3 landscape sand to improve drainage if needed.
- A close up of a light-colored container with a mint plant pictured in bright sunshine, with a terra cotta container in the background.
- Ensure pots have plenty of drainage material such as broken pottery, gravel, or pebbles at the bottom and keep the soil moist but not wet.
- Fertilize with an all-purpose liquid plant food such as 10-10-10 (NPK) in spring and once more mid-way through the growing season.
- For a steady harvest, give your containers some afternoon shade to prevent heat stress.
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Pests and Diseases Control in Organic Mint Farming
Several garden pests are common on mint including aphids, cabbage loopers, flea beetles, and spider mites. Apply least-toxic, natural pesticides to prevent further damage and establish control. Plants are also susceptible to fungal diseases, such as rust and anthracnose. Hand prune infected leaves and apply organic fungicides copper or sulphur at the first sign.
There aren’t too many disease problems that mint gets affected by, though certain types of fungus can pose a problem. If you see orange-brown patches on the bottom of your leaves, your plant is suffering from rust and should be treated with a fungicide. Verticillium wilt and mint anthracnose are also common insect problems for mint, though they can be kept at bay if you keep your plants watered and ensure there is good air circulation between each plant. Only a few insects can stomach the strong smell of mint enough to attempt to eat the leaves, but if you have a problem with aphids or flea beetles, you can spray the leaves down with a soap spray to encourage them to leave.
Anthracnose is a fungal disease that can spread quickly in warm, wet weather, causing small spots that gradually get larger until the leaves drop off.
Prevention – Remove diseased plants promptly to prevent its spread. Keep plants off the ground and ensure good air circulation. The spores overwinter in plant debris, so clean beds well in fall and remember to rotate crops. Avoid splashing water onto lower leaves.
Mint rust is another fungus that causes small brown, orange, or yellow pustules on undersides of leaves.
Prevention – Infected plants should be removed to prevent this disease from spreading. Heat treating the roots may help to control rust. To do this, immerse roots in hot water, 44°C, for 10 minutes then cool under running water and plant as usual.
Powdery mildew is another fungus that can also show up in moist, damp conditions, coating leaves and stems in a fuzzy dusting that weakens and damages plants.
Prevention – Remove any infected plants and allow the soil to dry out. Thin plants if needed to improve air circulation and don’t water until the top 1-inch of soil is dry. It’s perhaps unsurprising that these moisture-loving plants can be plagued with fungal diseases.
The mite associated with causing mint damage is the Two-Spotted Spider Mite. These small (nearly 3 to 4 mm) translucent-coloured pests live on the undersides of mint leaves and generally cluster towards the top of new growths. Thriving in arid and hot conditions, spider mites cause damage by piercing tiny holes in leaf cells. They’ll make their presence known by causing speckled discolouration on leaves and leaving behind a thin webbing that is much like a spider’s.
- Use a plant-based insecticide, such as pyrethrum or rosemary oil. These can kill the mites without harming the plant or other creatures. Other organic treatments include garlic water and hydrogen peroxide.
- Apply potassium salts to your plants. These are quite abrasive against spider mites.
- You can introduce beneficial insects that prey on spider mites, such as ladybugs.
- Wipe your plants down with rubbing alcohol. This can kill the mites.
Both the Alfalfa and Cabbage Looper are pests of the mint plant, with the latter being the more common of the two. These are foliage-consuming caterpillars that reach 1 to 2 inches in length and are normally varying shades of green. They cause significant damage by consuming large portions of leaves and stems. Instead of being called a worm or caterpillar, loopers get their name from their unique ‘curling’ or ‘looping’ movement.
- If the number of worms is relatively small, you may just be able to pick them by hand.
- You can use Bacillus thuringiensis, which is an organic compound that can kill the worms without harming other animals. You’ll have to trim the mint to the ground before spraying.
Mint plants suffering from flea beetles are easily spotted, as the beetles will jump from the plant’s leaves when disturbed. These small (nearly 1.5 cm) beetles are a shiny black/bronze colour. They cause damage by chewing small holes through the leaves. These holes will often show up in clusters.
- Create a mixture of two cups of rubbing alcohol, five cups of water, and one tablespoon of liquid soap. Spray the mixture on your plants to maintain flea beetles away.
- Dust your plants with talcum powder.
- Insertion sticky traps near your plants can capture flea beetles.
- Spray your leaves with neem oil.
- Apply diatomaceous earth near your plants. Since seedlings are most effected by flea beetles, it is wise to cover them until they have established.
These small insects like to attack the leaves of plants and suck out their sap. A sign of aphids is when your plant leaves begin to curl and turn yellow. You may also notice a sooty mold on your plants. This is the result of aphids secreting honeydew.
- Spraying water may be effective if the number of insects is small.
- Reflective mulches can deter some aphids. Something shiny and bright colour can keep them away.
- Insecticide may be needed if there is a heavy infestation. Look for insecticides with imidacloprid. This will kill aphids without harming other beneficial insects like butterflies and bees.
When and How to Harvest Mint
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When to harvest – Pick mint plant leaves and sprigs as you need them throughout the growing season. Then, cut away flower stalks before they bloom for a sweeter taste. Cut the entire plant down to 2 or 3 inches above the soil at midseason and then it will regrow for a second harvest.
How to harvest – Use a snip or scissors to cut off the top leaves and tips of branches or pinch off individual plant leaves for fresh use. For drying, cut stems about 4 to 6 inches above the soil surface.
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