Progress report for FNE22-008
This project seeks to demonstrate a agroforestry production method of growing 4 rare forest medicinal herbs in central New Hampshire . The objectives are
1. To demonstrate the viability of growing valuable understory medicinal herbs in under utilized forest lands of NH as a cash crop
2. To demonstrate that forest land can be used by NH farmers in other ways besides clearing or timber cuts
3. To create a sustainable economic opportunity with significant environmental benefit through reintroduction of native plant populations for NH farmers.
4. To reduce wildcrafting pressure on rare and endangered plant populations by adopting cultivation and wild simulated practices.
5. To determine a production method or combination of methods that works best for NH Farmers
6. To begin creation and collaboration for a marketing platform and resources for NH and Northeast farmers such as an Herb Hub
With technical assistance, we hope to create methods that will support a successful harvest of goldenseal, bloodroot, black cohosh and American ginseng in the plots we have planted. If we are successful, this project may lead to a method and the possibility of additional valuable forest medicinals that could be grown in NH forests.
Forest farming in New Hampshire is an underutilized practice that should be considered crucial. In NH, many farm properties consist of forested lands that are eventually cleared leading to habitat destruction and loss of the many benefits of a forested landscape. Forest farming offers an ecological contribution to habitat loss, and fragmentation, air quality issues, and diversity of soil life. Healthy forest ecosystems are the best tools we have to mitigate the climate change currently effecting all farmers. Since medicinal plants have been decimated by poaching and over harvesting in NH, restoration of these species can not only bring employment and jobs but overall improvement to the forested ecosystem. By allowing forested lands to be used by farmers but remain intact rather than cleared, forests can be utilized to produce medicinal herbs and important understory plants which can be marketed to the ever-growing medicinal herb trade in the United States. Since COVID-19, a strong demand for medicinal plants that support immune and lung function greatly exceeds supply. Sales of this value-added farm grown herbal product can create an economic advantage for farmers with the development of new markets, increased income, farm sustainability, new skill development and quality of life.
My solution to using underutilized forest land for farming medicinal herbs is to help identify a 3 year production plan to prepare and establish 12 large experimental understory plots of 4 rare forest medicinal herbs at Greenhill Farm NH, in Sutton, NH . The 3 year plan is necessary because of the long germination times and years to root maturity . Both seeds and transplant cuttings will be sourced from recommended organic growers or United Plant Savers. 3 plots of each forest medicinal will be planted as follows - Plot #1 direct seed, Plot #2 pre-germinated seedlings, Plot #3 rootstock will be used to determine the best method of growing. The understory plots will be monitored for growth and development over the course of the 3-year period and checked daily. Research material and consultations with a technical advisor will direct the effort. Appropriate data will be collected to create a report twice a year and after harvest to determine the outcome of the project. A daily journal will also be kept to help other farmers who may want to create agroforestry sites of their own. My plan will address environmental and health risks in agriculture by keeping forest intact thus creating a healthier environment for the farmer while also growing a product used for health support. Supplemental income can be achieved from forest land and the forest become a greater asset to the farmer, community, state, planet as it grows more diverse. Employing people to help manage the project and to create community and agroforestry networks and groups in NH and the Northeast can be an additional benefit.
Greenhill Farm NH is a 50 acre off-grid forested diversified small family farm in Sutton NH growing mixed vegetables, herbs, fruit and log grown mushrooms, pork and chicken, holiday wreaths and value added products. We have been NH Dept of Ag and Food Certified Organic for vegetables and fruits since 2008. The farm is co-managed full time by the mother son team of Kate and Ben Dobrowski. Due to the Covid pandemic we discontinued participation in 2 farmers markets and built a small roadside farm stand and webpage for ordering. We sell wholesale to 2 local food hubs and local restaurants. The resource of forest land, office space with computer, printer, wi-fi and cell phone , hand tools, irrigation and washing water, farm truck 4 wheeler additional time for research has been dedicated to the first year of this project. Additional resources such as a drying /processing room may become necessary in the next 2 years. Skills and knowledge of herbs also a resource.
- - Technical Advisor
- - Technical Advisor
- - Technical Advisor
- - Technical Advisor (Educator and Researcher)
Materials and methods
Plant material sourcing and timing
The 4 forest herbs being used in this project are blood root ( Sanguinaria canadensis ), goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) and American ginseng ( Panax quinquefolius). Each plant will be sourced from reputable organic sources in 2 forms: seed and transplant cuttings. Native rootstock from the Northeast is the desired method, if available. If not available we will source as close to this region as we can with expertise from our technical advisor.
Site selection, preparation and planting
Using the results obtained from https://plantshoe.org and other resources for site suitability assessment, we will select 4 unique planting sites for each plant type we are using on the forested land of Greenhill Farm NH, in Sutton, NH . The four sites will contain 3 separate medium sized and adjacent plots. Each site will be planted as follows : Plots will be direct seeded, planted with transplant cuttings and then planted with germinated seedlings produced by the rootstock. Therefore, the timing of plot completions will be staggered and recorded as such. The timing for the 3 different planting methods will be done with consultation with our technical advisor.
Each site will be soil tested for pH, organic matter , available Phosphorus and Calcium, texture and organic matter. If necessary, applications of composted leaf litter or other natural/mineral-based soil amendments (e.g. pelletized gypsum, composted leaf litter, etc. ) may be used.
Competing plants, branches and other obstacles may be removed and tree branches may be removed or trimmed if necessary
After each plot is completed, planted and recorded, wildlife barriers such as fencing, screen will be installed. Flagging, signage and game type cameras will also be used at each site to alert humans who may be passing through the acreage, and as observation tools and security for both human or wildlife disturbances or vandalism to the plots.
Sites will be accessed by foot or small truck if irrigation is needed. A water tank with hoses will be moved to the sites by small truck to provide watering if necessary in case of drought.
Site visits and documentation
The sites will be visited daily during the growing season and then reduced to weekly visits during the dormancy seasons. Each visit may include counting the viable plants in each plot, recording journal notes which may include weather, site disturbances, camera data and other variables.
This schedule will be followed for the 3 year duration of the project. If variation in the schedule occurs, the reason and time frame will be documented.
The direct seeded plots will be allowed to germinate naturally. The seeds will be counted or weighed before planting, and when germinated, the seedlings will be counted, recorded and photographed at each visit to the site. In the fall any seeds that are produced will be removed, counted and replanted to additional separate plots with documentation. Leaves will be clipped to reduce plant identification to poachers or wild crafters
For the transplant cutting/rootlet plots, the number of cuttings used will be photographed and counted before planting. Then size of the root stock or nodes will be recorded. The plants that grow from the cuttings may be then counted, recorded and photographed at each visit to the site. In the fall, any seeds that are produced will be removed, counted and replanted to additional separate plots with documentation. Leaves will be clipped to reduce plant identification to poachers or wild crafters .
The germinated seedling plots will be counted initially and then at each visit, recorded and photographed. In the fall, any seeds that are produced will be removed, counted and replanted to additional separate plots with documentation. Leaves will be clipped to reduce plant identification to poachers or wild crafters.
Weekly dormant season visits will be done to check on the sites and equipment . Each visit may be recorded and photographed if site changes occur.
In the fall of year three, 10 plants or 10 % of each type of plant from all 12 plots will be gently hand dug, photographed, measured and dimensions recorded as data for the final report. The plants will then be replanted to achieve maturity. Each plant type will be assessed for viability and best method for growing each forest medicinal plant. Problems, issues and future recommendations will be discussed in the final report. It is important to note here that all of the 4 plant types will not be harvestable at this time as full constituent maturity is reached between 4 and 6 years - longer for ginseng . For this project seed production may occur and can be counted as a benefit while waiting for plant maturity.
First year of project 2022/23 .
We were successful in sourcing plant material, site selection, preparation and planting of the 4 forest herbs in the time frame described in the original report with the following changes, delays and cost increases due to supply chain issues and climate change:
Plant material sourcing and timing :
Research found no local sources of plant or seed stock available. Based on recommendations from United Plant Savers and resources from an on-line workshop from Appalachian Forest Farmer Coalition and the book Growing and Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal, and other Woodland Medicinals by Jeanine Davis and Scott Persons contact was made with experienced growers in Iowa and West Virginia. Issues of concern were price, quality and the quantity of roots and seed to create a measurable sample size of 100 for each forest medicinal. We chose expert growers who were willing to discuss their methods and recommendations for a NH climate. Seed stock was initially ordered from an Iowa grower who was able to complete the large order within our budget .We found that the following factors would influence the purchase and delivery of the necessary seed, root stock and compost for forest planting :
Timing : Sourcing seed and root stock is dependent on harvest during the dormant season which varies depending on the location of the grower. Seeds are sourced earlier in the season but may need to be scarified, chilled or planted immediately after harvest. Even though we ordered early, the roots and seeds could only be dug/harvested within a short window of time.
Climate: Drought and unusual weather patterns directly affected the ability to harvest roots during the dormancy season. The weather patterns of the seed source and our location was completely different at harvest. The Iowa grower could not dig black cohosh, bloodroot or goldenseal roots due to drought and lack of soil loosening rains making black cohosh, bloodroot and goldenseal unable to be harvested without damage by the beginning of November. He was able to provide 100 ginseng roots on October 21 as he had irrigation at the ginseng location and was able to loosen the roots. By the beginning of November it looked like we would not receive the roots before winter freeze up so they would be sent in the spring which would set the project back. I decided to contact the West Virginia grower as a backup hoping he might still have roots to sell. After an informative discussion on lack of soil Calcium which must be high to grow ginseng, he suggested we buy a sample size of approximately 20 roots to plant this fall (2022) and work on increasing soil Calcium using compost, raised beds and amendments which we were already in the process of doing. Since the climate in W. VA was different than in Iowa, there were no issues digging roots and they were delivered and planted by Nov 9, 2022. By the next week, the Iowa grower called so say the rain had finally arrived and he could supply the order . As the weather was unusually warm and was going to remain warm for another week according to reports, I agreed to the shipment . Planting was completed on Nov 19 in the snow.
Site selection, bed preparation and planting : Site selection was not entirely dependent on plantshoe.org but also Table 5. Visual Site Assessment and Grading Criteria for Potential Woodland Ginseng Growing Operation for a Northern Forest from the book Growing and Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal, and other Woodland Medicinals by Jeanine Davis and Scott Persons and considerations based on conversations with both growers. Since ginseng would be the biggest challenge to grow with calcium levels extremely low, I decided to base the site location of all the plants on the highest scoring site for ginseng. After searching for the perfect site to grow ginseng for months, and research on other rare plant locations in NH, Close proximity to our farm, the presence of companion plants and trees , deep shade and a west facing slope were the best site criteria. Although the site is not ideal, if we are successful in growing forest medicinals in this location, it is possible they may be grown in other challenging locations in NH.
Supply chain, and compost : supply chain issues caused delays and increased costs in every aspect of setting up the project.
The compost delivery was delayed for over a month and arrived just as winter set in which worked out since root stock was also delayed.
Cost of fencing and hardware cloth was almost double the normal price and scarce due to supply.
We decided to hold off on creating the seedling plots until spring since they are not necessary until we have seedlings to transplant.
Year 2 of project / 2023
Bloodroot rootstock was the first to emerge on April 16, 2023. Ginseng followed on May 1, 2023 along with a few goldenseal and black cohosh peeking through the leaf mulch. All plants continued to emerge through May. Two ginseng seeds germinated on 5/15. The ginseng seed continued to germinate through the summer with a final count of 76 on 9/20/23.
2022 vs 2023 root stock and seed totals as follows :
Ginseng rootlets : total planted fall 2022 / 139 Count total Sept 2023 / 119
Ginseng seed : amount planted fall 2022/ 1400+ Seedlings counted sept 2023/ 76
Bloodroot rootlets : total planted fall 2022/ 146 Count total Sept 2023/ 154
Bloodroot seed : amount planted fall 2022 VT / 180 Seedlings counted sept 2023/0
Bloodroot seed : amount planted August 2023 /1900+ Seedlings counted sept 2023/0
Black Cohosh rootlets : total planted fall 2022 / 127 Count total Sept 2023 / 132
Black Cohosh seed : amount planted fall 2022 / 50,000 Seedlings counted sept 2023 / 0
Goldenseal rootlets : total planted fall 2022 / 205 Count total sept 2023 / 255
Goldenseal seed : amount planted fall 2022 / 1400 Seedlings counted sept 2023 / 0
Seed germination is expected to happen spring of 2024 - it is more difficult to achieve.
We were also able to develop 3 new plots, and collect and replant seed into them from the following plants :
Ginseng : 283 seeds collected and replanted 9/12 thu 10/29/2023 into plot 11B and 1A bottom
Goldenseal : 128 seeds collected and replanted on 8/19/2023 into plot 12C
Bloodroot 115 seeds collected from only 10 plants and replanted on 6/11/2023 into 13C with the help of ants . Video to follow .
Despite an extremely rainy season, about 22" of rain fell from June through August, the plants thrived without any major issues. There was some insect damage to the leaves of ginseng and goldenseal but no other problems.
The game cameras recorded a deer, porcupine and raccoon, and turkey passing through the area, a squirrel was able to get into the fencing. The squirrel was hopefully collecting or disbursing acorns and not ginseng seed. Mast production was especially high this fall 2023. A resident barred owl may be helping to keep the rodent population down, and was sighted many times perched on trees surrounding the fencing. A game camera became defective and could no longer be used to send notifications to my phone which is why it was purchased - it continues to work by SIM card only and needs to be checked periodically along with the second camera. Batteries lasted for almost a year but after that they wear out randomly no matter what type battery is used. They have to be checked frequently. These game cams can not be relied on to document the area but they do provide some coverage as long as they work.
Changes made to the original method :
- Counting the plants at every site visit is not a good use of time on the project. Unless there is an issue that reduces the count dramatically, Plants and seedlings will be counted once they have all emerged (May) and then once a month thereafter unless needed.
- Ginseng seedlings were not transplanted as they had plenty of room in the seed plot they were started in.
- Compost and soil amendments must be added to the plots every year to keep the pH and Calcium at appropriate levels.
- Additional plots will need to be created in 2024 and 2025 for seed production.
For year 1 2022 of the project we were successful in sourcing plant material, site selection, preparation and planting of the 4 forest herbs in the time frame and budget described in the original report with minimal changes as described in the previous paragraph. We met our objectives and now await signs of plant germination and growth in early spring. Meanwhile, we are monitoring winter conditions and disturbances in the plot areas
For year 2 2023 of the project we were successful in growing all 4 rare medicinals from rootstock and ginseng from seed . Goldenseal, black cohosh and bloodroot seeds did not germinate this season which is not uncommon as germination can take 2 or more seasons. We were also able to collect seed from ginseng, goldenseal and bloodroot rootstock. The black cohosh grew well but did not flower and can take up to 5 years to produce seed. 3 additional plots were created to immediately replant the seed produced this season.
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
No outreach or educational materials will occur until 2025 (3rd year of grant)
We were able conduct 3 tours for interested farmers who had no previous knowledge of the 4 plants . Many questions were asked by the farmers and seemed to increase their awareness and interest in the project.