Study to Determine if Nepeta Cataria (Catnip) Can Be Commercially Grown in Montrose, CO
The project members had been unable to get the catnip (nepeta cataria) seed to germinate in 2002. Challenges included drought-limited irrigation, field slope and uncertainties over seed-chilling procedures and dispersion methods.
They are confident that the irrigation challenges have been overcome with the installation of an aerial sprinkler system.
As for the seed chilling, they were unsure about the need for chilling the seed for 45 days or more before it could germinate. The 2002 seeds were not chilled, but the 2003 seeds were chilled outside. While hand disbursement of seed may work for a smaller field, it’s not practical on a larger field.
Project coordinator Susan Bony expressed confidence in germinating and growing the catnip, and she’s hoping for the two or more cuttings she’s read about. But questions remain over the winter-hardiness of catnip, a question that should be answered in spring 2005.
The goal is to test the ability to grow catnip (Nepeta cateria) from seed as a farm-grown, commercially viable crop for the Montrose area. The idea is to find an alternative crop that can be grown on Colorado’s Western Slope as a way to provide greater economic stability in times of agricultural uncertainty.
Bony purchased the catnip seed in the spring of 2002 and had it broadcast planted by the local growers association with a truck seed spreader. The seed is the size of a pinhead and was spread with the fertilizer. Unfortunately, the slope of the field prevented the irrigation water from moistening row centers. The plants that emerged two weeks after irrigation turned out to be weeds, not catnip.
Perplexed by the failure and suffering a 50% drought-induced irrigation cutback, Bony took the time to continue researching catnip production. She learned that the seeds have a hard exterior shell that needs cold to crack them open for germination. A second batch of seed was broadcast in the fall of 2002. However, in the spring of 2003, several logistical challenges resulted in just a few viable catnip plants, mostly where seepage occurred from an irrigation canal. Bony used the delay to advantage, installing an overhead sprinkler system.
Plans to plant the catnip in the fall of 2003 were interrupted by flooding from canal overflow, which soaked half the target field. This situation prompted Bony to plant the dry half of the field in the fall of 2003 and the wet half in the spring of 2004. This will allow Bony to compare the germination rate for the two methods of planting.
While faced with several challenges of getting a viable catnip crop, Bony has finished a design logo for the commercial sale of her eventual catnip crop and had the logo trademarked. Meanwhile, the trademark office, which approved the logo in December 2003, notified Bony that it must be used within three months or she would be required to reapply. Because she won’t have the catnip oil ready for commerce in time, she has produced t-shirts and hats, a move that will satisfy that need.
If catnip can be successfully grown on the Western Slope, a new stable market will be opened for farmers, especially as the market for insect repellents is large and growing proportional with population growth.
Producers with whom Bony has spoken say they are anxious to see the outcomes. Several have expressed an interest in converting their hay production land to catnip should the project prove financially profitable.
RECOMMENDATIONS OR NEW HYPOTHESES
Bony suggests that SARE projects like hers would be easier to complete if farmers were provided a database or list of local farming resources. For example, she said she was unable to find someone to advise her on irrigation. She relied on advice from a local irrigation company, which she said sold her a system that was too large and powerful for her land area.
She’s lived in rural Colorado for five years and is still learning about available resources. Further, she laments that the USDA and CSU Cooperative Extension offices provide “some word-of-mouth” resources, but that those “are limited.”
“I see Montrose slowly being chopped up into small 3- to 5-acre farms being purchased by people wanting a rural lifestyle,” Bony writes in her progress report. “Based on my conversations with some of these landowners, they would like to produce crops but have limited knowledge of crop production and even more limited experience. A database of resources would allow them to use their land for more than just pasture.”
So far, Bony’s findings have been communicated orally to those directly involved in the project and a few interested producers. She plans to write and send out news releases in 2004 once she has successfully grown and harvested the catnip.