FAQ: Information About Specific Crops
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In an effort to answer your questions in a timely manner, I have decided to post a Frequently Asked Question Section. Before calling or emailing me, please check to see if your question has already been posted here. I apologize that this is rather impersonal, but I can’t even begin to answer all the emails and phone calls I receive now. Since I also need to leave time to do research, write, and speak, I hope you find this a useful alternative.
I Want Information on How to Grow Specific Crops
Q: HOPS. I am interested in growing hops in North Carolina and understand there is a good market for them. Can you help me find information?
A: There are quite a few people who are growing hops in North Carolina, or who grew hops in North Carolina. The first “pioneers” started in around 2007 and some of them have decided hops production was not the right crop for them and they have quit. But we have new growers coming on-line all the time and a few long-term growers are now expanding their operations.
There is a good market for hops but the commercial varieties of hops available to growers here are not particularly well-suited to our environment and latitude. Using commercially available varieties, our yields are about a quarter of what they are up north and diseases and insects are challenging to control. Successful NC hop growers have found creative ways to market their hops to bring the highest prices (necessary since our yields are so low). We have a hops breeding program underway to develop hop varieties specifically for the Southeast. In the meantime, the varieties Cascade, Chinook, and Nugget have been the most reliable.
Information on hop production in our region can be found on our NC Hops page.
Q: TRUFFLES. Will truffles grow in North Carolina?
A: Yes, truffles will grow in North Carolina! Truffles are a highly prized, edible fungus that grows in association with the roots of several species of trees. In North Carolina, filberts are often used as the host tree. Roots of filbert seedlings are inoculated with the fungus and the young trees are planted in an orchard. Oaks can also be used, but they take much longer to produce truffles than do the filberts.
Truffles need a temperate environment where freezing temperatures occur but not where the ground freezes solid. The soil must have a pH of 7.9 to 8.1 for truffle fruiting to occur. Because soils in North Carolina are naturally acidic, they must be heavily limed to slowly raise the pH. A good site for a truffle orchard should also be well drained and irrigated. Once the trees are planted, the orchards are often maintained with light cultivation several times per year. An organic mulch or polypropylene landscape fabric has proved helpful for many during the first few years to keep down weeds, retain soil moisture, and moderate soil temperatures. The first truffles should appear on filberts about the seventh year after planting (but could take up to nine years or more). They are usually a few inches deep in the soil and dogs can be trained to find them during the winter and early spring.
At this time we know that truffles can be grown in North Carolina, but because we don’t have good figures on yields, we don’t know how profitable they might be. Also, there are still times when all the best practices are followed, yet truffles don’t grow. Thus, truffles should be considered a high-risk crop. More information can be found on our truffle page.
Commercial Sources of Truffle Inoculated Seedlings and Additional Information
Garland Gourmet Mushrooms and Truffles
I consider this company the “father of US truffle production”. They are a North Carolina based company that sells inoculated seedlings and offers workshops and consultation services. Their website is: http://www.garlandtruffles.com/.
New World Truffieres, Inc.
This is a company in Oregon. In addition to selling truffle inoculated trees, they have an informative website. It explains orchard management, soil pH, etc. Check it out at http://www.truffletree.com/
This is a relatively new company located in western North Carolina. We are working with them on a reinoculation technique. Their website is: http://www.carolinatruffieres.com/
North American Truffle Growers Association
This association holds a winter conference and summer meeting in North Carolina or Virginia. Their events are great places to network with other growers and hear from professionals from around the world. http://www.trufflegrowers.com.
Taming the Truffle by Ian A. Hall, Gordon T. Brown and Alessandra Zambonelli. Published in 2007 by Timber Press.
Q: GREENHOUSE HERBS. Can herbs be grown in a greenhouse for wholesale sales and where can I learn more about that?
A: Herbs can be grown in a greenhouse. There are several ways to do this. Herbs can be grown for sale as transplants or plugs (to sell to other commercial growers who want to “grow them out” or as potted plants for nursery to home gardeners; they can be culinary or medicinal. Herbs can also be grown for cutting to sell as “fresh-cut herbs”; those would be culinary herbs. You would need to determine which you wanted to do and where you have a market for them. There are a few good publications on greenhouse herbs. Here are a few:
Organic Greenhouse Herb Production: https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=53
Nutrient Management in Organic Greenhouse Herb Production: http://horttech.ashspublications.org/content/17/4/461.full
Q: CHINESE MEDICINAL HERBS. I am considering growing Chinese medicinal herbs on a small commercial scale but I’m having trouble finding seeds. Can you tell me where to buy them?
A: The two sources I know of with good selection are:
- Strictly Medicinals in Oregon: https://strictlymedicinalseeds.com/
- Mountain Gardens in North Carolina: http://mountaingardensherbs.com
Q: WASABI. Where can I buy wasabi plants to start a commercial wasabi operation?A:
The sources I know of for wasabi plants are:
- Mountain Gardens, NC – http://mountaingardensherbs.com
- Pacific Coast Wasabi, in British Columbia, Canada – http://www.wasabia.com/index.php
- Richter’s in Canada – http://www.richters.com/
Q: MALTING BARLEY. Can we grow malting barley in western North Carolina? What is malting?
A: The faculty in the Soil and Crop Sciences Department assure me that we can grow good barley around here. Years ago, I guess everyone grew it. The issue is the malting process. If you are a home brewer and want to grow and malt a little barley for yourself, that can be done. Information on varieties, planting dates, etc. can be found in this NC State University small grains guide: http://www.smallgrains.ncsu.edu/NCSmallGrains/Home.html. This YouTube video shows you how to malt the barley at home: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HauYECAEQ8I.
Growing malting barley on a commercial scale is more of a challenge, but we have several malt houses in North Carolina that are supporting growers in the Carolinas in growing it.
Here is a Canadian article that takes you all the way from field prep to stored product:
Q: RICHLEA LENTILS. I was approached about growing Richlea lentils. What are they and can I grow them in eastern North Carolina? I’ve never seen lentils growing around here. Do you know why?
A: The Richlea is a very desirable lentil. It is a medium green lentil. I used to live in the heart of lentil and dry pea country in the Palouse region of Washington State. I was surrounded by lentils!
Here is some general lentil production information: http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/afcm/lentil.html
(The companies and links mentioned on this page are just ones I am familiar with. If you would like your company listed on this page, please contact the author).
Jeanine Davis, NC Alternative Crops & Organics Program, Department of Horticultural Science, NC State University (updated 6/21/2022).