Wednesday, October 31, 2018

MINT... container plant or crop?

Aromatic spearmint and peppermint (both herbs in the genus Mentha) are personal favorites; flavoring in the form of oil or extract will transform plain salt water taffy into a magical sweet treat!  Either oil or extract can be used to flavor icing for cookies or cakes, or you could add a few drops to vanilla ice cream and milk for a frosty, cold milk shake. 

In the confectionery industry mint “natural flavor” is a component used often in hard candies and chewing gum.  It is utilized heavily by pharmaceutical companies in toothpaste and mouthwash, as well.  Who supplies these industries with all the flavoring extracts needed?

Mint is grown as a crop, here in our home state of Wisconsin… what a surprise!

Having lived in Wisconsin most of my life, I’m aware of corn and soy bean fields as I travel through our State.  Cranberry marshes, cherry and apple orchards are prevalent in certain areas, while cabbages, peas, potatoes and other veggies grow well here too.  
Our growing season is long enough to support all these crops, but learning that Wisconsin ranks No. 5 in the nation for mint oil production… amazing!  Mint also adds some diversity to the Wisconsin agricultural scene.

The publication Growing Wisconsin (2018-2019 edition) from our Wisconsin Dept of Agriculture provides interesting data about the mint crop harvested each year:
80,000 acres of mint are cultivated in the USA every year
Mint farmers can expect 50 – 60 pounds of oil per acre planted
Mint fields must be rotated periodically to prevent contracting verticillium wilt (the same soil-borne fungal disease that can kill sugar maple trees)
Harvest of mint takes place during JULY/AUG when it is cut and dried in the field
Processing mint includes two hours of distillation, which extracts desirable oils

Although some Wisconsin farmers choose mint as a specialty crop, I prefer to grow spearmint as a container plant.  I use it as a trailing plant along with potted flowers in a large container; mint roots and stolons are tenacious and need space! 

NOTE:  I suggest you refrain from planting mint in the ground… unless you wish to produce an entire crop of mint!  It spreads aggressively; be cautious!

M. Lynn Schmid,   Certified Master Gardener
A.A.S. Landscape/Horticulture/Arboriculture