Agripreneur 101: Grow your own herbs hydroponically

Horticulturalist and agripreneur Basil Williams has more than two decades of farming experience. His business, Herbal View Hydroponics, supplies fresh and dried herbs to local retailers but channels most of its produce into his own line of products

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When Basil Williams first started farming with herbs, he used a small space in his parents’ backyard in Kylemore in the Western Cape. Now, his one-hectare farm in Stellenbosch employs six people and produces around three tonnes of herbs a month.

While many businesses experienced the dire consequences of Covid-19, Williams’ business, Herbal View Hydroponics, was able to grow.

Williams tells Food For Mzansi that, in the last few years, the slowing economy had already pushed him to think about ways to move into agro-processing. With the pandemic limiting his access to his regular market, he had to get creative about diversifying his farming operation so he could stay sustainable.

Through Herbal View, Williams supplies fresh and dried herbs like sweet basil, rocket, coriander, chives and oregano to retailers.

The focus of the business is now more agro-processing than supplying, and most of the three tonnes of herbs his company produces a month are channelled into his own line of products.

Those products are pesto, salt-blended herbs and herb-blended olive oil.

Herbal View Hydroponics directors, Basil Williams and Caroline Williams (sister), exhibiting at the annual South African Cheese Festival. Photo: Supplied/Food for Mzansi.
Herbal View Hydroponics directors Basil Williams and Caroline Williams (sister), exhibiting at the annual South African Cheese Festival. Photo: Supplied/Food for Mzansi

Williams says that the pandemic made people keen to support local businesses through tough times. This is what he wanted to tap into when he became more creative around marketing his herbal products.

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Herbal View launched an online order system, and soon, people in the Western Cape will be seeing their products on the shelves of their local retailers.

ALSO READ: Herb entrepreneur diversifies, grows through pandemic

For Williams, agro-processing can also help poor communities in their fight against poverty. Williams is involved in the setup of a community processing plant in Kylemore, which was created to support up-and-coming farmers in the area, and to encourage them towards agro-processing. Food For Mzansi asked Williams to share some practical tips for new farmers inspired by his journey.

Your most important assets?

“Knowledge and experience are the most important assets when it comes to hydroponics and growing herbs. It is a very diversified crop and you as a grower need to understand all the needs of the crops. [You also need to understand] the tunnel and greenhouse climate, as well as the temperature and humidity controls.”

Don’t forget about the basics

“Pest control and disease control is important. So is fertigation and irrigation. Also remember the importance of production management in the processing sector when mapping out your business.”

The key to success

The key ingredient in agripreneurship stays the same regardless of the stream you are in. “It requires your passion and your love for what you do.”

Your market must be hungry

“You need a well-established and demanding market supply because herbs have a very fast growth reaction in intensive growing conditions. That gives you the advantage of harvesting every day inside the controlled environments of tunnels and greenhouses.”

Herbs are a quick-cash turnover crop. From four to six weeks after sowing and planting you can harvest and deliver to markets.

ALSO READ: Hydroponics: Here’s what you need to know

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