Sarah Heath is no stranger to bouncing back from adversity.
When the COVID pandemic hit, the owner of Burpengary’s Basilea Living Herbs and Edible Flowers and culinary herb educator lost a huge chunk of her business overnight.
Half of her business is supplying potted herbs and edible flowers to retail outlets such as green grocers across the region. Cafes, restaurants and bars make up the rest.
“Every one of those cafes and restaurants, except two, cancelled or closed their doors. The garnish on top doesn’t look as good in a takeaway box.”
But Sarah quickly found a solution and rebuilt, growing an online and farmgate business, as well as boosting sales at retail outlets as lockdowns saw people turn to growing their own produce at home.
“It was very easy to be able to pivot back to just seedlings,” she says.
And when February’s disastrous weather swept through the region the excess water played havoc with her herb germination and seedlings, with many rotting away.
“It was a bit hit and miss with excess water,” Sarah says.
“We’re working through the last of the rain-damaged seedlings now.”
The custom from cafes, restaurants and bars is flourishing once again and Sarah’s no longer taking online orders for weekly farmgate collection.
Instead, pots of herby goodness can be bought from shops across the region, Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast or specific herbs can be ordered online and collected from various retail outlets – or bought direct from the farm at monthly open days.
There’s also been time to develop a new product line to celebrate the re-opening of restaurants and cafes.
“We’re producing kitchen cuts – trays of herbs delivered weekly that chefs can just snip the herbs from as they need,” Sarah explains.
“I collect the empty trays each week and replace them.
“There’s no waste – what’s left in the pots is composted and then I wash the pots and trays and reuse them.”
While she can make up trays of herbs to order, she encourages chefs to use the ‘farmer’s choice’, where they receive seasonal herbs.
It’s the same for retail customers and Sarah says home gardeners should embrace their seedlings’ growth and forgive Mother Nature for taking her share of produce.
“I always say plant something you don’t want because if you only plant what you want to eat, the bugs will eat that,” Sarah chuckles.
“I call them sacrificial plants.
“I plant in crops of three – one for you, one for me and one for country.”
And she says not to be afraid to eat plants that have tempted the tastebuds of caterpillars.
“Wash the caterpillars off – and remember there’s no calories in the holes.”
Sarah will be sharing her wisdom at the Queensland Garden Expo at Nambour next month.
“We’re going to talk herb harvesting because I have seen some shocking things out there,” she laughs.
“Neglect is one of them – people not wanting to cut their herbs – fearing that if they cut their herbs they won’t come back.
“And old-fashioned myths like cutting your basil flowers off. People don’t understand why that’s done.
“If you want seeds to grow next year, maybe taking the flowers of is not a good idea.
“And if people have a hearted plant (such as lettuce), and they cut out the heart. Then you get bitter leaves.
“If the outside ones are taken and the middle keeps growing, you’re building up the plant.”
Sarah will also be talking about nutrition retention in soil and why it’s fundamental to growing healthy herbs, and herby snacks, based on what she puts in the lunchboxes of her three children.
The Queensland Garden Expo is on at the Nambour Showgrounds on July 8, 9 and 10.
If you can’t make the show, Sarah runs regular workshops talking about subjects such as propagation and hydroponics.
Gates open at 8am daily, closing at 5pm on Friday and Saturday and 4pm on Sunday.
Tickets are $20 for adults, with entry for children 15 and under free. Two-day weekend passes are $35 and three-day passes are $50. Buy tickets here.