This year I decided to apply for my nursery permit so I could sell perennial plants at the farmers markets. There wasn’t a whole lot of information online about the inspection process other than contact info and fees. Since some of our growing practices are a little unconventional, I honestly wasn’t entirely sure we’d pass.
Luckily our inspector was an exceptionally nice woman who coached me through the process and helped educate me on the concerns. I not only passed inspection, but learned a lot too. Hence the blog title…nursery school!
In North Carolina, for a nursery under an acre in size (as in size of the area used for storing, growing, and potting your plants not total property area), the license fee is $20 per year. After the initial inspection, you only need to be re-inspected every three years. As our inspector explained, there a few particular hazards she looks out for, but generally she is interested in seeing that the potted plants are healthy and mostly weed free. She was very open to the use of unconventional practices and enjoyed seeing some of the unusual things we are doing here.
Other than good basic potting practices, inspectors are specifically looking for items regulated and posted on the National Plant Board website. The regulations vary by state. They include things like classes of noxious weeds and invasive pests. Class A weeds are forbidden state-wide, Class B weeds are regulated by county, and Class C weeds are kind of like a watch list. The pests are of the varieties that can devastate agricultural production, like the Sweet Potato Weevil for North Carolina since we are a major grower of sweet potatoes. They also include pests that can devastate native ecosystems like the gypsy moth.
I had reservations about getting my plant license initially because I don’t want to spend a lot of time on administrative work. I am also trying to limit my dependence on money so avoiding standing fees is important. But, this process was quite simple.
I sent an email to the state agricultural office requesting an inspection. Our inspector called me and set up an appointment. She answered my questions on the phone and even gave me some pointers while she was here. I potted up about forty plants in advance of the inspection so she could see my potted plants. When she arrived, we walked around and I showed her the areas I harvest seedlings from, my green house, and a space in my garden for storing the potted plants. She filled out the application paperwork, took my check, and gave me a receipt which I can use as a temporary license until my real one comes by mail in a couple weeks. She said I’ll get an invoice each year and will be contacted for an inspection every three years.
Most of the regulated plants aren’t growing on our property. Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare), though, is pretty prevalent on our property and there are several look-a-likes listed on the regulated invasives list. Our inspector suggested that discouraging thistles of that nature was probably a good idea as a precaution. Personally, I find it beautiful. But I use it as a chop and drop mulch before it flowers because as much as I enjoy its benefit to pollinators, I don’t like to pick the thorns out of mine or our animals’ feet if I can avoid it.
In nature thistles act as a mineral accumulators and also have large leaves that die back and return those minerals to the topsoil. They are also an important pollinator and bird (golden finch) food source. We need lots of plants like that. But I have been trying to encourage varieties of cardoon as an alternative since it fills the same niche and has other edible benefits, without being quite so prickly. Cardoon is also stunning as part of an edible landscape. The flowers are electric purple and attract a lot of attention in bouquets at the farmers market.
If requiring an inspection at a cost of $20 slows or stops the spread of detrimental weeds and pests, then I am happy to pay it. And $20 for the permitting process seems fair given the potential income from selling potted plants.
As an aside, that’s my dad shown in the photo above. He’s not a big fan of hanging out at the farmers market. After his stroke, he feels awkward about making conversation with strangers when he knows his words don’t come out right. But still, he supports me. And today when the inspector was here, he introduced himself as Dad Mike and attempted small talk. I take his surprise attempt at participating in the process as a sign that selling plants is a good thing for me to do. Even without his language skills, he’s still a very intuitive person. And he always seems to know when something important is going on and comes to support me.