I'll be honest. Until about four years ago, I didn't like goats.
Maybe it started in my younger Catholic school days with that Biblical passage about the shepherd separating the “good” sheep from the “wicked” goats Or maybe it was their weird eyes. Whatever the reason, I just didn’t like them. I always dreamed that once I had my farm, I would raise a few sheep, sheer them, spin the wool, and make a blanket or two. So raising goats never even crossed my mind.
But our new farm came with a couple of goats, which we renamed Laverne and Shirley, so I was going to have to be OK with them. Laverne was a brown and white Boer/Toggenburg mix and Shirley was a brown and white Boer with floppy ears. I was a little nervous the first time I walked into the barn to meet them, what with all of my goat preconceptions floating around in my head. I thought they would be standoffish and creepy and maybe even mean. But instead they were curious and friendly...and funny. Especially Laverne, who boldly walked up and looked me straight in the eye, with her big beautiful weird eyes, as if she were trying to figure out if we would be friends or not. After a few minutes, she got so excited that she literally bounced off of the walls of her stall a few times. So I took that as a “yes, we will be friends.” Shirley, on the other hand, stood quietly behind Laverne and nervously looked at us, not sure what to make of these new humans who had suddenly appeared. After just a few minutes with those two, I was more than OK with them -- I was smitten! And I was ready to embrace my new role as goat owner.
Our first goal as goat-owners was to get Laverne and Shirley out into the field to enjoy the sunshine, eat some fresh grass, and do a little clean-up (goats like to eat blackberry bushes, which we have an abundance of). So after getting some pointers from my brother John and doing a little research online, I put together my shopping list and headed off to the local feed store to get my goat supplies. A box of goat treats, two red collars, and a long lead later, and I was ready. That afternoon, we put the red collars on them, leashed them up, and took them for their first “walk” out into the field. But a few minutes in, Shirley got spooked and bolted, almost choking herself, so we nervously took the leads off, thinking it would be safer without them. We were ready to tackle one or both of the goats should they make a break for it -- but they didn’t. Instead they followed us wherever we went, nibbling on dandelions and blackberry bushes and wagging their little tails along the way. If we walked over to the trees, they followed us. If we walked to the road, they followed us. And sweet little Shirley, and her cute floppy ears, was bouncing around with pure happiness. At that point, I was too.
So I got two more. Little Alpine babies this time named Opal and Emmylou. We got to bottle feed them for a short time, so I became “mama” to them and they became my babies. Watching their little tails wag at warp speed when they were sucking down that bottle of milk was one of the most wonderful things I’d ever seen. Even now that they’re older, they greet me with nose nuzzles and wagging tails and if I dare to sit down, they try to sit in my lap.
Now I was told that goats don’t like to eat lavender, but Emmylou and Opal anyway have proven that to be a lie. They like the taste of lavender very much. I tried to tempt them with Douglas Fir branches or dandelions, but they kept going back to the lavender. So we built a nice big “goat run” right off of the barn so that our poor little plants had a chance. In the winter though, when the lavender isn’t blooming, I let them out to run around in the big field and let them take a few nibbles.
There is still so much to learn about these wonderful creatures, but I’m looking forward to the challenge. Because goats are awesome! How can anyone not love them?!
One of the little joys of living on this farm (besides growing lavender of course!) is going out to the chicken coop in the morning to retrieve our breakfast. The happy clucking of our chickens as they scratch around their fenced enclosure, or the proud announcement that they have just laid an egg help to make our farm the wonderful place it is. Not only that, (and this might surprise you) but those chickens have quite distinct personalities. For example, the youngest chickens I have right now remind me of a bunch of rebellious teenage girls -- they all stick together, they’re always pushing boundaries (they lay their eggs all over the barn!), and they love to annoy their goat siblings. One of them even keeps trying to lay her eggs in the goat’s hay feeder, which the goats are not happy about at all!
Over my years as a “chicken mama,” one chicken in particular, a little Rhode Island Red named Lucy, was particularly memorable -- because this chicken thought she was a dog. Early on, I knew she was different. Though she had a nice large garden area to wander around in, that wasn’t enough for her, and she would fly up on top of the garden fence, hop over, and wander around the rest of the property.
Now one of the reasons I had put that chicken fence up was because we had a dog named Jake who didn’t understand that the chickens were not his dinner. I can’t fault him of course -- his natural instincts were just kicking in. But he had already killed a few of our chickens and although he had been scolded, I knew that he would kill more if given the opportunity. So up went the fence.
Lucy didn’t understand that of course. She was a very friendly chicken and just wanted to be with everyone else, especially me. In fact whenever I came outside, she would run up to me and squat down so that I could pet her. So to try to keep her safe, whenever I saw her out, I would go outside and pick her up, tell her in no uncertain terms that the fence was for her own protection and put her back in her enclosure -- also talking to Jake to try to communicate that this chicken was off limits.
This went on for a while -- I’d see Lucy outside of the fence, go outside and pick her up and put her back in the garden enclosure. And Jake would look up at me, distressed, confused, and fighting so hard with his natural instincts, trying to leave that chicken alone. And then one day when I went outside, Lucy came out from under the deck (which was Jake’s special place), and at that point I knew we were in trouble, because Jake definitely did not appreciate the intrusion into his special spot, especially by a chicken that he wasn’t supposed to eat.
So I picked her up and put her back and knew her days were numbered. As you might guess, one day it was just too much for him, and we lost that funny little hen. But I never faulted Jakey. And I never forgot that hen.
This is something I’ve had to get used to -- losing animals. I don’t like that part. But I cherish every little life that has been entrusted to me, love their unique personalities, and am grateful for their gifts and the joy they bring to us all.
Spring is all about weeding and light pruning and planting (and replanting) and fixing. And waiting. Lots of waiting.
First the weeds. Even with a weed barrier, there is weeding to do. So we start with a good mowing, a thorough weed-whacking, and then the hands and knees fun of pulling weeds out of all the nooks and crannies that weeds get themselves into, often growing up through the lavender plant itself. While I’m down there, I will work in a little compost and lime around my plants, only because our soil has a lot of clay in it. This is also the time where I will do some light pruning to remove any dead parts of the plant or reshape. Pruning also stimulated the plant to start growing, so that's an added bonus!
As I'm weeding and pruning, I will also identify plants that didn’t survive the winter. Thankfully, because we live in a mild climate and because lavender is so hardy, it’s usually not too many. How can I tell? Quite honestly, sometimes it’s kinda tough because lavender in its dormant stage looks pretty dead. But if I see a plant that doesn’t have any new growth on it, or if a plant only has new growth on a small part of it, then I will yank it out and replace it with a new plant. I think the first year I did this I was a little over zealous and pulled out plants that might have survived with a little pruning and patience. But these are the lessons you learn along the way.
Spring is also the time where I plant new rows of lavender. Every year I tell myself that I have enough lavender and that I don’t need anymore. But then I hear about a new variety or decide I want to change up the color a little or I’m not happy with the performance of a particular lavender variety (I’m looking at you Impress Purple) and I will add to or replace a row. Yes, this year I will cut back on the Impress Purple and replace it with more Grosso. And I’m adding just a few rows of Riverina Thomas. Oh, and just one row of Arctic Snow -- a white lavender!
Finally, once this is all done, I check the irrigation (which we only use occasionally) and replace the 10 million emitters that need to be replaced because they’re either clogged or got whacked by the weed whacker. And there are probably a few hoses that got mangled by the lawn mower. And some of the weed cloth probably needs to be stapled down a little better. And the field signs probably need some touch up.
During this time, the lavender has been reawakening. We see the leaves start to green up in April and May and then the little lavender heads start to peek out from the greenery, eager to take center stage. As they continue to reach skyward, their stems and heads are floppy and flimsy, but toward the middle of June they start to get stronger so that by the end of June the Angustifolias are ready to be harvested, with the intermedias a few weeks behind. I appreciate this and applaud my wisdom in having a few different varieties that bloom at different times to help me out. Because if I had 900 lavender plants all blooming at the same time, well, I might not be so enthusiastic about lavender farming.
So Spring is a busy time indeed...but soon it will be even busier!
Two and a half years ago, Mark and I landed in this beautiful place called Oregon. We started our time here in a rental in the Tigard area while we looked for our new home, and on a snowy day in January, I started dreaming of what the future could look like in our new home and then shared it with you here (“Chasing Dreams and Letting Go”). Here’s what I said:
My dream is to have five or so acres, with a few acres of different varieties of lavender, as well as keep bees, plant a big organic garden, maybe host a few events, and eventually have some guest cottages.
A lot has happened between then and now, but I am happy to report that many of the items on that dream list have come true, with a few adjustments:
The only thing left on the list is getting some beehives. I’d better get to it!
One of the reasons we love lavender is that it is not a fussy, demanding plant. However, there are a few things that we can do to make our lavenders happy, and amending our soil is one of those things. There are a few reasons to amend the soil around your lavender plant: 1) creating favorable soil texture, 2) balancing pH levels, and 3) adding nutrients.
Creating Favorable Soil Texture
Soil texture is an important consideration in lavender health. While the ideal soil texture for lavender plants is loose, sandy loam which contains large particles for air and water to move through, it is possible to amend your soil to create a favorable environment for your lavender plants. Of course, what you will add to your soil depends upon the type of soil that you are wanting to amend. If your soil already is loose and allows for the movement of air and water, then you may not need to amend at all. However, if your soil is heavy and clay-like, it would be important to amend your soil to help create more space for your lavender roots to extend. There are several ways to amend:
Balancing pH levels
Soil pH “measures how many hydrogen ions are affecting plant roots. The more hydrogen ions in the soil, the more acidic the soil will be” (Bader 116). The pH scale runs from acidic (pH of 0-6) and alkaline (pH of 8-14). Different plants require different soil pH but Lavender plants happen to thrive right in the middle, in a neutral pH soil of 7. To test the pH of your soil, use a pH test kit to help you to determine how to amend your soil in order to achieve that neutral pH.
Lavender doesn’t need much fertilizer to thrive, but you can add specific kinds of fertilizer to the soil to achieve specific objectives:
Source: Sarah Berringer Bader’s The Lavender Lover’s Handbook
We all know how beautiful lavender is and how good it smells, but lavender is beneficial to the garden in many other ways as well. Here are a few:
In addition to the benefits to your garden, lavender has many uses in your home:
With over 450 varieties of lavender, you are sure to find the right plant for your garden. Below are some good resources to help you choose the lavender that is right for you!
The Lavender Lovers Handbook by Sarah Bader
Lavender: The Grower's Guide by Virginia McNaughton
US Lavender Growers Association
Oregon Lavender Association
The Portland Nursery
I am happy to announce that Little Lavender Farm Products are now available at Red Ridge Farms in Dayton Oregon! And what a wonderful circle we have circumnavigated to get to this point.
Exactly two years ago, on July 20, 2016, Mark and I began our "Great Oregon Lavender Adventure" to visit and learn from the lavender farmers in the area as we were building Little Lavender Farm in San Diego. Our first stop just happened to be Red Ridge Farms, where we stayed for 3 days in the beautiful guest apartment above their gift shop. That first day, as we pulled into the driveway at Red Ridge, (again, exactly two years ago) I remember looking around at the grounds, with the vineyards in the distance, the lavender field surrounded by beautiful trees and flowers, their knot garden, olive groves, the wisteria vine draping over a giant arbor, and the expansive view of the valley below -- and thinking that this was the closest thing to heaven I’d ever seen.
We had no idea at the time, not even an inkling, that just a few short months later, we would be relocating to Oregon. We had no idea as we explored the Willamette Valley, that this would soon become our playground. We had no idea as we drove through the town of Dundee that our future friends and neighbors were waiting for us. I couldn’t even imagine a life where Red Ridge Farms would be the place we would take our visitors, that this place would be such a special and constant part of our lives. That seemed just too much to ask for -- too big a dream. But when the opportunity to make this a reality presented itself, we said a prayer (or 20), took a chance and jumped right in.
So today, when I drove the 7 minutes from my house to Red Ridge, walked into the gift shop, said hello to the owner, Penny Durant, and saw my products displayed for sale in their gift shop, my heart was so full of gratitude for this community, the wonderful people that live here, and the support and encouragement we have received from from so many as we continue on our little lavender adventure.
Today I can say that sometimes dreams do come true. So don't ever be afraid to dream big, You just never know what might happen.
A few months back, at an Oregon Lavender Association meeting, Andy and Melissa Van Hevelingen were sharing their wisdom about all things lavender, as well as showing some varieties of lavender they had found on a recent trip to England -- one of which was an angustifolia called “Felice.”
Well, I had to have it. I mean really...what are the chances? My wonderful mom, Felice, was such a supporter my lavender growing endeavor (of all of my endeavors really), that it seemed fitting (and miraculous!) to have a field full of Felice lavender as a tribute to her, not only because of how supportive she was but also because, like lavender, she made the world a more beautiful place and she made those around her happy. But after looking online for a seller and realizing that this variety was only sold in Europe and couldn’t be shipped, I contacted Melissa Van Hevelingen about maybe, possibly buying any Felice that she could propagate from the plant she had brought back with her. She graciously said yes -- but cautioned that the Felice were turning out to be a little persnickety and she wasn’t sure how many, if any, would take. So I tried not to get my hopes up (but did anyway). And then a few weeks ago, after several months of crossed fingers and silent prayers, Melissa delivered five beautiful Felice lavender to me and I couldn’t be happier. (Thank you Melissa!) I am hoping that eventually those five will turn into fifty so that I can have my field of Felice, but for now I am thrilled with those five.
But what do I do with five? They have been in the greenhouse for a few weeks because I have been struggling to figure out the perfect place for them. Should I go ahead put them out in the field with the hope of adding to their number? Should I create a little memorial garden for Mom on the side yard? Should I plant them on the hill with the fruit trees? Nothing seemed quite right.
And then a few days ago, I was harvesting some very happy, healthy lavenders that are planted by the front patio overlooking our lavender fields. This is where we entertain our friends while looking at the beautiful view of the mountains, and where we drink our morning coffee as we watch the hot air balloons go up with the sun. This is where we sit in our Adirondack chairs and sip a glass of wine after a long day and watch the sky light up from the sunset. This is where we watch the fall colors, and catch snowflakes, and pick blackberries and listen to the birds. This is where some of the best parts of our life happen And I knew that was exactly where the Felice lavender should go -- not off in a field or in some quiet memorial garden, but right in the middle of everything, right there in the middle of our lives, as Mom always was.
So this weekend, I will move the lavender that is already there and plant the Felice lavender in its place. I know it’s not the same as having Mom here again, but just maybe, when I’m sitting on the patio enjoying the day and accompanied by that beautiful purple Felice lavender, she will feel a little closer.
Well, Summer is over and as I sit inside on a rainy Fall day here in Dundee, Oregon, fire blazing, my heart is full of gratitude for this place and for a productive summer full of dreaming, planning, learning, tilling, planting, harvesting, and pruning.
May was all about the planning -- and waiting for the rain to stop for a few days so that the earth could dry out. We spent many a soggy afternoon walking our property, measuring possible rows, using stakes and twine to help us visualize and then draw up a little map of the space we imagined, complete with areas for picnic tables, hammocks, Adirondack chairs and a farmstand. In the meantime, I also researched which varieties of lavender would work best for what we wanted to do and contacted several growers in the area, hoping they might have some plants to sell me.
On a sunny summer day in Dayton Oregon at Red Ridge Farms, I and a group of 40 or so women set about making our very own lavender wreaths. Maybe you’ve seen them in gift shops or home furnishing stores -- those often expensive, wispy bursts of purple sunshine that transport you to a softer, simpler existence. But they aren’t difficult to make and can be easily and cheaply done in a few hours using lavender or any number of plants/herbs/tree branches from your own yard. If you’re interested, here’s a step by step of how to make your own lavender wreath (although most of the same principles apply to any other kind of wreath making).
Hello! My name is Pam Reynolds Baker and I am a mom/wife, English teacher, writer, and lavender farmer who lives in Dundee Oregon .