Last weekend, after making modifications to our design, we made another attempt at distillation. Mark attached a separate hose to the top of the pressure cooker and also modified the coiled copper cooling section so that gravity could help pull the the steam and resulting distillate through to the funnel. The modifications worked beautifully -- the attached hose and copper coiling quickly brought the distillate into the funnel and we could see a thin layer of oil forming on the top. But as we were emptying the funnel, the oil layer got smaller and smaller and finally disappeared altogether. We were perplexed so I read as much as I could find online and I think there might be a few issues going on here:
I would also like to replace the radiator hose coming from the pressure cooker with a copper hose -- and Mark wants to modify the hose to be more of a funnel shape as well
After a week of torrential rain, today was cool and sunny -- and our first official harvest day. Probably an unusually late date for a lavender harvest, but that’s lavender farming in San Diego county. In addition to harvesting the lavender, we also attempted essential oil distillation for the first time and I attempted pruning for the second time. Though we made some progress, both need to be improved.
After months of back and forth with Hilary the bee girl (The Girl Next Door Honey) and trying to schedule a good day to get our bees, they have arrived! At 8:30 Friday night, Hilary drove up in her white Prius, filled with bee supplies and two bee hives, and the first thing she said as she walked up was…”we have a bit of a problem.” Not the first thing I’d necessarily want to hear from the bee expert, but OK. Apparently she had what she called a “bee leak.” Bees had escaped and had clumped onto the side of their hive. In her car. While she was driving.
First of all, I can’t believe that she had driven almost an hour to get to my house from Imperial Beach (where the hive had been residing) with two hives in her back seat -- but with a leak too! This woman is made of steel...my admiration for her as a badass beekeeper has skyrocketed.
2:00 in the morning and we hear a commotion outside. Thinking it’s a cat we start to doze off again only to be immediately startled back to consciousness by the unmistakeable sound of turmoil in the chicken coop. Grabbing a flashlight and the dogs, Mark and I run outside and see the chicken coop literally shaking, chickens screaming, dogs barking, and then stillness. The dogs continue to bark and we quickly go to the front of the coop and see a chicken huddled in the corner. After shining our flashlights around and seeing nothing, we go into the garden to the back of the coop and see a lifeless pile of chickens laid out by the watering trough. As we shine our lights on each chicken I am struck by the lack of blood -- nothing except a small trickle from one.
Five hens in that pile. One hen left unscathed. My little brood is destroyed. Sadness engulfs me. I am strangely attached to these little birds. But then as I am starting to turn, I see one of the fallen hen’s chests still moving, still breathing, and a faint glimmer of hope stirs. I look closer. Maybe. Just maybe I will have 2. I can’t bring myself to clean up what has happened just yet, deciding to wait until the morning, and as I fall asleep I send up a little prayer for two live chickens.
We have been hit by coyotes, but we interrupted their hunt, so they leave with nothing. A little later, as I am falling asleep, I hear them howl, having finally found their dinner.
After 3 long hot humid weeks, we made it through having lost only 4 plants -- 2 Sweets and 2 of the new Hidcote Blue. I had read that Hidcote Blue (a true lavender) wasn’t as resilient as the hybrids, but they were young plants and it was exceptionally humid for the inland San Diego area, so I still have high hopes for the culinary plants. The Grossos are really taking off now with lots of long, beautiful stems and more on the way. And the plants themselves are showing lots of new growth.
I’ve learned a few things over these last months about watering the lavenders. I had read so much about not over watering them and root rot and wet feet -- that I may have gone a little too much to the other extreme. Even during the hottest time I was only watering them once a week. As I was trimming the Sweets however, I noticed more and more stunted and dull blossoms at the same time that I was wondering what in the world was taking the Grossos so long. Well, once we started watering them 2-3 times per week, the blossoms started back up and the bees were happy again. The new field is slowly growing -- again I think the combination of the mud flow and the subsequent hot weather (not to mention the 4 trees Mark and I had to take down and the branches that were falling all over them) may have slowed them down a little, but the hillside is starting to look just a little green now.
(One side note and photo. The cactus in our backyard really put on a show last week -- the big beautiful white blossoms were stunning, if short-lived. They are pretty much gone now -- I (and the bees) enjoyed them while they were here.
On the soap front...we had some delays in getting started but Lauren is rolling now! We’ve got 2 big batches made so we’re just waiting for them to cure. Once the soap is ready I will open the storefront. I will be selling primarily the oatmeal lavender soap and oatmeal rose geranium soaps -- using things we grow -- but Lauren has got some wonderful ideas for her own line and I’m very excited to see what she makes.
Here’s another recipe:
Lavender Lemon Bars (Adapted from the UC Davis Cookbook)
Mix flour and powdered sugar and then mix with butter. Press into bottom of greased 9x13 pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until lightly browned
Mix ingredients together. Pour over baked crust. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 min or until set and slightly browned around the edges. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar and cut into bars. Try not to eat the whole thing.
Saturday was our launch of Lauren’s soaps and they were a hit! Especially the lavender oatmeal soaps, which sold out. Looks like Lauren will be busy this week making more soap. I also finished a few of the eye pillows (little satin rectangles filled with flax seed, rice and lavender), which are just wonderful. I’m excited to share these as well and am working to release our store front within the next few weeks.
On the lavender front, the 6 new rows are in -- 3 of Grosso and 3 of Hidcote Giant. Right after we planted the grosso, we had one heck of a rainstorm, complete with some mild mud flows that covered up about a quarter of the new Grossos. Mark and I were able to dig them out the next morning so we only lost 3 plants. This has been an unusually humid summer and I know lavenders don’t like that, so I’m just hoping they all survive.
I have also started a small culinary field in my garden, planting a few small rows of Hidcote and Munstead to start and then adding plants as I clear out more area. I’m really excited about the culinary front because I’ve been collecting recipes. I made gluten-free lemon lavender shortbread with grosso buds (my own recipe) and it was delicious! So delicious, in fact, that my son Noah wolfed them down without any comment about either "gluten-free" or "lavender." The recipe is below if you're interested. I imagine it will be even better when I use culinary lavender. Lemon lavender bars are next!
Gluten-free lemon lavender sandies
Blend butter, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, lavender until smooth. Add flour. Beat until dough forms. Refrigerate for one hour. Roll into balls and bake at 325 for about 20 min. Roll in powdered sugar.
Note: this can obviously be made with regular ol' flour as well...just wanted to try the gluten free version myself.
After a slow start (missing permits and rain) we’ve been to two farmers markets, one in Bishop and one in Mammoth, and have done pretty well. We especially like the Bishop market -- it takes place in the park amongst trees. I actually really enjoyed both markets. I love talking with people and watching people's faces light up as they come over to smell our sachets and bunches. (I think I may have given away as many sachets as I sold.) And I really liked being there with Lauren -- she has a very good natural marketing sense. So far the biggest sellers have been the sachets, with everything else selling about the same. I’m really excited to see how the soap does!
And as for soap...Lauren has settled on the 100% coconut oil soap. It is really nice, not drying and good lather. So hopefully we will get a few batches made soon. I tried the hot process soap in the crock pot and really enjoyed making it, smelly as it was. I think it turned out OK, though not as good as Lauren's soaps.
This has been a fairly productive week:
Lauren and I made our first batch of soap on Tuesday, just a plain recipe with no add-ins so that we could experience the basic process. It turned out great -- cut nicely and is curing on top of the hutch. Lauren took over on Sunday with our second batch -- a smaller batch with ground lavender buds as add-ins. It looked and smelled beautiful and I can’t wait till we get to cut it. We are also thinking about trying hot processed soap so that we can use it more quickly -- there isn’t the same curing time with HP soap.
I bought 16 Sweet Lavender plants-- as well as some rose geraniums from Pearson and then ordered 126 Grosso plugs from Mountain Valley Growers for our next field. I’m not sure when the plugs will get here but hopefully soon! I'm ready to plant!
Lauren and I checked out the Bishop Farmers Market on Saturday. It’s a very small market which I think is perfect for us right now and feels less intimidating than some of the larger San Diego markets. I was able to meet our contact, Sue, who showed me where we would be setting up. Our first Saturday will be next week on July 4th! Independence Day! That seems very appropriate somehow.
Although I had originally bought a soap-making class from Sarah at the Keys Creek Lavender Farm for Lauren and I to attend, Lauren was off on a hike so thankfully my sister Stephanie was able to attend and we had a wonderful day on Saturday learning how to make soap. I got there early because I love that place and because they are now closed to the public except for private events (like soap making classes) -- more on that later. Though I’m not usually a front row kind of student, this time I decided I would sit right up front so that I could take good notes and get some good pictures since this was more of a demonstration than a hands-on class. However, once the class started, Sarah asked if anyone would like to come up to be her helper and my hand shot straight up -- so I was able to watch the process up close and even help with some of the measuring and stirring. She eventually brought everyone up to help with the stirring, but I felt very fortunate that I was able to participate in the process. Her soaps are all natural and smell heavenly -- and she was a very funny, kind, and informative teacher. I would highly recommend the class for anyone just starting out in soap making.
During the lunch break, Steph and I decided to wander through the farm. We ran into into the owner of the farm, Alicia Wolff, who I’d had the good fortune to meet the last time we were here. She is a lovely woman and I was so happy to be able to talk with her again. We told her that we were there for the soap class, but had neglected to bring anything for the potluck lunch -- and she immediately went into her kitchen and grabbed a plate of sandwiches for the high tea scheduled later that afternoon so that we would have something to contribute (I told you she was a lovely woman). She then explained why she had closed the farm to the general public. Unfortunately, it had become a bit too popular, with busloads (sometimes up to 150 people at a time) descending upon her farm and then not respecting her request to not walk among the fields -- instead running through them, sometimes laying on them, and creating a great deal of cumulative damage. This year, she had to replant several fields because of the damage done by tourists and decided at that point that she needed to limit access. I completely understand her point of view -- this is a place that she loves and is her home, so of course she wants to protect it. But how sad to think that the disrespectful and inconsiderate actions of a few have taken this beautiful place away from so many.
Two big developments.
The first is that my daughter Lauren has joined me in this project. Lauren is a talented artist and cook -- she has already designed several beautiful logos for our little farm -- so beautiful in fact that I can't decide which to use! And her culinary interests and talents have emerged in her desire to learn how to make soaps (what is soap-making after all but a different kind of cooking?). I will start harvesting and making sachets, bouquets, wreaths, and therapeutic neck pillows. And Mark is researching the distilling process so that we can extract lavender oil as well! We have already secured a spot at the Mammoth Lakes Farmers Market this summer and hope to get into a small market in the San Diego area as well. It has been so much fun researching, planning and dreaming with Lauren.
The second bit of news is that we are doubling our lavender fields. We’ve started laying out our second field but haven’t yet decided what kind to grow. I’m leaning toward Grosso just because I love its smell -- but the Sweet stays blooming year round so that’s really nice. I wonder if, in this climate, we could keep the Grosso blooming all year. Or maybe we should switch it up and plant Royal Velvet or Provence? We hope to have the field in within the next few weeks to get the little plants established before the summer heat hits. I will post before and after photos once the field is in.
Finally, it's June 1 and the Grosso plants are starting to get their first little shoots
Hello! My name is Pam Reynolds Baker and I am a mom/wife, English teacher, writer, and lavender farmer who lives in Dundee Oregon .