Summer on a Lavender Farm
Summer on a lavender farm is every bit as wonderful as you would imagine -- but very short. Since lavender only has one big bloom per year, lavender growing season is really only about 6 weeks -- maybe a little longer if you’re lucky and get a nice “bonus bloom.” So it’s a very busy time -- and goes by in the blink of an eye!
Let me see if I can paint a picture for you…
In the summer, the sun comes up here in Northern Oregon around 5:30. I’m not going to lie and say I’m out there working at 5:30,more like 7:00. After I’ve had my tea. And enjoyed a little bit of the morning. For the first part of the summer it’s really all just a waiting game, celebrating each step along the way. First the plants green up and that’s exciting and a little scary because at this point I can see how many plants have made it through winter. Next, the little heads of the lavender stems start peeking up through the leaves and push their way through, reaching for the sky. After a few weeks, the heads get a little bigger until finally, the first peak of purple comes through. Over the next few weeks, the field will get just a little more purple every day. But we aren’t there yet! The lavender isn’t ready to harvest until the stems get strong enough, right around the time that the first few flowers pop. Which is right when the bees show up! Now it’s time to harvest!
Thankfully, the Angustifolia and Intermedia lavenders bloom about 3 weeks apart, so this gives me time to first harvest the Angustifolias and then by the time I'm done with those rows, the intermedia are ready to go. Even better, within these two groups, there are varietal differences in bloom time.
I am often asked how I know when it’s time to harvest. A good rule of thumb is to wait for the bees to arrive, but it also depends on what the harvest will be used for. If I am harvesting for culinary or for dried bouquets, I harvest when just a few flowers have bloomed. If I'm harvesting for fresh bouquets, then I harvest when about half of the flowers have bloomed. And if I'm harvesting for oil or for buds, I can harvest any time after that.
For the Angustifolias, my French Fields is the first to bloom, which is always very exciting!! I harvest this one for culinary buds and just a few fresh bouquets, since the color is a lighter shade of purple and not as striking as the Royal Velvet for dried bouquets. Very close behind the French Fields is the Felice lavender, a semi-dwarf variety that I use to make the most beautiful wreaths. Its color is a deep navy, the buds stay put, and it keeps its color even when dried, so it’s perfect for wreaths. And finally my favorite Angustifolia -- Royal Velvet. Why is it my favorite? It’s good for just about every purpose and it is just gorgeous! It’s a wonderful culinary, stunning fresh bouquet, lovely dried bouquet, and smells divine. I made the mistake one year of putting off my harvest of Royal Velvet because it was just so beautiful in the field and we were holding yoga classes in that field. So by the time I harvested, I could only use it for sachet buds. I actually ran out of dried bunches that year, so I learned that I needed to be more disciplined in my harvesting. I might be crying as I harvest that beautiful field, but at least I’ll have enough dried bouquets!
Around mid July the intermedias show up to the party. I harvest the Impress Purple and the Gros Bleu around the same time for fresh and dried bunches since they bloom about the same time. These plants are about twice the size of the Angustifolias so it takes me a little longer to finish each plant. As a result, by the time I get to the end of the intermedia harvest, I am harvesting for oil and for sachet buds. Thankfully, the Gros Bleu makes a nice oil and the Impress Purple makes good sachet buds since they are past the window for fresh or dried bouquets. Grosso is the last Intermedia I harvest because it will be used just for oil which I will use in my products, along with the oil from the Gros Bleu. I found that I had to increase my plantings of grosso since I was running out of oil a few months too early and had to depend on the Gros Bleu oil. Not a bad substitution, but the Grosso essential oil is just so divine!
Harvesting is easy, though a bit hard on the back. To harvest, I grab a handful in one hand and with my other hand, I use my hand sickle to cut down as low as I can without hitting the woody part of the plant. This gives me nice long stems (especially important for the dried and fresh bouquets), but also serves to (somewhat) prune the plant and leaves it looking tidy without any unsightly empty stems sticking up. Once I have cut my bouquet, I secure it with a rubber band and continue down the row. Once the row is done, I gather up my bouquets and head to the barn where I have a drying room just for lavender bunches. I have chains hanging from the ceiling about 3 feet apart, and from these chains I hang the lavender using a paperclip. All very low tech and a slow process, but it works, and I get to hang out with the bees and inhale the sweet smell of the lavender whenever a little breeze comes by.
From the end of June to mid August, this is what I do every morning until it gets too hot. Not a bad way to spend a summer morning I’d say!
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Hello! My name is Pam Reynolds Baker and I am a mom/wife, writer, and lavender farmer who lives in Dundee Oregon .