October: The Science of Lavender Farming in North Carolina

Hello, October! Today we hosted a fine group of students from Davie High School's STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Center. What fun! What glorious weather! When asked about the possibility of hosting a field enrichment trip for students, I was excited and maybe a little bit nervous. I fretted over choosing a topic that would involve interactive participation, per the request.

As it happens, soil pH is a pretty big deal when it comes to growing lavender in North Carolina, and while I thought that that could be a good topic, I ran the idea by my mother, Madeleine Sparks, who has a personal connection to Davie High School after teaching chemistry there for 30 plus years.

Under normal conditions, lavender farming in our corner of Davie County can be a challenge because typically the dirt here is claylike and acidic. This summer's crazy wet weather in July and August added an unusual layer of stress in two ways. First and foremost was simply too much rain which basically drowned the roots and was fatal for many of our plants. Second, excessive ground water leaches nutrients from the soil. One lesson from today was the importance of soil testing and the need to adjust soil pH with the addition of lime since lavender prefers alkaline conditions. 

Hauser Creek, which dissects the farm, provided another angle for discussing pH with regard to water quality. Davie High science teacher Jimmy Dobbins brought along pH testing paper and an electronic pH meter for students to test 2 different samples of creek water with an average healthy value of 7.4. 

And then there was the homemade lavender lemonade the students made using purple 'hidcote' lavender buds. The end result: A faintly pink beverage. While it's a no-brainer that lemonade is acidic, my mom pointed out that the color pink alone can be used as a visual sign in assessing pH. Pink = acid. This morning was sunny and 65 degrees, making lemonade a tasty finale. Thank you, Davie High School, for visiting the farm! And a special big thanks to my momma. 

Definitely hard to believe the year is almost over. We have one last event scheduled for 2013 -  Fall Open Farm Day, which is November 3, 1 to 4 pm. For more details, visit: https://www.facebook.com/events/516892335053347/ Come join us!

Mid-December:The Spirit of Gleaning

This week, a group of volunteer gleaners from the Society of St. Andrew visited the farm to pull turnips. Planted in the fall as a cover crop, the turnips are beauties and until recently our intent was to leave them in place, eventually to become organic compost. But the issue of hunger is real and with area food banks in need of donations, it seemed fitting to share. On a crisp, clear morning the group arrived, and for awhile the field was alive with industrious women gabbing about various ways to use turnips in the kitchen. I paid attention because I've experimented lately with a few dishes myself, the best being a turnip "cassoulet" that used the greens. A friend of mine made an awesome looking hash using cubed turnips, potatoes, and cranberries dressed in a brown sugar glaze. Other suggestions ranged from turnip fries, creamed turnips, whole roasted turnips, and turnips as an ingredient in stuffing (aka dressing). Or, how about turnip fluff, so named because of its souffle-like texture? Of course, turnips can be eaten raw, grated on salads, or placed on a vegie tray with dip. Nutritionally, the greens contain vitamins A and C, calcium and iron; the root is a fair source of vitamin C.

Food banks generally request nonperishable items, but turnips are tough, and, as vegetables go, they have a long shelf life. My grandmother used to winter turnips in a cold barn under a layer of straw, according to my mother. This week, it didn't take long to fill every box and bag. At the end of the morning, piles of turnips were divided and distributed to each volunteer who then headed off to area food banks - namely, Second Harvest Food Bank in Forsyth County and Storehouse for Jesus in Davie County. To learn more about gleaning and the Society of St. Andrew, visit www.endhunger.org  By the way, what's your favorite turnip dish? I'd love to hear from you!



Meandering Along Hauser Creek: One Year Later

Hello December! We so appreciate the farm's open spaces and wooded hillside for hiking, and with everyone home recently for Thanksgiving my family and I took a walk through the woods and by the creek. Last December I posted an entry about the newly restored Hauser Creek that dissects the property. From a distance, it might look now as though things are pretty much the same along the Creek but a closer inspection reveals some subtle changes in the past year. Back in January, an extensive array of native plant life was installed within the conservation easement along both sides of the creek. Most of these plants were live stakes, dormant woody cuttings with branches removed. Originally no more than about 12 inches long, the stakes have grown a good 4 inches. Native species like ninebark, silky dogwood, elderberry, buttonbush, and black willow dot the streambanks. Recently, folks from N.C. Ecosystem Enhancement Program (NCEEP) came out to evaluate the plant life, and the good news is most of it appears to be thriving despite a large deer population. In time, all this plant life will form a canopy over the water, making Hauser Creek barely visible to us humans. The result will be cleaner water, a cleaner environment, and a safe haven for songbirds and wildlife.

One distinct difference between this year and last - the ephemeral pools located near the creek are dried up right now whereas last December they were water-logged. The accompanying photograph shows scenes at various times of the year: a dry, grassy ephemeral pool in November (left), native cardinal flower growing streamside in July (middle), and a happy heron enjoying the water in October (right). Our family outing in the woods the other day was the perfect ending for the year. The outdoor pipes have been drained, the buildings winterized, and the lavenders tucked in for the coming cold months. We wish each and every one of you a very Merry Christmas!