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!

Meandering along Hauser Creek

Ephemeral pool

Hello, December!

I took an early morning walk down by Hauser Creek this week. Newly restored this past summer, the creek looks vastly different than it used to.  When I inherited the land, beef cattle had lived continuously on the pastureland for two decades. By nature, cows typically wallow in rivers and streams. Hauser Creek was severely eroded and needed attention. The first change we made was to remove the cattle from the land, which created a certain buzz considering I grew up surrounded by dairy cows. The livestock grower who leased the land simply relocated the cattle to a different property.

We also began a lengthy process of application for restoration through the North Carolina Ecosystem Enhancement Program (NCEEP). Hauser Creek was eventually approved, and five (!) years later the work commenced in May. As a result of the restoration, on either side of the creek are ephemeral pools or ponds. Also known as vernal pools, these areas were intentionally created in the old creek bed. The word "ephemeral" means transient, so the pools are not permanent. They dry up periodically and usually reach their peak depth in the spring. Even though ephemeral pools are dry for part of the year, they can be swarming with life when filled with water. Frogs, toads, and salamanders are the most notable occupants, and I have also seen a blue heron and white egret.

NCEEP, the new caretaker of Hauser Creek, will install a variety of plant life, all native species, into the rich bottom land and creek banks this winter. The resulting shade from the trees and shrubs will not only help keep the water flowing clean but also provide valuable cover and protection for wildlife.

This week, winding my way back up to the barn, I spotted 3 white-tailed deer. Wildlife have embraced the new creek, and so have we.

Merry Christmas!

My happy adventure with lavender

My happy adventure with lavender started in 2009. I had been looking for something to grow that would be beautiful. A plant that was wildlife-friendly and tolerant at the same time. A perennial that would come back year after year. I remember wanting something purple, because we already had a lot of yellow black-eyed Susans. Purple would look good against the backdrop of our red barn, or at least that was my thought.

So, I chose lavender. Last spring I ordered four-hundred baby lavender “plugs.” I potted them and let them grow until the fall. Then, on hands and knees, we planted them in the ground. Of course, we didn’t just

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