Late September: Lavender Honey and Pruning Days

A few years ago, a swarm of honeybees landed in one of our willow oaks. At the time, I phoned the local cooperative extension service and was referred to Barron Church, a local beekeeper. Before Barron had a chance to come collect the bees, they had already moved on...but an idea had been planted. Keeping bees at the farm is in line with our sustainability efforts, and honey is a value-added product. So this past May, Barron brought two hives out to the farm and situated them alongside the lavender field.

Over the summer I sampled as many different types of honey that I could find, ranging from tupelo to lavender to local wildflower. I've learned that some honey producers simply infuse the lavender scent into clover honey - a practice that does not seem exactly authentic. I like to think that the honey Barron harvested from our farm in August is the real deal, the result of happy bees working the lavender flowers. Yet when it comes to taste, I've decided that most honey is, in fact, similar...with only minor subtleties. Honey's benefits are well-known. It is a natural preservative and has been used in healing remedies for at least 4000 years. It acts as an antibacterial agent and is commonly used for dressing wounds. Honey also contains vitamins and beneficial antioxidants.

On a personal note, over the next several weeks I'll be pruning lavender - a job you can't run away from because it's vital to the plants' health and longevity. Pruning needs to be completed by Halloween - in time for the first frost. Happy Autumn! 

How to Bundle Fresh Lavender Stems

Lavender is coming on strong at Hauser Creek Farm. Some days I catch myself just listening to the din of bees, busy at work in the blooms. At market this past Saturday, I took a big basket of loose lavender stems en bulk. Some folks seemed to enjoy the opportunity to buy a little or a lot, depending on mood. Regardless of the amount, bringing lavender indoors adds a whole other dimension to its beauty. Generally, once the stems come under the clippers, I bunch them up into bundles and then hang them upside down to dry in our barn. The bundling process is simple: First, grab a handful of stems. A rule of thumb is to look at your wrist and then fashion a bundle a little smaller than that. Some references suggest no more than 100 stems per bundle (to prevent mold from developing). Holding the lavender bundle in one hand, take a rubber band and wrap it 3 to 4 times around the stem ends. The advantage to using rubber bands is, over time, as the stems dry they shrink, and so does the rubber band. Of course, there are other methods to bundling lavender, but the rubber band technique is my favorite. Once bundled, lavender can be hung in any room in your house or placed in a vase. Let the fragrance of fresh lavender fill your home!

Harvesting Lavender: The When and How

 According to my journal, last year we started cutting lavender around May 17. Whether you have one lavender plant, or hundreds, the question of when to cut depends partly on how you intend to use your lavender. For a fresh bouquet, it's usually recommended to cut the spikes with the flowers in bud, or when a quarter to one-third of the flowers on the spike are open. Lavender that is to be dried can be cut when the first two flowers on the spike have opened. If most of the buds have opened, the flowers will fall off when dried...in which case they can still be used for potpourri or sachets. Harvesting lavender for its essential oil depends on the variety - frequently after the flowers have opened and started to dry out.  

Choose a dry, sunny morning, after the dew is gone, and use a good, sharp pair of clippers or scissors. Cut 6 to 8 inches below the blooms, or just above the woody part. For dried lavender, secure the stems in place using a rubber band or tie together with yarn or raffia. Hang upside down to dry in a cool spot away from sunlight. Fresh lavender stems should be placed in water. Remove any foliage beneath the water line, and change the water daily to keep it fresh-looking. Then, sit back and enjoy the smell!