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!