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: 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!

Seasonal Decorating: Wildly Beautiful for the Birds

This past weekend I fashioned a wreath using bittersweet from the woods and American beautyberry stems from the barnyard. If there was ever a shrub whose beauty is under appreciated the American beautyberry is it. During the year visitors to the farm will walk right by the beautyberry and say nary a word. Last weekend we had several guests, and it seemed the most talked about topic was the beautyberry bush. For most of the year, beautyberries sit inconspicuously in the landscape. We have six bushes at last count and my appreciation of them has only gotten better since they were planted. Around November, after the first good frost, the leaves begin to yellow and eventually fall off, leaving long graceful stems with tightly clustered purple berries. I've not seen bittersweet at the farm, but this time of year I keep my eyes trained on the woods where I run because I've learned that it grows therein. On one recent run I came back with some bittersweet in hand. Technically a vine, some would argue that bittersweet is harmful to trees and while that may be true, this time of year the vibrant orange berries are irresistible in floral arrangements and also loved by songbirds. I'm pretty pleased with how the wreath turned out. Of course, the colorful berries will be long gone in a matter of days if the birds get their way. And now that I think about it, the farm belongs to them, too. I think they'll enjoy the feast. Happy Thanksgiving!