It's All About the Dirt
The decision to start a lavender farm was huge for us. This was going to take a giant leap of faith. It wasn't just going to be learning how to grow lavender. The farming alone was brand new to us. We'd have to teach ourselves about soil, planting methods, watering methods and harvesting. We were going to have to teach ourselves to make products from our lavender, and to develop our own unique recipes. Once the products were made, we'd have to learn to package and market the products. We'd need to learn web design so we could start a website to sell the things we made. We were going to have to learn beekeeping. There were also many other things that would come up along the way that never even crossed our minds. In order not to become completely overwhelmed, we made a list of things that we would need to get done between this time (October) and May which would be planting time. By making the list and putting things in order of priority, things seemed more manageable.
The internet is a great resource. We have spent countless hours watching YouTube videos and I don't know where we'd be without them. However, there is so much information available, it is almost as bad as not having enough! We spent hours and hours and hours reading, watching videos and researching how to get started. One thing we found out early, and have been reminded of many times since is that everyone who grows lavender does it differently, and everyone thinks their way is right. The same is true for beekeepers. The thing is, they are all doing what works for them, and we were just going to have to figure out what worked for us through trial and error.
First of all, we wanted to narrow down our research to other lavender farms in the same region as us so that the growing season and temperatures would be similar to ours. Jerry found a lavender farm in the Midwest that was getting some grant funding and sharing it's findings online. There was a ton of information there. After reading through this information, we knew we were going to have to amend our soil if we had any chance of the lavender surviving here. We needed to get soil samples and send them to a lab to see what all we needed to add. Lavender loves well draining soil...sandy soil..the kind of soil that drains quickly so the roots don't stay wet for very long. Pretty much the opposite of our soil. We could tell that without a lab report.
We decided we were going to need to add sand and gravel to our soil to give our lavender a fighting chance. We started checking on prices to have sand and gravel brought to our field, (having NO idea how we would get these things spread in our rows). It's absolutely amazing how many things you don't realize you are leaving out when starting a brand new venture. At this same time we were researching and ordering our plants, but that is a story for another blog...
Pure luck prevented us from making a mistake so huge we may not have been able to come back from it. I came across an article that said to NEVER add sand to clay soil. According to the article, this mixture would create almost concrete hard ground that would trap water. Apparently the small grains of sand fill in every space that's open in the clay, so the soil barely drains. Exactly what lavender hates! This is what I mean about too much information...who is to say which thing we read is correct?
The US Lavender Growers Association is a wonderful resource. Jerry put together an email to them, telling them that we were starting out from scratch, and letting them know about the conflicting info we had about the soil. They responded to him right away and suggested he get in touch with Dr. Curtis Swift. Dr. Swift is a horticulturist with a Masters degree in horticulture and a Ph.D. in plant pathology. It sounded to us like this would be a guy who knew exactly what he was talking about. We checked out his website (https://mesalavenderfarms.com/) and were very impressed. Jerry gave Dr. Swift a call. We should mention here that we were pretty nervous about calling. We weren't sure if starting a lavender farm of our own would make other farmers treat us as competition, or really what to expect. The opposite is true. Every person whether they own their own farm, or work for someone else who has a lavender farm has been sooooo helpful. Everyone is actually excited to give you their ideas, and really seem to want to help. Dr Swift was just wonderful. His advice was just what we needed to gain a little confidence and move forward.
Unfortunately, that meant back to the drawing board! Basically everything we thought we knew was wrong, at least for our area. Dr. Swift highly recommended planting our lavender in mounds, to promote drainage. He felt strongly that this was one of the most important things to do. He had invested in a bed shaper to create raised beds when he started out. He also told us to do a soil percolation test to see how quickly our soil drained. Also, Dr. Swift told Jerry to email him the results of our soil test and he would tell us what we would need. After going over our report, Dr. Swift sent us back his recommendations. We would need to add lime (to bring up the pH level) and horse manure (for nitrogen and to bring the organic matter up to 5%) to our field. No gravel or sand at all!
So now that we knew what direction we were going with the soil, it was time order plants!