Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Building a pond and terraced gardens is taking up most of our time and energy these days. Owen's Raco Construction here on Whidbey Island is doing the work - it's amazing to watch good masons create these beautiful walls. But, the mud has been awful. Sometimes I wonder if the place will ever recover!

The pond has to have a liner because the glacial till that underlies our fabulous sandy loam topsoil is porous. The pond is being built to collect rain from the building roofs and the driveway. It is very deep to reduce loss from evaporation. But, we're not completely sensible because we also are creating a stream bed that will circulate water from the main pond to a small holding pond above and back down. It's going to be fabulous - once the pond fills up. I figure it will take all winter and spring to fill the pond. The snow we had just after Thanksgiving weekend put a stop to the project for a week.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

High school football isn't something we talk much about at the lavender farm. But, this year Oak Harbor High School's team won the state championship and the town is all a-flutter about it. The Wildcats haven't had their own stadium since 2002 and have been playing great ball in spite of that. I have to wonder if they are like lavender plants, they thrive when stressed a bit. Lavender produces better oil under a bit of stress, and the Oak Harbor High's team is playing great football. Congratulations to the team and the coaches - Go Cats!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Lavender and Tee Tree Oil are getting some impressive press because of research that indicates they are linked to breast enlargement in boys age 10 or younger. Research by Clifford Bloch of the University of Colorado School of Medicine seems to say that these two oils both mimic estrogen and suppress androgen. He collaborated with researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in North Carolina who found that breast cells grown in test tubes exposed to these oils reacted in the same way as cells exposed to estrogen. Dr. Bloch reminds us, though, that growing cells in test tubes is different from what happens in a live human body - the research remains hypothetical at this point.

But, it brings up a very important point. In our ordinary daily lives there are many ways that we can be exposed to endocrine-disrupters such as phytoestrogens. My mother took DES when pregnant with me in the early 1950's. For many girls born from mothers who took this drug serious health consequences has been their fate. DES was used in animal feed for a couple of decades and continues to be sold in developing countries. This is just one example - others are soy, a chemical used in making plastics, and room fresheners. Phytoestrogens can have both positive and negative effects. This is not a simple, straightforward issue. We need far more research done on the effects of natural compounds such as essential oils in and of themselves and we need research of natural compounds vs artificial ones such as artificial scents.

As a lavender grower the link of lavender essential oil to endocrine disruption is, at first, worrisome. It's important to remember a few things, though. The original correlative research was done on 10 year old boys who are at a vulnerable point in their hormonal development. It is not reasonable to believe that the effects reported happen to people of other ages, and it isn't clear how girls react. It is important to remember that we need to be aware of endocrine disruption in general and phytoestrogens in particular because there are health concerns, but keep your head and don't be swayed by hot-press items until they have been proved several times over that they are true. (Proving is not the same as copying and forwarding information on the internet, proving requires separate scientific studies.)

On a philosophical note - I have to ask, why the over-kill on press for Dr. Bloch's findings? While I think we need to pay attention by following the research his work will spark, there are far more damaging endocrine disrupters out there. I think there is a bit of hysteria about two things - first we seem to be defending our chemically-based products, and second we are worried about being "girly." I don't mean to minimize the problems of having one's body develop the other gender's characteristics - that condition needs to be cured so that child doesn't have to suffer the consequences. However, lavender oil has been known, over the centuries it has been produced, to create a relaxing effect. Could that be because of the estrogen-mimic they are now speculating about? Could it be that we need a bit more relaxation in our lives - to reduce a tendency to be too combative? What about the other qualities of lavender oil that people talk about, such as anti-microbial effects? We'll be looking more into lavender oil, its effects, and research.

Here is a little article that makes sense to me: Scented oils report needs clarification

Monday, May 08, 2006

I was faced with a huge bag of kale to cook for dinner. For those of you who don't usually cook with kale it's sort of like a tough spinach. It has LOTS of great vitamins and mineral, so it's good for what ails ya, but it doesn't lend itself to easy, fast meals. Except last night I created a great pasta sauce out of it - here's the recipe.

3 or 4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 large yellow onion chopped up
3 large cloves of garlic chopped up
1 stalk of celery chopped up

Saute those in the olive oil in a large skillet. While sauteing add

1 1/2 tsp Herbs de Provence
1 tsp ground Lavender

While the onions brown up a little bit chop up the kale, stirring the onions from time to time.

1 produce bag of kale leaves (you know, the plastic ones in the produce section, stuff it with kale leaves and that should be enough)

The kale reduces in size like spinach does, so just heap it into the pan and turn it in the pan, like a stir fry.

After the kale has sagged a bit, add

1/3 Cup of Knorr Alfredo Pasta Sauce Mix (I got it at Costco, but it may be available at regular stores)
2 cups of milk (maybe a bit more if you like thinner pasta sauces)

Cover and let it cook for about 5 or 10 minutes. The Alfredo Sauce should provide all the salt you need.

When it's done put it over your favorite pasta (that you have already cooked) and enjoy!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Sunshine feels like a blessing in April when it seems as if the cold rains and winds of winter won't release their hold. This is the first Saturday that we've had a pleasant calm day. Gini came to take the market van to our local farmers market in Coupeville. We loaded her up with tables, a canopy, products, lots of plants, and enthusiasm. On Whidbey Island we have five (5) farmers markets! That's a lot for a long skinny island of about 75,000 people. Lavender Wind Farm used to go to three a week, Thursday evening, Saturday, and Sunday. As things got busier on the farm we reduced the numbers and now just go to the one Saturday market.

I was on the board of the Coupeville Farmers Market for several years and learned a lot about running markets. In Washington we have the Washington State Farmers Market Association. It has rules and standards for markets as well as resources such as insurance and networking. Vendors at markets are an interesting, free-spirited lot. They pride themselves on their individual ways of doing things and their own products as well they should. But, sometimes it's hard to get that level of individually focused people to band together or agree on a course of action. The underlying agreement, though, is to provide the best possible for their customers and to get customers to come to the markets. In cities, it's less difficult to find people, but out here in the rural areas where the population of the town is not yet 2,000 folks critical mass can be a problem. Nevertheless, the people on this island value homegrown food and local crafts, so the market is growing every year.

Gotta go, the sun is shining and the weeds are growing.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

April in the Pacific Northwest rain shadow region means that the rains are starting to diminish. At last. At Lavender Wind Farm we are waiting to hear about our application for a Water Right to collect rain from the roofs to put into a holding pond which we can then use to water things like plants in pots. We don't irrigate here at all because we don't have irrigation rights with our land.

Western water rights are a complex set of laws(WSU's Water site). We live on an island which is a "sole source" aquifer. Our source of drinking water comes from one source, the aquifer under our feet that is recharged by rain. We don't have rivers running through our island that we can take water from, so we are completely dependent on the health of the aquifer below us for drinking water. The problem is that there are many places on this island that are threatened with salt water intrusion. Our health department monitors the water situation and the level of rainfall is important in recharging the aquifer.

Lavender, coming from the dry summers and wet winters of the Mediterranean region is well suited to grow without irrigation in our Mediterranean climate. Our summers aren't as warm as those in southern France, but our lavenders grow very well anyway. The plants that are more exposed to the harshest of our winds - the west wind - are having a harder time. They are smaller and less prolific than the others in the deeper soils and more protected areas of our other fields. Even so, we don't irrigate. The native lavenders of France are stubby little plants in hard-scrabble dirt. These are the early colonizers of the lavendula family and it's impressive to see them struggle for existenced in their natural way. They only have the water that comes from the rains and they bake in the hot summer sun - a real testament to survival with style. They smell so good!

Saturday, March 25, 2006

It's 4 am and there is a slight line of light in the eastern sky. Spring has passed, but the weather is not yet dependably nice. But, the light in the sky this early in the morning means that the warmer season of light is just around the corner. It's a relief to have more and more light, but it also means more and more weeds and work.

Our new gift shop is having it's opening today. After lots of work and worry it's done.

In these days tiny (micro) farms, like mine, who are in tourist locations without a huge population base nearby to feed may need to have places to visit and things to do in order to survive. It's taking the idea of multiple streams of income seriously. Here, on Lavender Wind Farm, we also take the concept of Triple Bottom Line very seriously. When we do things we want to be sure of three things
1) It helps the financial health of the farm
2) It is sustainable and good for the earth (at least not causing it harm)
3) It is good for our people who live here, work here, or visit and for our community.
The gift shop is subtle, you don't notice it from the outside, it's just a room in the garage. It's also part of the operation because lavender drying wires are strung across the ceiling there, as well as throughout the garage. In harvest season we are scrambling to get the lavender dried and then put away for use during the year. There is an attic in the garage where the ceiling rafters are, at their highest point, 5 feet high. Even I, at 5'3" bonk my head - frequently. But it's a great place to dry lavender - warm, dry, and, because of the fan, moving air. You can see the empty wires across the ceiling in the new gift shop, waiting for June when the first part of the harvest starts.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

My computer died while Kathy was using it. It was easy for me to see it wasn't her fault, but she felt awful. I think the power supply went out, but I still don't know because we are in a rural area and Macintosh techs are few and far between. It brings to mind the ridiculousness of the PC/Mac competition. Technology is getting to the point in which the platform the programs are run on and the actual hardware that is used should be irrelevant to the actual functioning of the software. The increasing use of online programs and java-based applications would seem to reduce the incompatibillity problems.

Here on Whidbey Island we have a fabulous library system - a necessity for farming folks who want access to information and just plain old good reading. It is a dual-county system (SnoIsle Library System) and we can order books and get them in from anywhere in the system. I listen to a lot of books-on-tape, they make weeding much more fun. As I'm out there in the fields pulling weeds I can be entertained at the same time. I confess there are times that I turn it off and just listen to the sounds of the birds and the waves on the shore - sometimes I can even hear the sea lions barking from their perches on the buoys off-shore. But, the other day I found out that the library has e-books that can be downloaded and put on an mp3 player. Then I found out that Microsoft has orchestrated the system so that it is stopped from being able to be used by macintosh computers even if I have an ordinary mp3 player that can take the downloads to be played (out in the fields, of course). The two providers of this servie to the library are: OverDrive Audio Books and Recorded Books. I have a macintosh along with quite a bit of expensive software and years of mac experience. I'm not about to change my whole system and spend thousands of dollars coverting software just for a few e-books.

Irritated by this? You bet I am. E-books are far superior to books-on-tape because they don't break, I can have a whole book on the player without having to carry around 15 to 20 tapes with me, and the sound is much better. How do I know this? My son gave me a year's subscription to Audible.com. That was a great year! And I learned how wonderful e-books can be. So, why does a public institution, such as a library, sign up to a service that doesn't let a significant number of it's patrons use?

It's back to this attempt to smash the "other guy". In the lavender business there are hundreds of lavender farms trying to survive by growing lavender and then just plain selling it or trying a combination of selling the raw crop and making finished goods out of it. The crop is too small for significant local coops to have been formed, with the exception of Sequim, WA. But growers in Sequim produce only a small percentage of the lavender grown on the west coast - between some of the huge farms in California and the newer ones in Oregon, and all those of us in the rest of the state of Washington a lot of lavender is grown and sold that isn't included in the Sequim Lavender Coop. I think banding together as the Sequim growers have done is a wonderful thing, don't get me wrong, but it isn't necessary to try to squash the rest of the lavender growers. In fact, I've found that when there are many people working in the same area a wonderful creative energy develops. In the area of lavender, ideas for great products, new uses for lavender, and subtle shifts towards better production and products takes place.

In the same way, software companies rely on each other for ideas, breakthrough methods, and generating a big enough market to make any of it work in the first place. But, in our culture of "smash the other guy" it's never recognized. Apple gave Microsoft the idea for Windows. Microsoft gave Apple a workhorse application in Office. There is a back and forth, even between giants, that helps us all. However, the cut-throat mentality, the one that made the company that serves up e-books for our library system, is not serving us all. It's hurting the very idea that libraries are based - free access to information for all.

Join me in lobbying our libraries and these companies to stop this nonsense and to allow all platforms to be able to use their service. Audible.com proves this is not that hard!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The wind is blowing into the 30 mph range this morning. It's coming from the southeast which is where the storms come from in the Puget Sound trough. This farm is on the east end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca which means when there's a west wind it barrels down the strait and hits us full force. We don't have hurricanes, but from November through March we'll have hefty wind storms when it blows more than 70 mph.

It's depressing. The wind batters the sides of the house as well as my mind. It is unrelentingly pushy. The Beaufort Wind Scale has the various kinds of winds classified - right now it's blowing a "Near Gale". I watch the shipping go by in this wind as the ships and tugs and barges go out the strait or up and down to the Strait of Georgia on the inside edge of Vancouver Island. The waves break over the bows as they plow their way through the violent water.

Kari, my new weeder, is coming to work today. I hate to have the weeders working in the fields when it's like this. It sucks all the warmth out of the body, it blows into our ears and makes them hurt. The ground is wet enough that at least the dirt doesn't blow up into our eyes.

Life is not genteel and tranquil all the time on a lavender farm.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

It's 5:11 am and I've been up for an hour and a half or so and have finally taken the plunge into the blogging world. I'm a lavender farmer now. It wasn't always so, but now that's what I do. People come to the farm and ask if I do it full-time and I answer "Yes". Of course, it's more than full-time work even with only 2 1/2 acres planted at this point. There are even people who get paid to work here, besides me.

But the sad reality of farming life is that it's not possible to work full time on farming without an extra something - either another job or working partner or silver spoon. Why on earth do farmers do what they do? Work from dawn to dusk outside and then more hours in the dark either inside the office or inside the barn. Do folks in the city have any idea what it takes to get them food? It is my hope that they take trips and visit the farms around them to see just what happens to get them food and other things that are made from stuff that grows on farms - like lavender!

Here on Whidbey Island we are putting together a farm tour, maybe even two of them, to get people and farms together. I'm excited about it!