Friday, December 25, 2009

Our wonderful people - Thank you and Happy New Year

It’s Christmas, and almost the end of the year. 2009, what a year, and pretty soon we’ll be in the double digit years of this decade. This year we were so lucky. Part of that luck was the incredible group of people who worked here and I want to tell you about them. In the quiet of the winter part of the year they don’t work right now, I’m looking forward to some of them coming back as the new year perks up.

Stacy has been our #1 manufacturing person. She made most of our products, and provided us with such a warm gentle love of people and animals that I believe we all were changed. Plus she’s cute, although she hates it when I take her picture. I took her to England to a lavender conference at Cambridge University. It was a great trip and we both learned a lot. It was Stacy's first trip abroad, and I hope she takes many more, she had fun.

Mare is a good friend as well as a worker here. She is always on time if not early, pitches in when things are busy. Her crowning moment this year, though, was when we found a rat in the garage. She went home and got her rat terrier - Laird - and put him in the garage with some encouraging words. In less than 5 minutes he brought her the dead rat, strutting with pride.

Leslie spent a year with us which ended at the end of January this year. She was the one who brought the dog she was sitting to work everyday, so the pond became known as Bailey’s Spa. She loved working outside, and brought good will and cheer here every day, along with many many hours of hard work.

Kathy has been working here for years. We don’t see her often, but she comes and nags at me to get my papers in order and then helps me do it. I wish I could say the changes she’s wanted are permanent, but there always is a white flurry here when she’s gone.

JP is our neighbor’s son and needed a job for a little while. He’s in high school and does well.

Kevin, Willow, and Elizabeth were interns for Georgie Smith over at Willowood Farm on Ebey’s Prairie. They came early in the season to put a dent in our weed population. Then, Willowood needed them back and they disappeared into a season of vegies and farmers markets. What a great year they had!

Kendra came in the spring and brought a new perspective to life. She’s into the goth lifestyle and taught us about things we’d never heard of. She loved working outside, so when she left each day, she’d go to another farm and work there, too. I loved her smile.

Michelle used to sell shaved ice at the farmers market with her mom. This spring she needed some non-Mom money and came to weed for us until better offers came her way.

Amber is Leslie's friend and the real owner of Bailey. Turns out she's a bookkeeping whizz, so she comes and helps me during the busy season. She also helped during our annual festival. We like having her around.

Elizabeth came at a time when I wasn’t sure I needed anyone, so I said she could work for a month or so. Then, in September, when she left to go back to WSU I was really sad. She was a fabulous worker and I think she made some good friends here.

Dorian’s Mom wrote last winter to see if she could get her daughter a position. I don’t usually hire without an interview, but I went ahead and said okay. I’m so glad I did, Dorian is a smart cookie and introduced us all to the incredible hassles involved in becoming an ex-pat. Then, when I took Stacy to England to go to the lavender conference she had Stacy come and visit for a few days in Oxford. Dorian brought Katie with her.

Katie grew up in Hawaii, went to Wellesley with Dorian, and came here for the summer. Turns out she’s a fabulous musician! No, we didn’t get music in the lavender fields - I forgot to ask!

Nancy moved to Whidbey Island this summer and dropped by the farm to check it out. She told Mare she’d like to volunteer here, and when I got wind of that I hired her on the spot. Her sense of humor and unfailing cheerful spirit makes us all laugh. Just a word to her California family and friends - we’re keeping her, you can’t have her back for long.

Rick had a hard year. This spring his back went out and he spent the summer trying to get it back in shape. Then this fall he was attacked by Vertigo. What a distressing condition, the world spins around his head. He’s feeling very mortal right now. That’s good for the rest of us, because he’s doing a great job at Deception Pass State Park and for Lighthouse Environmental Programs so his head would be way to big if it weren’t for his health.

I spent my first year after being with my father as he died. I realized I get crabby when I grieve, but I think that’s done now, thanks in great part to all the cheerfulness on the staff. In addition, my 82 year old mother and her darling husband traveled over 3,000 miles to visit us. They inaugurated our deck, sitting on it every evening and bringing a peaceful reminder of what is important in life.

And then there's our customers. They brought us so much this year: enthusiasm, ideas, sales, bringing their friends, advice, and pictures. Thank you for coming and enjoying our farm, we do this for you.

We are truly fortunate.
I wish you all a wonderful and happy New Year in 2010

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Custom Label for Jams

Ok, we've just put on the coolest thing - at least I think it ability for you to create your own custom label for your jams.

You can now get our jams with a custom label! Having an event? Want to give a completely unique gift? All you have to do is email us your image and text for the label. The label can't hold unlimited text, so we'll have to edit if it's too long.

I'm excited to see what you come up with

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Last night I joined a few people to sing carols at Whidbey General Hospital. A group had gathered last Thursday at Careage - led by the Shifties. Both of these events were so beautiful, I never before really felt how important music is to people. Especially in this kind of situation where it is so quiet most of the time, and the sheer press of humanity is missing. With the group of people moving through the hallways and crowding into rooms you could feel the embrace of company and the sounds of cheerful chatter and song. For the people inside for whom vibrancy is a distant memory, if it can be remembered at all, the sound of live people singing familiar holiday songs brought smiles and tears. Those reactions brought awe to me, and a reminder that we can't always tell if a person who is ill can hear us or is aware - but we must assume that they can. Sometimes, we get a clue from a lone tear running down a cheek. I thank both Vern Olsen and Ginny Vracin for inviting me along, such a gift!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Lavender tooth powder

I got curious about making a tooth brushing powder with some lavender, of course. I read up on some ingredients and then tried my first batch.

1/8 C Baking soda (neutralization and scrubbies)
2 drops peppermint essential oil (flavor and a whole host of benefits)
2 drops lavender essential oil (anti-microbial)
1/8 tsp of Equal sweetener (Aspartame, while somewhat questionable for health is powdered, but glyercine would make a paste and sweeten it - depends on what you want)

It didn't taste all that good, but after brushing with it my mouth feels really fresh and clean. Let me know if you try anything like this, and we'll all get some great ideas for DIY lavender tooth paste/powder recipes.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Eating and Planting and farm realities

We started a new tradition at Lavender Wind Farm. Once a month we all collaborate on a lunch menu. We invite one or two special guests to share this fabulous repast. In November we had an Indian menu - I never would have imagined that we'd have feasted as well as we did. You can have a look at the table. Then, if you are lucky, and local, you might get an invitation.

Even thought we stuffed ourselves, we still went out and worked after lunch. Nancy has transformed the greenhouse to a friendly and over-stuffed place. Full of repotted plants that are getting reestablished before they are put out to grow over the winter. Nancy is one of the staff who comes to work every day with a huge smile and keeps telling us she just loved the work. That is so nice.

The only problem is, that we have to accept the reality that we are a farm that, like the plants that grow in our fields, we need to sleep for a while in the winter. That's hard on the employees because they get laid off until the income returns. The work is always there! I love the people who work here, they are the BEST!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Video on Pruning

I found out my little camera can take videos longer than 5 seconds (like my old one). It's not Hollywood, but it's useful to try to share some information that's too hard to share with just words.

We often get questions on how to prune lavender plants. Anyone that sells lavender gets these questions and some people have done some videos - this is ours.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Lavender Applesauce Cake Recipe

Here is a recipe that is getting a surprising amount of positive comments. Thought you'd like to try it out!

Lavender Applesauce Cake

3/8 C Veg. Oil
2 C sugar
2 eggs
2 1/2 C flour
1 1/2 tsp soda
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1/2 C raisins
1 1/2 C applesauce
3 tsp lavender

6 TBL butter
1 TBL cream cheese
2 C Confectioner's sugar

Preheat oven to 350ยบ

Blend oil, sugar, eggs in food processor so they are smooth and fluffy.
Mix dry ingredients in separate bowl.

Add applesauce and raisins together with the sugar mixture into the dry ingredients, and mix by hand., just until they are all combined, don’t over mix.

Pour into a 9x13 greased pan (or sprayed with vegetable oil) and bake for about 45 minutes (time depends on the oven, keep checking after 45 minutes).

Cool in pan for 15 minutes, then take it out and finish cooling on a rack.

Use the last three ingredients in the list for the icing. Blend them in food processor until creamy smooth. Ice the cake after it has completely cooled. If you want an additional treat add 1 tsp of Lavender Extract to the icing. Yum!

We have the Culinary Lavender and the Lavender Extract for sale.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Warm climate lavenders

The lavender family of plants is large. There are some that ring the warmer parts of the Mediterranean and go a little further south that don't even look like the lavenders that we think of as typical. They have a variety of names such as Lavandula buchii var. buchii, Lavandula canariensis subsp. canariensis, Lavendula minutolii var. minutolii, Lavandula roundifolia, or Lavandula pinnata var. pinnata. They have heads with multiple spikes, they don't smell particularly nice, although they do put out a strong odor. It might be that the smell is what helps them survive, nothing wants to eat them. The leaves vary, but in general tend to have a ferny look to them. They are tender, in our northern area we can grow them as annuals, but not perennials - or you can put them in a pot and bring them inside during the winter.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Distilling Lavender Essential Oil

When you get a bunch of lavender growers in a room and ask them about distilling you get as many passionate descriptions about the only way to distill as you have people in the room. At the International Lavender Conference in Cambridge earlier this month there were people from world famous lavender farms as well as much smaller entities, like ours. Henry Head, from Norfolk Lavender, showed off his distilling system that has been in use since 1933.

For those who are debating the issue of whether copper or stainless is the best, the vats are lined with copper. They are clearly very old and well used after having distilled their world class oil for over 75 years. Hanging is a top to one of the pots and a pusher that compacts the lavender in the pot. To Henry's left on the floor is the separator.

To get the lavender to the distilling room he showed us the harvester they have developed. The front part scoops up and cuts the lavender and it goes into the green bin behind. The unit is attached to a tractor, I believe, and harvesting goes quite quickly. Norfolk Lavender produces primarily an oil out of angustifolia lavenders, I don't think they do much with the hybrids (lavandins), but if you know differently, please comment to correct.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Day Four International Lavender Conference

What a great day at Norfolk Lavender. Henry Head, who spent the last 30 years building it up into a world class venue for lavender, lavender distilled oils, and lavender gardens, put together a fascinating day of tours and information sharing sessions. He brought in the perfumer he uses to create the scents for Norfolk Lavender products. I have to say, getting my nose to be able to smell the subtleties of the oils is difficult. Maybe after 30 more years of sniffing I'll get there.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Day Three Lavender Conference

Presentations today focused on using lavender essential oils for health care, both physical and mental. It was an amazing collection of information and case studies - much more research is needed, of course, but let's just say that there are certainly reasons to do the research because the potential for significant healing seems to be there.

The afternoon was spent with Dr. Noel Porter who trains people on how to use the nose to evaluate and identify aspects of lavender essential oil. He had kits set up with many constituents of the essential oil of lavender so we could learn to smell the different parts. Then we were tasked to identify them in a complete lavender oil. This was really tough!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Day Two Lavender Conference

This, after all, a first rate university, here at Cambridge, and the scholarly presentations are quite good. We haven't had much in the way of practical exchanges, but the scientific papers give a lot of food for thought. For instance Timothy Haig presented on his research on how to use lavender extract to suppress weeds. In his case he was trying to rid wheat fields of annual rye. That was somewhat amusing to me because this year we planted annual rye to reduce weeds between rows of lavender without having to till. It worked, although we did have to mow between the rows. But he said he made a slurry of ground up lavender leaves and stems and then strained it out and applied it to the weeds. I have to ask him for a bit more information on details - so keep checking to find out more.

I put out our catalogs and brochures and had some of our essential oils out for these world experts to smell and comment on. I've learned a lot about the constituents of the oils, and we have an oil workshop today that should give me lots more information.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Day One Lavender Conference

At Cambridge University about 85 people from all over the world have gathered for the First International Lavender Conference. Tim Upson from Cambridge University Botanical Gardens has organized the conference with the help of Susyn Andrews (co-author of Genus Lavendula). Stacy and I have joined this group for six days of lavender immersion. Already we have learned so much and are inspired.

As you might know, there are many varieties of Lavender in the world. The garden here has some from the remote areas around the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands and more. The Canary Island and other desert lavenders are spectacular in how they look. I think we have started seeing them in the USA, sometimes they are called "Fern Leaf" lavenders.

I'll be posting more as time permits.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

82 Years and Counting

It's not everyday that you get your 82 year old mother to work on the farm!

She lives on Martha's Vineyard, and Whidbey Island is about as far away as you can get from there in the lower 48 states. I thought I'd never see her on the farm again, because she doesn't like traveling all that much until this spring she and Ronnee, my step-father, decided to take the Trans-Canada train to Vancouver and then come to visit for a few days before flying back home.

Our family believes in helping out, so she promptly got herself situated and started taking off rubber bands from the stems of banded lavender. We cut the heads off to distill, then we dry what's left and winnow off the remaining buds to get every last bit of lavender possible.

Meanwhile, Ronnee was working to rebuild our garden cart that had rotted over the years of use and exposure to the elements.

Mom got fairly comfortable with the routine and she finally started describing the distilling process to our visitors. She's telling them about boiling the water in the bottom chamber and the steam going up through the packed lavender flowers in the upper two chambers. It picks up the essential oil and then gets condensed back to liquid and drops into the separator so we can take the oil off the top. I couldn't believe it! She did a good job, too bad she lives so far away and we can't get her working here more often.... :)

I'm so lucky to have such a fun mother and step-Dad, it was a huge treat to have them here!

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Festival was Great

I usually don't brag all that much, but our festival was really pretty darn good. People had fun, ate good food, drank good wine or lavender lemonade, looked at lots and lots of good arts and crafts, bought lavender, and listened to outstanding music.

The people who work here on the farm were fabulous, and then we were graced by a number of amazing volunteers who parked cars and helped us set up and tear down. Finally, I want to thank my neighbors who put up with this party once a year.

You can see pictures of the 2009 Festival

Monday, August 03, 2009

Festival This Weekend

Our annual Art Festival is coming this weekend on Aug 8 & 9. I just wanted to give you a preview of some of what will be here. For those of you who are too far away to come, just check our site for the exact weekend for the next one in 2010.

Last year we had many artist's booths. This year we have many more. We have at least 22 artist booths that will have 30 artists work in them.

The full list of artists (click here and you'll see the list plus the website connection for those artists who have websites).

Carol Bement - Miniature painting
Joan Brosnahan - Painting & collage
Mary Burks - Textiles
Peggy Darst Townsdin - Books, jewelry, photographs
Brandon Davis - Photography
Marilyn & Mike Dessert - Quilling, woodwork
Anne & Bob Elkins - Photography, lathe turned bowls
Nikki Farias - Felt hats & purses
Renee Hockett - Photo Purses
Loretta Graff - Textiles
Kelly Kellogg - Photography
Maggie Lancaster - Fiber - silk banners, pillows, scarves, braided rugs, chair pads
Mary Leonard - Painting
Lyla Lillis - Ceramic
Beverly McQuary - Beads/jewelry
Kay Parsons - Painting, polymer switch plates
Norma & Gerry Roberts - Painting, leather journals, cards, stick people, flutes, stationery
Helen Ryder - Watercolor, collage
Tiarani Samsi - Silk Scarves, Pottery
Mariana Shawver - Painted and collaged mirrors and constructions
Brian Shelly - Photography
Mary Alice & Tom Sterling - Art baskets, handmade baskets
Sylvia Strohm - Ceramics, crochet
Carrie Marie Tasman - acrylic, pastel, polymer clay
Robert Troost - Pottery
Sharon Tryon - Painting
Yummy ways to enjoy the day
Whidbey Island Winery will be serving their wines at our wine tent, and Lavender Wind Farm will serve lavender lemonade.

Bay City Bistro will have lavender mussels and baked goodies on Saturday and on Sunday Hot Rock Pizza will serve their new on-site baked pizza that is creating quite a buzz around here. Click here to see Hot Rock Pizza in Action on Youtube!

Little Brown Farm & bayleaf have partnered to serve goat Cheese & french bread with some drizzles to go over them. You've gotta taste this!

Whidbey Island Ice Cream will have a great selection of their gourmet ice cream bars, including some with our lavender.

Denali Dogs is starting out their hot dog cart at this festival and will have hotdogs (of course), brautworst, and get ready for Reindeer & Vegetarian sausage.

Crescent Harbor Blueberries will have loads and loads of fat blueberries for you to munch on while you wander around.

Our own Lavender cookies will be there, too.

And the MUSIC!

This year we rebuilt our deck. That means we have a great stage for the musicians, right across from the Whidbey Island Winery tent.

The line up for the Festival includes:

11:00 am - Quinn Fitzpatrick
12:30 pm - Bayview Sounds
2:00 pm - One Eyed Reilly
3:30 pm - Woodrush

11:00 am - Siri Bardarson
12:30 pm - Fairly Soon
2:00 pm - Shifty Sailors
3:30 pm - Ken Merrell et al

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Lavender essential oil as herbicide

While I love our Lavender Luster, which we say provides aromatherapy as you clean I never in my wildest imagination thought that I'd see "aromatherapy while you weed"! Apparently, scientists in Italy have discovered that some essential oils can be useful as an herbicide. They are finding that lavender essential oil can affect root growth in the plants. It also affects the soil microbes and fungi involved in crop growth.

Can't you just see us dancing through the fields spritzing the weeds? If only it would be that easy. Obviously, a lot of work has to be done to find out what exactly happens to the weeds and whether beneficial microbes are hurt by the application of lavender essential oil. They have been doing research on other essential oils and are finding that cinnamon and peppermint oils are effective as pre-emergent herbicides - stopping seed germination. The essential oils used for this could be very good because they don't persist in the environment. They are easily degraded by enzyme and microbial activity.

Turns out this isn't as unique as I'd thought. Monterey Organics has an herbicide with lemongrass oil as it's active ingredient. In 2002 there was a study at the Appalachian Fruit Research Station that found several herb's oils effective in killing a number of weeds. The most effective of the herbs studied were red thyme, summer savory, cinnamon, and clove. There are more studies and products that have been completed, and I'm sure we'll be experimenting with some, but I still love the vision of gossamer-clothed ladies spritzing the fields.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Go Navy

Here, on Whidbey Island, people who buy real estate are given a piece of paper that warns them of the noise zones from Navy Air Station practice flying patterns. Our farm is between two major flight circles, so they don't fly over our place too much. Oak Harbor is home to the Navy community which adds quite a different feel to that community compared to the rest of the island. For half of Whidbey Island the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station is a big part of daily life, for the other half they hardly know there is a base on the island.

I went to high school in Falmouth on Cape Cod (in Massachusetts). Some of the kids from nearby Otis Air Force Base came to our school. I had a couple of good friends for a year or two, until they left with their parents to other postings. A close family friend had been in the Navy during WWII and had then pursued a career in the marine industry making ocean research equipment. I never had been on a base, nor gone to any base exchange in my life until getting to Whidbey Island.

Imagine my delight when the Navy Exchange here on Whidbey contacted the farm to see if we'd sell our products there. "Sure" I wrote back, and "no, we don't have minimums, but we also might not be able to completly fill orders, either, if they are too big." After sending in reams of paperwork, the local buyer forwarded it on to the national office, and they asked if we'd be willing to sell to other bases. "Sure" I wrote back....

That started a stream of weekly orders that have taken over our staff. We make a lot of different products right here on the farm. This new, huge, customer wanted as much in a month as we sell in a year of some of the items. Happily, we all pitched in and filled the orders and shipped them off, learning how to work with the system on the way. Our friends here on the island are glad to hear that they will be able to get our products when they relocate to Sigonella or other bases that we sell to.

As you can see, we collapsed after getting the boxes ready for one week's orders (you can't see all of them in this picture, but you get the idea).

Rick and I are also Waste Wise Volunteers. That means we help folks on the island with recycling and composting information. WI-NAS (Whidbey Island Naval Air Station) has the premier recycling center in the nation. The program has grown over the years I've been on Whidbey to include food waste recycling. That task is significant because of the health and pest concerns in managing it, as well as the large volume of material that is now kept out of the landfill. We, in the recycling community, are very proud of the Navy's efforts.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Farming Tools and the Workshop & Dad

One part of farming I never thought about when I used to think about what farmers do is the workshop where machines are fixed, invented & built, or other structures and or equipment are made. It is amazing how important handyman skills are in the farming life. We have to fix our tillers, tractors, and mowers. We have to build boxes, screens, sorters, strippers, storage boxes, and market containers. It's a large part of farm work.

My father died in January and I've spend about two months sitting with him and then planning his Memorial Service for all the people who loved him. This has been a very sad time, and yet joyous due to celebrating his life, learning more about it, and getting closer to my brother and sister. Dad was an excellent scientist and administrator, and he was an excellent craftsman and had a huge workshop that he used constantly. He was very creative and developed all these really cool things to use at his place and his lab. He was known in his field for building a box that helped model a molecule in which he used wood and glass to do what fancy modeling computers do now. He built a catamaran barge to use in the little harbor he lived on. He made me a cheese press when I had goats and was making cheese.

So, now we are trying to figure out what to do with his shop. Surprisingly, each one of us three has a degree of handyman abilities. My brother is building his son a treehouse, my sister rebuilds pianos as well as does things for her farm, and I build what I can for our lavender farm. I think Dad would be proud of us, and pleased that we value what contains so much of his sweat worked into every tool handle and piece of equipment. Each of us would like to have bits and pieces of the shop, so we'll divide it up and give family friends the rest. It's like little bits of Dad will be dispersed throughout the country to continue his good work.

Thanks, Dad.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Creativity and Competition

Today I spent the day in our State Capital, Olympia, with a group of farmers from my area. The one thing we all agreed upon is that it is refreshing and unfortunately rare to have farmers share the details of their farming with others. There is a fear that by sharing information we will be copied or beat to the market. While a little of that fear might be true, I would like to propose that it can't be really true. And that is because it's not the idea, it's what you DO with the idea that makes a project or product truly your own or unique.

Ben Lillie explains it much better than I, in his Physics blog on Coincidence and Creativity