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Growing lavender is the topic of this week’s conversation as we join our host Nicole and Paola of Sage Creations Organic Farm.
What You’ll Learn
- Soil types lavender grows best in.
- Growing lavender for various usages.
- Diseases and pests to look out for.
- Suppressing weeds within your lavender crop.
- The life span of the lavender shrub.
- What to consider before growing lavender.
Paola has worked in organic farming and marketing for the last 25 years. In her commitment to organic farming and raising her family in Colorado’s clean air and wholesome way of life, she manages the farm and maintains lavender fields, 4000 feet of greenhouse space, medicinal herb crops, heirloom vegetables and a cherry orchard!
Paola has always had a love for herbs and vegetables and thought lavender would be a great crop for Colorado, and began her journey of growing lavender in 2006.
Over the years as lavender fields grew, Sage Creations extended their product line to include certified organic essential oils; lavender inspired home décor, bath, and body products, and lavender plant starts.
Sage Creations farms are 10 acres and currently has 6 acres in lavender production. They grow 3 species and over 60 different cultivars of lavender. For the last 11 years, the farm has been trialing different species and cultivars of lavender to see which is best suited for the South Western State’s climate and its different zones.
Sage Farms works with numerous growers throughout Colorado and the Southwestern states. Their farm’s lavender plugs and plants have been sold throughout the US. In addition to propagating and distilling lavender.
Sage Farms is open to the public from May-September and offers pick you own lavender during bloom time and various classes. The farm shop is open year-round online.
Resources & Links Mentioned
- Sage Creations Organic Farm Website
- Sage Creations Organic Farm Facebook Page
- Sage Creations Organic Farm Instagram
- Sage Creations Organic Farm YouTube Channel
- Sage Creations Guide to Ordering Lavender for Spring Planting: What you need to know
- Michigan State University Growing Lavender Guide
- Lavender Association of Colorado
- US Lavender Growers Association
*Denotes affiliate links
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Welcome to the Backyard Bounty Podcast from HeritageAcresMarket.com, where we aim to educate and inspire you by sharing practical information to help your homestead thrive. And now, here's your host, Nicole.
Hello, everybody. And thank you so much for joining me for another episode of Backyard Bounty. I'm your host Nicole. And today I'm joined by Paola with Sage Creations Organic Farm. And today we are going to talk about growing lavender, whether it's for your own purposes, or if you want to take things a little bit larger scale. So Paola, thank you so much for joining me today.
Thanks for having me. I'm excited.
Absolutely. I'm excited to talk lavender, I have some that I've grown here. And I've dreamed of having a larger scale lavender grow in my extra acreage out here. So I'm really excited to talk to you about this today. But before we dive into that, can you tell me a little bit more about how you got into growing lavender and your background with that?
Sure. Well, my husband and I, we moved to Colorado now about 16 years ago, and my background was in farming. And we moved to where I wanted to live in a agricultural area where we'd be able to have a small farm. And we ended up landing in Palisade, Colorado, which is mainly known for tree fruit, particularly peaches. And more recently, wine grapes. When we bought the property that we now live on it, we inherited a cherry orchard, sweet cherry trees. And knowing that I didn't really want to grow peaches, because there were a lot of peach growers around our surrounding area, I was looking for potentially an alternative crop for the long run, like, you know, past beyond cherries, and had a background in herbs and culinary herbs and row crops. And I was seeing I did notice that a few people had some lavender plants in their garden. And I thought well, that actually is interesting, what are how lavender would do on a larger scale. And here we are on the western slope are farms at 4800 feet or so we're high desert. And thinking that you know lavender does well and marginal soil because basically work with wine grapes can grow, you can, you know, you can grow lavender as well. And we have a lot of full sun and sunny days, kind of rocky, marginal soil or pH is a little bit higher. And lavender can do well and actually can thrive in kind of an alkaline soil. And so I decided to do a trial. And that's that's how it all started. And I started with 40 plants. And now we are almost close to six acres of lavender, and growing three species and about over 45 different cultivars at last count, because it definitely becomes a collection. Doing a lot always doing trials and seeing what we can grow in our area and what we can grow in Colorado in the Rocky Mountains in the high desert, some constantly trying new new cultivars. So that's how we started it just it definitely grew organically and so to speak, in the sense of we started with 40 and then the next year I planted 1500 plants and then it just kind of continually grew. And in that process I developed and figured out how to develop the market as well.
So with that many plants, what is your main production? Do you sell just the herbs? Or do you produce things with the lavender?
We do everything. I mean, lavender is one of these plants that has so many applications. And so I actually have a market for all different aspects. If it's a lavender that we're growing, it's really great to use for culinary purposes, that's used in food products or to cook with so we grow for that. We also grow for fresh bundles, fresh cut flowers, for dried flower bundles for the potpourri. And then essential oils we distill here on the farm for the essential oils and also the distillates, the hydrosols, so the floral waters that comes from out of the still. We do all of it. And then and even a step further as we actually we grow the bedding plants as well. So not only for ourselves, but for gardeners and for other growers. And we have a very large collection of like I mentioned in the beginning of a number of different cultivars that kind of a unique offering that you would find that your home you know, just regular garden center. And then you know just over the years we've kind of gradually grown where we do grow from other growers. So we do it all. We use the plant in many different ways and process it in many different ways.
How neat. So you mentioned that you have a number of different varietals. So when it comes to trying to select which one would be best for our own uses, how do we go about that?
Well, a lot of it that, you know, you have to see what your growing conditions are, what growing zone are you in? Here in Colorado, we can predominantly grow two species. And that's the true lavender or the Lavendula Augustifolia or the Lavinden, which is a hybrid, and that's a cross between Lavendula Augustifolia, and a latifolia, which is a spike lavender. So it's a cross between a true lavender and a spike lavender. And those two species, fortunately, are the ones that are most commercially viable as well. And so you need to know your growing zone, you know, if you live in a warmer climate, I'm in a, you know, 5-A, 5-B growing zone, as I said, where our elevation is 4800 you know, depending on your elevation, and how your winters are, so, your angustifolia or your true lavenders are going to be your most cold hardy plants. So those are the ones that you would grow. If you're even in a colder region that I am, you know, we can grow both, but that those are definitely the most hardy and do the best in our climate. So you need to look at that your your growing zone is what your interests are, and what you like, why, why do you want to plant lavender? If you're a gardener, is it just going to be wanting to have it as part of your landscape? Do you want it as a pollinator plant? Because it's a wonderful plant for pollinators to incorporate your garden? Or do you want to grow it commercially? Then, what would you like to sell? Is it the essential oils? Is it the fresh cut flowers? Is it for culinary purposes? So those decisions or interests will dictate your choice in the species and then within that species, which cultivars within the species, there's especially the true lavender, there's hundreds of different cultivars or, or varietals.
So is it to say that, if you're growing culinary one, it can't be used for essential oils or another purpose or it's just not best for that application?
There's some cultivars that have crossovers that make a wonderful essential oils, and also are great for culinary purposes. And then there's others that just may not be. So say a lot of times like lavendins will be more camphorous, will have higher levels of terpenes and camphor in them, so they wouldn't, it's not that it's a poisonous plant, it's that it would be off putting to cook with per se. So you wouldn't want to cook with that particular species or cultivar within that species. Whereas like a true lavender within that there's cultivars that are have more floral notes in it or more mint notes to it. Lavender is related to the mint family, so there's a lot of attributes when you're cooking with it that can have like a mint note to it. And so that would be how you make those choices.
Okay, so for the most part, is there a variety of lavender that can be grown in most areas? I would assume probably not in the extremes, but kind of the most common growing zones.
Yeah, I would say true lavender does well, again, the growing requirements for lavender, and whether you're regardless of the species would be a six to eight hours, a full sun, good drainage. So it's really key it doesn't like to be... it likes to dry out between waterings. You may have problems with root rot diseases, if you're growing it in a place where you get a lot of rain and you don't have opportunity for the soils to dry out. And then as far as your pH of your soil, it's pretty much six and a half to seven all the way to seven and a half and in some areas of our farm or a seven and a half to eight in our pH levels. And so those would be you know, the growing requirements for lavender and I would say true lavender would be the like I mentioned would be the most hardy, generally speaking. You know that would be one that you could grow potentially depending on the cultivars, in little microclimates and say a 4-B, 5-A, 5-B, you know all the way up to Zone 9. But you do need those conditions of full sun and good drainage and kind of a more an alkaline side of the pH level of your soils.
What would be some common pests or problems? You mentioned root rot, but other ones that might be kind of common with lavender?
There aren't a lot of ones. You know, and again, it depends on your region. In our area, we have alfalfa mosaic virus. And that would be one that, you know, we have to worry about in our region. But you know, across the United States that people have different issues. So we don't have the issue of root rot or Phytophthora. Because we're a very dry climate and we have good drainage. We don't get, you know, lots of rain. And it is a drought tolerant plant. So it can, you know, resist those kind of conditions that was very common in Colorado, and in the southwest, in parts of California, but I know in some areas, they have some issues with fiddle bug, you know, I haven't really I haven't seen that in our area. But there's not a lot of really that's what's amazing about lavender is a pretty resilient plant, there aren't a lot of disease issues. I would say you know, Phytophthora is the one that is of concern in certain parts of the country.
And then so you I would assume grow your lavender organically with with the name of Sage Creations Organic Farm?
Yes, we do. We've been certified organic from the very beginning. And it's just because that a lot of it is what what I believe in terms of sustainable growing, but it's also what I know, you know, I've always worked in organic farms and organic gardening. So for me, it was an easy transition, to start to transition our farm to being a certified organic operation. And you know, that again, I think lavender, you know, is pretty is one of the crops, that is actually fairly easy to grow sustainably and organically. Our biggest issue really is weed control. And that would be our number one pest issue per se is being able to control our weeds. Because it is a perennial crop, you know, it's a long term crop, you have to look at lavender, when you when you're growing it, it's it's like growing an orchard or vineyard you're going to put it your plan is to put it in there for the long term. So you have to figure out how are you going to mitigate weeds, and it can, if you have weeds growing inside the shrub, or around your shrub that can really be detrimental to your yields and the overall health of that plant in terms of how vigorous it can grow. So your weed control is key. And it's probably one of our our largest challenges of growing organically.
What are some of those solutions that you found for that? Do you just manually pick them? Or do you use anything else?
We do a lot of hoeing.
Yeah, and we just said I've done over the years and it's still something I've always tried to become better at and figure out labor saving techniques and that thing that we do use a lot woven weed fabric. And depending on where we're growing at on our farm, how we place that we fabric can vary whether it be in between the furrows or in the rows, you know, and or on the actual beds and then where you burn a hole in your fabric and then plant your shrub, you know, using cover crop in the furrows to basically suppress your weeds also can help. Really, and the beauty about lavender is you just... we use all drip irrigation so I only direct the water where I want it to go. So that can also limit how much weeds you do have come up. So if we just limit it to the bed and to where that root zone of that plant is growing is where we're placing that water. We will have like a weed crew, depending on the year and how wet our spring is either two to three times for that growing season come in, we just weed the entire fields. We have multiple hula hoes and replacement parts and files and that's our, you know, and I'll try to get a weeding crew together about three times a year. But if we have rain or a lot of rain in the spring time. Sometimes we'll have to add a lot of ones through to that.
Sure. So you mentioned that the lavender was a long term plant. How long do they normally live?
Well, when I find you know, I guess again it depends on your growing zone where you are in the night. It states here in Colorado, what I'm really finding is that lavendins are what are the hybrid, which is also called Lavendula X Intermedia. And again, that's the cross between the true lavender and the spike lavender, that's the lavender that has the long stems, it has higher levels of camphor and terpenes. So it has a very kind of more of a Eucalyptus, you know, really strong smell and lasts a lot longer in terms of the scent. That plant I am finding that it's not as cold hardy, you'll get some die back. But it's about you know, on a on a farm level, not necessarily in your garden that has like a little microclimate that on it. Like if you're doing row crops and you know, out there in the field, it's about eight years lifespan until you realize it's the yields start going down, you have to like die back on your shrub that you... I just I decided to pull it out and start over. Now that you lavenders I have plants that I planted here since we started our farm, you know, 16 years ago that are the same original plants are some that are 14 years old.
You know, again, what I the last two years have been pretty tough in terms of weather. And I think it's it's been a little bit hard, harder on our plants and, you know, really drought conditions and early freezes that have affected the growth of the plant that I haven't seen before. So, you know, it really depends like with with farming anything in our weather is becoming less and less predictable that sometimes you lose plants earlier than you in the past maybe wouldn't have.
Yeah, I have noticed that struggle here in southern Colorado as well. What about fertilizing, do you use any fertilizers on your plants?
So if we, you know, when I prep a field, I will see what the requirements of the soil are. I do like to add compost, since we do have it we have heavy clay, just to improve on the organic matter. I like to do cover cropping before planting a new field and adding compost. So a lot of it is in my preparation, when I plant a new field. As far as ongoing, and finding as we age as the plants are aging, it is helpful to have some kind of fertilizing regimen. And since I farmed, organically, I'll use I'll use organic fertilizers like the fish emulsions and humic acids, it just depends on what the you know what I feel like the plants need at that time.
So they're not really a heavy feeding plant ?
No, not at all. They're not a heavy feeder at all. And you know, you'll find that you don't really have to even start fertilizing your plants until maybe the fourth or fifth year. I mean, again, it depends on your soul prep. And you know what your soul condition there's so many variables, but I do find with aging plants, it it can help to fertilize.
Sure. So what about harvesting? How does that work? Do you normally get just one harvest a year? And and when you do harvest them? What's kind of the work involved with that? I guess?
Well again, it depends on what you're harvesting for. So if you're harvesting for fresh bundles, you know or, or even fresh bundles that then you're going to dry for dry bundles, or for dried flower buds that you're going to be harvesting by hand and making it into a bundle and then hanging it upside down on a drying rack in a drying room or space so to speak. It depends on again, your growing zone, and the species and the cultivars in terms of how many harvests will you get from that particular plant. So for a true lavender, you can get anywhere depending on the cultivars or anywhere from two to four harvests. And there's some that are just what we call double bloomers. So a double bloomer would be a plant that would fully bloom like in that early summer, and then fully fully bloom again in the early fall. You know, and again, that would say maybe would be typical would be in our region or here in Colorado. You know, if you're somewhere in that warmer climate, you can even get more than that. So we you know, we get say two harvests or one really strong harvest and then a relatively, you know, a little bit of smaller, the second harvest. Now on the hybrids like that X-Intermedias, generally speaking, here again in our in our state, we get about a one full harvest so where the plant is is fully in bloom and the entire shrub is is bloomed out, then that you get one solid harvest, and then you may get some secondary bloom, you know, with a few stems coming out, you know from your plant, you can harvest it or, you know, maybe go through and it picks up for fresh cut or for dry flowers or something like that. But for my purposes, I leave that for pollinators, and let them have it because at that point I've done with those lavendins and hybrids. I just have the one harvest for the season. You know, I think if you're growing it on a commercial property, you want to actually have it as a cash crop and not it's not just a plant in your garden, that the thing you know, there is planning involved. And you need to understand the spacing and the growth habit of each plant. And then understanding what your purpose is why why do you want to grow the lavender? What do you want to sell? Sometimes you won't know, for sure, you know, sometimes you like for me, it kind of evolved over time, especially once I saw the characteristics and the workability of some of these different varieties. But you know, as to is to at least have some idea before planting is, you know, what are your interests? What kind of market do you want to pursue? Because not every lavender plant is the same. And some are, they might be great just to have in your garden, but commercially, they're not really worth, you know, maybe worth the time. It's just taking up valuable space, especially, especially if you have little space, which, like I do, or you know, a lot of small growers and hobby farmers do.
Sure. So I know that you sell plants. So I assume that if somebody was wanting to get into this, they could reach out to you and you could help guide them as to which which ones would be best for their application?
Yes, I do. I have on my website, SageCreationsOrganicFarm.com I do have a whole section in a blog about lavender, I'm going to talk about other things as well. But lavender is definitely predominantly the information on my website in terms of growing and choosing different varieties our plant list is on there and it will kind of tell you the attributes the zone spacing requirements. And I do with some what are, you know which ones are great to cook with which ones are great to distill for the essential oils. So I have a lot of that on my website. There's a lot of great resources out there though, as well. Michigan State University came out the first of the year of last year with a tutorial on growing lavender, especially if you're interested being a lavender grower, or you know, growing it commercially, I highly recommend that. There's different modules all the way from you to starting up your business plan to, to you're planting your fields and target you know harvesting and processing. And then through the United States flower Growers Association is a great organization as well. And they have a closed Facebook grower group where a lot of growers pose questions and people have a great kind of conversations of you know, different things that people are thinking about in terms of whether from the growing or processing or packaging or all kinds of things. And then here in Colorado, we have just become a now state organization used to be just the western slope, but it's the Colorado Lavender Growers Association. And those are all great resources for people to seek out know as well. Like I said, my website we have I talk a lot about lavender. So when choosing plants or calling or email me I'm always happy to help. I do have a grower class in spring for people that are interested as well. But this last year, we had to do it kind of a hybrid, we did virtual and then in person once we started our harvest and are in the middle of our harvest in July. So I broke it up into parts and I may be probably doing the same thing this this year as well.
Okay, great. And if I read correctly, you also have some products available and then folks can also come out and visit the lavender farm.
Yes, definitely. So we open our season starts with our greenhouses where we have lavender plants and also all kinds of other bedding plants and flowers and herbs and medicinal herbs but we start at the end of April. The first of May is when our greenhouses open our farm stand open for the season. And even if you're just a gardener wanting to have lavender plants in your garden, you could come. You know, read about and see all the different plants that we have to offer. And then our farm is open as well during bloom time, which is mid June through July. And people can come out to blooming fields, take your own lavender, get all kinds of events during that time as well. During the bloom time, people can enjoy the fields in the gardens.
Wonderful. And so of course, we'll put the link to your website and the resources that you mentioned in the show notes so that people can reach out to you and access those other resources as well. But Paula, thank you so much. I really appreciate you sharing your time with me today and talking about lavender.
Well, thank you for having me, I really enjoyed it.
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