Garden Geek Trip to San Francisco

Every year in mid-March, I head to San Francisco (or rather, San Mateo) for the San Francisco Garden Show.  I always take a day off from work so I can visit the show early in the week and round up whichever of my gardening friends are available to make the trip.  But this year, we kicked it up a notch.  The plans have been brewing for weeks and we made the pilgrimage on Tuesday and Wednesday this week.

Carri (front yard veggie gardener extraordinaire) was the driver and I was the fairly competent navigator (GPS reader) and after getting coffee, gassing up, picking up a forgotten FastTrack pass and totally spacing on getting cash, we headed off to the bay area.

First stop:  Our friend Chuck’s place in Bernal Heights.  He took us out for lunch at the Liberty Cafe and then we headed over to Flora Grubb – a fantastic urban nursery that Carri and I had yet to visit.  They had an amazing selection of succulents, air plants and furniture, as well as your typical nursery plants.

They have an enormous old car filled with plants and other recycled materials on display outside.

Inside, there is a brightly colored wall decorated with air plants and an old, ornate window.

On the flip side is a wall of plants!

Check out this old sink full of pitcher plants…

The reason for our trip here was to score one of Far Out Flora’s Staghorn Fern Mounts.  Mission accomplished – that one in the lower left corner is now in my house!

After Flora Grubb, we got a tour of Chuck’s garden.  His blog is called My Back 40 (Feet) for good reason – he has a three story house in SF with the most amazing garden.  It’s chock full of layers of interesting plants that he’s always moving around and changing out.

 

Here’s Chuck – he’s currently babysitting a beehive for a friend that’s residing on the deck above his head. As an aside – he can keep bees on a balcony in San Francisco, but the City of Roseville won’t allow us to keep bees in our backyards.  Ridiculous.

And here’s a look out at the bees and his view of the city….beautiful!

After visiting with Chuck, we headed to Los Altos to a garden party hosted by Rebecca Sweet and Susan Morrison, both garden designers, in Rebecca’s garden.  Her garden is impeccable (as you might imagine) and we had a fantastic time connecting with other gardeners.  Most of us have met online through Twitter, but it was a treat to meet them in real life.

 

And finally, on Wednesday, we headed to the Garden Show at the San Mateo Event Center.  If you haven’t been and enjoy plants and gardening, you must make the trip.  This isn’t a “home show” with a bazillion spa vendors.  This is a garden show with beautiful display gardens and vendors catering to those of us who spend the weekends puttering with plants.  Someone this week said that the garden show should be like fashion week. Over the top displays that aren’t necessarily practical in the big picture, but that have great ideas you can incorporate into your own garden.

The big hit of the show seemed to be the “Dragon Garden” for good reason.  It had a giant dragon!  This was truly the over the top display of the show – more art than gardening, but amazing to see all of the intricate pieces.

Urban Farming is definitely the trend of the past few years and certainly gives us lots of ideas for the farm.  Chicken gardening is “in” – we even hung out with Jessi Bloom, a garden designer who wrote the book Free Range Chicken Gardens who is speaking at the show this week.  If you’re interested in keeping chickens, while keeping your yard and garden in one piece, you should check out her book.

We found this chicken coop with a spiral staircase leading to the hen house:

Composting is also a popular topic and I found this display very interesting since we’re about to start our own compost area soon.

In the show gardens, I loved this bathtub fountain.  They were actually brewing compost tea in it, which gave it a very murky look and it was in a location that made it difficult to get a good photo.  However, we have an extra bathtub or two laying around the farm and I love the idea of turning it into a fountain!

I loved this cold frame made with old windows and reclaimed lumber.  It is sized to fit on a balcony if you’re trying to garden in a small space.

More examples of recycling and reuse were everywhere.  From dumpsters used as planters to a pallet-turned-table with succulents down the center.

Of course, I didn’t escape with my wallet intact.  All of the big, specialty nurseries are there.  I did the most damage at Digging Dog where I picked up an Oak Leaf Hydrangea (to replace one that didn’t make it a few years back) and my new prized possession that I have been obsessing over for awhile now, the Hakuro Nishiki Willow.  I also picked up a Baby Burro Tail at Succulent Gardens and a hanging air plant too.

If you want to go to the show, it’s not too late!  It runs all weekend so escape the rain and start planning this summer’s garden.

 

 

 

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The Projects Continue!

This weekend, we all took a break.  We didn’t really want to – we really wanted to order a dumpster and continue with our barn demolition work.  But it finally rained this week – hard – so we decided to take the weekend off to rest our bodies and our minds.  We really haven’t taken a weekend off since the first of the year – after not focusing much in the fall, we beat ourselves up a bit around the holidays for letting things like weeds get the better of us and decided we’d better really focus and get to work in the new year.

Last weekend, with the metal building complete, we really pushed ourselves to get another section of the old barn torn down.  First, we had to sort through everything that had been stored in that section of the barn for years – old furniture, lots of livestock equipment, construction materials and tools.  What did we want to keep in storage, what could go to the dump and what will we try to sell at a future farm (yard) sale?

Then, with that section emptied and everything sorted, the guys knocked the old metal roof off, cut a few strategic supports and attached a chain to a truck to yank the building down in just a few seconds.

Once it was on the ground, we cut it into a bunch of pieces that we’ll put into that dumpster I mentioned (maybe next weekend?)

We’re now down to only 40 feet of the original 120 foot barn still standing.  After much deliberation, we’re going to rehab this section of barn and tie it in to the new (old) Craigslist barn and it will be either a little store or perhaps the workshop.

The next step will be to grade and level the area where the new barn will stand and start figuring out how to put the pieces together.  We do have one large section of fencing that needs to be removed before we begin that project.

If you’re wondering how the lavender is doing – it’s slowly coming out of it’s long winter’s nap and beginning to show signs of new growth.  We’ve also ordered 150 Abrialli lavender plants from Morningsun Herb Farm in Vacaville to replace some of the plants that we never received last year.  We’ll also be trying our hand at propagating in the next month or so to fill in the spots where we’ve lost plants.

So between our construction projects, lavender growing, planting and harvesting and hopefully a honey harvest, we have a busy spring and summer ahead of us.  And plenty of opportunities for those of you who’d like to join us!  Hope to see you all soon.

 

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Done!

This was a great spring weekend to get things done.  In two days we weeded the back lavender field, mowed between the rows and pulled up the remaining disintegrating weed cloth, did our first full spring inspection of the beehive and swapped the brood boxes, mowed the rest of the garden, planted potatoes and blueberries, cleaned and reorganized the potted plants on the back porch and OH YEAH….finished the metal building!

Not only did we finish it, but we also started moving items into it that need to be stored while we pull down the old barn and build the new one.  Next weekend we plan to demolish the remainder of the old barn, but first, here’s how the metal building came together over the past five weekends:

We selected our location where the end of the old barn had once stood and leveled the area.

Next, we built concrete forms:

A weatherproof barrier and rebar are installed for reinforcement.

We ordered a concrete truck and called on friends and family with tools and experience.

And then….we waited for it to dry….

It took two weekends to put up the three levels of walls.

And then things got tricky.  We had to figure out how to assemble the roof and hoist it 12 feet in the air.  We decided to assemble a few sections outside and then lift it with a 2×4 with a crosswise piece of wood attached.  We probably all should have been wearing hard hats at this point…

 

After that, we took nominations for the person who would work on the extension ladder, bungee corded to a step ladder, leaning against a piece of metal floating 12′ in the air.  Dennis always wins the popular vote on these types of things.

Then it was like the erector set you had as a kid (at least, that’s what Dennis said it was like).  One piece at a time – one person on the inside, one on the outside, burning through batteries on the impact gun as fast as you can say “get me another bolt”.

After all of the pieces were assembled, the roof vent needed to be added to the very top of the building.  Again, there was much debate and nominations were accepted for who would shimmy to the top of the building to do the deed.  I think you know who won our votes….again.  There may or may not have been a long string of curse words that happened during this phase….but doesn’t he make it look easy in this photo?

And finally…..the finished project!!  Doesn’t it look like it’s always been there?

When you see it next to the old barn, it REALLY looks like its always been here, right?

By the way, in case you’re interested in the history of the Butler grain bins (like I was), here’s the quick history: Butler (who is still in business today) was a livestock water tank manufacturer at the turn of the century when they diversified by building grain bins.  They answered an RFP by the government in 1938 when there was a bumper crop of grain in the country that asked for 20,000 grain bins in 60 days.  They refurbished an abandoned plant in Galesburg, IL, staffed it, and delivered all of the bins on time.  The company continued making the bins throughout the war years, even though steel was scarce, and after the war, there was a huge demand for the buildings which they continued to manufacture for decades.

It’s hard to say exactly when our building was manufactured, but it’s fair to say that it probably dates to sometime in the 1950’s.  Who knows where it was and what use it had until my grandfather got his hands on it in the late 60’s or early 70’s, but it’s clear that 60 years later, the building is just as sturdy as when it first rolled off the assembly line, ready for another generation of work on the The Lamm Farm.

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DALLAS IS GONE

 

Every farm has one. A loyal and dependable hand that will do whatever is asked, cheerfully. They live to please and to be close….and unfortunately, Every farm loses at least one of these hands over time. As is often the case, we underestimate the value of this relationship until it passes and then we grieve.

The Lamm Farm lost such a hand this week.  Our farm dog, Dallas, was with us roughly 11 years. He was big … 90 – 100 lbs.; he was fierce to other dogs that strayed onto his property, or the deer passing through, or the neighbor’s chickens who came into our yard to scratch in the flowerbeds; he was gentle with family members, especially the two little granddaughters who loved to hug and pet him, and who will not understand where he has gone.

He was a house dog, if we were in the house, but would not be satisfied with indoors if any of “his people” went out doors. He loved to follow us around the farm and if we were doing something that kept us stationary for a while, he enjoyed finding a comfy spot, out of the way and stretching out in the sun. He slept in our room and sometimes awakened us with his snores, or his dream state barks at who knows what?? As a good watch dog he also told us when there were abnormal sounds outside of the house – often we guessed that it was deer using the dark of night to eat the plants around the house.

Dallas was a “pound puppy”. We found him at the SPCA when we were searching for the “right dog”. He was different in appearance, well mannered for a young dog, and seemed to have just the right spirit. The shelter said he was part Australian Shepherd and maybe German Shepherd. We had raised shepherds of both kinds before and we were pretty sure this was not correct. It didn’t matter. We weren’t looking for “breed”, we were looking for “dog”! And we got one! Over the years we felt that perhaps he was Great Dane and shepherd mix. We had never owned a Great Dane, but he had coloring and markings that were similar to some we had seen. His head shape was not right, but that could have been the shepherd influence. Over the years it was fun to speculate, but again, it didn’t matter. About 8 months ago, on a visit to the vet, a vet tech came out from the back and asked who owned the “Catahoula” named Dallas. I told her that Dallas was mine, but I didn’t know what a “Catahoula” was. She explained that it was a herding and hunting breed from Louisiana and encouraged me to look it up on the Internet. I did exactly that when I got home, and the first few pictures I found could have been litter mates! Reading the background and breed characteristics I realized that we now knew what kind of dog he was.

As large dogs are prone to do, Dallas developed mobility issues. A combination of maladies conspired to slow him down to a hobble and in the final few days he was unable to get up or to stand on his own. There was little more that we could do for him. We took him to the vet and with what dignity was left, relieved him of his pain and fruitless struggles to stand. He is now buried on the farm where he lived and was loved. We will miss him terribly.

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From Winter to Spring

Whether we’re ready for it or not, winter is slowly fading to spring.  Not like there’s been much of a change in terms of the weather.  Most of January was sunny with highs in the 60’s and, come to think of it, so was December.  We’ve seen just a bit more rain in February but the weather has still been mild and we’ve entered a stretch of 70 degree temps this week.  Regardless, there are still ways to mark the seasons’ change, most notably the almond bloom.

Almonds bloom in February every year, but with the bloom also seems to come the wind and the rain making it difficult for bees to do any pollinating before the blooms are knocked from the trees. So, if you were smart (or could expertly forecast the weather months in advance) you bought almond futures last year because this is looking to be a fantastic year for almond growers!  Along with the almonds, there is sign of new life all over the farm with buds and sprouts and flowers popping up everywhere.

Here’s a little tour of what’s popping up at the farm this week:

The narcissus always start blooming in late December or early January and will be gone soon, but they brighten the front yard when nothing else is blooming.

The euphorbia is just beginning to bloom and looks like a creature from outer space.

 

Also in the front yard are these pretty little old-fashioned violets.  My mom remembers that they’ve been there as long as they’ve lived there but that she hasn’t seen them for a few years.  Maybe they, too like the dry weather?

It wouldn’t be spring without the daffodils and these are the first ones to poke up out of the ground.

A perfect almond bloom.

Heading out to the pasture, these little native flowers are beginning to bloom everywhere.  I was thinking they were Baby Blue Eyes, but the foliage doesn’t look right.  Anyone know what it is?

Also popping up this time of year is the Miner’s Lettuce – another native here and said to be named because the miners during the gold rush would eat it to get their Vitamin C to prevent scurvy.  You can add it to salads and eat it raw or steam it, although I never have tried it.

Oh, we did some work this weekend too!  The metal building is going up (a little slower than we would have hoped).  We managed to get two levels done in two days.  Hopefully we can get it finished this weekend.  And then, we move on to the big barn….

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We Love Our Birds

We asked Gloria, our resident birdwatcher, to blog for this week’s Farmhouse Festival Fridays over at The Renegade Farmer.  Click on over to their site to read more farming stories.

When I was a child, I loved to climb the willow tree in our backyard.  At the time, it was not about getting a closer look at the birds, but rather to watch the folks walking on the sidewalk on the main street, just a short distance away.  I was not a birdwatcher all those years ago, but I was well aware of the beautiful male Cardinal that considered our alley as part of his territory.  I thought he sat up on the wire calling to me.  Instead he was probably scolding me for getting too close.  My father and I spent many evenings sitting on the back steps, first watching the birds, then looking at the stars.  He taught me to appreciate nature, and to not be afraid of daddy long legs, toads and snakes.  O.k.  I will admit I’m still cautious of snakes.

Northern Cardinal

 

For years my family traveled between eastern Nebraska and my father’s hometown, 200 miles to the west, along the Platte River.  We passed through Buffalo County, alongside the Platte River, through mile after mile of corn fields, a birding hot spot in the Central Flyway.  Back then, I was unaware that 500,000 Sandhill Cranes were stopping there to rest and refuel, before traveling to their winter or summer quarters.  How did I miss that?  Oh, yeah, I was curled in a little ball in the back seat, trying not to get carsick.  Although the numbers are much smaller, Sandhill Cranes winter here in the Central Valley, and I sometimes see them flying overhead.  Their call is so loud; I hear them long before I see them.

In the spring of 1999, my husband had just received his MBA (kudos), the offspring had both left home and become responsible adults (kudos x 2), so I put aside my anxiety over test-taking, and signed up for an ornithology class at Sierra College.  My fellow students were not what I’d expected:  ages 18 to 60.  I wasn’t certain how we would watch the birds, since this was an evening class, and going into winter, I figured all the birds would be headed South.  Silly me.  Our Saturday field trips took us from Lake Tahoe to Point Reyes National Seashore.  Who knew there were so many species of sparrows and shorebirds!  I also discovered winter really is the best time to look for birds, since most of the trees are bare.  Also, for many birds, this area is the winter feeding grounds.

During class, my teacher told us about Christmas Bird Count, a wonderful event that has been around since Christmas day, 1900.  It is now the longest running Citizen Science survey in the world.  Tens of thousands of volunteers count birds in their area, providing data to Audubon on changes in the bird populations.  Not to mention, it is fun to go outside with our binoculars, bird guides and checklists and enjoy nature.  This event has made me aware of the changes that have occurred in my area:  Eurasian Collared Doves have moved into our area, Great-tailed Grackles are only about 2 miles away (yikes!), the numbers of Dark-eyed Juncos have dwindled, the turkeys no longer come to visit, and the numbers of American Goldfinches have doubled since last year.

We’ve lived on our property for over 20 years, a very busy time of raising children, sheep, chickens, rabbits and Border Collies.  There was little time given to the birds around me.  But in the spring of 2000, I put up bird feeders, and that’s when I really got to know my neighborhood birds.  They came looking for me.  I found out there is a program through Cornell University for counting the birds in my backyard:  Project Feeder Watch.  I’ve had some unexpected visitors at my feeders in the last 12 years.  The Indigo Bunting was an accidental visitor, but what a stunning bird.  It spent a few days here, and then went on its way.

 

Indigo Bunting

One summer, a pair of Black-crowned Night Herons nested nearby, and their babies spent a day in the plum tree, testing their wings.  Discovering that we have three varieties of Hummingbirds (Anna’s are full-time residents, and the Black-chinned and Rufous migrate through), has been such a joy.  During the peak of the migration season, I’m filling 3 nectar feeders every other day.

Rufous Hummingbird

I have to admit that even after 12 years, I still feel like a novice birder.  I can’t begin to tell you how many LBB’s, (little, brown birds), I’ve encountered over the years.  Although I often feel like the birds are eating me out of house and home, they really have been beneficial to the property.  Twenty years ago, hundreds of oak web worms nestled in balls of tiny tendrils, or webs, feeding on the leaves of the oak trees.  Once I started feeding the birds, the web worms disappeared.

Although my bird identification skills have increased over the years, there are still notations in my bird court list of LBB’s.  A typical bird list during the winter includes goldfinches, White-crown and Gold-crown Sparrows, Spotted and California Towhees, Mockingbirds, Anna’s Hummingbirds, Western Bluebirds, White-breasted Nuthatch, Sapsuckers, and a variety of woodpeckers.  Hawks, owls, kestrels and kites are drawn here by the songbirds, too.  When the mulberries are ripe, the tree is in constant motion from Cedar Waxwings, Robins, Red-winged Blackbirds, Starlings, Western Kingbirds, and all the LBB’s.

Spotted Towhee

 

Sometimes the property maintenance is at cross purposes with our attempt to make this a bird sanctuary.  Tree branches cannot be cut during breeding season, and the giant Banksia rose cannot be cut back more than once every 5 years.  That rose is where all the little birds scurry when the Sharp-shinned Hawk swoops down.

I’m happy to report that my 3 ½ year old granddaughter loves the birds.  As she gets older, I know her interest will come and go, but perhaps someday in the future, she will be teaching her grandchild about the birds that came to visit the Lamm Farm.

The home office: Banksia Rose, hot tea, Chai Tea cake, binoculars, bird book and computer. What more could I ask for?

 

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The Metal Building

Last weekend, we poured a concrete foundation for our new, old, new to the farm lavender drying shed.  We’ve been talking quite a bit about outbuildings for the farm lately and though it may seem like nothing special, barns and outbuildings are the backbone of any farm.  Whether they house livestock, equipment or are for storage, without these buildings, the work of any farm would be greatly compromised.  So, in addition to the barn we bought on Craigslist, which will house most of our equipment and hopefully be used for any on-farm events, we’ve ended up with another building that we intend to use for lavender drying.

While I used to think my family were the only ones that recycled buildings, it’s becoming clear that nothing has changed in the world of barn building.  When it comes down to it, barns are expensive and most farmers don’t have the resources to build from scratch.  As we started to take down the old barn on the property, we realized that one entire side of the 80 year old turkey barn was built with old pallets and then covered with plywood.  Where did the pallets come from?  Who knows, but they served their original purpose and then were re-purposed for another 80 years before we pulled them down.

So its only fitting that as the main barn on the property has reached the end of its useful life, we’re recycling yet another building to replace it.  My grandparent’s farm had two outbuildings.  One is a horse barn from the California State Fairgrounds when it was on Stockton Boulevard.  When those fairgrounds closed in the 1960’s and relocated to the new, modern Cal Expo grounds, the buildings were sold and my grandfather bought one.  He and my uncle dismantled it, moved it to their property and rebuilt it there, where it still stands today.  I think its a fantastic piece of Sacramento’s history and I wonder if there are any others still standing on someone else’s family farm.

The old state fair barn

The other building is a round metal grain silo that my grandparents used as a storage shed.  Of course, this wasn’t purchased as a new building either – it was picked up from a wholesaler who had bought a bunch of used silos and was reselling them in the early 70’s.  After standing on their property for forty years and no longer in use, we decided it would make the perfect lavender drying shed.  So last fall, we dismantled it screw by screw and moved it to The Lamm Farm.

As an aside – do you see that HUGE agave plant growing next to the shed at my grandparent’s place? It must have been planted forty years ago as well and I’m certain my grandmother never thought it would get this large or that we would have to hack it back at some point just to get to the building.  However, for sentimentality’s sake, I did grab a pup from that giant plant and put it in a pot in my yard.  I’ve offered to plant it right back next to the building in it’s new location but have been threatened with my life if I dare to do so….

After a few months of planning and plotting, we picked out the perfect location and began building forms for the foundation.  We then debated the various merits or issues with our options for pouring concrete.  A big pump truck? (their minimums are more than we need), run back and forth to town one rental mix truck at a time? (that will take all day…) and finally settled on a company that mixes concrete on site so you get (and pay for) exactly the amount we would need.  On Saturday, we, along with a friend who made us promise to never thank him publicly for fear that people will know he owns concrete tools and knows how to use them, poured five yards of concrete and made a new foundation for our old building.

Of course, a concrete slab would never be complete without children’s hand prints – my grandmother remembers that her children put their hands in the foundation of the old state fair barn at her place, so we made sure the next generation of our family did the same.  Megan & Keira enthusiastically made their marks and we added the year onto the ramp that we’ll no doubt wheel many carts full of lavender into for many summers to come.

Next, we’ll begin to reassemble the building so that we have a storage building during the time that we construct the new old new to us Craigslist barn. It pleases me to no end to find a new use for an old building in a new location.

 

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The Bees – Season Two

This post is our first participation in the Renegade Farmer Farmhouse Festival Fridays. Click on over to find more Friday farming posts!

As February begins, we’re officially entering the new beekeeping season, our second season (or first full one depending on how you look at it!)  All of the experts we consulted with last year as we were getting started said more or less the same thing – the first summer should be really easy and successful, then you close up the box for the winter and hope the bees are still there in February!  How scary….after the work and expense of getting into beekeeping, they could all be gone in a few short months for any number of reasons.

The two easiest ways to lose your hive during this time are from starvation (they didn’t make or you didn’t leave them enough honey to get through the winter) and varroa mites.  Varroa mites attach themselves to honeybees and literally suck the life from them – like microscopic vampires.  The biggest problem is that mite populations spike at the same time honeybee populations decline each year (late summer / early fall) so the colony is just not strong enough to combat the massive onslaught of mites.  Sure enough, we went from seeing only a few mites on our bottom board to a significant increase between August and October.  We treated with Apiguard, a thymol based gel that the bees carry around the hive while cleaning that helps to control the mites and it appears to have been successful since there are still bees flying in and out of the hive.

We’ve done nothing more with the hive since October since the bees seal up all the cracks and close the lid with propolis to keep their home as warm and dry as possible through the winter.  We’ve had such a mild winter that every time we’ve inspected the hive from the outside, we’ve seen plenty of bees flying, and some returning with pollen – which is a great sign!  Pollen is the protein source for the honeybee diet (they get their carbs from the honey) so if they still have plenty of stored honey and are foraging for pollen, we don’t need to supplement them with sugar water or pollen patties for the time being.

Once the winter solstice has passed, the colony begins preparing for the next season by preparing brood nests and by February, new baby bees are beginning to replace their older sisters that have sustained the colony all winter.  Here in California, the timing is perfect as I’ve just read in the past few days that the almond trees have begun to bloom – and they need bees to be pollinated!  If the blooms in our immediate area really get going, we could even need to put a honey super on this month (another box of honey comb for the bees to store honey in).  If windy and rainy weather comes back for extended periods of time in the spring though, we will have to start feeding them extra as they will deplete their winter stores – especially with their larger populations – and they won’t be able to forage.

So we’re about to crack the lid of the hive signifying the end of winter (for the bees) and the start of a new season.  We hope to actually harvest some honey this year and are discussing adding another hive to the farm.  We also think that we feel comfortable enough to catch a swarm (well, Dennis feels comfortable enough) so we may have as many as three hives by summertime….stay tuned.

For all of you wannabe beekeepers out there, I’m happy to report that our first year has so far been a success and I would encourage you to jump in!  Now is the time to reserve a package of bees for delivery in the next few months.  Sign up for beekeeping classes, read every book you can get your hands on and find yourself a mentor.  Our local association, the Sacramento Area Beekeepers Association, assigned one to us and he has been only a phone call or email away when we’ve been standing over the hive worrying over something.

So here’s to February – and the new bee season!

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A Propagation Primer

One of the most frustrating interesting parts of this project has been that we’ve had to learn everything as we go.  As much as we read, asked and studied lavender before getting our first plant in the ground, we come upon new questions every day and have to decide how we are going to answer them.  Some days, I’m in awe of the internet and wonder how anybody could have possibly figured anything out before it existed.  Other days, I can’t stand how many answers there are to one simple question and wish I just had one book from the library with only one answer to my question.  And so it has been when it comes to my research on lavender propagation.

The reality is, we can’t continue buying large quantities of lavender plants going forward – not only is it not economical, but we now have the ability to grow “free” plants (more on that whole free thing later…) to fill in for plants that didn’t make it through the first year, increase our overall planting acreage or have them to sell to all of you lavender lovers out there (there are a lot of you, right??)  And so I’ve begun doing research on how to best propagate lavender.

I actually took a few cuttings from a plant in my backyard in the fall, dipped them in rooting hormone and put them in a windowsill sized seed starting tray along with some coleus cuttings just to see what would happen.  What happened is that I have three healthy little coleus plants and no lavender.  To be fair, the windowsill isn’t especially sunny and the cat knocked the tray out of the window and into the kitchen sink almost daily for weeks so I’m more surprised that the coleus lived than that the lavender died.  So it’s clear I needed to be a little more prepared and professional in my approach.

After hours of reading, watching videos and researching online, I think I’m more confused now than when I started.  To say there is a wide variety of opinions on the subject would be an understatement.  Most everyone agrees on how to get started: Pick a healthy plant and take softwood cuttings, remove the bottom few leaves, dip the cutting in rooting hormone and place in a well draining planting mix.

AND THEN WHAT?!?!

Seriously, 95% of the information available stops there!!  How can this be everything I need to know?  I know enough to know that’s not all there is, but why can I not find any more information than that??

Another day of research later, I stumbled upon a great publication from Washington State University Extension’s Small Farms Team that was much more detailed.  Furthermore, it was from a credible source (more than I can say for much of what I read) so I feel a bit better about the reliability of their information.  This is the first place I found a mention that the propagation trays need heat applied to the bottom of the trays at 72 degrees and that it will take 3-5 weeks for the cuttings to root.  So thank you WSU Extension, for some clear, concise, and complete answers.

However, I still have questions, but the all-knowing internet can’t seem to agree on the answers so I’m really hoping some of you plant geeks experts have some insight for me.  If not, I’m going to wing it and hope for the best.  So here goes:

1.  In regards to water, I’m supposed to mist, but not too much.  And keep the soil moist, but not too moist or it will cause root rot.  Should I do both?  Water and mist? Cover with a lid to create humidity? At what point do lavender cuttings become lavender plants that don’t like their feet to be wet?

2. What about light? I will be keeping the plants on a rack in the garage and have grow lights, but much of the advice I’m finding is to keep them out of a sunny location.  Do I put them on a heat mat AND turn the grow lights on?  The garage isn’t particularly bright so it seems like I would need some light, but I don’t want to fry the poor little guys!

Now, remember how I mentioned “free” plants earlier? That’s how everyone seems to attempt to convert you to the ways of propagation.

“Why buy plants at the nursery when you can grow free ones at home?!?!”

Keep in mind, we are doing this on a bigger scale than you might do at home.  YOU can put a handful of cuttings in a recycled 2 liter container in your windowsill and have plenty of plants much more affordably than buying seedlings at the nursery.  But what about when you want 500 new lavender plants?  My windowsills don’t have enough real estate for that.

We spent half a day visiting five (yes, five) different stores last weekend collecting everything we need to make a rolling propagation rack with grow lights.  My husband had insisted on finding a rack with wheels – mostly because he’s convinced I’m trying to take over his garage with plants and wants to make sure he can push them out of his way if necessary – but as it turns out, this was a brilliant idea.  When we need to start hardening off the plants, we can roll the whole rack outside and then back in rather than carry flat after flat out to sit on the picnic table each day.  Eventually, this whole setup will be moved to the farm, but until we have a new barn, the garage will have to work.

I’m now pricing seedling heat mats, comparing a ridiculously huge variety of seed starting trays and am intrigued by this cool gadget called the Seed Blocker that would eliminate the need for pots (maybe not practical for us).  Let’s just say this whole setup will cost a few hundred dollars in order to grow our free plants.  On the other hand, we only need to buy it all once and it will last a number of years so we have many more “free” plants to look forward to in future years.

At this point, my plan is to do a small flat of cuttings in the next week or so and experiment with light, heat and moisture to see what seems to work best.  If I’m feeling confident by mid-March, I’ll try some larger scale propagation in the hopes to have plants ready to go in the ground by the end of May.  I’d love to hear about your propagation experiences – what worked and what didn’t and I promise to report back on our progress soon!

 

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The Violet & Our Own Etsy Shop!

Just before Christmas, in an effort to create as many handmade gifts as possible, I stumbled across a recipe for hard lotion bars and made a batch for friends, family and coworkers.  Everyone loved them and my mom even said that it was the only thing she had ever tried that completely healed her dry, cracked feet.  As the friends I gave them to started showing them to their friends, I started getting requests for more and people asking where they could buy them.

Before I could spend too much time thinking about it, I got a request from an online magazine, The Violet, who was working on a story about brunch parties and wanted a cute little favor to put at each place setting and was hoping I could give them some lotion bars!  Of course, they needed six bars in less than a week in some kind of cute packaging that would work for a photo shoot.  After my plans A & B for packaging didn’t work out, this is what I ended up with (which I actually like better than my original plan!)

If you want to see the entire story, head on over to The Violet and check out Bringing Back Brunch on pages 45-48.

Once I knew this story would be online, it seemed like a good idea to go ahead and start an Etsy shop.  If you’re not familiar with Etsy, it’s an online resource for handmade and vintage items.  Artisans open their own “shop” online to sell their products.  At the moment, I just have the hard lotion bars in the shop, but in the next two weeks, I will also have chapstick, honey lip balm and the hard lotion in roll up stick form.

So, if you were wondering to yourself how you could get your hands on a Lavender Hard Lotion Bar of your own (you were wondering that, right??), visit The Lamm Farm on Etsy to snap one up!

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