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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We Bought a Barn…

…on Craigslist!  No, really….we did!

It’s been kind of a crazy year – we really jumped into this whole rehabbing the farm thing one project at a time without too many ideas on how we would pull it all off.  As we’ve discussed before, the old barn absolutely had to come down.  Actually – it was taking itself down whether we decided to help it or not.  However, at some point a few months ago, I started really worrying about what was going to replace it.  A farm needs a barn – especially if we hope to host visitors or events in the future – but a new barn from scratch could cost $30,000 or more and none of us are interested in or able to take on that kind of expense.  So, what kind of affordable option were we going to find to replace our aging structure?

There isn't much left of the old barn

 

It was while obsessing over this question that I decided to look on Craigslist.  I’m not really sure why, but the thought popped into my head twice on the same day and I’m not the kind of person that just ignores those kinds of things. So – I typed “Barn” into the search bar and laughed when all of the results were of Pottery Barn furniture being sold.  But I scrolled anyway – one page, two pages, three pages – THERE!!  And there it was – an actual barn being sold in Grass Valley.  And not just any barn – a 40×48 foot, raised center aisle barn with a loft – exactly what we were looking for.  And it was priced at….$30,000.

The "new" barn when it was still standing

 

I sent the link to my dad saying that if it wasn’t for the price, this would be perfect for us.  It had already been dismantled with the intention of being rebuilt on another piece of property, but the owner had decided to build something else and was now selling this one – with labels, drawings and instructions to rebuild it.  Since we had nothing to lose, we made an offer anyway – a really low one – and after a few email exchanges, we were turned down in favor of a better offer.  Oh well, we thought – it wasn’t meant to be.

A few months passed – I looked on Craigslist a few more times – there were no other barns for sale.  And then, we received an email saying that the other offer had fallen through and would we like to make another offer.  Would we?!? Of course we would!  However, we weren’t able to offer any more than our original offer, so we made the same offer again and this time it was accepted!  Hurray!!

So, on Halloween weekend, my dad, my husband and a variety of strong friends and neighbors trekked up the hill with a variety of vehicles and trailers, picked up the barn, and delivered it back to the farm.  To say that we are thrilled with our purchase is an understatement.  For me, this has now made this venture very real – like everything we’ve been working on might actually be happening and its not just a crazy idea.

Lumber for the "new" barn

 

Siding sections for the "new" barn

 

Now – the hard work begins.  We also acquired a round metal building this fall that will eventually be our lavender drying barn so we need to pour a concrete pad and install that building first so that we can move the items still being stored in what’s left of the old barn into it on a temporary basis.  Then, the rest of the old barn has to come down, the concrete under it needs to be broken up and THEN we can begin putting the new barn together.  Hopefully, we can get much of this work done this winter. With the holidays behind us and the lavender fields “sleeping” for a few more months, we can shift our focus to the infrastructure of the farm that will be the backbone of this place, hopefully for many more future generations.

Stay tuned…there’s certain to be a barn raising party in our future!

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Our First Year

With all of the reflections and resolutions that happen this time of year, it seems like an appropriate time to reflect on our first full year that we’ve been working on this venture.  It was summer of 2010 when the idea was hatched and agreed upon and we started by dismantling the old barn last fall.  2011 has been full of learning and doing, of starts and stops, of victories and defeats.  So far, our first beehive has been a big success, the resurrection of the kitchen garden went well, (although the deer did find their way in towards the end of the summer), and we were thrilled to locate and purchase our new barn.  Getting the lavender in the ground has probably been the most challenging task this year.  Here’s how it all panned out:

1. We prepped the field.  Last fall, we selected the field we thought was best suited to plant our “test field” of lavender.  It was about a third of an acre, in full sun on a slight slope (good for drainage) and visible from the house.  We had the soil tested to determine what kind of amendments we needed, dragged the compost out of the old barn, spread it around the field and added agricultural lime to increase the pH of the soil.

2.  We ordered our lavender.  In February, we placed our order to be specially grown for us, due to arrive in early May – nearly 1,000 plants in total.  And then it began to rain….and rain…and rain.  Our plants were not growing as fast as anticipated due to the dreary conditions and the delivery date was pushed back multiple times.  This was just as well since we still had field prep to do – tilling under the weeds that had grown over the winter, laying weed cloth and installing irrigation.

During this time, we started to panic – after all of our measuring and figuring, we had ordered way too many plants for our plot of land.  What were we going to do? Cancel some of the order? (no, it was being grown for us) Sell the plants? (no, we don’t have the appropriate licenses yet) Add them to the landscaping around the house? (no, way too many plants for that) So, we made a quick decision and added another field.  This one on a significant slope behind the old barn.  No compost….no lime….we just crossed our fingers.

3.  The lavender arrived.  We received our plants the week of Memorial Day and about 300 of them were held back because they STILL weren’t ready.  And nearly 100 of them that were shipped did not survive shipping – we were disappointed to say the least.  However, our friends and family chipped in and got the 600 good plants into the ground in one day.  The 100 replacement plants arrived a few weeks later and those were planted right away.  By the time the other 300 were ready to go, it was too hot to ship so we decided to delay shipping until fall.

4. The plants had a successful summer – and so did the weeds.  Our biggest disappointment of the year was with the weed cloth.  Hundreds of dollars and multiple weekends to get it down and within weeks it started deteriorating.  By the end of the summer, it just fell apart in our hands.  The weeds had grown like crazy in our “improved” field and were threatening to choke out the plants.  We spent the month of October pulling up what was left of the weed cloth and weeding the entire field….and we were bitter about it.  We still don’t have a solution for the weeds – we either need to mulch the rows or purchase heavier weed cloth to try again.

5.  We never received the rest of our lavender.  By fall, we were ready to receive the remainder of our plants so they would have the winter to settle in and grow, but there were ongoing issues with the plants which caused us concern and we ultimately cancelled the remaining order.  We were very disappointed and scrambled to find a local supplier, but 300 plants is too big of an order at the end of a season for most nurseries to fill on short notice.  We hope to experiment with propagating this spring so that we can fill in the gaps in the fields.

All in all, we’ve had a successful year – on top of full time jobs and a major family commitment during much of the summer and fall, we found the time to get this farm living and breathing again.  There is much to do in the coming year, but with the amazing support of our family and friends, we feel confident that by the end of 2012, we will have a farm ready to be a part of the agri-tourism network in Placer County.

Our deepest thanks to each and every one of you who have offered words of encouragement, helped with research and offered your own physical labor to The Lamm Farm this year.  May you find health and happiness in 2012!

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Lavender Lotion Bars

I went a little crazy making gifts for the holidays this year.  What’s worse is that I only decided that I was going to make everything about six weeks ago so on top of work parties, family parties, and the typical holiday chaos, I was sewing and crafting in every spare moment.  Next year, I will definitely start sooner.

Now that the tinsel has settled though, I thought I would share a few of my projects that were big hits with family and friends.  Of course, I picked projects that included lavender wherever possible.  One of the simplest projects I made were hard lotion bars.  I’ve seen these at the beekeeping store over the past year and thought they were a great idea – all natural products in a solid bar form that softens when held in your warm hands.  It can also be used on chapped lips, cracked heels or rough elbows.

I looked online for recipes and there are quite a few out there – some simpler than others – but I settled on this one from KindaCrunchyKate – and followed it to a T.  Beeswax, cocoa butter, shea butter, jojoba oil, coconut oil and olive oil are melted in a double boiler, with lavender essential oil added at the end.  I poured the mixture into a variety of molds – from cute beehive shaped ones to basic muffin tins, let cool for only a few minutes and popped them out into metal tins for gift giving.

The bars have a delicious scent – a little bit cocoa, a little bit lavender – and work perfectly!  I’ve put one on my nightstand in a small dish to put on my hands and lips before bed each night and the rest of them went out as gifts to my coworkers, family and friends.  For the gifts, I even found these printable labels from A Sonoma Garden.

I will definitely be making more of these in the future – hopefully from Lamm Farm beeswax and lavender next winter!

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Pimp That Preserve 2011

The first question I’m always asked after people learn that we planted nearly 1,000 lavender plants this year is “What are you going to do with it??” Which is, after all, an excellent question.  There are a variety of answers but the most honest is that we’re still figuring that out.  So, in the spirit of experimentation, I spent the summer preserving the harvest in a variety of ways that included lavender.  Since lavender is an herb, it’s added to recipes to create more depth of flavor and the aroma is as amazing as you might imagine – not only while cooking, but in the finished product as well.

After four months of canning, I now have a pantry full of pretty jars that will be gifted to family and friends over the holidays.  However, a month or so ago I learned that Well Preserved was asking people to send in photos of how they had Pimped their Preserves turning them into extra-special gifts.  I spent some time thinking about what I could do with mine (okay, I looked on Pinterest for ideas, but didn’t find much….) and then realized that they should be emblazoned with the farm logo and a sprig of lavender – our first “official” product! (Don’t look for these to be actual products in the future though – California does not have a Cottage Food Law that would allow homemade products to be sold).

My work has been entered into the Pimp that Preserve contest and if you “Like” my photo on the Well Preserved Facebook page, you can help me win fabulous prizes….oh, and bragging rights too.

Happy Holidays everyone!

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On the kindness of volunteers

When we started this venture, we knew it would be just the four of us doing the work, making the decisions and bankrolling this idea as the funds are available.  Would it be easier to buy a tractor, hire helpers for the big jobs or take out a loan for a new barn?  Maybe, but that’s not how we want to do it.  With half of our foursome nearing retirement, we’d like to incur the least amount of debt possible so that the opportunity for a small profit can come sooner rather than later.  That means we’ve got to sweat for the equity.

In the past year that we’ve been actively working the farm again, there’s been plenty of sweat…and pain…and cuts and bruises and bug bites and well, you get the idea.  We’ve enjoyed ourselves but didn’t really think friends, strangers and acquaintances would come out of the woodwork and volunteer their time, their energy and their sweat to help with our little farm, but they just keep turning up every time we ask.

So far this year we’ve had our volunteer brigade offer help with rototilling, irrigation trenching and installation, planting, bee work, and, this past weekend – an epic weeding job.  Due to a massive failure of our weed cloth (which we may write about in the future if we can ever stop crying over it) our main lavender field had filled with weeds over the summer and needed to be hand weeded.

The four of us had already logged some hours over the past few weeks tackling (and cursing) the project and had made only a dent.  When our plant delivery failed to arrive last week, our volunteers didn’t miss a beat and still agreed to give up their Saturday to help us work.  The job was daunting, the weeds were everywhere and our crew happily crawled along on their hands and knees in the dirt catching frogs and lizards while digging up the invasive plants one root at a time.  I’m quite certain they spent their Saturday night just like the four of us – nursing sore muscles and sunburns – but they refused to quit until the job was done.

So thank you – to our kind volunteers, our gardening angels – while there may be many reasons that you choose to join us on any given day, please know your generosity is always appreciated.  While we four can probably do it alone, it sure is easier with all of you.

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