Insight on the Field Expansion
As many of you know, the past six months have been dedicated to expanding our lavender fields to be three times in size. And as cold and snowy as this week has been, we are so glad we went through the process of increasing and protecting for our baby plants!
Why expand? As attendance has dramatically increased over past 3-4 years, field expansion was necessary to keep up with demand. Over the years some customers had mentioned they were expecting a field with a more traditional row design. We like to make our customers happy, so we decided not only to expand, but to completely redo our lavender field.
The field expansion was long and exhausting process with so many different steps and decision points. For those of you wondering how the process worked, we wanted to give a little inside look into the steps it took to get the field where it is today!
But before we do that, we have to give a special shout-out to our employee, April Schmidt.
April supervised most of the field re-do with love and care. (April, who has worked with us off and on for three years will be pursuing an off the farm job after receiving her Master of Public Health with the Concentrations: Maternal and Child Health; Health Education and Communication.) April first removed ground cloth from the old field, helped build the new field rows, covered them with ground cloth, moved many large old plants as well as planting hundreds of new plants, watering them and finally assisting in covering all the rows with frost cloth to protect them over the winter. Thank you April, we really couldn’t have done it without you!
And here is a little look at our expansion journey!
1. Research. In order to expand the field, we first had to do our research. Over the past few years, our plants have been suffering from the fungal disease, Phytophthora. Once a plant is infected by this disease, it slowly dies over the course of 3-4 years and there is no cure. It is very sad for us to watch some of our biggest plants dying a slow death, so, one of our predominant concerns with the field expansion was creating an environment that would make our fields more resistant to this disease.
To do this, we developed a 3-prong strategy – new field, new plants, new protection. The new field would be different than before – we would mound up the dirt to plant each row and instead of ground cloth between rows, we would use sod. This would absorb moisture (lavender plants like to be dry, they don’t like their “feet wet”) and provide a barrier and weed management. We would also source brand new plants. These plants, a hybrid called Phenomenal, are resistant to the Phytophthora. (Head up! We will also be selling Phenomenal lavender plants this summer.) We also began using a bio-organic product to form a barrier around the roots of the plants to keep disease from attaching itself to the root system.
2. Labor. This was by far the most time-consuming part of the expansion. We started by taking up all the ground cloth in the old field while having the new field plowed. Post-plowing, we mounded dirt and installed the new ground cloth on top to form rows running down the length of the front field. When this was completed, holes were cut in the ground cloth for each plant (about 4 feet apart). Then we were ready to get the babies!
3. Purchasing Plants. In the middle of the labor process, a good farm friend, Charlie Resnik, hopped in his old van filled with impromptu shelving and took a day trip up to Pennsylvania to bring home the new Phenomenal plants.
4. Organizational Chart. We created a hand-drawn chart to map out each plant type and its location in the field. Even though we only bought a few new varieties, we have many others varieties of lavender plants from the old field. We created a small open lawn space in the center of the new field. This area will be home to a new gazebo....a great focal point and prop for photos! We placed our largest plants as a border to the lawn, so the back drop would be as purple as possible.
5. More Labor. We planted the freshly arrived baby Phenomenal plants and dug up and replanted the mature plants not infected with Phytophthora into the holes in the the new field. By this time, it was late fall and we needed to start preparing the plants for winter. To do this, hoops were placed in the ground (and by placed, we meant using every ounce of strength in our arms on the days the dirt was nearly frozen) and then frost cloth was cut, placed over the hoops, and the ends covered with dirt (again, harder than it sounds) for each of the 20 or so rows. Even though time consuming, this step is extremely important as it protects the plants from wind and snow and raises the temperature under the cloth by ten degrees. Lavender is really only tolerant of cold down to 10 below.
6. Future. As the winter rolls on and we start seeing signs of life in the early spring, we will plow up the old field and extend the new rows up to the top of the knoll. By the time this is finished, our 1 ½ acre field will have expanded to 3-4 acres, and that’s only in a year!
Come summer, there will be a large variety of sizes and types of lavender. This variance in size will continue into the next few years as the babies grow into mature, thriving adults. We added 8-10 perennial herbs last year which will be available this year for cutting, and we just added 10 new rows of other types of perennial flowers available for picking as well.
With all of these changes, we think it will create a layered and impressive vista – perfect for summer day-trips to the country to pick flowers, or herbs, picnic and enjoy the scenery. The new field will create a dramatic backdrop for selfies, photographs, or professional portraits!
As always, we'd like to thank you for your support of small agriculture in Virginia. We look forward to showing off the new field in Season 2015!