We were recently asked some questions for a research project and thought we'd share our responses in case others can benefit from them as well.
Q: Do you have a lot of success with lavender in this climate? Are the species you deal with good for Kentucky's climate and are they good producers?
A: Lavender is not well suited for Kentucky's climate. We can have rough winters and very wet springs, as well as high humidity. Those three things - ice, water, and humidity - are three of the things lavender hates most. However, many farms have found that they can successfully grow lavender here. Most of what we have done in the past has been trial and error. Growers in our area have to change their mindset in terms of the size of crop, as well as lifespan of the plants. It seems that with proper soil amendment and good luck when it comes to weather, plants in our area may last between five and eight years, but we have many challenges that others don't face. Seeing as how lavender is really just now being planted in Kentucky, we also have the chance to learn a lot about the crop and its potential here.
In 2013, we chose our first two varieties because they are popular varieties (Munstead, an English, also known as augustofolia, and Grosso, a Lavandula x intermedia) and are both fairly hearty to our climate. We could also source them locally. That turned out to be a bit of an issue, but we have grown and learned a lot since that our first planting! Many varieties we now plant are trails that we source from reputable growers across the nation. That's one reason we don't plant large plots, since we are unsure what will take to our climate and will last over the winter. What works well here may not work well 60 miles down the road. Each little microclimate is unique.
Q: Do you distill your own oil?
A: We do not currently distill our own oil. It takes a LOT of lavender to produce even a small amount of oil. We have around 600 plants currently. We do have plans to purchase a small still so we can do demonstrations on how to distill oil in the future.
Q: Do you profit as a tourist destination?
A: Many people find out about us and envision acres and acres of purple. That is not reality in Kentucky! We have about 600 plants. Prior to this year, we had them planted in long rows. Earlier this year, we planted several new plants and made our lower "field" a bit more square, with shorter rows. We are hoping by planting this way, the plants will be a bit more "showy" for guests. Most people, however, understand that we are trying to do something that is difficult and unique and they are understanding when they come out and realize our farm is not of a commercial farm scale like you'd find in Washington State or France. After all, 600 lavender plants is still stunning!
We do host events on the farm. That has been a big draw for us for sure. Lots of people want to see the lavender in bloom. Our season only lasts between four to six weeks, so you can imagine it is absolutely crazy during that time! My mom (Mary) and I (Allison) do this together pretty much on our own. I have two small kids as well. We try to balance work and life as much as we can, so our growth has been slow and steady instead of jumping in and planting an unmanageable amount of plants! We are actually really glad we started slow, because we've run into problems with our soil (that initial testing couldn't detect), plant issues, bad weather, and much more. We have also learned so much from the United States Lavenders Growers Association and other local lavender farmers. In our business, it truly has been community over competition for us. Other growers not only share knowledge and expertise, but sell products to each other, and support and encourage one another. We sure appreciate that aspect of this business!
Q: Do you have any suggestions for future lavender farmers?
A: My advice would be three-fold:
The Lavender Farm at Woodstock
Just a mother/daughter team working with our families to bring a different, unique lavender experience to South Central Kentucky. We love the land, we love our farming heritage and we love lavender!