If you’re going to farm lavender, what is your end goal? This was the central question Wendy Jochems, co-owner of Hope Hill Lavender Farm in Pottsville, PA, posed during her presentation, “Adding Lavender to your Farm.” Jochems, alongside Michele Capron from Lavender Essentials in Derby, VT, spoke on the best ways to profit from your investment.
Back in 2004, Jochems and her husband purchased 33 acres of property. According to Jochems, the first thing they needed to do was figure out what they were going with all that land. “My husband likes to work. I like lavender, so he’s like, ‘Let’s grow lavender,’” she said. However, Jochems had no idea the volume that he had in mind – which was about 1,500 plants to start.
While you consider your options regarding what you’re going to do with the lavender once it’s harvested, Jochems suggested starting with purchasing your plants from a lavender farmer and not a wholesale nursery. Also, “if you’re thinking about adding it to your farm, I would probably not coordinate it with another crop,” she said.
Jochems warned that growing lavender is a labor of love because everything needs to be done by hand – the harvesting, the pruning and the weeding. Lavender also is the kind of crop that needs to be mowed between the rows.
Jochems then provided a couple tips on how to help the lavender thrive. “If you’re only going to start with plants, you can do so without soil testing.” She added, however, that “if you’re going to grow an abundance of it, soil testing is a must.”
One of the upsides to being a lavender farmer is it doesn’t have any natural pests or plant diseases, “so if you grow it correctly, you should be able to avoid any of the plant diseases that could develop, such as Phytophthora, which is what can happen if the lavender sits in too much water for too long,” Jochems said.
She pointed out that lavender is a drought tolerant plant which requires full sun, good drainage and a soil pH of 6 to 8. “If you live in a wet, boggy area you’re not going to do well with this plant,” she warned.
When it comes to weed control, Jochems uses landscape fabric and suggested you avoid using bark mulch because that holds in the moisture.
Once you’re ready to plant, there are many cultivars from which to choose. Three examples Jochems gave were the Buena Vista (her favorite), Folgate and Hidcote. Jochems pointed out that “one of the unique attributes for Buena Vista is that it has a beautiful purple bloom and is pretty reliable in our hardiness zone.”
All three cultivars can be used for cooking and baking. “We sell lavender ice cream, lollipops and cookies and we get a lot of requests from bakeries or local restaurants,” Jochems said, adding that lavender also draws in a nice crowd of people to their farm.
One piece of equipment you might consider purchasing is a seed cleaner. “This is what we use for our culinary lavender, which basically vibrates all the chaff and debris out of it and the lavender still stays purple,” she said. There is a lot of work in that process alone. According to Jochems, it can take hours before it is ready for sale.
Other ways to brand your farm is to market it as a destination for production or wedding photography – or perhaps even use it as an actual wedding venue. Although English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is beautiful, people mostly want to take photos by a mixed cultivar (Lavandula x intermedia, a mix between English and Portuguese lavenders). Brides also prefer the latter’s appearance when it comes to creating their bouquets. At Hope Hill Lavender Farm, Jochems and her husband conduct farm tours and host classes where they make lavender wands.
“When we started, we just thought we were going to grow plants and produce oil and sell it to soap makers,” she said, adding that Intermedia aren’t just picturesque, they are also great for making oil.
However, it didn’t take long for Jochems to realize that if they were going to make a profit, they would have to learn how to make soap themselves. In the process of doing so they could also make lotion and candles. She noted that one of the best plants for oil production is the cultivar ‘Grosso,’ warning that it’s important to keep in mind that it takes about 12 pounds of flowers to make just one ounce of oil.
Some lavender farms offer a U-cut option; however, while attending a gathering of the United States Lavender Growers Association (USLGA), Jochems noticed that those same owners spoke about how they ended up losing a lot of their lavender crop as a result. “The people that are going to come in and cut your flowers are not going care about them like you do and know where to cut them to make them live till next year. They are a perennial. They need to be cut properly or they’re not going to come back,” she said.
Finally, she noted, you can always keep it basic and be a lavender farmer that just grows lavender to make more lavender plants when the season starts in August. “We are still working on watering and taking care of plants until they go for sale in May,” Jochems said.
In 2017, Capron and her husband decided to farm lavender after doing some research. They found it was the fourth highest grossing crop in the U.S. at that time. They started by planting 3,000 plants.
A year later, Capron, like Jochems, attended USLGA conference where she learned that adding agritourism was going to be the difference between having a hobby farm and earning a profit. Not long after, the couple opened their farm to the public. Some of the many options they provide to their visitors include camping on the land and walking trails.
Capron, unlike Jochems, allows members of the public to cut the lavender themselves for a fee. Prior to doing so, she likes to educate her visitors on the plant’s properties. “The more information that’s available to your guests to educate them, the more apt they are going to be to pick it. So, in that respect, we have ground cover signs at the end of each row identifying the plants and the cultivars that we are growing. Information is powerful,” Capron said.
Lavender Essentials focuses mainly on the English lavender cultivars Munstead and Hidcote. According to Capron, “This plant is a perennial which takes three years to reach full maturity. By the second year, you will have enough to harvest, but it’s not an overnight success, that is for sure.”
To learn more, visit the USLGA at uslavender.org.
by Jessica Bern