Changes in the season from spring to summer bring about big changes on the Appalachian Botanical lavender farm.
Hello, lavender lovers! I am Chad Foreman, Communications Manager and friendly neighborhood field reporter here at Appalachian Botanical Company. This week I’m coming to you with a report from the ABCo lavender farm in Ashford, West Virginia.
June showed us a changing of the seasons at the summer solstice, which took place on Sunday, June 20th. The longest day of the year, this also happened to be Fathers Day and, for people outside the borders of West Virginia who may not know, it was West Virginia Day, celebrating the day in 1863 when West Virginia officially separated from Virginia to become a state.
BIG CHANGES ON THE FARM
Along with the shift from spring to summer temperatures, we saw some big changes at the farm. The number of field crew has grown from around 30 in the early spring to nearly 50 now that summer and harvest time are upon us.
With summer comes additional field duties. The high tunnel, where our starter plants lived for the winter, is now reaching temperatures of over 110°F. This is far too hot for our little starter plants to survive, so they were moved outside. While they’re much happier in the fresh air, they still need to be watered regularly. Here you can see Matt and Jesse filling a reservoir with water hauled from a nearby spring.
It took many hours of bulldozing to shape the rocky earth into windrows that our plants would call home. The plants need these windrows so that the soil drains properly, as lavender requires well-drained soil.
Weed control seems to continue in perpetuity. When you practice organic farming like we do here at Appalachian Botanical, the ground can’t be sprayed with weed-killing pesticides or chemicals. We have to get out there ourselves with the good ole weed eater to get the job done.
PLANTING THE LAVENDER BABIES
Using clippings taken during the summer of 2020, our propagation team started over 70,000 plants. 30,000 from the fall were nurtured in the high tunnel all winter long and since early May the planting team has been putting them in the ground. Our crews dig new holes—both with an auger and by hand—in some of our freshly prepared fields to provide a safe habitat for our little lavender babies.
HARVESTING THE MUNSTEAD LAVENDER
The first variety of lavender to bud is our Munstead Lavender. We have approximately 7.1 acres of this variety growing in some of the first few fields to be established on the former strip mine landscape. The windrows are wide enough to drive an ATV through; someday we’ll be able to drive a mechanical harvester among them. But until the plants become more mature, all of our harvesting must be done by hand. Local workers spend long, hard and hot days in the fields clipping the Munstead lavender buds which will be used in our honeys, salts and sachets.
The harvested lavender is transported to our building in nearby Foster. First, the clippings are bundled together and they are bound with a rubber band. Next, the bundles are hung up to dry in a room with lots of fans running to provide good air circulation. They will need to air out until dry before the lavender buds can be removed and used to make products.
As you can see, things are starting to heat up at the Appalachian Botanical lavender farm in Ashford, Boone County. We have lots of things going on and it’s all part of our mission to build a profitable botanical enterprise that puts West Virginians and reclaimed coal mine land back to work.
Stay tuned for the next report where I’ll tell you about our French lavender harvest and our first steam distillation runs of the 2021 season!
MEET THE AUTHOR / CHAD FOREMAN is the Communications Manager at Appalachian Botanical Co. In his spare time Chad is a free lance photographer specializing in wedding, portrait, and adventure photography. He is also an avid outdoorsman who loves spending time in the mountains of West Virginia, especially kayaking and white water rafting in the New River Gorge.
I am enthralled with what you (all) are doing at APCo., turning strip mines into Lavender fields!! And creating new jobs and hope and excitement! I love everything about this. I’m in Mexico as I write this, returning to the US this fall, and I look forward to a visit sometime in the future to see the landscape turning purple! Thank you for what you are doing!