Lavender Farm Field Trip

This past weekend we had the opportunity to visit and tour the Lavender Ranch, a local farm that organically and sustainably grows a variety of plants and botanicals, then distills them into essential oils.  The Lavender Ranch, Biggs, CA  I have been driving by this ranch for years and have always loved the scent of lavender wafting off the fields in the heat of an August afternoon.  Lavender Cookies at the Lavender Ranch

When hubby and I arrived at the ranch we began our tour at the gift shop, which was located inside their quaint old farm house! When first walking through the door, we were greeted with a gorgeous little stand in the corner offering free lavender cookies.  I don’t know why, but I thought eating the actual lavender would be a bit bitter, but these were delicious!  Inside the shop were beautiful displays, including almost an entire wall of hanging bunches of dried lavender for sale.  It smelled so good inside!  Also on display were lotions, salves, soaps and sachets – all for sale at reasonable prices.   bunches of dried lavender

We were so pleased to hear that they were giving guided walking tours of their lavender fields, and so we eagerly waited the fifteen minutes for the next tour to begin.

As our friendly tour guide gave us some statistics (the Lavender Ranch was started in 1983 and right now has 30 acres devoted to botanicals to make essential oils) and several uses for lavender oils (heals skin maladies, promotes circulation, improves digestion),  I couldn’t help but take deep, cleansing breaths while we walked through the fields. And knowing that they grow sustainably and organically, I was even more impressed!  The tour guide said they even had agreements with local farmers not to spray on windy days, so that there would be no over-spray of pesticides or chemicals on to the Lavender Ranch.  On the highway side of the ranch are signs along the right-of-way stating that the ranch is organic and to please not spray herbacides or pesticides in the vicinity!

Although their name implies that all they grow is lavender, such is certainly not the case.

Flowering Lemon Verbena

Flowering Lemon Verbena

I was in seventh heaven when our tour guide asked us to rub some leaves of the plants in the rows we were standing in……… lemon verbena!!  Oh!  My favorite scent of all scents!  I could bathe in it, sleep with it and eat it!  I wanted to literally sit right in the middle of the row of lemon verbena and take a nap, but I’m not sure the tour guide would have thought too kindly of me doing that!  😉   I love lemon verbena and I wasn’t aware that I could grow this plant myself!  Oh Joy!

And then the lavender!

Somehow, walking through these fields of lavender and verbena, I felt so at peace and at ease!  I know that the scent of lavender is supposed to be calming, but to actually walk in a field of lavender is something you just must do.  An experience of a lifetime!

Blooming Lavender

Blooming lavender

Among some of the other plants they grow and distill into essential oils are rosemary, german chamomile, peppermint, and clary sage!  They even had a 153 year old orange tree that they use to get an orange essential oil!  That tree was massive and is a daughter tree to the “Mother Orange Tree” found in Oroville, California.  What history!

In fact, the Lavender Ranch is only a part of the larger Bayliss Ranch which is known for the rice they grow, commercially marketed as Lattitude 40 (the approximate lattitude where the ranch is located).  We got to try some of the brown rice and it was wonderful – nutty but kind of fruity at the same time. The area where the Lavender Ranch is now sited used to be part of a large walnut orchard within the Bayliss Ranch.  With the use of drip irrigation and a lot of mulch, they now use only 10% of the amount of water that was once necessary when the land held walnuts!

But back to the Lavender Ranch tour.

Lemon verbena and Lavender

Lemon verbena (in the foreground) and Lavender

Our guide told us that it takes about 800 pounds of lavender to make 1 gallon of essential oil.  They use a steam distillation process with both a water phase and an oil phase.  The lavender that is grown at the ranch is a proprietory variety developed with UC Davis for a higher camphor content.  They propogate their own lavender in greenhouses right there at the ranch because each lavender plant is replaced at about 15 years of age.

A distiller for essential oils

A distiller for essential oils.

The medicinal uses of lavender are many.  Of course, I am not a doctor and don’t claim to be any type of a medical practitioner, but you can find so many resources on the internet and in books in your local library that hail praises for lavender.

In fact, I found a couple of websites and blogs that have a lot of information about lavender – just click on one of the links below and through the magic of technology you will be whisked away to their website!  No worries, though – you will be able to come right back to mine!   🙂

This one is great and has a lot of information:  How to make and use lavender flower extract by Frugally Sustainable,  and if you want to cook with lavender (who knew? not me!) you can click on this one:  Desserts using lavender by The Kitchn,   For the final fun site involving lavender, how about a recipe for home made playdough scented with lavender at The Chaos and the Clutter.

I hope you enjoyed coming along with my hubby and I on our field trip to the Lavender Ranch.  I just wish we were able to send the wonderful scents of all these botanicals from our computer to yours!

Thank you for all your comments, suggestions and questions – I try to answer every one!


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Beekeeping Workshop Fieldtrip

Ray and I had the opportunity to attend an introductory beekeeping class this past Saturday given by Ed Zawada of Gerard Z Honeybees.  The class was held at Retzlaff Winery in Livermore, California.

Retzlaff Vineyard Wine Tasting

Our introduction to beekeeping class was held at Retzlaff Vineyards and Winery in Livermore, California. As you can see, they are CCOF Certified Organic!

The first two hours included a lot of great information about bees, their life cycle and how they actually make pollen. Ed discussed the current situation beekeepers are having to deal with regarding colony collapse disorder and the 40% die-off rate this past year of colonies right here in california.  Yes, 40%!  Right after World War II the annual death rate was about 5%.  What is causing this?  It’s not an easy answer, but apparently pesticides are the biggest threat to honeybees right now.  Did you know that there is ant poison in honey?  We spray our sidewalks and around our houses to get rid of ants and other insects that we don’t want to deal with.  But in time that poison trickles down through the soil to the roots of our plants and trees.  The plants and trees take up the poison along with the ground water and it is dispersed throughout the plant, ending up in the pollen and nectar within the flower.  The bee comes along and harvests the nectar and pollen from that flower and takes it back to the hive, where it is made into honey.  In minute amounts the bee can handle the poison – but in large amounts, not so much. Kind of scary, isn’t it? One way to tell if there are enough bees in California is to look to the almond trees.  California has approximately 800,000 acres of almonds and produces about 80% of the world’s almond crop.  You can tell how the bees are doing by how well the almonds are doing (taking into account the weather).  One acre of almonds (about 100 trees) will produce about 50 pounds of almonds in the absence of honeybees. So you see, almonds need honeybees to produce a crop!  With the bees, the yield increases to over 3,200 pounds of almonds!  Obviously, without honeybees the price of almonds will skyrocket!  Needless to say, because of the need for beehives within each almond orchard and the 40% die-off rate of last years colonies, renting beehives has become very expensive for our farmers.  Guess who pays for this increased cost????  We do!

Ed also explained the way bees make the honey – from gathering the nectar out in the fields, bringing it to the hive and expelling it from their honey stomach (bees have 2 stomachs), then placing it into the comb, evaporating it, and finally capping it.

Ed Zawada, our fearless instructor!  He gave a very informative and entertaining two hour class lecture on beginning beekeeping.  We can't wait for his next class on intermediate beekeeping!

Ed Zawada, our fearless instructor! He gave a very informative and entertaining two hour class lecture on beginning beekeeping. We can’t wait for his next class on intermediate beekeeping!

We also learned that the worker bee is the ruling class and makes all the decisions in the hive, why a drone doesn’t have a stinger, and why a queen has one of the worst jobs in the hive!  Imagine having to lay 2,500 to 3,000 eggs a day – or be killed!Finally we learned about the hive itself, all the parts and pieces (they usually come in a kit that the new owner must put together themselves), the foundation (which is the preformed part that the bees use to make their comb), excluder screens (which aren’t really necessary) and beekeeper clothes.

Ed thoughtfully explained his philosophy on organic beekeeping, which was to leave everything as natural as possible for the bees.  In fact, on the jars of honey we purchased from Ed, the label states that “We use natural means of beekeeping, aimed to raise smaller worker bees that produce higher yields of honey.”  On the other side of the label it states, “Our honey is unique, raw and 100% natural.  It is coarsely filtered, thus leaving most pollen within.”

Wine and honey tasting - what could make a better afternoon?

Wine and honey tasting – what could make a better afternoon?

With most of the instruction done at this point, we got to the sampling part of the day!  Since we were at a Winery we were treated to four different wine tastings – Sauvignon Blanc, Estate Chardonnay, Estate Merlot and an Estate Blend of 30% Merlot and 70% Cabernet.  I think the Estate Merlot was my favorite, and I usually don’t like red wines! Now for the honey tasting.  We were introduced to four monoculture honeys (only one flower nectar is gathered by the bees) and one polyculture honey (many different flowers are gathered from)   Ed had us sit in a row and gave each person a white spoon, which he then poured a tasterfull (my word) of honey.  First came the blackberry honey.  OMG I could taste the blackberry in the honey.  Heaven.  Next came the sage honey.  This had to be the smoothest honey I have ever tasted.  So mild.  Then we had the Orange Blossom Honey.  Now, I thought I had tried Orange Blossom Honey before, I was wrong.  This actually tasted a bit acidic, almost like an orange itself, but a bit more floral.  Yum.  The next honey we tasted was the only polyculture one – Wildflower Honey.  It tasted just like it sounds – sweet, floral, light.  Good.  The last honey tasted was another monoculture – Buckwheat Honey.  Holy Cow folks – this tasted almost like molasses.  I think I could taste a hint of anise in the honey. This would be excellent to make gingersnap cookies with!

All lined up for samples of honey!  We got to sample five types - blackberry, sage, orange blossom, wildflower and buckwheat!  Such distinctive tastes, each one absolutely delicious!

All lined up for samples of honey! We got to sample five types – blackberry, sage, orange blossom, wildflower and buckwheat! Such distinctive tastes, each one absolutely delicious!

At the end of the tasting, 3 hours had passed (way too fast) and our class was over.  It was well worth the class fee.  Ed said he is preparing an intermediate beekeeping class and Ray and I would certainly be happy to attend.  We now know that we will definitely be buying and placing two beehives right in the middle of our orchard!  But first we will need to erect an electic fence to keep out the bears.  According to Ed, a bear will tear a beehive to pieces to get the sweet honey.  After having the opportunity to taste some wonderful raw and organic honey, which is nothing like what is in that little plastic bear at the supermarket, I can’t blame the bear!

Here is Ed filling our spoons.  "Please sir, may I have some more?"

Here is Ed filling our spoons. “Please sir, may I have some more?”

I hope you enjoyed this bit of information!  If you did, please consider leaving me a comment below.   Vickie

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