When I told my visiting friend that I have finished harvesting the lavender she was amazed.
“But there are so many flowers left out there” she gasped.
“Yes, I replied those are for the insects and the planet.”
Maybe I should be more ruthless in my harvesting but I just can’t do it. When I am working down a row of lavender and I see the bees and butterflies working the flowers I can’t just cut it all down and take it away. Even this year when there are much fewer insects and bees than there have been in previous years, I can’t take away their food source.
I also don’t think its right for the plant. It’s put a lot of work into making those flowers in the hopes or reproducing, I don’t feel as if I should cut every bloom down. So each plant has some blossoms left on it. I can go back later when the seeds are ripe, cut them down then and extract the seeds. This way our plants get to reproduce, the insects get to enjoy the flowers and so do I. I just love to look out the window and appreciate the loveliness of all those lavender flowers, to watch the butterflies flit from flower to flower. Most years we have more butterflies in our field than any butterfly garden I have ever been to.
This way everyone gets to enjoy the lavender. I may not get as large a crop as I could, but what is a few extra bunches of lavender over helping to feed the bees, butterflies and other pollinators. They will pay me back by pollinating my plants, making the fruit swell and producing great seeds!
Today was lavender harvest day, well the beginning of lavender harvest anyway. The weather forecast says hot today so I started early 6.15am. Its really pleasant out in the field at this time of the morning, just me and nature, the birds tweeting and a few passing cars in the distance. After an hour the sun comes up over the trees on the western side of the property and the warn golden light washes across the field. Now it’s a race to get as much done before I fry. I tend to keep my head down concentrating on harvesting. I use a sickle to cut lavender and if you don’t concentrate on what you are doing you can have a nasty accident with one of these things.
I stop to watch a bunch of turkeys go by a few rows over, they are used to me working out here now and are quite happy to co habit with me. Then I look up and down the rest of the row I am working on. (my rows are 190 feet long, which is a LOT of lavender). That’s when I realize there is a problem.
My lavender is not moving.
That may sound like a strange comment about a plant, they are, after all planted, its not as if they jump up and run around. However lavender flowers are on thin, stiff stalks. They are stiff enough to keep the flower upright in almost any weather but they are not stiff enough to stand upright when a bumble bee lands on it. Every year when the lavender flowers the plants are in constant motion the flowers waving around as the bees move from flower to flowers. Its like a dance to music that I am not privy too. It’s a lovely site to see.
This year there is no movement, there are no bees. When I look more closely I realize that there are not many insects at all. The bumble bees are usually the major visitor to the lavender flowers but there are usually others as well, the small native bees, the sand or ‘digger’ bees that build solitary nests in the sand and stock them with pollen, other pollen loving insects and a horde or butterflies.
This year my flowers are alone. Finally I see ONE bee working alone, nothing else. I get up and go inspect the yarrow row. Yarrow has flat umbel flowers that are visited by other insects, not bees but other beneficials. We are a cosmopolitan farm and there is food for everyone in the insect family here. There are very few insects on the yarrow either.
Something had wiped out all the insects. Its 10am on a hot sunny morning, the field should be humming, but its not.
Its been a few years since I saw a honey bee in our fields. Our last hive was killed off by a spraying three years ago, but I was comforted in the masses of bumble bees we had. When we moved into the farm there were only a few, but over the past 9 years their numbers has exploded and we usually have hundreds if not thousands of them all over our fields. Our farm has something in flower from very early spring until the frost kills off the last plants it’s a nirvana for pollen lovers.
Sadly they don’t just stay on our farm. Insects range, most likely to our neighboring farm. He sprays his fields (soy beans every year). I can’t prove that its his spraying that is killing the insects its only a theory. He did spray the day before my last hive died but I can’t prove it that was the cause.
Without insects we will all die. Without pollinators there will be almost no food. Pollinators make the fruits on the vegetables grow and produce the seeds for next years crop. Without seeds all the plants will die and we will die too. The insect eating animals and the birds will die. The planet will die.
I have long been a big supporter of stopping insect killing pesticides but this is the first time that I have seen the disaster in action. Without bees and other pollinators there will be no farmers and no food. Help save our planet, our food and us add your name to stop the sale of bee killing pesticides. Click Here.
I am sure some other farms are different, maybe other farmers or ‘specialist grower’ as we prefer here like hot steamy weather, maybe they like being outside in heat and humidity. Well I don’t, neither do our people.
So we try our upmost to get as much as possible done before it gets hot and more especially humid. Its horrid working outside when the air feels like the inside of a sauna. I push and cajole everyone along to get all the field prep done before the heat hits.
Most years we make it, this year we did not. Well not exactly. This year we have been lucky its not been humid yet. Most years by this time in June its humid as all heck but not this year, not yet. So we were able to get most of the stuff finished.
It makes spring an extremely busy time. First the rows have to have their yearly compost additions, then the irrigation tape must be laid and then overlaid with the plastic mulch and the lumite put back down in the ‘aisles’ to keep down the weeds and contain any soil borne diseases (mostly molds). We don’t spray anything not even with organically accepted chemicals so prevention is extremely important.
It’s a mad rush to get it all the fields prepared. At the same time we are looking after our little seedlings, watering them in their trays and then transplanting them into larger individual pots to grow on large enough to be planted in the fields. Then of course when they are big enough planting them out in the newly prepared fields.
If that is not enough on a medicinal herb farm harvesting of perennials starts early, usually long before the field preparation is completed and always before all but a very few new plants have been transferred to the fields. Some plants crop very early Greater celandine is one of the first but its soon followed by nettles, motherwort, cleavers and honeysuckle. All these need to be harvested checked over and dried ready for sale or use in many of our products. Its also the busiest time for our seed sales as everyone else wants to get their garden up and ready too.
Its not uncommon at this time of the year to be working outside for 8 – 9 hours straight – we rarely break for lunch. Farm work is very season and weather dependent, you cant put a task off until next week because you want a break it has to be done NOW or its too late. Little plants need a place to grow and crops need to be harvested at the peak of ripeness.
This means that almost everything else in the world is put on hold. Farmers don’t get out much, they are either working or sleeping because they are exhausted from working. Other stuff in life suffers, friends, social life (what social life) and especially social media. I had intended to update this blog on a bi weekly basis and keep everyone informed about what we were doing, well that didn’t work out well. There was just not time to write the articles. I made a few notes but that was about all. Sorry everyone but that’s life on a farm. Hopefully I can get back on schedule now and maybe do better next year.
It took nearly seven hours, but with cloudy skies and cooler temperatures it was a perfect day to transplant many of our little plants to their field locations. Transplanting on a cloudy day is essential. When little plants are placed in a new setting they are stressed – just like people – setting them out under bright hot sunshine can be too much for many plants and they fry. Picking a cooler cloudy day to do this work gives them more time to acclimatized to their new environment and get their roots moving to pick up moisture. Its even better if the cloudy day is going to be followed by rain, steady solid rain is better than abrupt storms but rain of any kind is good.
During the spring months I watch for these days and get outside as soon as possible to hand transplant as many plants to the field as possible. Friday was just such a day, well almost it poured with rain first thing so I was held up a bit before starting.
We grow all our plants in 2” square pots, when they are large enough to survive in the fields they get moved out from our patio area. A hole is punched in the white plastic mulch and the plant is knocked out of the pot and placed in the ground. Once the row is completed the irrigation is run to allow them enough water to set their roots in well. If the irrigation for a particular row is not yet set up they are watered by hand.
Each plant hole is punched by hand and each plant is transplanted by hand, the empty pots are then collected up and returned to the greenhouse for washing and sterilizing ready for next years plants.
350 plants is 350 holes and 350 transplants, it’s a lot of work. Still we now have a portion of our crops in the field where they are easier to take care of. The others are still growing to a large enough size and waiting for the next cloudy day to be transplanted to their new homes.