The dream of starting a lavender farm was first realized the summer of 2017 and by fall I had reached out to another grower in eastern Missouri for advice. She had started her farm several years back and was great about answering the loads of questions we had on the subject of growing mass quantities of a Mediterranean herb in the humid climate we know in mid-Missouri. She encouraged us to keep on trudging along and reminded us that business owners in agrotourism need to come alongside one another. We hope to be there for others in the future just as she was there for us!
As soon as our home was sold and we walked out of the title company where we signed for the new house, I started shopping for lavender plugs online. It is much harder to find field plugs than I thought it would be. Other than one large producer in the northwest there are only a handful of others that we were able to find. Lavender is a plant that comes in many varieties. Some suit our climate better than others, and some are specific for culinary use versus high oil content. There is so much to learn about the plant that it can seem really daunting.
Our first task was to sort out which varieties we wanted to grow. The species that work well in our climate zone (5) are lavendula angustifolia a.k.a. english lavender and lavendula x intermedia a.k.a. lavandins.
The L. angustifolia species is often times used for culinary purposes due to its lower camphor levels, making its flavor/scent lighter and more floral than the lavandin species. Lavendula x intermedia is a hybrid species that comes from crossing lavendula angustifolia with lavendula latifolia. These hybrids can produce up to 5 times more oil than the L. angustifolia species; however, more camphor (woodsy aroma) is present. L. angustifolia has an earlier bloom time than L. intermedia, potentially extending the length of peak season, another reason that both species present on the farm has its benefits.
Lavender has so many different uses that choosing the right varieties is some what of a shot in the dark. Whether we will have more success selling to local restaurants/bars/coffee shops or by selling value-added products online and at the Saturday market we have no real way of knowing. Our best bet is to make a wild guess on what will be most desired and adjust accordingly once every new planting season arrives.
Some of the best advice I received from the woman we met with was to make a guess and go with it at the start, then listen to your customers and provide accordingly based on what it is they need. Don’t assume you know what people want and then pigeon-hole your business. Offer options and supply what it is that they REALLY want/need…because, trust me, people WILL voice their opinion.
After research and following some gut-feelings these are the varieties we have decided to start off with on the farm…
Royal Velvet: popular for culinary use; dark purple color
Folgate: used for culinary and cut flowers; violet blue with small buds
Lavendula x Intermedia:
Grosso: most common variety for commercial oil production
Phenomenal: used for dried and cut flowers; tolerant of humid climates
Super: popular for perfumes and soaps
We expect to get close to 2000 plugs in the ground in late spring, totaling about an acre of land. There’s so much to do before that, such as, killing off the fescue that currently grows there, amending the soil, laying down weed cloth, irrigating, and hauling in limestone for paths. Anyone else overwhelmed?!