We arrived at the farm and checked in at the gift shop to book our inexpensive golf cart tour. Within a few minutes, our guide, Emily (an elementary education student at Michigan State) drove up in a golf cart and off we went.
We missed the peak of color, which hits in July. But there was plenty to see and learn. Gardeners were busy harvesting the lavender from 29 varieties of pink, white and purple flowers.
They also focus on bee preservation as well and they were doing a grand job of it.
I'm not sure if you can see or even get a real idea of how many bees were flying around these blooms, but they were plentiful. Emily explained that they were, in large parts, Italian honey bees, which are noted for being less aggressive than some other strains. As close as I could get taking photos, they left me completely alone. They had other things on their minds!
The farm is built on a series of hills. Emily said that this is especially helpful with rains and watering, as the water flows downhill. (Although lavender doesn't require the vast amounts of water than some plants do.)
The strains of lavender grown at Lavender Hill are among the most cold-weather resistant of the more than 45 species and more than 450 varieties of lavender.
From the hills, she took us to the drying area. It's a simple system.
Small bunches of lavender are tied together with rubber bands and hung on dangling ropes, connected with a large paperclip.
We also saw how they clean the dried lavender, running it through hand sieves to separate the flowers from the stems. (There is also a machine that can be used in the process, but many use the sieves.) The flowers are used to make many of the products sold in the shop.
The dried lavender smelled fabulous!
From there we went to the distillery, where oils and water are extracted from the lavender buds. Emily showed us how about five or so baskets of buds are thrown into the silo area of this large copper still.
The steam produces liquid and it goes through the tube at the top of the onion into a separator, much like the kind many cooks use when making gravy.
Five barrels of blossoms end up making about three pints of lavender oil. The water is used for lavender water and the dessicated buds are saved for lavender mulch.
And I learned another hint from Emily when I asked how they polished that beautiful copper boiler. They use catsup (which I never thought of!) or a lemon/salt mixture (which I did). I'm going to try the catsup on some copper at home!
(I have to add, this was a gorgeous still!)
Emily's sister, Elise, is the manager/director of Lavender Hill Farm and was key in starting a garden of non-lavender blooms on one of the hills and after leaving the still, took us up to this area as well.
It was loaded with daisies, zinnias and countless other blooms.
It was another haven for bees!
Soon, a sunflower garden will be in full bloom, and if it's anything like the rest of the garden, it will be spectacular!
All in all, our visit to Lavender Hill farm was a real joy and a beautiful place to visit. It was well worth the time and the tour was highly recommended.
For more on the farm, check out their Facebook page or website.
It was definitely a day to remember!