Field Trip Friday: Lavender Farm Edition

Hooray for Field Trip Friday! We love experiential learning around here, and also – as a homeschool mom – I have a personal need to explore and get out of the house on a regular basis. This Friday we visited a beautiful lavender farm.

Why not establish a field trip routine in your homeschool too? We don't go places every Friday, by the way. I aim for once per month, two if I'm being industrious and we don't have too much else filling our schedule.

This week's adventures took us to beautiful Sequim, WA (the lavender capital of the US) on the weekend before the annual lavender festival. We're not big on crowds – unless we're at Disneyland – so we opted to visit on a regular Friday.

B & B Family Lavender Farm

This beautiful 12-acre lavender farm cultivates 16 different types of lavender. Did you know that in addition to purple, there are also pink and white varieties of lavender?

My daughter's favorite was the Edelweiss variety.

A girl smelling Edelweiss lavender flowers at a lavender farm.
I didn't know lavender buds can also be white or pink!

I love the deep purple, more traditional look of Royal Velvet.

Fields of purple lavender plants under a blue sky with fluffy clouds
Isn't this the most beautiful view?

What is a lavender farm's growing season?

Spring and summer. Here in Sequim, they will begin harvesting in July or when the plants are ready. Different varieties bloom at different times, and the age of the plants play a part as well.

If you want to see colorful fields of lavender, late June or early July is the time to do it. Sequim has a Lavender Festival every year in mid-July that has become a huge tourist attraction!

Does lavender need lots of care and watering?

Our tour guide told us that when they plant a new field, they do water weekly for the first few months until the plants are established.

After that? Sun and rain, and that's it! The plants are perennial and come back year after year. They get hard pruned at the end of the season after the buds have been harvested.

A field of newly planted lavender at a lavender farm
A lavender field planted this spring.

What is the difference between French and English lavender plants?

French lavender (Lavendula x Intermedia) plants – which are actually a cross between English and Portugese lavender (Lavendula latifolia) have bud sprouts that are close together and lined up. The oil composition includes more camphor, which makes a sharper scent – French lavender is what you will find in your sachets or in products meant to scent your home.

English lavender (Lavendula Angustifolia), by contrast, has buds that are more spaced out and, on the plant, a softer scent. My daughter and I both preferred the scent of the English lavender on the stem. (When it came to choosing oils, though, we both preferred the oils from the French varieties.)

French and English lavender stems
French lavender on the left, English on the right.

How is lavender processed?

Lavender is cut by hand with that sharp tool and bundled into bunches with rubber bands. At B & B Farm, they harvest the lavender when they see about 10% of the buds in bloom. Timing is important – the plants have to be mature enough but not fully gone to flower.

The exception are the plants that will be used to make essential oil. These are left to fully flower, and cut with shorter stems.

Tools to harvest lavender hanging on a wood post
Hand harvesting 12 acres is a lot of work!

After the bunches are harvested, they are hung on chains using very fancy lavender technology: large paper clips. The lavender dries this way for about two weeks.

Lavender used for essential oil distillation stays on the stem.

Bunches of lavender hanging to dry in an old barn
You can see the color difference in these two varieties!

There was another machine that I didn't get a good picture of… it separated the buds from the stems. It was basically a metal box with two rotating bristle brushes inside and you stick a bunch of lavender in and move it back and forth. You end up with bins of buds!

Running your hands through that bucket of buds was so immensely satisfying.

A pail of English lavender buds
These buds felt so soft!

To get the buckets of buds even more cleaned and separated from stem and leaf pieces and other debris, enter The Jitter Bud. This machine has several boxes that shake back and forth to further separate the buds.

Once the buds are separated, they are sold to wholesalers, sold in the farm's shop, or used in the farm's other products.

A machine to sift lavender at the lavender farm
The Jitter Bud!

How do you distill lavender essential oil?

With steam! The larger container has a wire mesh shelf inside that is loaded with lavender. The steam pressure forces the oil and steam up through the pipe, and cold water in the smaller vessel cools the vapor and lets the steam and oil descend and the steam condense back into water.

The oil is separated from the water (called a hydrosol since it is infused with lavender) in the glass container below. B & B Farm has a great article on how essential oils are made.

A copper essential oil distiller in an old barn
Distilling lavender essential oil

Why is Sequim so great for lavender farms?

Sequim shares the latitude and weather patterns of the south of France. It gets the perfect ratio of sun and rain for lavender growth! It also has the right kind of sandy soil: lavender plants don't like standing water at all.

Sequim is in what is called the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains (you can see them poking out behind the trees in the picture below). For a 20-mile radius, the mountains keep the heavier rain away.

We live in the foothills of those mountains, where the rain gathers, and I admit I was having some sun envy on the day we visited the farm. It was about 8 degrees cooler and overcast at my house!

Fields of Grosso lavender at B & B Family Lavender Farm

We had a truly wonderful time at B & B Family Farm. Our tour guide was hilarious and knowledgable and happily answered all of my daughter's (many) questions. The fields were amazing and the gift shop stocked with beautiful things.

We came home with a bag of English lavender buds, a mala diffuser bracelet and a bottle of essential oil made on the farm – there were 8 choices, and they all smelled different!

Field Trips for Your Homeschool are Everywhere

Field trips don't have to be complicated or expensive. This little day trip to the farm was less than an hour long, but man did we pack in the learning and have a delightful afternoon!

Adding Field Trip Fridays – or any planned time to get out and explore your local community and places within a couple hours' drive – is such a great way to add fun and memories to your homeschool. They can be an easy way to break out of a rut or add in hands-on learning to your curriculum.

My challenge to you: plan some field trips in your community. Here are some ideas on where to start looking:

  • Local museums or history centers
  • Art galleries or art installations
  • Local parks and memorials
  • Ask at your local library for a tour
  • Local businesses – ask at the Post Office or your grocery store for a behind-the-scenes tour. Your favorite boutique owner might be happy to teach your kids about purchasing, inventory, retail and marketing.
  • Fairs and festivals count too!
  • Nature walks in new places
  • New restaurants, or order something new at a favorite place
  • Thrift stores: go on a treasure hunt for ugly art and paint over it, get a new game to play or a movie from your childhood
  • Plan a garden and take a field trip to a nursery
  • Historical sites or places that are “locally famous” – for example, we have some sites made famous by the Twilight book series

Anything can be turned into a field trip!

It's your turn! Tell me about a recent homeschool field trip you took in the comments! Or tag me @lakehousekim on Instagram, I'd love to see your photos!

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