Thousands of bees buzzed around sprigs of lavender on Tuesday at Sun Life Farm in Prineville.
For owner and Operations Manager Jeff Fox, it was the sign he’s been waiting for.
“To me it was the indicator that we were close to being ready. I watched the bee activity down there,” he said. “Lavender plants do not need to be pollinated, but the bees love it.”
The 10,000 lavender plants across three acres of property should have already been ready for their first ever U-pick season. But unlike for other crops, the recent June weather was not good news.
“Because of the June rain and then the June mild temperatures that we had, the flowers really kind of got a late start, so maybe that’s where the term late bloomers came from,” Fox chuckled. “But that’s essentially what they became. We didn’t have the warmth that was necessary for them to thrive and get their early growth stage.”
Lavender plants thrive in the heat, as long as they are kept moist underneath. Conditions are optimal at this point in the year, but the lack of heat last month means the start of the season has been delayed for two weeks.
After an $80,000 investment in the plants and a three-year wait for the plants to reach maturity, the delay is not ideal. Fox said it’s considered a high-risk crop because there is so much investment up-front, but the plants typically do last for 15 to 20 years.
“It was somewhat of a letdown, but it also buys you a little time,” he said. “My wife Amy and I are the only two who work the farm, and we always feel like we’re a step behind anyway, so we just looked at it as an opportunity to get more weeding done, cleanup around the field and do what was necessary to prepare.”
Despite the setback, the Foxes reaped other benefits on another 42 acres of their land.
“The orchard grass thrived,” he said. “Normally in June we’re having to really utilize a lot of water to get the crop to grow, but we had so much rain, and all of a sudden we had one of our biggest yields in that field out of our two fields for a first cutting, which was great.”
Their water allocation from the Prineville Reservoir was supposed to last until July 1. The rain extended that date to September 1.
That date is still held loosely as the heats increase, leading to water evaporation.
“The demand for the grass and crops is going to be higher because they’re drying out faster, so September 1 would be ideal, but it may not happen either,” Fox said. “You just plan accordingly and just get done what you can do, and hope that it all comes out. It’s really the trials and tribulations of farming in Central Oregon. You never know how it’s going to come out from one season to the next.”
He said they are unsure whether they will lose any projected profits due to the lavender delay, as this is their very first season and it remains to be seen how much foot traffic they see.
On July 30-31, the farm will finally kick off their lavender picking season during a “Laven-Days” event.
“It’s like being a kid and you have this anticipation of all these presents under the tree for Christmas, and then somebody moves Christmas on you,” Fox said. “So now all of a sudden you have those presents and you’re waiting for them to be open but it’s not time yet.”