Interested in starting a lavender farm? We’ve been hearing a lot about lavender lately. Some farmers have said lavender is where wine was 30 years ago. But is this the right switch for a small farmer or a hobby farmer?
Just how difficult is it to grow lavender? Growing lavender isn’t as difficult as other crops. Lavender has few needs. In fact, over watering it or over fertilizing it actually hurt more than it helps. It’s also a perennial which means you plant it once then can continue to harvest for 8 years and sometimes up to 15 years later.
There are three main species out of 30 that are grown commercially. Of those varieties there’s something for just about everyone interested in hobby farming lavender in the US. It grows well in US hardiness zones 9 (lower CA, AZ, FL) up through 5 (southern end of northern states like New York, Vermont, Maine).
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Summary of Why Lavender Is Easier To Grow
- Perennial – harvest annual for up to 15 years without replanting
- Low Water Needs – Lavender likes those roots dry!
- Low Fertilizer Needs – Fertilizer doesn’t increase production. Lavender likes to dig for it’s nutrients.
It’s not all fun and games though. There are a few issues that make Lavender tough.
It does require a lot of space. Each plant can grow 2-3 feet in diameter. Most farmers space the plants 30 inches or more apart within a row. Then rows are spaced at least 3 feet apart. More space means less production per unit of land. That means higher land costs.
Also, weeding is tough. Mechanical weeding techniques will frequently damage the flower stalks. Mulching to suppress weeds can cause root root and fungal problems.
Lavender likes it dry.
Most farmers weed lavender using black plastic sheets between the rows to block weed growth. A bit ugly, a bit expensive, but effective.
Harvesting lavender is not less or more difficult than harvesting a lot of other profitable crops.
The key is timing. Again, lavender likes to be dry. If you harvest early in the morning the dew could rot some of your product. Most farmers harvest in the late morning or early afternoon.
The issue with afternoon harvesting is that the heat of the sun could destroy some of the essential oils. You’ll also run into this problem if you harvest at the end of a hot week.
How Hard Is It To Make Lavender Products To Sell?
Here’s a list of some of the most common products sold from lavender and what goes into making them.
- Fresh Lavender Flowers (Easy) – This is the easiest product to sell though not the highest value for your time. Fresh flowers can be sold at Saturday Farmer’s markets or to local florists. These can even be turned into cuttings and sold to gardeners which are described further below.
- Dried Lavender Flowers (Easy) – This one is a bit more work than fresh lavender flowers. In addition to the time spent harvesting you’ll also need a space to dry them. Bundles are hung upside down in a dark, warm location and take about 7-10 days to dry. They can then be sold not only as decorations but also as the raw materials for hobbyists to make their own lavender bags, soaps, or oils.
- Lavender Bags (Medium) – Lavender bags are simply dried flowers and buds stored in a small, decorative mesh bag. They are used inside pillows to release lavender scent. They’re also used to make dog beds smell better among other things. It’s cheaper and easier to make than distilling out the essential oils. The work required is the same as dried lavender flowers plus the additional step of stripping the dried flowers and buds and tying them in a bag to sell. See example below.
- Lavender Soap (Easy or Hard) – Lavender soap is another hot commodity product that does well. If you can keep your costs down and sell this as a low cost though unique soap you’ll do the best. Depending on how you make it it can be easy or hard. The easy way is to buy goat soap, lavender essential oil, and dried lavender flowers than make soap. But you want to know about farming. That’s where it gets hard. Making dried lavender flowers is pretty easy. You could easily do that from your own farm. Lavender oil is different altogether. See that bullet point further below. Even the simpler water-based oil is still a good amount of work.
- Lavender Cuttings For Gardeners (Medium Hard) – You can harvest cuttings, apply rooting compound, then plant them in sand or soil and prep them to sell as new lavender plants for local or online gardeners. In many ways this is almost easier than making soaps or oil. The real issue here is the extra time needed. It takes softwood cuttings 2-4 weeks for them to root before you can sell them as baby lavender plants. Hardwood cuttings take even longer. Small 4 inch pots sell for $10. Larger gallon pots can sell for up to $20-$30 but will take much more time.
- Lavender Infused Oils or Vodka (Medium) – This method simply pulls essential oils out of the dried lavender flowers into a plain oil (e.g. olive oil or coconut oil) or into an alcohol (e.g. vodka). You’ll need to harvest then dry your flowers before using this technique.
- Lavender True Essential Oil (Hard) – This method requires specialized equipment and steam distilling to pull oil from fresh flowers. The nice thing is you don’t have to dry them first. It’s not incredibly hard but it will take some work to learn the equipment. Watch the video below to get an idea of how much work and skill is involved.
How Hard Is Marketing And Selling?
So far we’ve just covered how to grow, harvest, and make various products.
Now let’s get into marketing and selling your products.
Some hobby farmers prefer just the growing and crafting part. Marketing is a whole other can of worms.
Of course, the simplest option is to setup a Saturday farmer market stand and sell your products there. You probably had this in the back of your mind so nothing new there. You can get a quick idea of how much you’ll make by looking at similar products on Etsy, maybe adding 5-10% to the price, then estimating how many sales you’ll make by asking your local farmer’s market what their typical visitor rate is each Saturday.
In addition here are a few other options. Just the list will give you an idea of how much work you might want to put into this.
- Sell lavender bags to the following local stores – Bed and mattress suppliers, pet stores, clothing stores (lavender bags can be hung in closets to impart a fresh scent on all your clothes), home goods stores
- Sell dried lavender flowers to local crafting stores
- Sell soaps, bags, and oil products to stores at all the tourist main streets for small towns within 50 miles of your area. This works great if you have a farm near a bunch of small mountain towns that aren’t too bad of a drive. Of course, you can ship things but initially you’ll want to meet store owners in person.
- Sell lavender cuttings to local gardening stores and gardening clubs.
- Sell products at local craft and art fairs (same as farmer’s market but more sporadic).
- Copy what wineries do…
- Make going to your lavender farm a full experience.
- Let them wander.
- Give tours.
- Sell lavender spirits, deserts, and savory dishes.
- Sell lavender crafting supplies.
- Host and charge for lavender crafting and cooking classes
- Teach people how to make essential oils then sell them the gear.
- Partner with a food truck (or trucks) that uses your lavender on your farm to sell savory dishes like Lavender Apricot chicken, Omelet with Lavender Roasted Potatoes, Leg of Lamb with Lavender Rosemary rub.
- Sell your lavender to local food trucks and restaurants
Hopefully this gives you an idea of how much work goes into growing, harvesting, prepping, and selling lavender.