Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Stewardship in Action

I will admit that I was pretty excited when I received a referral from one of our Watershed Steward Award winners that put me in touch with the owners of Weir’s Lane Lavender.

I have a great job, and one of the best parts about my job is the experience of getting to see how people use their properties in different ways. During our on-site visits to properties our goal is to assist the property owners in learning more about the natural areas on their properties and if applicable, assisting them with completing projects to create new, enhance existing, or protect natural areas. The property owners that live in this watershed are so diverse and I have learned a great deal from their experiences of living on, and working their lands. My visit to Weir’s Lane Lavender was no exception.

It’s a story that I never tire of hearing.

Kevin Beagle was working for a software company in downtown Toronto. His wife, Abigail Payne, commuted long hours between the couples Toronto home and her job at McMaster University. Six years ago they decided it was time for a change in their hectic lifestyle, and they made the move to Weir’s Lane.

Since 2010 Kevin and Abigail have been growing and harvesting Lavender, and the property features 5,500 Lavender plants on-site, with plans to add two to three thousand plants per year to the western edge of the property, eventually converting all of the current cash crop rotation to lavender fields.  An apiary was a natural addition to this site, and there are presently approximately 250,000 bees on-site with plans to add more hives. They opened a store on-site which features a variety of their own lavender products, including lavender infused honey and locally produced giftware. In 2012, Weir’s Lane Lavender & Apiary was recognized as the Agri-Tourism Business of the Year by Tourism Hamilton.

Kevin and Abigail were more than happy to educate me about Lavender. Lavender has no known natural pests, requires no fertilization and no spraying occurs to protect the health of the honey bees and other pollinators on-site. Their interest in educating the public is what prompted our visit. By the end of our visit, the plan for a native plant garden that would serve as forage for pollinators and a demonstration site with interpretive signage was underway.

On June 16, 2013 Kevin and Abigail, with the help of friends and family, some McMaster University students and the Hamilton-Halton Watershed Stewardship Program, planted 936 wildflower plugs in 3 newly dug gardens near the apiary in record time. Species planted include:

Brown-eyed Susan Rudbeckia hirtaLance-leaved Goldenrod Euthamia graminifolia
Common Milkweed Asclepias syriaca
New England Aster Aster novae-angliae
Flat-topped Aster Aster umbellatus
Sweet Oxeye Heliopsis helianthoides
Dense Blazing-star Liatris spicata
Wild Bergamot Monarda fistulosa
Foxglove Beardtongue Penstemon digitalis
Virginia Mountain Mint Pycnanthemum virginianum

There is a great little rhyme with perennial plants “In the first year they sleep, in the second year they
creep, and in the third year they leap!” I was invited back to the farm to act as a resource on native plant gardens during the 2013 Farm Crawl and I was pleased to see the plugs holding their own. In addition to the native plant/pollinator friendly demonstration garden, Kevin and Abigail also began letting areas of the property along a watercourse quietly begin to naturalize, creating a riparian buffer which will provide habitat to wildlife, help cool the watercourse by providing shade, and filter runoff from adjacent areas.

The Hamilton-Halton Watershed Stewardship Program was pleased to be able to offer technical and financial support to this project. While small-scale to start, it provides a large-scale opportunity in reaching out to the over 800 annual visitors to the farm. I look forward to revisiting the site in 2014 to see the plants grow and installing the interpretive signage that is currently in development. We look forward to working with Weir’s Lane Lavender in the coming years to ensure the success of the site, add new species, and potentially expand the native plant garden to new areas.

 Are you interested in establishing a demonstration project on your property or at your businesslocation? Feel free to contact me to discuss your ideas. I can be reached at celwell@conservationhamilton.ca.

Cherish Elwell
Watershed Stewardship Technician
Hamilton-Halton Watershed Stewardship

Interested in learning more about Weir’s Lane Lavender? Visit their website at http://www.weirslanelavender.com/ or like them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/weirslanelavender. The farm store remains open up to Christmas (see website for hours) before Kevin and Abigail take a well deserved rest for the winter.

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