Lavender lovers descend on Ketchum Hollow to harvest fragrant bundles
By Dianna Troyer
Carla and Chris Ketchum cherish a scented summer chore, harvesting their lavender by hand.
They are not alone.
Other lavender lovers come annually to cut their own fragrant bundles at the couple’s Ketchum Hollow Lavender farm near Rupert.
“It’s more like aromatherapy than work,” Carla says. “It smells wonderful, and it’s peaceful to be out in the field cutting it. Studies have shown lavender is calming and helps alleviate depression and insomnia. It’s even helped some people with PTSD.”
During their three-week harvest, Carla and Chris anticipate a yield of about 2,000 bundles from 700 plants. Each bundle has 80 to 90 stems.
The Ketchums appreciate lavender for its culinary and aromatic uses.
“A little goes a long way,” Carla says.
Expressing her culinary creativity, Carla adds lavender to pancake mix, shortbread cookies, lemonade, and honey. She puts it in soups and uses it in a savory meat rub. Lavender also can be used to make ice cream.
Outside the kitchen, Carla makes lavender wreaths, wands, sachets, bouquets, powdered laundry booster, hand sanitizer, bubbling bath salts and room spritzer.
Lavender’s versatility is appreciated by longtime U-pick customer Wanda Knopp, who cuts 5 to 6 bundles each season.
“All our grandchildren have sachets I’ve made for them to put in their clothes drawers,” Wanda says. “They always ask me to make lavender pancakes, too.”
Wanda relies on a laundry additive that Carla makes.
“She sells a lavender powder to use as a laundry booster,” Wanda says. “It gives clothes a fresh aroma."
Wanda also makes bouquets for her home.
“Lavender keeps its scent for quite a while,” she says. “After it fades, the dried flowers are still beautiful to look at.”
Chris says they decided to launch the farm in 2015 as a retirement project and to add a little beauty in the world.
“We were 60 at the time and brainstorming about a low-maintenance crop to grow that would keep us active,” he says. “I did some research and realized our sandy soil and climate are suited to lavender, which happens to be one of Carla’s favorite plants and aromas.”
A hardy, pest-resistant perennial shrub, lavender requires minimal watering and doesn’t need fertilizer. Each plant lives about 10 years.
The Ketchums contacted a lavender farmer near Buhl, who suggested they cultivate three varieties that would thrive in southeastern Idaho. Grosso is prized for its scent. Hidcote Giant grows about 30 inches tall and is popular for floral arrangements. Munsted, with its floral and sweet flavor, is most often used in cooking.
The Ketchums drove to a renowned farm in Sequim, Washington, and brought home 1,200 lavender plants.
“Each plant was sold as a single stem,” Chris says. “It took us about six weeks to plant them all in our half-acre field.”
They installed a dripline and weeded by hand. By late summer, their first harvest surprised them.
“We had 80 bundles,” Carla says. “By our third and fourth years, we were cutting about 3,700 bundles. Weeding and cutting the lavender keeps us in good shape and is relaxing.”
Although the plants are hardy, the Ketchums have lost some to unusually harsh winters and alfalfa mosaic, a disease that yellows the stems and eventually kills the plant.
To share information about lavender and their harvest, the couple launched a Facebook page, Ketchum Hollow Lavender. In hindsight, Carla says lavender was serendipitous for her health. Diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in 2015, she relied on its scent throughout her treatment. She kept a sachet in her car and purse.
“Before every appointment, I inhaled the aroma, and it calmed me,” she says. “My daughter made me a cream with lavender oil that I used during 33 radiation treatments, and I never burned. I give credit to God and medical and natural doctors for healing me. God put lavender in my life at the perfect time when I needed it most.”
Their daughter also makes lavender soap and bath products. She sells them on her Country Chick Soaps website.
After the harvest, Chris and Carla will begin pruning their lavender in September.
“We prune the plants into a uniform mound shape in the fall and occasionally in the spring, depending on the weather,” Carla says. “We never take for granted how beautiful the first blossoms look every spring.”