A Lavender Farm in San Diego?!
Keys Creek Lavender Farm is a little bit of Provence in San Diego. Located in the wilderness (really — they are on a dirt road!) of northern San Diego county, this working farm supplies several local gourmet food companies with lavender for gelato, chocolate, and sea salt delicacies. During the blooming season of May and June, they offer guided tours on the weekends. I took one of these tours this weekend, and while I learned a lot of fun facts, if you just want to take photos and smell the yummy fields, the self-guided tour would be fine for you — the guided tour does not go anywhere you do not already have access to (and you still cannot enter the fields!). You can do the guided tour anytime while the farm is open (10am to 3pm Wednesday to Sunday), but the guided tours are only at 11am and 1pm on Saturday and Sunday — you can reserve your space on their website.
You will see signs not to enter the lavender fields — please abide!! This is indeed a working farm, and these fields represent someone’s livelihood. Our tour guide (actually the farm’s owner) explained how humans can carry and introduce disease to the plants, and this has led to the loss of one of the fields. Also, entering the fields can be dangerous to us humans, as there are rattlesnakes in the country! Stay on the paths and stay safe. I know you want that amazing selfie (so do I!!), but there is some pretty spectacular bougainvillea that is selfie-worthy.
Lavender farming is more labor-intensive than I expected. Before planting the rows, the dirt must be raised to form small hills to facilitate drainage — we learned lavender does not like wet feet! All the weeding is done by hand since the farm is organic; there are no pesticides, so the final product is food-grade. After the flowers are cut by hand, they are hung in bunches to dry all over the property — if you look up at the awnings around the gift shop and tea room, you will notice wires running the entire length where the bunches will be hung. After drying, the flowers are sorted and sifted into a fine food-grade version and a coarser craft-grade.
When making essential oils, the cut plants are not dried, but go straight to the distillery for extracting. 300 pounds (roughly 400 plants) are placed in a giant vat and water is steamed through the plant material; the vapor is condensed to create approximately 32 ounces of essential oil — so if you’ve ever wondered why oils are so expensive for such a tiny volume, that is why!!
There is a cute tea-house where you can sip lavender tea or lemonade on the veranda overlooking the neighboring farm, and a gift shop with basically anything lavender you can think of. I bought some soaps (lavender-rose and lavender-rosemary), lip balm, and lavender jelly that I cannot wait to try on my Greek yogurt. The entire property smells divine.
If you visit now in 2016, you will notice many bare fields or fields with teeny tiny baby lavender plants. The farm is currently replanting most of its fields — the previous plants were from 2009 when the current owner acquired the farm, and lavender has a life span of 7-8 years…..so it is time to renew and replant. I will definitely be back in 2017, when the fields will be simply stunning (in my imagination!). This would be a great day trip with girlfriends, and the farm even hosts high tea and soap making classes — check their calendar for upcoming events.
One last word — the farm’s website is very clear to follow their own directions and not rely on GPS, as previous guests have gotten lost following technology! I plugged their address in to my GPS anyway out of curiosity, but followed the directions on their website. They were very different! I don’t know if following my car’s instructions would have gotten me there, but my car’s GPS told me to turn off the freeway at multiple exits before it finally realized what I was doing and eventually re-routed to the correct exit. Then, it wanted me to take different backroads through the mountains……once I turned off on Lilac Road, it finally rerouted to follow the farm’s directions the rest of the way. Don’t chance it. The farm’s directions are very easy to follow, and arriving somewhere the old-fashioned way seems fitting for a day in the country.