We’ve had a busy 6 months since moving to our forest farm! The summer was beautiful in this wild paradise and each week presented new delightful plant species. We found wild strawberries, blackberries, wineberries and native purple raspberries to name just a few edibles. We also had fun experimenting with distilling a variety of native aromatic plants such as Carolina Sweetshrub, Spice Bush, Sweet Birch and Goldenrod as well as Chinese Bitter Orange!
We will soon be offering limited quantities of some of these special essential oils here on our website!
We had the honor of having a White Pine distillation documented by Priya Jaishankar from the Appalachian Beginning Forest Farmer Coalition. They produced two beautiful documentary videos that we couldn’t be more proud of:
In the second video we delve into more detail about harvesting and sustainability:
Forest Road Work
In August, we helped our farm’s owner repair the property’s degraded old logging road; incorporating erosion control measures in cooperation with the USDA and USFS. For a week we smoothed out the road with an excavator, moved soil to build water deflection bars (dips/humps), lined water outlets with coconut-fiber turf mat, seeded with regionally-appropriate grasses and applied hay. In total, we built or improved 24 water bars in about 1 linear mile with a 400′ elevation change. The erosion improvement was immediately effective at preventing the flash flood of muddy water that used to rush down the mountain after a downpour.
Spring Source Development
We also had the opportunity to learn about spring water development. The first half of the summer was rather wet and it caused the source of our spring water to partially collapse.
After repairing the collapse and enlarging the collection area, the rain stopped. The second half of the summer was extremely dry, causing significant drought across the region. Once again, the spring water ran out and we found ourselves digging up the source. This time, following a hunch about a shiny piece of metal in a small deep hole, we dug up hill just a bit and slowly uncovered an old concrete spring collection box buried under 3′ of clay.
It felt like an archaeological dig!
Apparently, this spring head got covered (and collapsed) when loggers built the road above it 20+ years ago. Fortune smiled on us because the spring was still overflowing the collection box at 20 gallons per hour in the height of a drought! We had been collecting just a tiny portion of this overflow. So we got this box cleaned up and reinforced a bit and now the storage reservoir stays full of pristine mountain spring water!
Running out of water was a significant setback in terms of our ability to distill many batches this summer but in the long run we can be happy in the assurance of sustainable pure, high-elevation spring water for drinking, distillation and drip irrigation.
The widespread drought has also caused numerous large wildfires across the region burning more than 49,000 acres in North Carolina alone as of this writing. Firefighters from all over the country and beyond have come to help out but continued drought, high winds and large amounts of dry leaf litter are making their work very difficult. Areas around the town of Lake Lure (famous as the filming location of Dirty Dancing) have been evacuated as a fire (one of the first to start) burns into its second month.
We are fortunate that there are no fires near our farm but we have experienced many days of heavy smoke. This is usually a dry time of year and wildfires are a natural and healthy occurrence but this year is clearly exceptional. Please thank a firefighter when you see one and do a little rain dance for us! And if you smoke, be conscious of your butts!
We’re not really sure what to expect from this winter. Local word is that since the Forest Farm is located on the northwest side of a particular ridge line it’s in a micro-climate that consistently stays colder and gets more snow than Asheville. Expect photos! The farm has transformed from a lush green paradise with deep-dark forest canopies to a sprawling majesty of panoramic views and the beautiful contrast of granite and dark green pines, rhododendron and laurel against red, brown and yellow leaf carpeting. Yet, year-round the distant mountains have that same Blue Ridge hue. And the stars. No humidity (or smoke) or proximity to large light sources is a beautiful thing at night!
We’ll be distilling a bunch of conifers this winter (and Ginger) and replenishing inventory of Eastern Red Cedar (Juniper Leaf), Eastern Hemlock, White Pine, Leyland Cypress, discarded Fraser Fir Christmas Trees and hopefully Red Spruce. We’ll also be working on another spring development and irrigation system for the agricultural terraces with an eye toward organic cultivation for essential oils in 2017.
2016 has been a crazy year for a lot of people, as it has for Blue Ridge Aromatics. Our sales and reach have grown significantly since the beginning of the year when we weren’t quite sure that this business would make it. You, our supporters and customers, with your enthusiasm for our vision and artisan essential oils, have encouraged and propelled Blue Ridge Aromatics to a happy place! Our essential oils are now in stores in North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and California! They are also in people’s homes in soaps, salt scrubs, natural perfumes and aromatherapy blends from artisanal crafters around the country!
So thank you! We’re going to honor your trust and confidence in us by remaining true to our core values of quality, sustainability and value, as well as a long-term mission to grow local economic cooperation and opportunity.