A typical day for Napa natives Ashley and Leif Kelly-Weaver means getting up before sunrise and letting the chickens out; heading to the garden to compost, preparing soil, and creating “lasagna beds,” which mimic how the forest floor works, and helps bring the worms to the yard.
And there’s a lot of harvesting, Ashley Weaver said.
The Weavers each comes from a long line of gardeners, and have decided to make a business out of it. Not just because they enjoy it, which they do, but also because the right kind of gardening is good for the planet and the creatures on it.
The business’ unlikely name – Bat House Garden – is a nod to both a departed family member and mentor, and a misunderstood but important pollinator species, Ashley Weaver said.
Married four years, Ashley, 30, and Leif, 29, have no children, but do care for six cats and nine chickens, she said.
“We both grew up in the garden, so naturally we started this small business adventure out of our love for dirt and respect for this earth, being in the garden, and providing food for others,” Ashley Weaver said.
“Here on our little less than an acre of a property in Napa Valley we are aiming to create a safe-sustainable garden for ourselves and others but, most importantly, the native pollinators and other wildlife.”
The other side of the enterprise is the small batches of solid lotion bars and soaps the couple creates mostly out of ingredients they grow themselves. And they’re working on growing the remaining ingredients they now have to outsource, like beeswax, she said.
“We make them using dried flowers and essential oils from the yard,” she said, adding that the plan is to eventually use wax from their own bees for turning them into bars.
“We started doing the soaps and lotions because I started having gardener hands, and I needed something to help with that,” she said.
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“There are only the four ingredients, shea butter, olive oil, beeswax and essential oil. Some of the olive oil comes from Leif’s grandmother, and the shea butter is outsourced, but the rest of it, the essential oils and dried flowers, come from here. We do our own steam distillation here to get the essential oils from the flowers.”
Weaver said she’s worked to create lotion and soap bars that are “very moisturizing” while not being too oily or leaving an oily residue.
“I also have super sensitive skin, and it’s been nice to be able to create something that works for that, too,” she said. “I don’t like to use a lot of chemicals, so we created more natural products.”
A main focus is creating a haven for pollinators, like bees, birds, butterflies and bats, Ashley Weaver said.
“We’re growing fruits and veggies, with over 12 trees so far,” she said. “People seem intrigued and tickled that we chose the bats as our mascot in honor of (her mother-in-law, who passed away in 2014) and an underrated pollinator around here.”
Weaver said she and Leif, who also works in a Marin tobacco shop, also hope to educate people about the vital importance of pollinators, and ways to be kinder to the earth that sustains us.
“If we don’t have bees we don’t have food,” she said. “We wanted to create a safe place for the pollinators around here. It’s all horse pastures and vineyards around here.”
Family members help when they can, including Leif’s grandmother, Carole Kent who lives nearby and Ashley Weaver’s mother, Kimberly Cross who also frequently lends a hand, she said.
“She’s my right-hand lady when my right-hand man isn’t here,” she said. “We’re a husband and wife with a love for dirt. It’s a family effort; to be sustainable and happy in these crazy times. The family that grows together stays together, is what I say.”
Kent says the Weaver’s “created a little Eden back there,” inspired by her daughter, Leif’s mother, who passed away nearly seven years ago.
“It’s very beautiful, and very natural,” said Kent, a master organic gardener for 20 years – through a free, science-based UC extension program in support of the home gardener.
“The Bat House Garden is an absolutely calming, delighting, real connection and appreciation for the natural world and learning how we fit in,” Kent, 75, said.
“We’re not apart from it, we’re part of it. It’s a grounding experience. Makes you feel like we’re all in this together. I see them as good caretakers of their garden, which is brimming with life. It’s a delight to see young people doing this.”
Surrounded by oak trees and with beautiful views of oak-covered hills, the Weavers have “made the stay-at-home orders more than bearable – quite delightful,” Kent said.
“They do regenerative gardening – trying to improve the soil’s health. For me, the goal would be to leave the earth a better, healthier place and I believe that’s their goal, too, and to make products that are natural. The way I see them behaving is very much in harmony with nature. To make a safe place for insects and birds, which are hugely important for the earth.”
No pesticides or chemicals are used on the property which features peaches, nectarines, pomegranates, figs, apples, lemons, mandarins “and a bunch of rows of raspberries – fifth generation – that came from (Kent),” Ashley Weaver said. “Also salad greens and, in an ode to her, cut flower bouquets of native wildflowers.”
The garden also includes shooting stars, wild larkspur, monkeyflower, miner’s lettuce, which like many of the other plants they grow, is edible, as well as lupine, fairy lantern, yarrows and others, she said.
They hope to sell little bundles of those flowers, too, “to help educate people,” she said.
With the pandemic’s restrictions and the fact that they’ve been at this for only a short while, the garden part of Bat House is only available to family and friends, though that is expected to change when it can be done safely, she said.
The couple bought and moved into the property about four years ago, after spending many years on Leif Kelly-Weaver’s grandmother’s Curry Lane Wombat Farm.
“Then we moved here and started our own little thing,” she said. “Our plan was to start a family business; to grow fruits and veggies, to donate to the food bank to provide fresh produce for people, which is a huge hole that needs help filling.”
With COVID, they are only able to have family to the garden, and they do local deliveries to family and friends, but eventually hope to open it to the public.
The lotion bars and soaps are available for purchase on their website and are sold in a store called Inti on First Street in downtown Napa.
“Working in the garden brings me a lot of joy and connection to fond childhood memories,” Ashley Weaver said. “It gives me an opportunity to give back to the land, which gives to us; to do our small part to give back to the earth, so it can give to us all.”
The Weavers are working toward the day that they can open the garden to the public and offer for sale and education, the produce and flowers they grow, along with the lotion and soap bars, she said.
“It’s mad gratitude to be able to be in this space and do what we’re doing and the respect for the way the earth works,” she said. “The importance of our soil. I think about that a lot.”