Located north of Napa on Dry Creek Road is Harms Vineyards and Lavender Fields with its 1 1/2 acres of the stunning and fragrant purple floral crop. With their lavender in bloom, property owners Donald Harms and Patricia Damery host their annual open house on June 23 at their certified biodynamic and organic estate.
Established 13 years ago, the lavender fields comprise approximately 3,200 plants of several lavender varieties. The lavender got its start when the grapes on the property were struggling.
Damery, a Jungian therapist from the Midwest with farming roots, said that on moving to Napa, “I wasn’t planning to return to farming. But I did and I love it.” Harms, a retired architect from Illinois, concurred.
In Napa, they began growing grapes about 20 years ago. “In 1999, we faced a crisis with potentially huge financial losses,” Damery said. “The grapes weren’t ripening on some of the vines.”
They decided to try a biodynamic solution. Biodynamics, started in Germany in 1924, is an organic farming method that focuses on naturally improving the soil’s fertility and advocates agricultural diversification.
After adopting biodynamic methods, Damery said, “We were impressed. The vines progressed through six weeks of ripening in just
10 days.” They decided to implement biodynamics throughout their property. “It was an intensive year with a sharp learning curve,” Damery added.
Even after the revival of most of the problematic vines, some were still ailing.
“We had just taken a biodynamics course on lavender when our specialist suggested we plant lavender to replace those vines. He told us to would be a nine times more profitable crop.” Damery said, “I’m not sure yet if that is true.”
The Harms Lavender Fields are divided into five different tracts, each with their own names, characteristics and sometimes lavender variety. Of these varieties, Damery said, “The Grosso is a hybrid of French lavender. The French is taller and lighter in color than the Grosso. But Grosso has 16 times the amount of oil. The Provence hybrid is also a good oil producer. The Buena Vista, hybridized in Oregon, blooms early with brilliant deep royal purple flowers. It’s more compact and well suited for Napa. English lavender has a milder and sweeter fragrance and makes beautiful bouquets.” She added, “I love Grosso, but I like them all.
“If properly pruned, lavender plants will live 10 to 12 years or longer in the home garden,” she said. “They need to be pruned way down no later than August otherwise they’ll get leggy, woody and die sooner. For a greater sensory impact for the eyes and nose, plant the lavender in large mass groupings.”
Part of this pruning at the Harms estate is harvesting the lavender. “It generally starts around the first of July and takes about three weeks to complete,” said Harms. A large percentage of these harvest is used to produce hydrosol and essential oils through a distillation process. “During harvest I’m distilling 13 hours a day,” said Harms.
Damery added, “We distill our products to a 4.1 pH. So, it’s safe for personal use and has a longer shelf life.”
The end products of this process, the hydrosol and oils, have both personal and domestic uses. “Hydrosol is a wonderfully clean cleaner for mopping floors to washing laundry. It can also be spritzed to refresh the body and face,” Damery said, “Lavender has a unique characteristic of balancing the body. If you’re tired, it will refresh and energize. And if you’re stressed, it will calm and soothe. Plus, lavender is a natural anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, too.”
These Harms Lavender products have lot numbers “so you can trace its individual tract and year of production,” Damery said. In addition to the hydrosol and oils, Harms Lavender offers other products, including lavender flower bundles and loose flowers in bulk or tins. These items are available online and at Napa Apothecary.
The couple continues to grow grapes, as their primary crop. All of these lavender field and biodynamic experiences inspired Damery to write a book, “Farming Soul — A Tale of Initiation” published by Fisher King Press.
During the Harms Lavender Fields product line development, it was their graphic designer who suggested an open house to introduce themselves and their products. Damery. Products will be available for purchase at the open house with 10 percent of sales benefiting the Suskol House project, a local Native American cultural center.
“It’s low-key,” said Damery, advising guests to wear sturdy walking shoes, comfortable clothing and a hat “as you’ll be walking a quarter mile up a dirt road to the open house location.”
Harms added, “We have a ‘Mule,’ ATV, to transport the less able. Also, I’ll be directing parking because space is very limited and parking on the road is not allowed.
The farm’s goats, he added, are a big attraction for children.
“Bring a picnic, try our delicious lavender limeade, listen to our wise guest speakers and enjoy walking through our organic lavender fields and vineyards. It’s a wonderful day.”