Nebraska couple takes a risk, starts rare lavender farm
CORTLAND, Neb. (AP) — Sleepy Bees Lavender Farm northeast of Cortland is one of only two lavender farms in Nebraska.
Owners Jerry and Holly McCabe said they moved to the 21-acre farm in 2016 to escape living in Lincoln.
“We both had always lived in Lincoln,” Jerry told the Beatrice Daily Sun. “We were married at the farm and enjoyed the quiet of not living in the city. But then the company that we both worked for announced they were relocating to South Dakota and we had to make some choices.
“We talked about finding other corporate jobs, but decided to do something for ourselves that we had always wanted to do, but what? We thought about a restaurant because I have a background in Culinary Arts, but decided we did not want to work that hard.”
Holly added the farm is a unique opportunity to grow something seldom seen in Nebraska.
“We wanted to do something at the acreage and started thinking about lavender,” she said. “I had wanted it in the centerpieces and bouquets for the wedding, but most of the local places had sold out in October. I wanted something more natural looking than the typical wedding flowers.”
“We knew there was a demand and it was fairly pricey,” Jerry added. “We thought everything would grow in Nebraska, but it turns out that lavender really doesn’t like the soil or the climate. It’s a Mediterranean plant that likes rocky soils. It’s a very demanding plant that doesn’t like humidity or too much moisture.”
The couple knew that people in Nebraska, Kansas, and Iowa were doing something similar. After finding a mentor in Colorado that helped guide them and doing other extensive research, they decided that they were going to have a lavender farm, but were committed to doing things differently than others in the area to make it work. They decided to give it two years.
They partnered with an area equestrian center for fertilizer, added lime and mounded the soil to make the drainage work.
They further researched the types of plants that would do best in Nebraska weather and decided on the Phenomenal Lavender. They planted 1700 plugs in May 2018.
“It probably wasn’t a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket,” said Jerry. “We should have ordered other types of plants, but we only lost about 250 plants the first year. We’ve added other plants now and are up to about 3,000 plants. It’s just really difficult to grow here and they’re very fickle plants. This is also a labor intensive business too.”
The McCabe’s chose to use row covers on the plants, experimenting with the weight and the method to keep them held down.
“The row covers are no fun and a lot of work to put down,” said Holly. “We’re lucky to have had help of family and good friends.”
“We started bees at the same time, but because of the harsh winter, we lost all of our bees the first year,” Jerry added. “So we started over with three groups of bees. We’re hoping to have a really unique tasting honey because of the lavender pollination.”
The McCabes started making products like lotions, soaps, lip balm and candles. They also offer culinary blends, fresh and dried lavender. The products are sold during open house dates, craft fairs, farmer’s markets and through the website: sleepybeeslavenderfarm.com.
“We hope to build a space for a store with a commercial kitchen here at the farm,” said Jerry. “On July 11 we are planning to have our first lavender festival. It’s really our hope to develop this into an agri-tourism business.”
“There are so many different ideas that we have to grow the business,” said Jerry.
“Everything we’ve done so far has yielded better results than what we hoped,” Holly added.