123 FARM BLOG
INVASION OF THE DESERT LOCUSTS
September 9, 2020
123 Farm has endured many challenges over the years. Whether it’s a ferocious fire or the infamous California drought, we are used to getting knocked down… and getting back up again. 2020 might be the year that defines the term: a perfect storm. A pandemic? Check. No water? Check. Hungry fire? Check. An invasion of tens of thousands of locusts? CHECK. As we quietly tried to deal with the unfortunate cancellation of our festivals, we suddenly became the plot point of a 1950’s anthropoid horror movie. Synopsis: A ginormous swarm of flying desert locusts attack a quiet humble farm eating… All. Living. Greens!
Locusts are an evolved form of grasshoppers. The two look similar, but the locusts—or in our case, the desert locust—wear a dusty brown shade, have stronger hind legs to help them fly, and travel in big swarms. This is the gregarious stage of a locust. Normally, locusts travel alone and make an effort to avoid each other. When there is a period of heavy rainfall, they take advantage and breed heavily. When all the eggs hatch, they devour the food in their area, but in the desert, rain comes and goes and food is always limited. That’s when they begin to huddle together and create a swarm. In hard times when food is scarce and living conditions tough, the locusts are empowered to come together as a pack, mutate into pests, and scavenge together for food. When scientists studied to figure out why a harmless locust suddenly turns into a threat, they found that a chemical in their brain is released. In one study, scientists found that the serotonin levels in locusts when at the gregarious stage are three times higher than that in regular locusts living alone (Anstey, Rogers, Ott, Burrows 2009). Locusts are strangely attracted to each other during their times of famine, their back legs are tickled as they brush against one another and serotonin is released. In a matter of hours, locusts transform into the gregarious form of locusts and they begin their journey from crop to crop, eating all they can.
In late May, we could not believe our eyes when we stepped into our field of maesil trees. With every step, thousands of locusts jumped up from the ground. They were on trees, leaves, weeds, on the walls of our sheds. We quickly googled this because it suddenly felt like we were hit by one of the biblical plagues. We sighed when we saw how hard Africa was hit with their own swarms of desert locusts, massacring all their crops. We received calls from neighboring farms, warning us of the locusts, but it was too late. They were multiplying by the minute and eating everything.
They first attacked our ancient grain wheat field. Our hopes to harvest our grains and use them in our sourdough bread this year disappeared. Our lavender stems were next. Our lavender was halted in mid-bloom by hungry locusts and our beautiful purple field was covered with the critters eating the buds off of our lavender. Spots of dying flowers began to appear (Right before our Lavender Walk!!!). The desert locusts ate our peppers, peppermint, sage, anything living on our farm. We desperately researched ways to stop the locusts, but again it was too late. We found an organic insecticide called the Nolo Bait, but it had to be applied way before the swarm got so big. Nevertheless, we still applied the bait around our fields, in hopes of slowing them down. Unfortunately, there were too many of them and they were repopulating at a speed we couldn’t keep up with. We were worried that the locusts would get to our strawberries and tomatoes that were growing so well in our 3 acre field. However, in the nick of time, we noticed an increase in crows flying above our heads on the farm and slowly but surely, we also noticed a decline in the locusts. Thankfully, none ever reached our plump tomatoes or our sweet strawberries.
All of us at 123 Farm declared never to let a single desert locust come back again. And so we plan to order bags and bags of Nolo Bait in order to stop another swarm from invading our lands next year. Nolo Bait is flaky wheat bran that is coated with naturally occurring nosema locustae (a fungi that kills grasshoppers and crickets). When grasshoppers eat the bait, they become infected and soon become lethargic and reduce eating. Younger grasshoppers quickly die. We plan to use this next spring, right as these unwelcome visitors hatch, as a barrier so that the locusts are infected and die off before they even reach our crops. We’re so lucky that Nolo Bait is safe for humans, other insects and animals and approved for organic production.
We’re continuing our research for other preventative ways to stop these pests from hurting our crops again. Who knows, maybe scientists will one day figure out how to block the serotonin levels of the gregarious locusts naturally to stop the swarms from devastating crops without hurting the environment, people, and other animals... Wouldn’t that benefit farmers around the world?
We can prepare for disaster and chaos as much as we can, but at the end of the day, all we can do is endure and move forward. So as we head towards the last third of 2020, we’ll just make ourselves a warm cup of chamomile tea and spray a whiff of our stress reliever mist so that we can get a good night’s sleep to face another day.
Everyday Tea Tree
August 6, 2020
As we approach the middle of summer, we have been hurriedly harvesting the last of our lavender as we come to the end of the lavender season on our farm, but that doesn’t mean we put our distiller to rest! As soon as we wrap up distilling our lavender, we’ll be moving on to Tea Tree!
123 Farm grows Melaleuca alternifolia, or tea tree, which is known for its medicinal properties and warm, spicy aroma. It is an uplifting and energizing oil and is used to relieve nervous exhaustion and depression. (Singles Therapeutic Essential Oil Guide). Tea tree, or Ti-tree, is part of the Myrtaceae family along with clove, eucalyptus, and myrtle. All plants from this family yield oils that have anti-infectious properties with tea tree being one of the more powerful of these oils. The plant is native to Australia and has a history of use by the Aboriginal people. A must-have in any natural medicine cabinet, tea tree oil is active against all three categories of infectious organisms: bacteria, fungi and viruses! It is also an immunostimulant that increases the body's ability to respond to attacks from said organisms.
We began to experiment with our tea tree essential oil distillation in 2016 to see what method would produce the best quality oil. Similar to our lavender harvest, tea tree branches are harvested early in the morning, before the heat of the day sets in. However, while we normally can fit twelve crates of lavender into one distillation, the big, bulky branches of the tea tree only allow for six crates. Additionally, they are heavier and require higher pressure and longer distilling time. While lavender is distilled for only 45 minutes at 0.5 psi, tea tree is distilled for 90 minutes, ranging from 0.5 to 1.5 psi. The high pressure is required in the middle of the distillation in order to break the cell walls to release more oil.
Through our research into how other farms distill their tea tree, we’ve found that a lot of farms like to harvest the branches before flowering. We’ve tried distilling branches in different phases but prefer to harvest when the branches are flowering as it produces more oil and the scent is more favorable. We even sent our oil samples to a lab to test the quality, and results showed little differences between both methods! For each distillation, we are able to extract between 400ml - 500ml of essential oils.
We love our Tea Tree Essential Oil because of its high antioxidant, antimicrobial, and antifungal properties. There have been several research initiatives to see if there is a correlation between tea tree essential oils and its effect on treating acne and many results have concluded how beneficial it is. In one specific study, researchers compared the effects of tea tree and benzoyl peroxide, a popular acne medication. Results revealed that tea tree oil was just as effective in reducing the number of inflamed and non-inflamed lesions from acne. Tea tree oil was also noted to have fewer negative side effects than benzoyl peroxide (Bassett, Pannowitz, Barnetson 1990).
Tea tree essential oil can be very resourceful in our everyday lives, especially for people who have suppressed immune systems or are slow to recover from illness as they can reap the most from its benefits. This oil is also safe for children and can aid in shortening certain illnesses, like the common cold. According to Patricia Davis' book 'Aromatherapy,’ "If used in the bath at first signs of a cold or flu, one of the effects of tea tree is to stimulate profuse sweating, which has long been recognized in naturopathy and other forms of natural healing as a valuable response to infection. Quite often this is enough to stop a cold or flu developing and, if not, will reduce its severity…” (Davis. Aromatherapy. 1998). It's also important to note that tea tree is not a skin irritant and can be used directly on the skin without dilution, which isn't the case with most other essential oils. It’s our go-to treatment for the many bug bites we get while working on the farm! We are always looking for ways to improve the quality and scent of our oil and are excited to see how this year’s batch of tea tree will turn out. There’s no doubt how resourceful tea tree oil can be in a person’s life!
Let us know how you use tea tree oil in your everyday life!
Essential Oils + Distillation
July 16, 2020
May Gray has gone… June Gloom has passed… Hello July! Our Southern California temperature has been cruising past the 80’s and lounging in the 90’s. Although it makes our plants (and people) much warmer, we welcome the sun and summer with open arms. Why? Because it means that our fields will be painted a variety of shades of pretty purples. Because when the afternoon breeze rolls through, we are surrounded by the cool air and the scent of lavender. We really cannot ask for a more perfect summer spot.
Our lavender fields in bloom also mean that one of our biggest farm projects of the year is ready to begin: the lavender harvest. And that is what currently keeps us busy. Every morning, we put on our boots and farm hats and head out to our lavender fields. We cut the lavender stems in a repetitive motion to a silent beat in our heads, until over 80 crates are packed full. We then take our load over to the distiller, where our harvested lavender patiently waits for its turn for essential oil extraction.
Essential oils are volatile aromatic compounds that are contained in plants, where they serve to toward off solar radiation, heat, cold, drought, and pests, and even helping the plant heal after physical injury. These pure oils can be extracted from the plant through a method of distillation. Essential oils have been used for thousands of years and are still commonly used today in various aspects of people’s lives including personal and home care, repellents, food, and health.
In order to produce the best quality essential oil from our lavender, we use a steam distillation method. Low-heat steam distillation is the most common way of extracting essential oils. Pressurized steam travels through the plant, liberating the essential oils and carrying them away. The water and oils are separated by gravity in a separator can, which separates the water soluble parts (the hydrosol) and the fat soluble parts (the essential oil). Steam distillation is considered to be one of the cleanest methods and the best way to yield the most oil (Masango 2005). Still, it takes around 120 pounds of lavender to produce between 200-300 ml of oil! This is why our essential oils are so precious. We continue to use the low pressure, low temperature steam distillation method so that we can protect the beneficial components in the oil and produce a high quality oil. In addition to lavender, we also distill peppermint, tea tree, and rosemary in our distiller.
After the distillation process, we pour the essential oils into opaque glass containers and cover them with a cheese cloth. We then leave the oils to outgas for 2-3 months. Then, they are ready to be bottled or used in our 123 Farm products!
Essential oils have traditionally been used medicinally, but recent scientific research in the chemical composition of essential oils has revealed the existence of therapeutic molecules in these oils (Dhifi 2016). Lavender essential oil is one of the most commonly used oils as it can be used in various aspects of our lifestyles. Many scientists have studied the effect lavender essential oil has on the nervous system, and concluded that the use of such essential oils has relieved symptoms including stress, anxiety, and depression (Lopez 2017, Karadag 2015). Another study revealed that lavender essential oil is made up of properties that can aid in pain relief and reduce inflammation (da Silva, Luft 2015). In North America and in Europe, some doctors even prescribe pure essential oils to their patients as part of their treatment plan to alleviate symptoms.
Unfortunately, not all essential oils are equal. There are few regulations to induce honesty on labels, and essential oils are not regulated by the FDA, so “certified pure” is not necessarily a valid designation. Therefore, it is very important to be well informed when purchasing essential oils. If you are looking for a high quality,therapeutic lavender essential oil, some questions to ask are:
What kind of plant is the oil extracted from? (Lavandula Angustifoia is the highest grade lavender for therapeutic purposes).
Where was the lavender grown?
When was it harvested?
What kind of distillation process did the oil go through?
Doing a little background check on your essential oil is the best way to know what quality oil you are getting.
Essential oils can be very beneficial and are not only limited to lavender. It is interesting to see how different plant oils each seem to have their own specialty. Peppermint is great to ward off insects and alleviate nausea. Tea tree works wonders on bug bites, rashes, and pimples. Rosemary is known for promoting circulation. Even different types of lavender contain different therapeutic compounds and levels; some are better for therapeutic purposes than others. All of us at 123 Farm love incorporating essential oils in our daily lives and encourage you to do so as well. Below, we have shared some notes on how we use various essential oils before bed.
Essential Oil Sleep Routine
A drop or two of tea tree essential oil on a developing pimple at the end of a nose.
2-3 drops of lavender essential oil and rosemary essential oil on knuckles to alleviate stiffness and pain.
2-3 drops of lavender essential oil around the temples for a good night’s sleep
Mix around 10 drops of peppermint essential oil with a lavender or peppermint floral water and spray around your bed to keep those nasty mosquitos away.
*Essential oils are 70 times more potent than the plants from which they are extracted. Some people have more sensitive skin, so we recommend using a carrier oil to dilute most essential oils. (The exceptions are lavender and tea tree essential oils which, in most cases do not need to be diluted.) We also recommend diluting all essential oils when applied to babies’ skin.*
Introducing Maesil Syrup
June 23, 2020
123 Farm, like everyone else, has been hit by 2020 in ways that no one could ever have anticipated. We were particularly sorry to have to cancel our festivals, and other projects have also had to be put on hold. But even so, work on the land never ceases.
Our lettuces grew very quickly this year and were almost too pretty to harvest; there were 3000 pepper plants that were eager to take up residence in our soil; and the weeds wasted no time in taking over our fields. None of us noticed the time flying by as spring rushed busily in and we tried to keep up with it.
Our most recent project: harvesting and processing the thousands of little green and yellow plums yielded by about 150 Maesil (Korean Plum) Trees on the farm.
Maesil—officially called “prunus mume,” but most commonly known as the Korean plum or the Japanese apricot—is popular in East Asia for both its flower and its fruit. The first blossoms typically appear around the third week of January. During this time, the bees take advantage of our orchard as the early part of the season comes with scarcity of food for them. Though fruits are typically harvested throughout June and July, our Maesil fruits have always been ready for picking in May. We wonder if it’s because of our California sun and climate.
Because the little green plums are too tart and bitter to consume by themselves, they must go through a fermentation process to produce an extract widely enjoyed by the people of Korea. Immediately after the fruits are harvested, they are hand washed and packed snuggly, with organic sugar, into traditional, extremely large, Korean ceramic pots. They are covered with heavy ceramic lids, and there they must sit quietly in their cozy, dark haven (with the occasional stir here and there), until we revisit them next year, by which time they should have fermented into delicious tangy Maesil syrup. Studies have shown that longer fermentation time can increase the beneficial compounds in the extract, so we feel it is very important to leave the ferment for at least a year. (Choi 2020, Koh 2020).
Maesil syrup is commonly used medicinally and, in the Korean community, this custom has been passed down from generation to generation. Anyone at 123 Farm who complains of indigestion will soon be handed a warm cup of Maesil tea (Maesil syrup mixed with hot water) to relieve their discomfort. Though research is limited, several experiments carried out on mice have indicated a positive correlation with components in the fruit Maesil and its benefits in the small intestine and bowel movements (Lee 2017, Kim 2017, Na 2012).
A recently published study that specifically focused on the Maesil extract (syrup) and its anticancer properties revealed not only anticancer, but also anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial effects (Bailly 2019). The study further revealed that, although more research and data is needed, their findings supported the use of Maesil syrup to treat gastrointestinal cancers and that it has beneficial effects on treating the digestive tract. Don’t you love it when you discover that something delicious is also filled with incredible health benefits?
Maesil syrup is a versatile ingredient to have at hand in your pantry. Not only can you enjoy it as a beverage, but it is also a perfect sweetener for marinades, sauces, salad dressings, etc. Knowing how precious Maesil syrup is, we look forward with great expectations to next year’s outcome from this year’s harvest. Till then, here is a very simple recipe for Maesil tea, a perfect ending to any meal.
Iced Maesil Tea Recipe
2 cups of Water
2 tbsp of Maesil syrup
½ cup of Ice
4-5 bruised leaves of Mint
Add all ingredients into your cup and stir stir stir!
You can always add in different herbs or slices of fruit like oranges or strawberries to change up your flavor.
Substitute your water with sparkling water to make your new favorite soda.
For a warm drink, add 2 tablespoons of syrup to a mug of warm water. The amount can be adjusted to your taste.