Farm Tours Where You Can Pitch In

courtesy Beechenhill Farm

Aspiring beekepers at Beechenhill Farm

More and more farms are opening up for tours. We like the ones that really allow visitors to participate


Armed with a basket, scissors, and a twist tie, you'll set off into the lavender fields (which come into full bloom in July) to pick bouquets. Owners Barbara and Gary Hanna, software industry refugees from Seattle, also give out free dabs of lavender honey.

Who knew? There are some 200 varieties of lavender--Lost Mountain alone has more than 120--and each emits a different fragrance. Plus, not all types of lavender are lavender. They can be white, pink, blue, or purple.

Info: Lost Mountain Lavender, Sequim, Wash., 888/507-7481,, tours free, bouquets $5.


Outfitted in a full-body suit, a net hood, Wellies, and gloves, you'll take out the frames that hold the honeycomb, remove the debris that collects on the frames, and make sure the queen is alive and well. The complicated process of collecting honey is left to the professionals, but you do get to sample the final product.

Who knew? The best way to tell the queen bee from the drones and the worker bees is by size: She's slightly bigger. To make it even easier, Mark Dennison, the master beekeeper at Beechenhill, marks her at the beginning of the season with a spot of paint.

Info: Beechenhill Farm, Ilam, Ashbourne, Derbyshire, England, 011-44/1335-310-274,, $35 per group of six for a one-hour tour.

Goat Cheese

You'll participate in the making of fromage blanc, chèvre, and other goat cheeses--from hand-milking one of the goats, to seeing how the mixture is hung to dry, to tasting the various cheeses at their delicious finish.

Who knew? Llamas are often used to protect farm animals from hungry predators. At Harley Farms, Bart the brown llama has fended off everything from foxes to bobcats.

Info: Harley Farms Goat Dairy, Pescadero, Calif., 800/394-2939,, $20 for a two-hour tour.


Vanilla actually comes from the seed pods of an orchid, but first the flowers must be hand-pollinated. You'll get to do the honors: With a wooden stick, you push the stamen and pistil together (a membrane separating the two prevents this from happening naturally). Nine months later, a pollinated flower will turn into a string bean--like pod. It takes four months of curing for the green pod to turn the familiar black--and you'll be able to see beans in different stages on the farm.

Who knew? The vanilla orchid's only natural pollinator is the Melipona bee. The problem, however, is that each vanilla orchid bloom lasts for just one day--so the bee must show up at precisely the right time. Hence the need for human assistance.

Info: Villa Vanilla, Villa Nueva, Costa Rica, 011-506/779-1155,, $25 for the standard two-hour tour.

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