In the eight years that we’ve been here, the things we’ve learned! It turns out that there really isn’t a guidebook on ‘how to be a lavender farmer’.
We arrived at our little slice of heaven in December 2008, only to find out that we needed to “harvest” our lavender in January.
We had no idea what this involved so, naturally, went to the library. And well, like many things, everyone has a different opinion on how and when you should harvest lavender, it’s also very climate and condition specific. Naturally, our climate and conditions were nothing like those in the books. So we sought out the guidance of Elise Hall, a wonderful woman who has a successful lavender business in the Wairau Valley. Elsie was kind, exceptionally patient and full of knowledge. She knew of our little patch of lavender and gave us helpful tips and much encouragement.
With Elise’s words of wisdom, I set off to the garden centre in Blenheim to buy two “sickles”.
Working how to use a sickle to get a good handful of lavender flowers while not serrating a finger or carrying on too far with the cutting motion and serrating your own shin takes time and practice. That first year (and every year that’s followed) a lot of plasters were applied to damaged fingers and shins.
We have also learned the importance of working in harmony with the bees during harvest reduces and even eliminates bee stings.
An ideal harvest day is one of bright sunshine and no wind, which is also ideal for bees to collect nectar from the remaining lavender flowers. We have found a good plan is to leave one or two plants on a row for the bees to focus on as the day gets hotter and then we work around them. As the gets cooler and the bees stop working and we can go back and harvest the flowers as required. We always leave some flowers on the plants for the bees.
Harvest time always comes around quickly and regardless of all the planning and resolutions made post the previous harvest we always experience unforeseen events.
Somehow that first year, (and in the following seven years) we’ve muddled through, we took the beautiful violet crop and we’ve made lavender oil and lavender water and much more.
Along the way we’ve learned just a few things:
- Wear heaps of sunscreen, a hat and a shirt without holes in it (Rachael learned that one the hard way)
- Have plenty of breaks for cups of tea and cake (harvest is always conveniently close for leftover Christmas cake…)
- Good music helps the work (here’s to Matinee Idle and all the wonderful people at Radio NZ)
- Always give way to the bees (and the wasps… again, Rachael learned the hard way)
- Colourful children’s plasters are just better.
The Do Not’s
- Keep cutting through the heat of the day, even if the rows look endless if you want to be able to work the next day be kind to yourself.
- Expect the weather to be wonderful every year because you won’t know if they’re tears of self-pity or the rain.
- Ensure that you have maintained good friendships throughout the year so that you can call in some favours.
- Plan nothing for the following day because you will be very relaxed from the smell but also physically broken.
The last eight years have been busy and full of exciting experiences and we owe a massive thanks to all of the amazing people who have helped us out with everything from weeding, to our lavender harvest.