People often ask us how to be a lavender farmer, so here are our answers as they pertain to us at 1100 feet on a rainy windswept hillside.
Which varieties of lavender do you recommend?
For oil distillation we grow Grosso as it has the highest oil yield and is very hardy. When we distil Grosso one basket filled with 15 kilos of lavender produces anywhere from 100 to 250 ml of oil.
We also grow Imperial Gem and Royal Purple which are useful to make decorative dried bunches.
What sort of land do you need to grow lavender?
The earth must be well draining for lavender to succeed. Our lavender is planted on a steep hill farm which helps the water runoff. As well, lavender likes the earth to be slightly alkaline. Our earth is slightly acidic so we add lime.
Does it matter which way the field faces?
There are many discussions about whether to plant facing east or west and so on. There are also debates about whether to plant in rows running east west or north south. We don’t think either of these things matter. The important thing is to plant where the lavender will get maximum sunshine and maximum drainage.
How much lavender do I need to grow to make a living out of it?
On our 2.5 acres we produce around 15 litres of oil. That oil is the unique ingredient in most of our products. We never sell the oil on its own as it is dedicated for use in our own products. You would need many more acres of lavender to make enough oil to make a profit selling it.
How do you control weeds?
We use a quality ground cover to keep weeds down.
Do you use fertiliser?
We use an organic potash fertiliser.
What about winter?
Hardy plants such as ours are fine as long as the temperature doesn’t fall far below zero for more than a couple of weeks in winter. We like it when they’re covered in heavy snow as it insulates the crop.
How do you harvest your lavender?
We cut by hand with small serrated sickles to cut the decorative varieties so they are in line for making bunches.
When we cut Grosso for distillation we use a Japanese tea plucker. It is like a hedge trimmer with handles on each end. It takes two people to carry it and a third to hold the large silk bag into which the flowers are blown.
When do oil producing lavender plants become productive and how long do they live?
It is best to cut them back before they bloom for the first couple of years to make the plants bushier. We start distilling with them in the third year.
They live anywhere from five to twenty years.
What size still have you got?
Our still handles 15 kilos at a time. For pricing and other information we recommend you get in touch with the people who made ours: http://www.johndore.co.uk/
How do you propagate lavender plants?
We take cuttings from the youngest established plants each new year and then raise them in our greenhouse until they are strong enough to plant out in late summer.
If you buy them from a nursery try to find one growing them in a similar climate.
If you need a more detailed consultation we offer a morning or afternoon visit to our farm. Please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to make an arrangement.