Home' Northern Outlook : December 15th 2012 Contents 16 NORTHERN OUTLOOK, DECEMBER 15, 2012
Harvesting the good oil
Picking up a tiny bottle of essential oil from the pharmacy, you may be
surprised at the price. It doesn't come cheap and you don't get a lot. Abbie
Napier went to a small North Canterbury lavender farm to find out more about
one of the world's most versatile oils.
PERFECTION: It's important to get everything just right to get a good harvest.
PURPLE GOLD: Dale and Wendy assess the progress of the plants.
HARD WORK: It's weeding season
for the lavender rows.
You're out there in the morning, feeling the
plant, seeing if it's right, glancing at the
weather, waiting, getting back out there to
check again, it's not easy.''
Helps induce drowsiness
Soothes bee stings, burns, and scrapes
Prevents and treats insect bites and soothes itchiness
Good for acne and skin complaints
Put a drop or two on your vacuum bag to make the house smell nice after you've vacuumed
Good for muscle aches and pains
Clothing posies to keep linen fresh
Lavender oil uses
Dale McDrury and wife
Wendy Averis live on a
gravel road in the middle
of nowhere. I can confirm this
because my GPS stopped working
and I made three wrong turns
before finding the place.
Driving in, you wouldn't know
there was a lavender farm here --
it's hidden up a long drive and it
isn't until you come around the
last bend you spot a paddock of
purple fuzz in orderly rows.
The Stonycroft Lavender farm
was started in 2004.
I pointed out that lavender
farming isn't really a mainstream
occupation (which surprised Dale
and Wendy) but it all makes sense
given Wendy's training as an
aromatherapist and their
combined love of the land.
Wendy's OE to the UK really
sparked her interest in growing
the plant and harvesting her own
oil. It wasn't until many years
later the dream came true.
We wanted some land but we
didn't know where,'' Dale said.
We looked at a heap of places
really, knowing we wanted to
plant lavender. We had soil tests
done and all that.''
In the end, it was Wendy who
convinced Dale to take a look at a
five-hectare property near North
This area is known for being
really stoney, so I was thinking it
wouldn't work,'' he said.
But, Wendy insisted and it was
love at first sight.
The soil had good drainage and
the pH levels were almost perfect
-- just a bit of extra lime required.
Growing lavender isn't a walk
in the park. There's a lot of work
going on behind the scenes.
December and January are the
busiest times of year for Wendy
and Dale. Their farm is quite
small compared to commercial
outfits and their oil has a more
As with most farming ventures,
weather plays a big role in the
success of the crop.
Lavender needs rain in October
and November, but dry and calm
conditions in December and
January when the heat develops
the oil in the flowers. If it's windy,
the oil dries out.
Come harvest time, mid-late
January, things get down to a
The flowers need to be picked
after the morning dew, but before
the heat of the day, leaving only a
few hours of frenzied work.
Picking the right day is essential.
You're out there in the
morning, feeling the plant, seeing
if it's right, glancing at the
weather, waiting, getting back out
there to check again, it's not
easy,'' Dale said.
The couple use scythes to cut
the flower heads off, but larger
farms use Chinese tea harvesters.
During harvest the whole
family pitches in and the
ground floor of the house
is filled with lavender flowers.
As soon as the harvest is done,
the flowers are stuffed into wool
sacks and carted to the distillery
where the oil is extracted.
Last year, the farm produced
only 5.5 litres -- one teaspoon per
plant, 1400 plants (give or take).
It's easy to see why it costs so
We're obviously not in it for the
money,'' he said.
They grow three varieties, one
of which was invented in West
Melton as a hybrid -- Violet
The boutique oil comes not only
from the size of the farm but from
the unconventional choice in plant
While commercial growers
usually use plants with a higher
oil yield, Wendy picked her plants
for oil quality.
They produce less, but it's
While the farm isn't certified
organic, they don't use any sprays
Dale is looking at getting an
In the meantime, it's weeding
season at Stonycroft as they wait
for their purple gold to ripen,
open, and become sticky with oil.
It's a real balancing act. We
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