Step One in Creating Lavender Oil: The Harvest
It’s harvest time! No - you didn’t sleep through summer and there’s no chance yet of frost on the pumpkins. For Carriage House Lavender (CHL), July is when we start monitoring the fields and eyeballing the buds on the lavender plants so we cut at just the right time. The flowers and buds are transformed into the lavender oil for our freshest cremes , sweetest sugar scrub, and best sleep and relaxation spray.
Growing Prized Lavender Cultivars
Our fields are mainly planted with the cultivar Riverina Thomas. At CHL we don’t like to mix our cultivars believing the best lavender oils come from a single type of plant. This theory is similar to that of wines where each year brings its own vintage, its own success, its own story. The 2021 Riverina Thomas lavender oil you put in your diffuser and find in our superior products will be the result of a year of warmer and drier air in the fall, a hefty dose of winter winds, an ice storm, and, of course, rain.
The farm boasts some 2,200 lavender plants standing up to five feet high. The roots are firmly planted in Jory soil, a basalt-based volcanic soil that’s a favorite of wine growers, but lavender thrives in it as well. A weed barrier is put down to discourage unwanted growth and while some places believe putting the barrier on the surface makes sense, we think below the dirt is best. And, bonus, the photos of our lavender fields look better without all the plastic sheeting to take away from the scene.
Oregon is truly the perfect place for lavender growth with our temperate climate and plant-loving balance of sun and rain. The bees agree as right now they are creating a full symphony among the buds from dawn to dusk. They seem to appreciate our fine crop of lavender so much that they thank our farmers by never getting in their way. Our owner claims to have never been stung, although says it’s due to mutual respect between him and the bees. The Lavender Growers Association also reminds growers to “save the bees” by avoiding harmful pesticides, which we at CHL firmly abide by.
Hand-Cut, One Bunch At A Time
A typical day on the farm during harvest starts very early before the sun and heat starts to take its toll on the plants. For CHL, the buds are what we’re chasing. The flowers may be beautiful the more they open, but the buds are where we get our oil. Here’s the kicker on harvesting, we do it by hand. There are no magic machines to make cutting lavender easy, and really, we want to customize our cuts to each plant to yield the best results. So we grab on just below the flower and snip, leaving behind a long stem.
One bunch of flowers at a time, all day long, with each bush yielding about 6 bundles of lavender, each holding about 100 stems, means we have some long days ahead. But we’re working in the great outdoors with that heavenly perfumed air, and we know not only will we have the great base for our products, but that harvesting helps keep our lavender plants in tip-top shape and ready for another season.
The only downside? We have to do it all over again in short order. Riverina Thomas Lavender has long stems that aren’t quite as attractive as those purple-ish flowers, and in the case of Riverina Thomas, require careful trimming once all the attractive flowers have been lopped off and sent to the distillery. It’s not as much fun to cut stems as it is to snip those flower buds, but a small sacrifice for keeping our garden growing, and that Gardeners Hand Therapy that we make with our oil will soothe our sore hands.
Harvest time is exciting because it’s the first step in moving our lavender on its journey from plant to product and we wait, a bit on edge, to see how this year’s crop has fared. From the look of the fields right now, this year looks to be a winning season.
Next up we’ll tell you how we put our brand new still, imported from Portugal, to work to start extracting that oil that is the base for all of our great products.