Sunday, July 5, 2009

Bringing in the Harvest

I harvested LOTS of lavender today. Here's a little glimpse of my bounty. The tray on the left is Gros Blue. This variety has a deep bluish purple color and is very fragrant. The stems are thick, which makes them ideal for making lavender wands (I'll blog about that soon). When the bundles are dried, it's fairly easy to remove the dried buds, and they retain their deep color fairly well, which makes it a good candidate for dried buds.

The tray on the right side of the picture is holding Grosso lavender. Grosso is the most popular variety grown in the Northwest. It's a good producer and it's just a great all-round lavender. When dried, it retains buds better than most varieties. The stems are long, strong and thick and the heads are full. The color is more of a grayish-purple... very nice. It's also a good variety for distilling the oil.

When I harvest, (I'm right-handed) I take a handfull of stems in my heft hand, and cut the stems at with a sickle using my right hand. A "bundle" is a different number of stems, depending on the variety. Take your thumb and touch your middle finger. The circle you create doing that is the diameter of the bundle. I do a good big tight squeeze at the thinnest part of the stems. Right in the field, I put a rubber band around the bundle. I lay them on trays that have screen on the bottom. These are my drying trays, but I also use them to hold the lavender in the field. When I bring the trays up to my house, I trim the base of the bundles so they are all even. I want them to look nice and tidy.

What I do with them from this point on depends on how the bundle will be used. If it is going to be sold as a fresh bundle at a farm market, I put it in water (not much- just a few inches). If it is going to be shipped, I prepare it for shipping right away. Either way- the bundles need to be kept in a cool, dry, dark place with good air circulation.

If I'm going to dry the bundle, I do one of 2 things. This depends on the ultimate goal- dried bouquets or dried buds. If I want pretty dried bundles, I hang them upside down in the barn, giving them good circulation. If I want to debud them after they are dry, I just lay them on the drying trays (with screen bottoms).

When you harvest also depends on how you are going to use the stems. Obviously, if you want dried buds, you need to harvest before the plant flowers. If you want to use the lavender for culinary purposes (cooking) it depends on whether your recipe calls for dried or fresh, buds or flowers. I'll blog some recipes later in the month. For those of you who aren't aware of it- lavender is an herb. DO NOT eat or cook with lavender unless it is food grade (culinary) or unless you grew it yourself or know for SURE that no chemicals were used on or near the plant! As I said- I'll blog more about this another time.

What should you do if you have one plant, or just a few plants? If you want it to stay fresh for a while, you can put it in a little water. The bottom of the stems will get all yucky, and if you leave it in water too long it will rot. If you plan to dry your lavender and keep if all year, you can dry it right in a vase. No water- just arrange it the way you like and then put it somewhere where it won't get bumped. The heads might droop over this way, but that is attractive, too. If you want the stems to stay straight with the heads not drooped over, rubber band the bundles and hang them upside down in a dark place with good ventilation- not too hot- until they are dry. If you tied them with string and skip the rubber bands, you'll regret it. As the bundles dry, they shrink. You just might go out to your garage one day and find the stems all over the floor. Rubber bands take up the slack as they shrink. I've heard of people drying bundles hung from shower rods in spare bathrooms, or in closets.

As I dry bundles this year, I'll take pictures and come back and add them to this post.


free indeed said...

THose bundles sure are pretty just like that! This is a great thread, and I'm glad you are taking us through the process with you.

pattyruth14 said...

Very interesting I'm learning a lot about lavender. I've been toying with the idea of planting it in my rock garden... I have one plant and it seems like it would thrive in this space... I need to do something with that garden.. Arrgh!
Looking forward to your future posts

Sue said...

Thanks to all who have sent me emails about this thread. I'll keep posting on lavender throughout July and then I'll get back to quilting!

Sue said...

For pattyruth14- Lavender is native to rocky Mediterranean hillsides. Sounds like your area would be perfect! There are scores of varieties so you can even have an interesting looking hill of dark and light purple, pink and even white lavender.