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Lavender Seed Propagation

The glistening perfection of two month old seedlings finding nurture in our purpose built seedbeds
The glistening perfection of two month old seedlings finding nurture in our purpose built seedbeds

SEED PROPAGATION, RESPECTING NATURE’S DIVERSITY

The propagation of lavender cultivars by way of vegetative cutting is predicated on the desire to standardise plants for an increasingly industrialised culture of essential oil production. Standardisation and commoditisation is a necessary reaction to an escalating demand for cheap and predictable essential oils for the mass production of aromatherapy cosmetic products. Seed propagation develops out of an opposing impulse and seeks to maintain the biodiversity of lavender as a species. Seed developed lavender is also known as population lavender and characteristically enables the genetic complexity and individual potentials of plants for alternative chemistries, and expressions of beauty to be found in the essential oil product. These qualities are appealing for those sensitive to the fact that botanical diversity is nature’s own way.

SEED PROPAGATION OF POPULATION LAVENDER AT SNOWY RIVER LAVENDER

The spontaneous growth of seedlings among our established lavender and subsequent success of our seedling ,(we call ‘Sponnees’) plantings in producing high quality essential oil, has encouraged us to increase our population lavender potential with a more dedicated seed propagation facility in the nursery. Seed collection from our angustifolia cultivars’ is now an important annual activity. Until 2011 we raised these seeds in trays in the nursery shed, with the seedlings later potted up into 50mm tubes to develop into viable planting stock. However, in 2008, while in France investigating harvesters, we were lucky enough to visit the beautiful Le Chateau de Bois, an 80 hectare ‘fine’ lavender farm where all plant stock is developed from seed. The seed raising technique was large scale with seed collected from farm stock andscattered out on prepared land. Seed sowing happened in the autumn with the seed allowed to lie exposed to freezing winter temperatures to stratify. The seedlings come up thick on the ground and grow on in situ until ready to be taken up and sorted for planting. In this way, this farm produces many thousands of plants per year. In 2011, we trialled with good result an outdoor seedbed facility based on the French principles. We have had an excellent seed strike, leaving these plants to grow on in situ to be forked up and planted in late autumn. We planted out about 8000 plants with a further 2-3 thousand replanted to grow on for our next seasons planting. The success of this trial has meant we have increased our seedbed capabilities with an impressive four tier development. These seedbeds will increase our production of seedlings 8 fold (around 60,000 plants) and ultimately ensure our future as major producers of ‘population’ lavender oil. On a secondary level our seed propagation program is also feeding into our own cultivar development program so we can also keep a boutique complexity to our cultivar developed oils.

Emerging seedling show up as smudges of green in our trial seedbed, built beside our hardening off nursery in 2011
Emerging seedling show up as smudges of green in our trial seedbed, built beside our hardening off nursery in 2011
Five month old seedlings already show the elongated leaves of the adult plant.
Five month old seedlings already show the elongated leaves of the adult plant.
Autumn 2012, the seedling s shown above as smudges of green are now ten month year old plants ready for planting
Autumn 2012, the seedling s shown above as smudges of green are now ten month year old plants ready for planting
2013 the new four tier seedbed system showing lavender seedlings thick as grass in each bed.
2013 the new four tier seedbed system showing lavender seedlings thick as grass in each bed.
Winter 2012, the twelve month old seedlings are dug up ready for planting
Winter 2012, the twelve month old seedlings are dug up ready for planting
This close up of nine month old seedlings shows how densely they grow together in the seedbed.
This close up of nine month old seedlings shows how densely they grow together in the seedbed.
Nine month old seedlings show signs of their future potential in their floral spikes.
Nine month old seedlings show signs of their future potential in their floral spikes.
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Essential Oil Diversification

Immortelle (Helichrysum angustifolium) is one of the most powerfully therapeutic and desirable essential oils in the world. We are still in the early stages of farming this plant and are yet to distil any significant quantities. In the nursery this plant strikes easily but is very sensitive to moisture and does best when planted out as soon as roots are showing in the bottom of the pot.
Immortelle (Helichrysum angustifolium) is one of the most powerfully therapeutic and desirable essential oils in the world. We are still in the early stages of farming this plant and are yet to distil any significant quantities. In the nursery this plant strikes easily but is very sensitive to moisture and does best when planted out as soon as roots are showing in the bottom of the pot.
Immortelle (Helichrysum angustifolium) is one of the most powerfully therapeutic and desirable essential oils in the world. We are still in the early stages of farming this plant and are yet to distil any significant quantities. In the nursery this plant strikes easily but is very sensitive to moisture and does best when planted out as soon as roots are showing in the bottom of the pot.

A FUTURE IN DIVERSITY

The nursery is an important player in our farm’s diversification programs and is moving us forward on two fronts. Firstly, we are well under way with our expansion into other dry land aromatic herbs including rosemary, immortelle and sage. We also have a nursery program for propagating Australian native plants for both aromatic purposes and for farm development projects such as hedging and land restoration.

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Prostanthera lasianthos is a native mint plant showing major potential as an essential oil plant.

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Prostanthera rotundafolia small plants in the nursery
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Prostanthera rotundafolia a new essential oil plant

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Kunzea spp. Badjas Carpet has a spicy EO reminiscent of cinnamon, its main chemistry is α pinene and gamma terpine

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P. cuneata is an exciting new essential oil being trialled some unusual compounds showing up in the GC’s are kessane & maillol.

Grevillea rosmarinafolia, is a favourite hedging plant. It attracts nectar feeding wildlife
Grevillea rosmarinafolia, is a favourite hedging plant. It attracts nectar feeding wildlife
 
The young ‘immortelles’, (Helichrysum angustifolium) growing on in tubes in the nursery.
The young ‘immortelles’, (Helichrysum angustifolium) growing on in tubes in the nursery.
The Rosemary (Rosmarinus officianalis) essential oil produced at Snowy River Lavender is a verbenone chemotype (around 5%)
The Rosemary (Rosmarinus officianalis) essential oil produced at Snowy River Lavender is a verbenone chemotype (around 5%)
Six month old rosemary plants, growing on in tube, mid autumn, another six months, will see them planted out on the farm.
Six month old rosemary plants, growing on in tube, mid autumn, another six months, will see them planted out on the farm.
 
 
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Cultivar Propagation

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CULTIVAR’S REPRODUCE PLANT GENETICS

A cultivar is a plant reproduced by way of vegetative cuttings. Significantly, plants propagated in this way replicate exactly the genetics of the parent plant, enabling a uniformly productive farm population. Today the farming of cultivars, both lavender and lavandin, dominate essential oil production worldwide. At Snowy River Lavender, a large percentage of our farm production is also from cultivar stock and furthermore, we are proactively developing and trialling many new lavender cultivars in conjunction with our population or seed grown lavender program. Needless to say, propagating cultivars has been the primary focus of our nursery.

 

BASICS OF LAVENDER CULTIVAR PROPAGATION

Propagating lavender and lavandin cultivars is a process whereby semi hard wood cuttings are taken from established plants in the autumn or early winter. This vegetative material once taken from the plant is placed in a bucket of worm cast tea until they can be trimmed and dipped in a hormone stimulant, either Easi-RootTM or honey. The dipped cutting is then pressed into prepared trays of plastic tubes (40 – 50mm) filled with our farm formulated propagation mix made up of coarse washed river sand, farm soil, worm cast, perlite and a small amount of dolomite.

Trimming the cutting properly, is critical to gaining a good root strike per tray. The lavenderbush pruning, from which the cuttings are chosen, need to be trimmed of any dead leaves and all cutting of the stem must be on, or, just below a node. A small scrape, or wound at the base of cutting allows the root stimulating hormone to take hold of the stem and roots will usually start from this point. Seeking out both multiple stems, and multiple nodes on each stem, from the rough plant material, works toward both a stronger root system and bushier more productive plants. Using this method we are achieving close to 100% strike rate of healthy and ultimately productive lavenders.

Once full, the trays of cuttings are then placed on heated sand for 6-8 weeks or until roots are evident in the bottom of tray, when they are moved to a sandy/soil area under shade cloth for a further 6 -8 weeks. After this time the plants are placed in a protected but full sun hardening up area with a sandy soil base to grow on until the late autumn planting begins, usually between 9 and 12 months. Primary care in the nursery consists of hand watering, pruning and weeding.

Newly potted cuttings of lavender cultivar, Pacific Blue
Newly potted cuttings of lavender cultivar, Pacific Blue
White perlite, speckles our sand soil & compost potting mix. A concrete mixer combines and homogenises the mix.
White perlite, speckles our sand soil & compost potting mix. A concrete mixer combines and homogenises the mix.
Young lavenders are propagated in 40 and 50mm plastic tubes where they remain until they are planted out in a year’s time.
Young lavenders are propagated in 40 and 50mm plastic tubes where they remain until they are planted out in a year’s time.
Lavender cuttings on sand covered heat mats awaiting root development.
Lavender cuttings on sand covered heat mats awaiting root development.
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Composting Lavender

‘The great wall’ – As distilling progresses the lavender straw wall grows. This straw is the central ingredient in the on-farm composting system and in this way lavender is returned to the farm’s fertility cycle.
‘The great wall’ – As distilling progresses the lavender straw wall grows. This straw is the central ingredient in the on-farm composting system and in this way lavender is returned to the farm’s fertility cycle.
‘The great wall’ – As distilling progresses the lavender straw wall grows. This straw is the central ingredient in the on-farm composting system and in this way lavender is returned to the farm’s fertility cycle.

RECYCLED LAVENDER, COMPOST & WORMS

Vermi (worm) Compost is central in the success of our propagation mix and therefore the nursery. In recent years composting at Snowy River Lavender has centred on recycling lavender straw, the biomass left over after distillation. While lavender straw can be difficult to compost, due to its poor water holding capacity, close monitoring of moisture levels in the compost heap and the use of horse manure as the nitrogen source has produced an efficient system for the organic decomposition of this straw, the food source for worms.

 

BASICS OF COMPOSTING

Composting is aerobic microbial activity initiated in carbon material through the introduction of a nitrogen rich material such as animal manure and moisture. The process is usually effective around a ratio of 20 Carbon Units to 1 Nitrogen Unit. The initial stage of composting sets in motion an organic complex of biological interactions which encompasses both a microbiological sphere; the subliminal world of microbes and bacteria which sets up decomposition and soil building activity: and, a macro-biological sphere; the visible soil life such as funghi, invertebrates, insects and most importantly worms which refine the decomposing carbon and process the soils mineral content into humus on which plants feed.

Both the nursery and the farm benefit from the worm (vermi) compost and it is through them that lavender becomes part of the farms ongoing cycle of life, and ultimately its sustainability as an organic life form.

Worms (vermi) are the key macro-biological agents in the breakdown of organic matter into soil humus, plant useable nutrients.
Worms (vermi) are the key macro-biological agents in the breakdown of organic matter into soil humus, plant useable nutrients.
Fresh cut lavender flower ready for distillation
Fresh cut lavender flower ready for distillation
Lavender straw the biomass left after distilling
Lavender straw the biomass left after distilling
Lavender + Horse Carbon + Nitrogen Starting decomposition
Lavender + Horse Carbon + Nitrogen Starting decomposition
Funghi is a positive signifier of healthy biological activity in the compost
Funghi is a positive signifier of healthy biological activity in the compost
Vermi- compost - plastic is sometimes used to keep heat and moisture in the compost heap
Vermi- compost - plastic is sometimes used to keep heat and moisture in the compost heap
The colloid rich product of our vermi-compost. Lavender straw is now ready nourishment for soil and plants.
The colloid rich product of our vermi-compost. Lavender straw is now ready nourishment for soil and plants.