Starting a Lavender farm - Professional Cultivation of Lavender
If done professionally, the average lifespan of productive lavender plants is 12 years. There are cases in which lavender plants give remarkable production steadily for over 20-25 years. As such, since your lavender plants will hopefully live in your field for the next decade or so, it makes sense to start a detailed research on which lavender species would be more suitable for your market needs (essential oil vs. other uses) and of course which lavender species would be better adjusted to the climate and soil of your region (generally full sun and good drainage are necessary, while alkaline soil is preferable).
In a few words, we plant the seeds in pots or seedbeds around late winter (January - February). In 2-4 weeks, seeds will normally germinate. About 9-11 weeks later (but definitely after the last frost), we transplant either to larger pots or directly to a field free from weeds. We harvest during summer (June-July) and -after harvesting- it is absolutely necessary to prune our plants, otherwise they will face several problems and their production will be diminished after a couple of years.
Starting from Seeds
On average, 1 oz. of lavender seed contains 31.000 lavender seeds (1100 seeds per 1 gr.). When we grow lavender from seed, we must have in mind that only one out of four to six seeds will finally produce a thriving plant, ready to be transplanted outdoors. We need 1,7 oz. of lavender seed (50 gr) for 10000 plants. Consequently, we need 1-2 oz. (30-50 gr) of seeds per seedbed of 0,1 hectare (1000 m2). If you use small pots, be sure to put at least 3-4 lavender seeds per pot.
We start with seed sowing indoors during the end of winter. It is beneficial to fill the seedbed or the pots with soil (at least by 1/2) of the real field that the plants will finally be transplanted. In this way, plants will grow in realistic rather than optimum conditions and have the time to adapt to their final soil specifications. We fill a container with the mixture of seeds. Many lavender farmers mix the seeds with building sand. We just place the seed mix in the surface of the soil and we cover lightly with soil. Seeding must take place in the surface. If we plant lavender seeds two inches (5 cm) deep, most probably they will not germinate. The seeds need several hours of sunlight to germinate, so the seedbeds or the pots must be placed right next to a window with sunlight exposure or under a glass ceiling. The temperature indoors should be close to 70°F (20°C). However, if germination is low 3 weeks after sowing, you can the lower temperature to 40-50oF (5-10oC) for 1 week). We irrigate lightly, as excessive moisture will let fungi grow and destroy the seeds. The germination of seeds can last from 2 weeks up to a month. It is necessary to have enough direct sunlight or artificial light during this period.
We must first prepare the field by plowing it, adding rationally organic matter and sand (if required) and checking the pH. Soil pH should be between 6.5 and 7.7 for best results. Some farmers cover the part of the soil that is located between the plant rows with a black woven mat. They claim that the black mat prevents the development of weeds, while increasing the soil temperature. We arrange the plants inside the row at a distance of 23- 46 inches (60-120 cm), depending on the type of the plant and the altitude of the field. The distance between rows ranges from 30 to 46 inches (80 to 120 cm). We irrigate only when the soil is dry, preferably through the drop by drop technique. Mature lavender plants are resistant to drought. However, especially during their first year, they need frequent and small watering sessions, preferably down at the root rather than spraying from overhead. We must always let the soil dry between watering sessions. Lavender grows slowly during the first year, and it is recommended to cut the flowering stems when the first buds open during the first growing season.
Pruning is necessary for the development and protection of our plants. Some experienced farmers prune their plants during spring, but late summer or early autumn pruning is more common. Generally, each year we must prune every lavender plant to half of its size (leaving 1/3 of each year’s growth), so as to encourage new growth.
We usually harvest during summer (June-July). There are several harvesting techniques, but as a rule of thumb, you can cut lavender stem with a scissor just under the first set of leaves. During the first two years, the production will be relatively low (and in some cases almost zero) compared to the production of the following years. Hence, you must be patient and always find ways to optimize and locally adjust your cultivation methods. A normal yield production (in floral stems) for an experienced farmer in the first year is 550 lbs. (250 kg) per hectare, in the second year is 2200 lbs. (1000kg) per hectare, in the third year 4400 lbs. (2000kg) per hectare and in the fourth year 6600 lbs. (3000 kg) per hectare
3. Starting a Lavender Farm - Professional Cultivation of Lavender
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