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Secrets of the lavender harvest

The story of my lavender wands 'stems' from harvesting lavender

The longest lavender I have ever seen

Even though it is only April and summer seems a long, long way away I am already thinking towards Autumn and the 'Lavender Harvest'. This blog was inspired by a lady getting in touch through Etsy asking if I sold loose lavender. She had one of my wands and complimented on how wonderful it smelt, (which is a comment frequently mentioned in the 5* reviews, I had just been a bit sleepy in not noticing it before). It was far better than the lavender she had been buying for her medicines. I am so particular about my lavender having researched for weeks how to harvest, dry and store it. The strict, specific routine I have for harvesting maybe does make a difference to the quality of my blooms, and so I shall continue the painstaking process with my husband for help. He dreads harvest time as I will be honest, it is a really, really tough time.

Harvested by hand

A few years ago I posted on local social media asking if anyone with lavender bushes would like me to harvest by hand in exchange for the flowers, plus I'd tend to the flower beds and give a few gifts made from their flowers. One particular garden has the longest stemmed lavender I have ever seen, when in the summer 2019 they were over 53 cm long! In 2020 they averaged just 44 cm which is a big difference and reflects what length of wand I can make. The length varies depending on the weather but regardless, this little garden in Heckington, Lincolnshire gives me the raw materials to make my popular wands.

Fresh lavender wedding button holes

Nerve-wracking critical times

Autumn is a hugely crucial time of year as my birdies and wands rely on a good lavender harvest as combined they make up 75% of my Stuff. Each year I need more gardens as the demand for my lavender Stuff increases. Whilst our drying shed is 20ft x 10ft (it's only a drying shed for three months of the year, as it's a woodwork shop and garden shed the rest of the year) and is usually only half full, this year it will be completely full.

When the bees are done

As my own lavenders bloom each summer I watch to check on the bee activity. I harvest from gardens within 8 miles of home so I can tell when harvest time is coming by watching my bushes. Once the bees have stopped collecting the pollen a phone call from the Lavender Guardians is imminent. The time to harvest is absolutely critical as the window is very, very short from the time the bees leave to the flowers going over. The busier I get and the more harvesting I do this window gets smaller and smaller each year. One of the cleverest things I did was to ask our tree surgeon if he did any lavender pruning. It turns out he has a whole hedge of the long stem! Ask and it's given, right? I can treble the amount of wands this coming season.

Miniature sunflowers with lavender at home

Lavender wand development

I have many varieties of lavender in my own cottage garden which I use for the birdies but one variety keeps a deep, purple colour once dried. Although the long-stemmed lavender for wands smells fabulous with huge plump heads it dries very pale. Therefore I have started adding little sprigs of the deep purple as a colour accent which looks very chic with the extra flower shape. Further development and sourcing of lavender and I'm hoping to have lots of different varieties in little sprigs, combining the fabulous fragrance of the long stem with a hint of classical lavender shades.

Lavender harvesting routine

Once I have all my lavender safely drying in the shed I take a few days off relaxing, as pre-harvest time is such an anxious time. It is very hard to stay calm when you are relying on the British summertime weather! I have developed a harvesting routine which maximises the quality of the lavender but you need to be committed for the best results

1. Once the bees have taken all the pollen they want, the rush begins. The perfect conditions that I harvest in are:

  • three dry days prior to harvest to ensure the bushes are dry, any moisture and they'll rot.

  • only harvest on a dry, sunny day, as the heat of the sun affects the oils within the plant

  • harvest from 5-9 am (GMT) just as the sun heats up, before it gets hot.

  • each stalk is sniped with scissors back to the silvery, new growth, never into the old wood

  • at no point is the flower head EVER touched by hands, so the blooms do not get bruised

  • bundle together large handfuls with elastic bands and store in the shade

  • keep in the shade on the drive home and keep the windows open to let stray bees out

  • straight into the drying shed once home.

The lavender is in the drying shed within four and a half hours from picking. Any garden that takes longer than four hours to harvest has to be done in a second or even third visit.

2. Once in the drying shed which has blacked out windows the lavender is hung vertically from racking in the ceiling. Perfect drying conditions include:

  • no sunlight

  • air circulation

  • bundles shouldn't be touching but can be tied up both short and long for a double drop

  • leave the flowers untouched not in a knock zone

For a very quick way to dry a large bowl full of lavender flowers is to:

  • remove the stalks by snipping the flowers into a dark coloured, clean pillowcase

  • tie up the pillowcase at the opening so there's lots of space for the flowers to move

  • hang in a sunny window with the window open a crack

  • three times a day move the lavender about within the pillowcase ensuring you get the flowers out of the corners, give it a really good mix-up and fluffing!

  • if you have a sunny two weeks the lavender will be dry in about 10 days

  • to get the lavender off the last bit of stalk, rub the flowers together within the case. Slow and gently keep rubbing until the bottom of the case fills with the dried flowers

  • remove the bulk of the stalks and gently put the flowers over a clean, bakery cooling rack which will catch many of the stalky bits

This is a quick and easy way to get lavender dried in small quantities but you can't miss one of the pillowcase shake-ups as flowers can get stuck in the corners and the smallest amount of moisture will ruin the whole batch.

3. The length of time it takes to dry the full harvest depends on lots of factors but generally with an early September harvest vertically hung bundles will be ready to use by November. The long stem lavender for wands is hand dressed into organza bags and tied. At no point have the flowers been touched by hand or bruised so the oils are of a premium. To remove the flowers from the stalks without touching them for the birdies, I run a folk or comb along each stalk.

My lavender wands have a complete uniqueness to them which came about when I tried to make wands with ribbon woven around the stalks, the way everyone else seems to make lavender wands. I couldn't understand why people were covering the elegant, delicate part of the plant and decided I wanted my wands to celebrate the flowers by showing them off. Because I had such long stalks I wanted to utilise that feature into the design and recognise the importance by making them consistently pretty. The thickness of the shaft is broom handle thick which in turn determines how many flowers go into the bouquet. The fullness of the flowers varies from year to year as does the length of the stalks, but the thickness of the wand always remains the same. It is the only aspect I have control over as the rest is down to the weather!

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