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There aren’t many people who get excited about modifying their potato harvester, but Georgia Richards is giggling at the thought of the 100-odd days of back-breaking manual labour hers is going to save her and partner Dot Kettle as they expand their peony-based skincare business in Dove River.
“We trialled one last season… a 60 year old potato harvester we borrowed from a guy down the road and it definitely worked really well,” says Dot. “So we bought a more modern equivalent and imported it from China, and we’ve been testing and modifying it.”
It sure beats getting out the shovels to dig up the peony roots that contain the magical ingredient in their Pure Peony skincare range. By hand, it would take them about 4-5 days to dig up, divide off part of the root system, and then replant one row of about 100 plants, just a fraction of the tens of thousands of plants the couple are now growing. Their new harvester will do the same job in days, but it has been a three year search to find and perfect the process.
When they first started harvesting roots three years ago they were doing it all by hand. Last year they used an onion lifter, but it wasn’t quite right.
“I watched a lot of Youtube videos of people harvesting cassava and all sorts of root vegetables and how they do it,” says Georgia. “The key thing for us is we don’t want to damage the plant so we have to get right underneath it, pick it up and not damage the ‘eyes’ on it because we want to put the plant back in the ground once we’ve harvested some of the roots.”
Their new modified potato harvester picks each plant up and drops it onto the row, then can be adjusted to go deeper, harvesting more roots at lower levels with each pass.
“You get a whole lot more roots, and it’s those roots that we’re using for our products,” says Dot. “It’s a hell of a lot more efficient than doing it by hand and a hell of a lot less backbreaking.”
When we first met Dot and Georgia back in the May 2015 issue of NZ Lifestyle Block (see page 17 for where to read it online), they had just won a top rural farming award for their Dove River business and had already
of the problems is they get psoriasis in their hair, so people have been asking and asking for a shampoo.
“I never realised but people with really sensitive skin have a problem putting shampoo in their hair because if they put it on their hands, it can destroy the skin on their hands. One of the guys who was in our test group who loved our products told us the problem is, any kind of shampoo for psoriasis wrecks your hands.”
The new shampoo has gone down a treat, with the customer sending them before and after shots of his hands, showing how much they have healed.
Another product their customers wanted to see was for acne, so Georgia and Dot now have an acne face mask in their line.
It’s not just their local supporters who have bought into Dove River. The couple are now selling into China through NZ Post’s online storefront on Tmall, a Chinese-based website similar to Amazon. They have a Chinese business partner working with them, and they’re hoping to sell into Singapore soon.
While the sales are good, it’s the practical problems that still require Dot and Georgia’s careful research and experimentation. How to control weeds organically between rows of peonies is a challenge they’ve yet to solve. “You can’t get out there with the glyphosate,” says Georgia. “We have to come up with intelligent methods that don’t break your back. Last season we used self-propelling lawn mowers, and we mowed and mowed and mowed…”
“… and wwoofers,” laughs Dot.
“And wwoofers!” says Georgia. “One thing we’re doing for this season is we’ve got a cultivator which has arrow head-shaped tines that come off the back of it – we drag that through the rows, it goes down about 5cm under the ground and turns the weeds over.”
Their other weed management system is now 45 strong and spring lambs will bolster the flock.
“They’re Romney-crosses so as soon as the peony season finishes – the flower season that is – they eat off all the leaves,” says Georgia. “Our sons have got very good at their sheep herding tactics – one is slightly more talented at it than the others!”