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NZ Lifestyle Block - - Country Smile -

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!”

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