Inside a Bundaberg lavender operation
FOR Helen and Kelvin Griffin, the smell of lavender is a gentle reminder of their diversification journey, which began 13 years ago.
The couple added the crop to their 80-hectare cane operation after a slump in the sugar industry had them looking for a second income.
“We started looking at what we could do with the skills and equipment we already had and if it didn’t work out we wouldn’t have lost anything because we didn’t need to buy machinery,” Helen said.
“Kelvin is an expert on the cane so I leave that to him, but if he needs a hand with anything I’m more than happy to do it.
“I tend to make the decisions for the lavender farm so we both have our patch.”
The idea of lavender came from a French exchange student, Amandine, who told them about the fields in Provence in her home country.
“She told us about how the fields and the shops attracted tourism, so we put it on our list and did our research,” Helen said.
The couple have helped agri-tourism in the Bundaberg region bloom.
“My husband went on a leadership course in Western Australia and saw how other producers were diversifying into tourism,” Helen said.
“We did the research and visited about 25 farms to see how they made their income and how it worked for them.
“Then we had a look at how many people came to this region and at the moment it’s at least 1.3 million.
“We figured it was worth a go and that it would work and that’s how it all began.”
The diversification has also helped to keep their son on the property.
“Our son has come back to the farm and has taken on quite a big role,” Helen said.
“Having this second income has helped us keep him here, being able to pay wages whether it’s a good year or bad year, and give him some security as well.”
Lavender blooms in the cooler months, which proves to be a peak time for visitors.
“We have about 800 plants and let people come and cut their own bunches free of charge,” Helen said.
“I also teach people how to propagate their lavender so they can grow it at home and I do that year round.”
Helen said the demonstrations were popular.
“The older types come up by seed and have been crossed many times within their species and when that happens they go sterile,” she said.
“The only way for them to reproduce is to propagate.
“You just cut a piece off at the right time of year and dip it in something to promote root growth or something natural like honey.
“Then you just put it in your propagating mix and water it every day for six weeks and give it some Seasol.”
Helen said people used lavender for stress, anxiety, sleep and headaches.
The plant belongs to the herb family and Helen said it grew better when the plants were apart, instead of in a hedge.
“In this climate it keeps the air flowing through them,” she said.
“We also grow them on a mound, so they’re not sitting in water.
“We give them slow-release fertiliser and microbes twice a year, before and after flowing, and that seems to work quite well.
“They really flourish after you do that and the cooler weather hits.”
The blooms are harvested using a manual machine.
“It’s very small, it’s curved and it’s sort of like a whipper-snipper,” Helen said.
“There are small scissors that cut the buds off and then the air blows them into a parachute at the back.
“It takes about a day to do, but it’s fairly simple.”
HERBAL BLISS: Helen Griffin runs Amandine Lavender on the family-run cane farm near Bundaberg. INSET: French lavender is the variety grown on the farm.