Turning flowers into oil
How Kellie Oxenford grew her business
KELLIE Oxenford turned a moment of boredom into an award-winning lavender farm.
In 2001, Mrs Oxenford was listening to the radio where they were discussing the upcoming lavender conference in Stanthorpe.
She decided she would go along to the meeting... and returned with 200 lavender plants.
Over the past 17 years, Mrs Oxenford and her husband Matthew have grown their operation to consist of 2000 plants and their own distillery, where they started making their own oils.
“In 2003 Matthew designed the distillery and had it made,” Mrs Oxenford said.
“The first year we made about 200ml of oil.
“We entered our oil in a national competition and it won. We’ve won the award four times now – in 2005,
2007, 2008 and 2015. “So our oil is sort of nationally recognised now.”
Mrs Oxenford said the amount of oil they produce depends on the harvest.
“This year we didn’t make a lot because we lost a lot of plants,” she said.
“We lost a lot of them due to the drought combined with the age of the plants.
“Commercially, lavender has a production life of about seven years.”
Then disease ‘dieback’ is also a problem for the lavender plants.
Mrs Oxenford described a still load of lavender as the size of a 44 gallon drum.
“If that was full of flowers it weighs about 35kg,” she said.
“Of the perfume grade oil,
35kg of flowers might get you about 200ml. Angustifolia is the perfume-grade oil and is the culinary oil.
“The intermedia oil is a second-grade oil. A 35kg capsule of that can yield up to two litres.
“It’s second grade because it has a lot higher camphor content. So the smell is a lot sharper, bordering on eucalyptus, than the perfume-grade oil.”
The Oxenfords harvest their lavender crop once a year, usually around Christmas time.
“We grow English varieties. They have a limited flowering time, usually from around Christmas through to February,” Mrs Oxenford said.
“If we’re harvesting for oil we use a tea picker. It’s like a hedge trimmer with a curved blade.
“We walk either side of the row and it has a scissor-like motion. We just get the flower, no leaf. That gets caught in a bag a bit like a parachute sail.
“Then we lay it out in the shed ready for distilling. We try and distil on the same day or the next day. We like to distil our flowers fresh. Some people like to dry their flowers first.”
Mrs Oxenford said the quality of the oil comes down to the variety of plant you’re growing, but it can be affected by a number of other variables.
“The time of day that you pick it can increase the oil
component. The hottest part of the day has the best oil in the flower,” she said.
“Also the distilling process. The amount of time that it’s in the still can affect the quality.
“We distill for 30 minutes only. We think that’s the perfect time for it.”
Growing lavender is a secondary income for the Oxenfords.
“We make small bales of lucerne hay. That’s more our main income,” Mrs Oxenford said.
“The lavender was always a supplementary income, but it has grown into something a bit more than a supplementary income.
“The lucerne business is only small, mostly for the horse market.”
We try and on the same day or the next day. We like to distil our flowers fresh.
— Kellie Oxenford
LOVELY LAVENDER: Kellie Oxenford provides chef Dominique Rizzo with a tour of Leven K Lavender Farm. Kellie Oxenford with products made from Leven K Lavender. Lavender grown at Leven K Lavender Farm.
Kellie Oxenford and chef Dominique Rizzo.