Early summer is the season to harvest at Red Rock Ranch and Farms. This is when the plant is covered in purple/blue flower stalks. The summer bloom is the most prolific. A second or third bloom in late summer to early fall occurs with the Lavandula Angustifolia varieites.
Each lavender culitvar has slightly differnt blooming cycles. First to bloom are the Lavandula Angustifolia's (i.e. 'Royal Velvet', 'Royal Purple', 'Buena Vista', 'Munstead') followed by the Lavandula Intermedia's (i.e. 'Grosso', 'Provence').
The lavender is ready harvest when the flower stalks are about half in bloom. At Red Rock Lavender, seasonal crews harvest the lavender fields using short-handled sickles.
Ideally, the lavender should be harvested in the early morning because cool temperatures retain the herb’s essential oils. During the heat of day, oils dissipate and fragrance isn’t as intense. Morning hours offer another advantage: bees are not as active when it is cool. Bees love lavender and during warm, sunny days, they seek the flowers for nectar.
Stems are cut as long as possible, avoiding cutting more than an inch into the plant’s foliage. Each cut bundle is secured with a rubber band, which will continue to hold plant material snuggly as it dries. Each bundle is laid on top of the harvested plant to keep clean and handy to gather to take into the drying barn.
Drying and Storing
The bundles are hung upside down in a dark place in our drying barn on racks with clips. When hung upside down, essential oils remain in the flowers and stems stay straight. Spreading a drop cloth under the racks collects buds that drop off which can later be used for sachets.
We are very fortunate to have arid conditions at the farm which helps to dry the lavender bundles within one week. Quick drying is preferable in maintaining the quality of the bouquet and retaining the essential oils. Lavender farms in areas with humidity can take longer to dry their bundles and often use a fan to circulate the air around the bundles to speed-up the drying process.
After the bundles are dried, we lay them horizontally in cardboard boxes.
The bundles are used for finished bouquets. The loose buds, that have been stirpped from the stems, are used for sachets and culinary lavender.
Processing and Uses for the Buds
We strip the buds off the dried stalks by rolling them back and forth between our hands over a container.
Once the buds are stripped off the stalks, they are sifted several times to remove bits of stem and chaff that unavoidably get mixed in with the buds as a result of stripping the lavender.
After the buds are cleaned they can be used in many ways. The more intense scented cultivars such as ‘Grosso’ are best used in sachets, heat wraps and eye pillows. A subtler flavored cultivar, ‘Provence’, is the all purpose culinary herb. 'Royal Velvet' and 'Buena Vista' are also used for culinary lavender.