The first lavender cultivars are close to bloom in some areas and the harvest season will begin shortly (Fig. 1). For bundles and buds, it is best to harvest near the time the first buds begin to open. This is when the buds have reached full colour but before dead petals begin to appear on the flower clusters. For oil production, harvest should wait until at least peak bloom. From then on, oil quality will very gradually decline, although many growers harvest several weeks after peak bloom to extend the agri-tourism season, and still have good quality oil.
Figure 1. ‘Hidcote’ and other earlier blooming lavender cultivars are at full bud and ready to bloom in many areas. Bloom usually last about 4 weeks per cultivar depending on the weather, with peak appearance in the first 2 weeks of that period.
When harvesting bundles, it is important to ensure they are hung in a warm, dry place with good air flow so they dry fast enough to prevent mold development. However, it is also important to prevent contamination of the bundles with bird droppings or other sources of contamination such as mice or insects. Buds can often be used for culinary purposes. Since drying does nothing to kill potential food-borne pathogens like salmonella or E-coli, they can still remain alive when used by the customer. Lavender buds are often consumed raw as an additive after baking or in beverages, so contamination can survive all the way to consumption. Customers may use lavender for culinary purposes, even if it was purchased for another purpose (e.g. dried lavender bundle). Unless you specify clearly on the label that the product is not for food use, treat all the fresh or dried lavender you sell as if it will be eaten. A food safety related recall can be devastating for a small company, and should be avoided at all costs.
For more information on food safety and traceability consult the OMAFRA website at: http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/food/foodsafety/foodsafetyprograms.htm
Now is a good time to apply nitrogen to the crop to encourage vigorous new growth after harvest. Nitrogen application can be split into several applications between now and mid-August. While there are no established recommendations for lavender in Ontario, our current research trials are showing a requirement for around 80 kg/ha per year.
Some areas of the province have received excessive rains over the past few weeks. Fields in these areas should be scouted regularly for symptoms of Phytophthora root rot (e.g. collapsing plants or sections of plants). Remove affected plants and at least two neighbouring plants on either side if Phytophthora is confirmed as quickly as possible and burn them. Then continue to watch for additional development over the next few weeks. Preventing further spread is all that can be done once you have the disease.
It may be hard to believe for some people, but other areas of the province have received next to no rain in the last month. If substantial rain is not received soon, irrigation will be beneficial to keep flowers from wilting and ensure good regrowth after harvest.