We’re going organic. We are? Yes, we are. From when? From now. That’s how the conversation went some 18 months ago when in December 2014 the decision was made to ‘go organic’. We were planning to expand our peony flower farm, concentrating on planting the peony tubers that had the best potency of Paeoniflorin – the active ingredient that has been proven to be both anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial and as it helps the skin heal itself it has been the perfect extract to use in skincare cremes and soaps for people with sensitive or dry and irritated skin conditions. Going organic was – and still is – important to us as the decision to produce a natural, effective skincare range was driven by need (our sons had bad eczema from birth) and a desire to move away from harmful steroid use.
We had already tried multiple natural products but couldn’t find one that didn’t sting and make our boys even more upset nor could we find one that was effective in taking away the itch and red soreness.
Growing peony flowers commercially for the cut flower export market typically uses a comprehensive regime of sprays – insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides. So we knew going organic wasn’t going to be easy. Like many others before us, we were going to have to learn alternatives and learn fast!
Living in the Nelson region means we are surrounded by experienced viticulturists and horticulturalists, many of whom embarked on their organic journeys a long time ago. Since botrytis is the disease that affects peony as well as grapes, learning how the organic vineyards managed was a huge head start.
The biggest challenge so far remains weed control. The first year we used lawnmowers, and while we got a lot fitter we had limited success keeping the grass at bay in a 10 acre planted area. Especially since our rows of peonies are ridged and the ground rocky making it even more difficult to mow. The next season we used woofers to mow. Same challenges but at least it gave our legs a break!
This year we’re preparing another 6 acres to plant. We’ve disced and harrowed (that’s what the tractor is doing in the photos) and while we wait for the “purpose built’ harvester to arrive from China we’re scheming on planting designs that will make the weed control more manageable and the mowing possible on a tractor or ride on.