In the course of our diversification, we have established 32 ha of Manuka-plantations on flat land, some of which is grown in our on site nursery from seeds collected throughout the valley. The on site nursery houses around 15,000 Manuka plants at various life stages as replacements for the Manuka plantations.
Our goal is to produce a high-quality product as close to nature as possible. Manuka is easy to care for and a robust plant that often appears to be a pioneer species. The first two years after planting is the most critical period as it is forced to compete with other fast-growing weeds. We are growing the Manuka in a hedge style where we are able to get multiple harvests from the same plant with a regular pruning plan. The hedge style is in place to increase the life and productivity on each plant, we aim to get 10-15 years out of a single plant.
To help the Manuka Shrub to grow under these conditions we take two steps. Firstly, we graze the plantation with young sheep. These serve several purposes at once. On the one hand, they utilize the growing grass between the rows and provide natural fertilization of the soil. On the other hand, they “mow” the grass between the trees where you cannot get with the mulcher. Conversely, the bushes provide shade on hot days and protection from the weather on rainy days. The second measure is cleaning up after the sheep with a tractor driven mulcher with which we mulch down remaining grass and weeds not cleaned through sheep grazing. In addition, the mulching material keeps the soil moist and suppresses the emerging weeds.
This process also means we are free from chemical weed control measures on our plantation, which assists in our works toward organic status.
The harvest is done with a harvesting machine, originally designed for sugar cane, which is mounted on a tractor. This allows variable cutting height and ensures a clean cut of the bushes, which is important for the regrowth. Afterwards, the material is shredded into small pieces and ends up directly in a “cartridge” on the back of a trailer pulled by the harvesting tractor. The shredding of the material improves the handling and the oil extraction later on. The “cartridge” is then taken to the distillation plant where it is gently transformed into pure Manuka Oil. Once at oil stage it is bottled and tested, with our Manuka Oil we are aiming for 20% and above triketones. Once the Manuka has been through the distilling process, we are left with a mulched Manuka product which is then reused on the plantation rows as natural weed prevention aswell as providing organic matter to benefit the plant and soil.
Waikura Natural Products division also makes good use of the wild Manuka that is plentiful in the Valley. With the use of an excavator with a harvester head attached we are able to harvest naturally grown Manuka in the valley as well we have planted 90ha of steeper contour land in Manuka to make good use of the land that is not as well suited to farming. Since Manuka is part of the natural indigenous vegetation, climate and soil provide optimal growing conditions in the Valley.
Part of the oil is then used to produce our own Waikura Manuka skin care range, that is sold through retail and online shops in Europe.