Ten years ago, Tineke and Jeff Trotter took a risk and established a Lemon Scented Tea Tree plantation at Bonny Hills. It all started when they noticed the fresh, lemon smell which came from a tea tree in their garden and wondered whether it was something around which they could build a farming business.
Years of research and hard work later, they now run Bonny Beach Plantation, a highly successful enterprise producing and selling Lemon Scented Tea Tree oil and associated products. We talk to Tineke about their success and plans for the future.
>What made you decide to get into Lemon Scented Tea Tree farming?
It was as a result of our Lemon Scented Tea Tree (Leptospermum petersonii) in our garden that made us consider developing a plantation with this native tree. The natural, fresh, lemon aroma that came from this tree each time Jeff mowed near it sparked our interest.
After 18 months of research and making endless enquiries, we became aware that this essential oil contains many useful constituents, providing wonderful therapeutic properties for multi purpose applications.
We were confident that this Australian native tree would grow successfully on our property with the environmentally sound conditions – a combination of rich volcanic soil, sloping due north, and the mild climate of the Mid North Coast. The Plantation was established in 1998 (10 years ago already!) with a total of approximately 20,000 trees.
Our philosophy at Bonny Beach Plantation is a simple one: “If the scientifically selected trees are grown in a clean, natural, balanced and healthy environment, then the oil produced from these plants can only be of the highest quality”.
> Did you have any farming background and was it hard to get started?
Jeff grew up on a dairy farm in Beechwood and has always preferred working on the land and being outdoors.
The soil was initially tested and prepared. An organic fertiliser and lime were added, the soil was ploughed and rows formed and seedlings sourced. A trickle irrigation system was installed and then the hand planting of the 20,000 little seedlings.
The most physically demanding period was directly after planting – maintaining weed control and pruning the trees to establish multiple growth points for future harvesting. Each of the 20,000 little trees were hand pruned! Being environmentally conscious, we could both see the benefits of producing oil that was natural and that produced no waste. The mulch left after the harvest is returned to the plantation, the water from the steam distillation process goes back on to the land and the oil is bottled.
> Where is your plantation located and how large is it?
Our plantation is at Bonny Hills, just 20 minutes south of Port Macquarie, near Lake Cathie. We have 6 hectares of prime land and 2 hectares of this is covered by the actual plantation of Lemon Scented Tea Trees, with areas left to manoeuvre the machinery during harvesting, as well as a loading area and a large shed. We live overlooking the plantation on the same land.
> Describe the process involved in harvesting a tea tree plantation and producing your various oils and products.
The harvesting is carried out once each year, during the hottest month. This is when the oil is at its optimum. There are virtually 6 steps involved. The clover between the rows (planted to encourage nitrogen and reduce erosion) is mown on a regular basis.
The trees are then mechanically harvested at an average height of 2 metres. The leaves and stems are cut and blown up into a chute and collected in large stainless steel bins. The bins are then placed inside a steam distillation unit and the oil is steam distilled for about 2 hours. The pure oil floats and is decanted into stainless steel drums. The oil is weighed to calculate the yield and a sample of each harvest is professionally analysed for quality control purposes.
Once the harvesting is complete, the oil is bottled and labelled. The whole process is carried out on the property from the growing, harvesting and distilling to the bottling and labelling.
We sell the oil both wholesale and at the markets and in retail outlets. At the markets (nine a month) the pure oil is sold in 10 ml and 30 ml bottles, as well as the value added products. All our value added products are produced using our pure Lemon Scented Tea Tree Oil. These include shaving soap, moisturiser, gardeners’ hand cream, body butter, lip balm, exfoliating scrub and a natural soap.
I am also involved in guest speaking commitments and the weekly packaging, bottling, labelling, mail outs of our product, sourcing new outlets and managing our website at:
All this keeps me well and truly occupied.
> What benefits do your tea tree products offer?
The Lemon Scented Tea Tree Oil has many benefits. It is recognised for its anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral properties and has a high content of citronella. We receive many favourable comments, as it is found to be beneficial in the treatment of tinea, sandfly bites, fungal infections, head lice, warts, acne, white tailed spider bites and even as a pet rinse for fleas on dogs.
It is also wonderful as a deodoriser, due to its fresh and natural lemon fragrance. Many make up their own deodorising sprays, use 5-6 drops in a bucket to mop floors, in vacuum cleaning bags, as a bacteria and mould preventative, as well as in oil burners, for that refreshing smell. We even have Lemon Scented soy melts and candelinas. The ideas keep coming in! Our website covers many more.
> You are planning a trip to Canada soon. What will you be doing there?
We will spend some time in Vancouver. We will be taking some samples of our oil to Canada, as we have had several enquiries and much interest shown by Canadians in Australia – it has been suggested that our products would go well there. You just never know. We are looking forward to getting in some skiing at Big White too, of course!
> What are your plans for the future?
The plan for the future is to go further afield with our markets and try to establish selected retail outlets within Australia. This year we have produced a retail box for our oils, a website for online ordering, new brochures and eftpos facilities.
The feedback from our clients has been very encouraging, and we both enjoy seeing the business continue to develop.
> Thank you for your time Tineke.