Abyssinian oil, also known as Crambe Abyssinica, is an ingredient we love here at Rocky. You can find it in our new Complete Cream Cleanser, hair conditioner, massage oil and new, limited edition Neroli Blossom Community Bar.
One of the reasons we love it so much is that this amazing ingredient grows locally in Canada. Ours is sourced from Prince Edward Island. We caught up with Blair MacIsaac, fourth-generation owner of family farm Lily Pond Farms, to learn more about this amazing crop — that Blair calls by the name crambe — and how it goes from his farm to your home.
A field of crambe at Lily Pond Farms on PEI.
Can you tell us a bit about Lily Pond Farms?
I'm the fourth generation on our family farm, that was originally dairy for 45 years. And then also included potatoes in the rotation. The dairy finished in 1998 with an expansion in the crop sector. Today 1,200 acres is in production of crambe, melon wheat, and green and yellow pea for the protein market. Custom work and potato storage rental also supplements my income.
What do you love about farming?
You can only be a farmer if you completely love it. I'm lucky. I have a family that understands what I do and I know where I need to be when it's my slack time and that's with them. Some of the issues about farming are at nighttime when you're ready to go to bed, and when your mind races, and you think about everything going on in your fields. When the rain's pounding on the bedroom windows at night and it's during the growing season, it's a blessing. But when the rain is pounding on the bedroom windows during harvest, it just gives you the shivers.
How long have you been farming Abyssinian?
I've been growing crambe for 15 years. I grow crambe because it fits well on my yearly crop plan. Since I grow other crops, too. Not all crops can be planted, or harvested at the same time. So crambe can be planted last, when the optimal soil temperature is achieved, and then harvested around the 15th of September usually before first frost.
Can you tell me a bit about what kind of care goes into raising the crop?
When it's time to plant this crop, soil temperature is checked to see if it is above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. This is crucial to ensure rapid germination and to get the seeds sprout out of the dark ground, and under the warm summer sunshine. On my farm I use a precision air feeder, which is beneficial for accuracy when planning very light, small seed at a very low seeding rate, approximately 15 pounds per acre. Weed control is done prior to planting the crop in the field, as the crambe crop goes through its growth stages. Stage one being emergence, two being cabbaging, three bulb, four, flower, five blossom drop, six, seed fill, and seven ripening. I scout the fields weekly for any issues.
I also use bees in my crambe field to help pollinate. Approximately one beehive per acre of crambe. When the ripening stage is 70% complete the crop is then swathed. Swathing is when you cut the standing crop and put it into wind rows. This wind row is left for 10 to 14 days for the remainder of the seeds to ripen and the stock to dry so it can be harvested with the combine.
Lily Pond Farms uses beehives to pollinate their crambe fields.
When is harvest time?
Here in Atlantic Canada, we have a uniquely high humidity in our climate, especially at nighttime, so heavy dew occurs. With this said, harvest days are very short. A normal harvest day would range from 11am in the morning (or when the dew is gone from the wind row) till about 8pm when the sun is setting and the dew is starting to form again on the crambe row.
I use a CLAAS Lexion Walker combine with a pickup head, usually trying to harvest between 40 to 50 acres a day. Seeds are then shipped via tractor trailer to the company, Nature's Crop, where it’s weighed, rated for oil content, checked for acceptable moisture and dirt in foreign material.
How long does it take to grow? How much does your farm produce?
Crambe takes about 90 days to grow, or until swathed, approximately 10 to 12 days are required in the wind row for curing, which gives a total of 100 days. Each grow year is different, but with ample rainfall and an abundance of sunny days, I hope to supply the company 350,000 to 500,000 pounds of crambe to Nature's Crop.
Is there anything in particular you’d like people to know about what you do?
As far as any claims to fame, I don't really have any. I like seeing nature, wildlife, and getting the satisfaction of planting seeds and harvesting the outcome. Plus living in the country, with all these wonderful things each day around me. I'm very thankful that I was born a farmer.
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