Updated: May 12, 2020
Describing what is being done with what rationale, cost and expected results and returns.
What: Manuka trees (Leptospermum Scoparium) are native to New Zealand. They produce flowers from which highly valuable and medicinal honey can be made. The plan is to test the adaptability of 2 cultivars of manuka grown in France (Snow Flurry and Winter Cheer). There is no guarantee these will adapt to a limestone-rich, mountainous terrain in which possibly cold winter spells give way to dry summers. However, we will be protecting the plants from the cold through stone walls and will provide irrigation controlled by technology.
How: Once we have established that the Manuka tree can survive the prevalent conditions in the forest, we will plant up to 1,000 trees and we will partner with local beekeepers to produce honey. In addition, Manuka tree leaves can be harvested regularly to produce an essential oil which contains some of the same medicinal properties as Manuka honey.
Should the climate conditions prove too harsh for the tree to adapt, a plan "B" has been devised. Myrtles (Myrtus communis) belongs to the same family as the Manuka tree and contain some of the same chemical components glyoxal and methylglyoxal albeit with lower levels of concentration (MGO). Very extensive research is being conducted in this area to assess conclusively the honey's properties. (see this site) MGO levels in manuka honey range from almost zero to more than 1000 milligrams per kilogram of honey. Honey with an MGO greater than 263mg/kg is considered the minimum for therapeutic use. Higher grade Manuka honey can be used to treat wounds and is also believed to soothe a sore throat, improve digestive symptoms and help prevent gastric ulcers. Lower-grade Manuka honey can be eaten as per non-bioactive honey.
Investment & expected results: So far, it has meant purchasing and shipping 9 trees to test the adaptability to the different conditions to their native New Zealand. This has meant an investment of €150 (mostly due to transportation costs).
The global manuka honey market was valued at US$660 million in 2017 and is expected to reach $2.1 billion by 2025. High-grade manuka honey sells for more than US$400 per kilogram. Prices are expected to further increase as demand continues to outpace increases in supply. Assuming Manuka trees adapt, at scale, the 1,000 trees with the transportation and associated planting should cost just over 6,000€. This should serve to confirm the viability of the Manuka honey production at scale. This investment is a one-time commitment. After this, the production of Manuka seedlings needs to be done locally and cover 10 hectares and produce on average 10-13 kg of honey per hectare. (Targeted Revenue of €1500 per hectare)
Please note that Manuka honey is not the only crop expected from this investment. Essential Manuka oil is also expected from this activity. The oil yield, based on a standard dried sample, can vary between 0.2 and 1%, with 0.5% being typical. The exact yield and production per hectare are estimated to reach 5-7 litres per year per hectare. The retail price of this oil averages €1500 retail or €700 wholesale. (Targeted Revenue of €3500 per hectare).
Similar results can be attained using Myrtle - The investments required to extract the essential oil are not yet estimated. This may be sub-contracted to local
Myrtle (left) belongs to the same family and is a distant cousin to the Manuka tree (a.k.a. tea Tree)
Update on 23 April 2020 - Because of the current lockdown rules in effect in France, I've not yet been able to assess the state of the Manukas or the myrtles which were planted back in December 2019. That said, I planted two specimens in my garden located about 50 km from the location of the forest. The weather conditions are quite different here as we're only about 100 meters from sea level versus 700 meters in the forest. Also, we're on the northern side of a low and small sierra called les "Alpilles" . The good news is that both myrtles and manukas have fared well. The former have even managed to flower! A good sign and an obvious prerequisite condition for the production of honey.
That being the case, there are few (if any) bees interested in visiting the manuka flowers so far. Very few flowers have fully developed yet. Patience may be in order here. The other limitation is the total lack of flowers on the myrtle which are not expected until the summer (July to September).
Manuka flower in Saint Rémy de Provence
Myrtles in Saint Rémy de Provence
UPATE ON 12 May 2020
I've had an opportunity to visit the forest and the news on the Manuka front is good and bad. We had planted 5 Winter Sheer and 4 Snow flurry cultivar of the Leptospermum Scoparuim.
All but one Snow flurry died. I suspect they froze when the temperatures dipped below -8 C (17 F). What is left of the tree are dried leaves on a brittle twig. Sorry looking experiment for sure! That said, we did not expect much from this and had already established a "plan B" for the Manuka with the myrtles. I'm happy to report that 100% of the myrtles survived the freezing temperatures.
Sorry-looking Snow Flurry which did not survive the "deep freeze" of February.
Snow flurry survivor - tip of the leaves seem burnt /frozen.
However, all is not hopeless on the Manuka front. The other cultivar (Winter sheer) actually has a 100% survival rate. Quite impressive in itself that a plant that is not supposed to survive much below the freezing point has managed to do so down to temperatures of -8C / 17F. What is truly encouraging is the fact that all the trees are full of flower buds!
See encouraging pictures of the Winter Sheer: