Anyone who grows tea will know, early spring is not the easiest time in the garden. The plants look their worst (see previous entry) and the fear of a late frost lingers. But have faith - the old leaves that look so dried and crispy will be replaced with new bright color within weeks. While tea is an evergreen plant, old leaves do fall off and are often found littering the ground under even healthy plants. That said, if your plant has lost all its leaves, don't completely give up hope. After a hard cold winter, sometimes a plant that seems nearly dead after freezing will begin to show new growth a few weeks after it's heartier neighbors. Obviously best not to harvest a struggling plant, but I've seen them recover within a couple years so that I'm glad that I hadn't pulled them out to replace.
Anyway, I'm musing late at night now, while waiting for my oolong to oxidize. Basically, I have just enough tea for me to pick and keep completely busy every weekend from March onwards. To celebrate finishing with the first flush harvest (just today), I planted six new small leaf tea seedlings. Looking forward to the years later when I'll probably have to add more pickers or create new hours in the day. Actually, the tea is growing just as my kids are also maturing, so now I have more time than ever to spend in the garden. Gardens and kids...mark the passage of time so well.The oldest, Alex, is 16 now - old enough to mow the field and help me prune. And the youngest, Julia, is 10 - happy to be able to earn a few dollars helping to mow with our little battery powered mower that fits just between the tea rows. It doesn't get much better than this.
Christine Parks, co-owner of Camellia Forest Tea Gardens, enjoys the creative process of taking tea from garden to cup.