- Heavy pruning (in early winter) makes plants look even more terrible in the spring, as older leaves show damage from cold+winter sun. But plants are amazing (again, see picture above). I delayed harvesting first flush a couple weeks, but otherwise growth was quite vigorous all season. I'm certain there is more for me to learn about pruning, but I am now thoroughly convinced - it does more good than harm, at least if you want to harvest tea and increase yield.
- Moles and voles - a lesson learned starting last fall when I discovered odd 1-inch holes appearing under plants. So, here is how it goes: moles eat worms and having worms in your soil is a good thing. So moles are OK, right? But within a couple years of heavy mole activity, the voles moved in, taking advantage of the mole tunnels. Sadly (for the tea and for me), voles eat plant roots and are a major concern, decreasing productivity even if they don't kill the plant. After a good deal of research, I decided on: (1) removing leaf and branch liter from under plants followed by trapping to confirm culprits, (2) mixing soil with Permatill to all new plantings, and (3) establishing a feral cat colony (a generous gift from a new friend who rescued, spayed and vaccinated them first). Time will tell, though I imagine I've seen fewer holes this fall.
- Sochi tea seedlings #1 and #2 (out of our first 3 planted-out 10 years ago) are especially cold hardy and vigorous, with huge leaves, hardly touched by our very cold weather this past winter - lows below 10 degrees F for days in a row. These two "Super Sochi" are definitely ones we will propagate by cuttings. Interestingly, seed production was less on these than on the seedling plants that look more like typical small leaf Chinese tea.
- More new plants in the ground last fall and spring, with a new hill planting, we ditched horizontal rows to improve drainage (+Permatill). Good for clay soils.
- We also started our first bee hive and now watching them crowd the tea flowers; will only collect a tiny bit of honey this year if we can, and look forward to producing more "tea flower honey" in years to come.
Tomorrow is the first day of fall - spring feels like just yesterday (i.e., above first flush). Now only a few plants are growing new leaves, and most are flowering, having reached their terminal growth and beginning to harden-off for winter. Now is NOT the time to prune, to avoid stimulating growth before the cold weather comes. I had meant to write this blog on a quarterly basis, but family health issues occupied most of my free time this year. So, I'll just list a few lessons learned and progress in the garden:
Christine Parks, co-owner of Camellia Forest Tea Gardens, enjoys the creative process of taking tea from garden to cup.