As a West Coast transplant to the Southeast, July is the hardest month for me in the garden. This year has been different - not so hot, but very wet.
Too much rain can leach nitrogen from the ground, so new tea leaf production is not as abundant as you might expect. On the other hand, the weeds are plentiful and quite vigorous. This isn't a problem for the big tea plants, which mostly shade out the weeds. But for the one year old plants we just planted this spring, the weeds compete and can become a real challenge to establishing the new tea.
This year we tested out a new cover crop in between the rows of new tea plants - buckwheat - which can be mowed. It prevented erosion, which was a real risk in thunderstorms with heavy downpours. But it doesn't stop the weeds. So, on the "to do list": (1) weed, before it is too late and they start shading out the tea, and (2) fertilize to bump up the nitrogen. I use blood meal, which isn't fast but is organic.
It is certainly easier (and cooler) to stay inside and write about tea. But then I wouldn't have as much to write about in the long run. So, got to go...
Next time - "Why grow tea, Part 1."
It is hard to describe how much I learned at this year's 2013 World Tea Expo, and all the amazing people I met - some for the first time and other's reconnecting, and meeting customer's or people I've only known through the internet. Very nice, indeed, and very much worth the trip!
The main reason I went this year was to join in discussions about the first U.S. League of Independent Tea Growers. The meeting, open to the broader Tea Expo audience, was full of enthusiasm and interest. It was encouraging to see the support we have in the community of tea and to meet with growers like myself, who came to share our hopes and experiences. Tea is a patient teacher, and a teacher of patience. Just like growing tea, growing a new organization will take time and patience. But I have no doubt that we will all benefit from being more connected. The free flow of information about tea growing and processing is critical to help the local tea industry to expand and flourish. And the more people know about growing local, U.S. tea, the more appreciation there will be for fine tea and those who make tea around the world.
I also attended a new Expo workshop on processing tea. Although I've been making tea for years, I still have plenty to learn. We made five different kinds of tea (white, green, yellow, oolong and black) over the course of two sessions (3 hours each). In addition to learning new skills, like yellow tea, I was amazed at the quality of the teaching, the tea leaves (flown in from Hawaii), and the ease at which the instructors managed the logistics. We ended up with a tasting of the tea we had made, and it was all delicious. To me, the green and white teas had an especially "sweet" aroma, which made me wonder if it could be due to the Hawaii climate, the plants, or maybe the cold storage for the days and hours before processing began. So many variables to consider. Of course, I'll need to experiment with this myself!
Last, I learned about "Baking tea", which is a completely new idea to me and a process which clearly added value to older, stored oolongs. Definitely something I need to research, as it was clear that this process of heating and reheating the tea conveyed profound (and delicious) new qualities to the tea.
In honor of the first meeting of the U.S. League of Independent Tea Growers, we decided to make it official and get ourselves on-line. We've been around for awhile, giving classes, growing and making tea, and love working with customers. It was harder than I though to come up with a name for what we do, though. The word "tea" lends itself to many different and interesting words that captured the spirit of the tea gardens and have a little fun, like: "Tea-for-all" or "Serene-tea" gardens, or "Tea-ching" tea. We settled on a name, Camellia Forest Tea Gardens, that simply describes who we are and what we do - we are tend our own tea gardens at Camellia Forest and help others establish their own tea gardens.
One of the things I like about the name "Tea Gardens" is that is has more than one meaning: such as, our own gardens at Camellia Forest, and the potential gardens of our customers. And someday, in my dreams, it may even stand for the Tea House and Garden we hope to build on site to host our workshops and tastings. I'm also enamored by the historical "tea gardens," which were places for people to gather, enjoy music and conversation, and drink tea in the outdoors
Christine Parks, owner and operator of Camellia Forest Tea Gardens, enjoys teaching about tea and the creative process of taking tea from garden to cup.