With the first hard freeze of the season already past, I'd say that fall seems to have settled in for good...except that it is supposed to be in the mid-60s later this week so it goes (up and down).
I started seriously pruning our plants this past weekend, ruthlessly saying goodbye to many branches that were reaching too high or too low. It always makes me a little sad, though I know it is probably for the best. It will make it easier to pick in the spring. Whether or not this improves their long-term health is debatable, but they do seem to rebound vigorously. Last year we to what we thought was a reasonable height, but then missed two weeks picking in August, when they seemed to grow about 12+ inches.
October was a busy month, with several weekend tea tasting workshops to celebrate fall and finishing with my own tasting, sorting, and blending. It was lovely to share tea with first time visitors and old friends. Almost all the 2013 tea has already sold, but we still have several sample-size packs of most types. I've saved a little black and oolong tea so I can experiment making different chai blends to send to family this x-mass.
October was also time for Tea Expo East in Atlanta and the second official US League of Tea Growers meeting. After, I was lucky to host 3 special people - Nigel Walker, Jason McDonald, and Elyse Peterson - at Camellia Forest Tea Gardens. I was excited to share the diversity of tea plants in our garden, and was glad for a few tips from Nigel, who knows so much about how tea should be planted to maximize production. I have much to learn about tea farming. In our garden, we let our plants get a little bigger than a typical tea plantation (36 inches). This way we have more branches for clonal propagation. The plants also make lots of flowers, which is good for the bees and producing lots of seeds with random crosses in the garden.
OK - enough for this time. Because it is a season for giving and for enjoying our libraries, I was going to suggest one of my favorite new books, which is "Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties", by Kevin Gascoin, Francois Marchand, Jasmine Desharnais and Hugo Americi (Firefly Publishers, 2011). This is by far the most informative books I've read on tea, outside of a technical manual, and it is quite beautiful and well organized. For myself, I just bought "Tea and Chinese Culture" by Ling Wang (Longriver Press, 2005). I am looking forward to a really nice read on the history and culture of tea from where it all began.
Best wishes for the season
Christine Parks, co-owner of Camellia Forest Tea Gardens, enjoys the creative process of taking tea from garden to cup.