The Birth of a Tea Garden
At the beginning of this year, our family decided to start a new tea garden in Baguashan(八卦山). After much deliberation, we decided to dedicate this garden to the growth of the Sijichun cultivar. We chose to grow Sijichun because it is very suitable for low elevation (in our case about 400m) farming and has high production yield. Recently, Sijichun has also been in high demand due to the beverage market and the emergence of the Dong Pian harvest. For more on what Dong Pian tea is, please see our previous blog post.
In Taiwan, almost all tea is grown from clones. This is to preserve the unique characteristics of the cultivar. When we decided to grow Sijichun, we contacted our friend at a local nursery that can supply all the different cultivars of tea typically grown in Taiwan. To start a tea garden, you must book the baby tea trees one year in advance. If the trees are too young, they’re not able to withstand very high/low temperatures, overly dry/wet soil, and are easily killed by insects and blights. Taking care of the tea trees at this early stage is such a delicate and involved process that our friend at the nursery said it’s almost like being a parent to a newborn baby. However, if the tea trees are too old, then their roots are too large and established; transplanting them at this stage would shock the tree causing it to almost certainly die soon after being replanted. For these reasons, it’s best to replant the trees in their new garden once they’ve reached one year of maturity.
Above: Bags of healthy, strong, and beautiful baby Sijichun trees taken from the nursery and ready to be replanted.
The ideal conditions for a tea garden are as follows: 1. The climate of the garden should have an average temperature of 20 to 25°C, and have an annual rainfall of 1,800 to 3,000 mm.
2. The soil should have good drainage, with a deep layer of mineral rich topsoil.
3. Ideally, the soil pH should be between 4.0 and 5.5.
New tea gardens are typically started between November and late March. The ideal time to plant baby tea trees is after it’s been raining when the soil is still wet, and it’s not too hot. This gives the transplanted tea trees the best chance of establishing themselves in their new garden.
Above: This machine is used to turnover and level the soil.
Before we can plant the tea trees, we must arrange the land first. The first step is to use a machine we call a "農耕機", which is like a large rototill. We want this machine to turnover about one meter of soil. There are four reasons we use this machine. Firstly, it mixes up different layers of soil to allow for a more even distribution of minerals. Secondly, it allows for the soil to “breath”, which allows for better drainage. Thirdly, it helps break up large chunks of soil which could inhibit the tea trees from establishing strong roots. Fourthly, during the final pass with this machine, we add a tool to make the soil of the tea garden level. If we don’t do a good job of making the soil level, we will end up with low spots in the garden that collect water; this will drown the baby trees planted there.
Above: Josh and a family friend work hard to create furrows where the Sijichun will be planted. Modern machines like this rototill are convenient, but can be a little uneven in their work. To make sure everything is perfect for the baby tea trees, Josh goes through the furrows and uses a hoe to refine them by hand.
The next step is to use the "中耕機". This machine is a small rototill that we use to create furrows. The furrows should have a depth between 60 and 70 cm and are spaced about 150 cm apart. These furrows will soon be the new home of our Sijichun babies. We plant the Sijichun about 40cm apart from each other. Using these measurements, one hectare can usually grow 1,200 to 1,400 tea trees.
Once the furrows have been made, it’s time to plant the trees. Planting the trees is hard work, so we asked some other members of our family to help us. In this garden we will plant 2,350 Sijichun trees.
Above: We spread peanut shells in the furrows around the tea trees. Each bag of peanut shells weighs roughly 15 kg.
Once the trees have been planted, we spread peanut shells around them. This blanket of peanut shells serves two functions. The first is to stop weeds from growing and choking out the baby tea trees that are fighting to establish themselves in their new home. The second is to reduce the amount of water evaporation; this lowers the tea gardens strain on the environment by reducing our water usage.
Unfortunately, it's expected to have some of the tea trees die from the stress of replanting. We have to wait one week to see if the planting was successful. This entire week we feel very nervous. Even if you are gentle with the baby tea trees, and the weather is good, sometimes you will be unlucky. Once the Sijichun produces new buds, we will know that it was a success.
Above: One week later, we spot the first buds of the newly planted Sijichun.
This time we were very fortunate! Only one tree didn't survive the replanting. With good weather, and attentive care, we can expect to have our first harvest in Spring of 2020.
We're happy to say that in an effort to protect the beautiful environment of Baguashan, we’ve decided to use organic farming practices for this new garden.