I traveled to L.A.(Lower Alabama) to spend Thanksgiving with about 30 relatives. With the close proximity, I took the kids for the 25 minute drive up Hwy 98 to the Fairhope Tea Plantation, where Donnie (the owner) was gracious to give us a tour. Since my last visit, he had been experimenting with his process and was now serving both an oolong and a green tea, instead of black tea. He had harvested his leaves from his 10-acres and was full of knowledge that came from over 30 years of growing Camellia Sinensis, which came from a burn pile at the Lipton experiment station in 1978 after hurricane Frederick. His father had run the experiment station, so his knowledge comes from more than one generation.
We pulled many tea shoots out of the soil and wrapped them up so that I could plant them myself in the back yard. This was an exercise I had unsuccessfully attempted 8 years ago when I lived in New Hampshire. Now, that I am back in a friendlier latitude, I was excited to stick them in the ground.
Today I picked my spot and planted just the way he suggested, like the Chinese do, sticking them a few at a time in the soil buried up to the top of the root. Then spacing a couple inches and doing it again. I buried about 30 plants in a small area on a wooded hillside in the back yard. There is a lot of organic material from the fallen leaves, and I was told these plants would like that. Donnie had told me that some farmers were planting each plant several inches apart, which he did not feel was the best way. “These plants are very social,” he told me, “and need to be close together.” It seemed poetic to me that the plant which brings us to home and hearth so often, starts that way in the ground, preferring the company of other plants.
I will need to cover these plants for shade until this time next year as they all reach deep into the soil to develop a healthy tap root. I have heard these roots can go eight feet. Meanwhile, the plants will look almost dormant. It will be 3-years before I will harvest any tea. My eldest will be in Vet school (Lord willing), my son should be in college, and my youngest will be a sophomore in high school. I look forward to gathering together for that first cup.