Tea Plant Seedling (Camellia sinensis)
Sep 29

Video: How to Transplant Tea Plant Seedlings (Camellia sinensis)

By Tygh Walters | Uncategorized


Two Camellia sinensis seedlings.

Two Camellia sinensis seedlings.

Germinating plants from seed is an exciting adventure. At the Piedmont Tea Co. we want to encourage diversity in our tea plants in order to select varieties that are well suited for the unique climate of the Georgia Piedmont.

If you’re interested in growing your own tea plants from seed, check out our 3-video series entitled, “Tea Seed Germination“.

Raising Tea Plant Seedlings

In September/October of 2014, we collected tea plant seeds from numerous mother bushes throughout the Georgia Piedmont. Then, in the summer of 2015, after the seeds had germinated, it was time to transplant them from the germination tray into individual pots.

Seeds from a semi-wild plant somewhere in the Georgian Piedmont; sown in September; Germination evident in April.

Seeds from a semi-wild plant somewhere in the Georgian Piedmont; sown in September; Germination evident in April.

As 1st generation tea growers, we are learning everything for the first time. One mistake we made was waiting too long to transplant the seedlings. As you can see in the video, the root systems of these tiny seedlings were more developed than expected by the time we transplanted them in early July.

When transplanting nearly any plant, it is important to cause as little disruption to the roots as possible. Theoretically, transplanting these seedlings at an earlier stage is better, since many of the lateral roots are not developed.

Even though we did not transplant this year at the “ideal” time, we’ve seen minimal losses in this lot, and expect most of them to continue thriving.

Moving forward, we will continue to refine our process in order to maximize our germination rates, while also considering the time and effort that goes into germinating tea plants from seed.

Step-by-Step Tea Plant Transplanting

Step 1: Obtain potting medium or soil

In this video I used a potting medium blend of 50% ground pine bark (plus other proprietary ingredients) and 50% native soil (mostly consisting of sand). You can recreate this mixture with ingredients from any local home & garden store.

Soil Medium Moisture

Tea plants require sharp drainage, as their roots are sensitive to over-watering. The right soil medium is key to maintain optimal moisture, as some mixtures stay very wet while others drain quickly and completely.

I have killed several of my tea plants by watering them too much! At Goodness Grows, the nursery where this video was recorded, we water all Camellia species less frequently than 90% of the other plants we sell- apparently they like to be drier than most.

My former co-worker used to say, “make ’em beg for water”, when referring to how to care for tea plants… She was right…

Soil Medium pH

Camellia sinensis is an acid-loving plant. Tea plants thrive when the soil is between 4.5-5.5 on the pH scale, with a pH of 7 being neutral. There is an excellent in-depth article on this topic at the United States of tea Growers blog, written by Nigel Melican.

I have not tested the pH of the soil medium I used, however, I know from prior soil tests that the native soil in my area is acidic (~5.5) and I know that pine bark is inherently acidic too.

***NOTE: Many standard potting soils are NOT suitable for tea plants, as many remain too wet and are pH balanced to be more alkaline to accommodate vegetable growers. Typically, garden vegetables grow best in a pH that is more neutral (6.5-7) and that is why vegetable gardeners will add lime to their garden beds; to raise the pH. As tea plant growers, we often need to lower the pH.

One method to lower the pH of alkaline soils is to add a soil acidifier like Aluminum Sulfate or other Sulfer-containing product. It’s great to use on Hydrangeas, Blueberries, and Azaleas too:

See the guaranteed analysis.

Step 2: Obtain plant containers

We transplanted our seedlings from the germination tray into 1-gallon plastic pots. They will be able to live in these pots for several years until they are out-planted in the ground or “potted up” into larger 3-gallon or 5-gallon containers.

I sourced my recycled pots from the MASSIVE pot pile at the nursery I work at. If you’re frugal like me, there is an excellent chance you can source your containers from a nearby nursery, they usually have an abundance of them and since you’re passionate about horticulture/agriculture, you should know the folks at your local nurseries anyway!

If you’re an “urban” tea grower like me, or simply not in the vicinity of a free pot pile, you can get 1-gallon pots shipped directly to your house in 2 days:

Step 3: Transplant Seedlings

  • Be gentle, use a tool such as a fork to separate seedling roots.
  • Pack seedling into new container with new soil and medium pressure.
  • Leave at least 1 inch between the rim of the container and the top of the soil.
  • Keep roots within the top 1-3 inches of the soil.

Step 4:  Move seedlings to 50-75% shade and water them.

  • 50-75% shade will help the seedlings recover from transplant shock.
  • Monitor the seedlings frequently for soil moisture.
    • Soil that is wet to the touch is OK. Stick your finger in there and get dirty…
  • One overlooked factor in raising tea plants is the pH of the water used for irrigation. Sometimes, water that is too alkaline can inhibit tea plant growth.

Large scale irrigation water acidification setup for tea plant cuttings at Mississippi State University: Mississippi Tea Project.

Irrigation water acidification at Mississippi State University.

Irrigation water acidification at Mississippi State University.

Fukuoka & Tea Plant Seedlings?

In the video, I mentioned the book, “One Straw revolution” by Masanobu Fukuoka. I was inspired by Fukuoka’s “Do-Nothing” farming philosophy and I am learning to be receptive to ways that I can simplify my methods so that they require less input.

Do you have any questions or comments about transplanting tea plant seedlings? Leave your reply below, I’d love to hear from you!

May 04

Tygh Walters (Piedmont Tea Co.) Interviews Nigel Melican (Teacraft Ltd.)

By Tygh Walters | Uncategorized

On the eve of the World Tea Expo in Long Beach, CA., it is our pleasure to share with you our interview with international tea consultant, expert, and US League of Tea Growers founding member, Nigel Melican. Nigel gives us his take on the future of US-grown tea and talks about some of the keys to success for US tea farmers..

Show Notes:

Nigel Melican

email: nigel@teacraft.com

Nothing But Tea Ltd. http://www.nbtea.co.uk

Tea Craft Ltd. http://teacraft.com

US League of Tea Growers

http://usteagrowers.com

Become a member of the USLTG: https://usleagueofteagrowers.wildapricot.org/widget/join-us

Tocklai Tea Research Association
http://www.tocklai.net

World Tea Expo
http://www.worldteaexpo.com

The Great Mississippi Tea Company
http://www.greatmsteacompany.com

Follow our progress and subscribe to the Piedmont Tea Co.’s email newsletter…

Interview Transcription

PTC: How’s it going everybody, today is May 1st, 2015, and this is Tygh Walters of the Piedmont Tea Company.

What you’re about to hear is a short interview with Nigel Melican, an experienced international tea consultant and one of the numerous founding members of the US League of Tea Growers, a non-profit organization striving to support, advance, and connect aspiring US-tea growers.

I first met Nigel at the “tea growers roundup”, a meeting of Tea Growers, retailers, supporters, and enthusiasts hosted by Jason McDonald of the Great Mississippi Tea Company earlier this year in February 2015.

If you’re interested in making your bold mark in the tea story of the United States, then join us, and show your support by becoming a member of the US League of Tea Growers. You can find links to become a member in the show notes, or just go to usteagrowers.com

The United States League of Tea Growers strives to connect the increasing number of US tea growers while collaboratively sharing resources, research and information regarding.   By working together, we hope to achieve:

  • Plant husbandry knowledge
  • Development of “best  practices” know how
  • Development of appropriate automation
  • Product and process innovation
  • Research trials of US conditions
  • Gain/Create access to cultivars specific to US requirements
  • Promotion of US grown teas
  • Development/Promotion of agri-tourism
We encourage you to be a part of our information sharing efforts and welcome your feedback and questions as a valued member of the US League of Tea Growers!

Continue reading

Mar 22

My Support Letter for a Multi-University Federal Research Grant on U.S.-grown Tea

By Tygh Walters | Uncategorized

Below is a letter that I wrote in response to a call for support from the researchers I met during the 1st annual tea growers round-up hosted by the USLTG  earlier this year. Growers, retailers, supporters, and researchers spent time during that meeting to discuss the most important issues facing U.S. tea growers and as a result, they are in the process of submitting a substantial grant proposal that would include three universities and fund important tea research projects over five years.

Links:


[Submitted March 22nd, 2015]

 

Dr. Guihong Bi,

My name is Tygh Walters, an aspiring commercial tea (Camellia sinensis) grower from Athens, GA, and I am excited to support the federal grant proposal, “A systems approach to improve production, germplasm, and economic return for growing tea, an emerging specialty crop industry in the U.S.”

Tea is a ubiquitous beverage nationally and “sweet tea” is a hallmark of Southern culture, however, due to the virtual absence of commercially grown tea in the U.S., the tea that most Americans drink is almost exclusively sourced from foreign countries.

As an aspiring commercial tea grower, my role in the industry is to produce the highest quality tea crop by using the most effective, innovative, sustainable, and evidence-based methods, unfortunately, there is a dearth of research about all phases of tea production in the unique climate of the Southeastern U.S.

According to Peter F. Goggi of the Tea Association of the U.S.A., Inc., total sales of tea in the U.S. had risen from $1.84 billion in 1990 to ~$10.84 billion in 2014. That’s a 589% increase over 24 years. I believe that as the U.S. demand for tea continues to rise, so will the demand for specialty, domestically produced teas, and there is a valuable and time-sensitive opportunity for tea growers in the U.S. to meet this demand, thus, making tea the next most important specialty crop in the U.S.

As a grower, I am interested in production methods, cultivar development, economic analysis, social impact, and environmental stewardship. In commercial production, tea is typically grown as a perennial shrub, similar to blueberries, and single plants can remain productive for over 100 years. Thus, tea could be utilized in USDA-supported Agroforestry systems such as silvopasture and alley cropping designed to conserve natural resources.

The USLTG (United States League of Tea Growers) and associated researchers have identified and developed key research goals pertinent to the current state of the U.S.-tea industry. Upon accomplishment of their goals, tea growers like me will be equipped with the necessary knowledge to begin growing tea in the U.S., therefore, I support the funding of the grant proposal, “A systems approach to improve production, germplasm, and economic return for growing tea, an emerging specialty crop industry in the U.S.”

Best,

Tygh Walters, M.S.
Piedmont Tea Co.
451 Seagraves, Dr.
Athens, GA. 30605

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