Camellia for Foliage, Flowers, Fruit & Tea
The site benefits from an ideal PH of 4.5 and the tea tastes like a "good Malawi", not as good as Kenya or high Ceylon. US tastes need "bright cream" not the Assam "cloudies" that the UK prefers.
320 different varieties of tea are grown on site, planted at 5,000 per acre. The terrain is flat, sandy and well drained. The owners believe that drainage is key to growing tea and was the main reason why tea across the world used to be planted on hillsides. This ideal growing ground does not extend any further north but it is believed that there are lots of areas in Georgia and the southern States that would be suitable. This Charleston site is only 3 miles from the sea and benefits from the gulf stream moderating temperatures, yet there are no reported salt problems.
Harvesting takes place from May to October, every 10 days. The total crop weight is 200,000 lbs. per year.
The big downside is the price obtained: only $3 per lb as opposed to the $90 achieved by imported Japanese teas. The owner has stopped supplying supermarkets in response to their ever downward pressure on price. US territory could in fact supply the entire American demand - but it would need an act of Congress to force the market to buy the home product!
Sales from the plantation have doubled every year. An instant tea called Sam's American Choice Iced Tea Mix has been developed for Walmart (presumably before the decision to stop supplying supermarkets!) Another brand called American Classic is being sold in Japan, Spain, Bermuda and England as well as all the American states. It has been served at the White House during the last three administrations.
The owner has stopped most feed for 3 years in order to obtain organic status. This would lower yields but price could go up 4-fold. Planting losses are minimised by trickle irrigation and the crop takes 3 years to reach flat top (plucking table) and then, in year 4, some crop is harvested. The plants are clonally propagated for uniformity. A mechanical harvester is used and this does the work of 500 manual pickers. This air conveyance hydraulic driven machine however is not as good for most applications as that used in the Argentina. It is a cross between a cotton and a tobacco harvester.
The plantation is only half an hour's drive from Charleston and attracts a lot of visitors. They peaked at 1,500 per day. The proprietors, when questioned, thought they could probably break even on visitors alone.
On the "visitor" theme, there is a nearby Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. They have a Camellia Maze, modelled on Hampton Court, England. It is not large but still intriguing and a significant part of the marketing of the enterprise. This is another (allied) business with a high dependence on visitor revenue.
The Hawaiian Manaki herbal 'Tea' Plantation is growing the genus Piturus albidus. It has been certified organic for 5 years now. Their market is small but with potential for growth. This enterprise is an offshoot for an established general plant grower for