Camellia for Foliage, Flowers, Fruit & Tea
FUNDAMENTALS for PRODUCING TEA in the UK
As a result of my study tour my "best current thinking" about the cultural possibilities/requirements of growing tea in the UK is as follows:
1) Warning. Any one contemplating the cultivation of tea should be clear at the outset on the fundamentals. You will be attempting to grow a world commodity that is largely selling at below production costs. The climate in other areas is more favourable for standard tea production. There is no infrastructure, research, agronomy support or model of any kind.
2) Soils The agronomy of Tea in Britain is mostly conjecture. We know from trials at Tregothnan that it grows in average climatic conditions and requires the same acid pH (4.5 to 6.5) conditions as anywhere else in the world. Isolated specimens (not cropped) are found across the UK except in areas of high pH and regular extreme cold such as high land. We do not need to seek high hills for cultivation; this is a common misconception. Agri-climatic ideals for fine tea in other tea regions of the world tend to occur in cooler highland elevations. Tregothnan has adjusted an area of soil of pH 7 to pH 6, the underlying soils are acid.
3) Climate a) It is probably best to keep away from salty coastal winds, away from areas of usual spring frosts, and away from areas of less than 1100mm rainfall. Seeking high Minimum summer temperatures is apparently as important as avoiding low winter minimums. b) In principle it is possible to grow tea in 'broad-acre' scale; the known limiting factors are lack of proven clonal material for our climate and doubts over the summer temperature minimum to allow multiple plucking. c) Potential growers are urged to consider the marketplace, as a premium is required for viability. Entering production on the back of initial establishment of tea in new areas of the world face a consistently high failure rate. Again, looking to the wine industry offers lessons.
4) Plant Sourcing Plants are not available in quantity in Europe. Small numbers are held by researchers and Horticulturalists; from these we have propagated sufficient stocks to start feasibility trials. As tissue culture and other clonal techniques are adopted we aim to quickly expand our chosen cultivars. It may be that cultivars previously untried in the UK, such as grown in the former Soviet Union may offer hardier teas for the UK.
5) Garden size a) Across the world teagardens vary in size from 0.2 ha to thousands of hectares. Currently rationalisation in India is forcing many large estates to abandon to subsistence farmers who can use family labour to operate and actually live in the gardens. b) A typical density of 10,000 per hectare is likely to work.