When we think of the journey from leaf to cup there is always one word that springs to mind : dedication. There are many complexities involved in nurturing tea to the final liquor in your cup and to ensuring that you continue every day, week, month, year to have access to the teas you love and enjoy.
On a daily basis we are reminded of the fragility of our planet and conversations in our tea house often turn to the delicate ecosystem that surrounds tea production. Central to these conversations recently is the topic of soil - something we have touched upon in previous blogs and a subject we discuss and explore with all our partners. The team at Comins often smile at me [Michelle] and my increasing obsession with the subject - but I'm far from alone in my interest and concern. The management of soil is a worldwide issue - the case for change is succinctly highlighted here - explaining why soil is key for food, climate, health, biodiversity and for our water-courses. There is a solution - evidence shows that organic agriculture can deliver improvements in carbon storage, water holding capacity and biodiversity. This is a nice video [which appeals to me as I had a former life as a biochemist and then as a digital marketer - n.b. we have no affiliation with the organisation that produced this we simply like the video]
Education of tea farmers to help them understand these factors and put appropriate systems in place is key to a healthy future in tea.
Here Nibir from Khongea tea garden takes a moment to share the measures that he and his team have in place for soil management at Khongea. The methods outlined below are the type of things we look for when we visit gardens - understanding the approach different gardens take [& why] helps us to be better informed, ask the right questions and is key to choosing which gardens we work with. We believe that by working with and supporting growers who care about their soil practice and are happy to share their approach we are supporting a better future for tea and the planet. Hopefully this short article will also give you an insight into the multitude of factors that have to be considered and acted upon in order to run a successful tea garden [irrelevant of size] and produce amazing tea. Who knows - next time you visit a tea garden you may recognise some of these practices for yourselves [& of course enjoy some great tea].
Nibir Bordoloi, Khongea Tea Garden
"Soil, being the basis of the any agricultural produce, we passionately believe that its sustainability is of utmost importance. We have been doing several activities for its conservation and nutrition in both our plantations.
We have a Soil policy that we implement as part of our good manufacturing practice and Rainforest Alliance certification standards at our tea gardens.
Firstly, we have adopted a policy to prevent soil erosion in the garden by planting Guatemala grass all along the drains and in the vacant areas. The Guatemala grass also helps us in mulching the young tea, which is another way of preventing run off in the section. The edges of the fields have been planted with weeping grass and other plants that bind the soil, to prevent soil erosion. After pruning, the litter is stacked in heaps in a row to slow down the run-off of the rain water.
We place an emphasis on manual weeding, by sickling the weeds and keeping the sickled weeds on the ground for mulching. Hard and soft weeds are treated by different methods. Hard weeds are aggressively removed and used for composting, and soft weeds are left in the field to mulch and contribute to soil health.
We have a Vermicompost programme which is helping enrich the soil and provide nutrients. This is also being used in our Nursery to improve the soil that the young tea is being grown in.
We don't use fumigant for our young plants, so all microbial activity in the soil is preserved and we believe this contributes to good soil health.
Further, also listed below are the features of Soil Policy that we implement at Khongea -
Features of Soil Management And Conservation Policy
- Planting of soil binding crops like Guatemala, Lantana Camara, Citronella, etc.
- Stop weeding along the drains and other water bodies.
- Shade tree planting to give shade as well as to prevent soil erosion.
- Fallow land is used for planting of soil binding, soil fertility crops & trees.
- Burning is not allowed to prepare land.
- Planting of nitrogen fixation crops like Crotalaria and other legumes.
- Sickling has to be done throughout the year for 1 – 2 rounds
Many Thanks to Nibir for sharing this insight with us. Soil is something we will be talking much more about over the coming moths and years at Comins. For us it stimulates a great discussion at every garden we visit as we learn how each 'tea growing family' approaches the principles outlined above and puts in place plans for a more sustainable future. Back at home, and definitely where we are based in the SW, soil is a topic we are increasingly familiar with as we take more interest in where our food come from - so although the tea fields seem very far away there are many parallels between tales of soil management in tea and those happening on fields closer to home.
So to end this blog why not come & enjoy a cup of Khongea tea gardens finest Gold Tip Assam at Comins or buy some to try at home? The full flavour and smooth finish is testament to the dedication of the team here.