Here is another old photograph. This 1993 picture shows the first cold frame green house I built when moving my tea farm out south of Fairhope on Lyter Lane. A cold frame is used in the winter and the cuttings are placed in trays of vermiculite and placed on the ground. The heat of the Earth stimulates slow root growth which takes many months to complete. The frame is enclosed completely in plastic starting in the early winter months and the plastic is slowly removed and replace with cloth or shade cloth to keep sun off the rootings.
This frame eventually was three times longer and produced many thousands of clone rootings. One Tropical Storm Hannah in 1996 blew cuttings out of the trays and scattered them across the yard. The whole thing blew away in a hurricane not long after. There is still some of the frame work left which I don’t remove for sentimental reasons. We had a series of hurricanes here in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Here I was rooting cuttings from the original Lipton plants as well as F1 cuttings. I was already planting rows of tea out in the fields from potted plants and seedlings from the Lipton bushes. This cold frame upped my production of tea plants out in the field. When my cousin took this picture, he dubbed it “Our Founder.”
Last September I was at 270 pounds of tea production wise. I thought I would never sell that much tea (even though I do every year). I store tea in 10 pound Mylar bags and had a store room full and thought I was going to be dumping my good tea and all that hard work to produce it into the compost heap. Well, a couple days ago I opened the last bag of black tea to fill a two pound order. It is surprising but I again sold that much tea, mostly to repeat customers. Even though I do not advertise, sell on line or sell to distributors or shops, I must be doing something right!
All the tea bushes are neatly pruned and all the weeds and oak trees removed as we are expecting the big spring flush. I will have a tour group out soon and see the soft, lite green growth and say to myself, “Oh, No,” because I know the years work is about to begin. I used to start picking in the first of May, then it was April and because of global warming I will start about the third week in March. I will make an equal amount of green vs black and will produce about the same amount in my half pound loose leaf bags ($15 – good price!) as I do individual cup size tea bags (30 for $10). I will make a few pounds of yellow and Oolong but I do not package and sell those.
Remember when you come to visit the tea farm you will need to call ahead and make a reservation. I do these at 1:00 pm every day. Bring cash to pay the $10 fee and to buy some tea. And remember this is not a tea party where you chat with friends over cookies and tea but a visit to a working farm where you will get a hour long lesson on the nuts and bolts of growing and making tea. Folks really do enjoy it, so come on down!