Growing Organic

June 6, 2012 in Farm Management by Rob

Grass between rows of tea

I’ve been reading posts from some of the tea clubs I watch. The subject of organic growing commonly comes up. Big tea estates in other parts of the world say it is next to impossible to grow organically. Maybe that’s true for very, very large tea farms, but for us, growing organic is much easier and less expensive than growing with commercial products. Probably our biggest issue is weed control. Our tea is grown in rows and we allow grass, that grows prolifically here, to grow between our rows of tea. This grass is mowed frequently with grass clippings blown to the base of the tea plants. Grass clippings are a natural source of nitrogen, so these clippings provide nutrient for the plants. We also mulch at the base of the tea plants. This helps to minimize weeds and also provides nutrient. Our favorite mulch is wood chips, but we also use banana leaf, palm fronds, and clippings from vetiver. All of which help control weeds and aid our soil. The proof of which is lifting some of the mulch, what’s commonly seen is wiggly worms. Worms are a great sign for healthy soil. It seems to me that all the mulching we do really is helping our soil. I’m not noticing the salt build up as with commercial fertilizers. The soil looks good and the plants look good. Not only does all this mulching help the soil, it saves us money. What we mulch we find on this property. It’s untreated organic matter, what garden book or gardener doesn’t say add organic matter. Since our location is tropical there is lots of organic matter around. Things grow very quickly here so we have a steady source of invasive plant material that we can cut and chip or shred. We also foliar feed a home made compost tea, made from composted materials on the property and we add some organic fish emulsion. The plants seem to love it.

I’m noticing also that we have gecko lizards in the tea fields. I imagine they help us a lot with insect control. Since we pick by hand we don’t have a problem with accidentally picking these beneficial creatures. They skitter away when we come close.

To me organic gardening just makes sense. Especially when growing and processing tea. Today I was at a neighborhood meeting and some friends had just come back from Thailand. They are tropical fruit growers and they noticed that tropical fruits they saw in Thailand were of very poor quality compared to what we have in Hawaii. Also a person who lives in Thailand suggested one must be careful in eating fruits from the region because they can have pesticides on them that will make a person sick. All this helps me feel good about what we are doing with tea in Hawaii. It’s clean and it tastes good.