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The “Dirt” on Organic Soil

As every gardener knows, soil is key when it comes to maintaining happy and healthy plants. This is especially true with plants we eat, steep, or otherwise consume — like tea — where the quality of the soil has a direct impact on the final product. And while soil plays an important role on every tea garden, there are fundamental differences in the way tea producers handle soil management on organic versus conventional tea gardens.

Because tea plants can live to be hundreds of years old and remain firmly rooted in the ground, fields can't be revitalized through simple crop rotation, a practice where a field is planted with alternating crops or left fallow in an effort to revive the soil. Instead, nutrients must be introduced directly to the tea plants and soil to ensure that it contains the compounds necessary for the tea bushes to thrive.

On conventional tea estates, chemical fertilizers are typically sprayed or applied to supply immediate doses of the required compounds to the plants. Problems caused by over-application include chemically burned plants, elevated nitrate levels in groundwater, and soil structure that is slowly destroyed, leaving the ground vulnerable to erosion.

In contrast, on organic tea gardens, nutrients are incorporated into the soil in the forms of manure, rich compost, or plant cuttings. Living microbes in the soil then slowly break down the organic fertilizer into nutrients that feed the tea bushes over time. At gardens that practice permaculture, the additional interplanting of other trees and plants creates a fully interconnected and sustainable ecosystem. Selected plants, like legumes, rejuvenate the soil with nitrogen, a natural nutrient essential for healthy tea bushes.

In addition to these organic methods, some of our tea gardens also practice biodynamic agriculture. This concept takes the idea of living, organic soil further by managing the entire garden as a holistic, self-nourishing system. It emphasizes, “Work done by the human hand in caring for the fertility of the soil, the plants, the seeds and propagating material, and the animals, in harmony with local conditions, can develop the farm or garden into a living organism.” 1 Carefully aged soil preparations use plants like chamomile, dandelion, and yarrow to enhance soil life and plant growth while naturally regulating the garden's biological systems.

So, while conventional tea estates face a continual battle of maintaining adequate soil nutrients, organic tea gardens approach the problem differently. Organic soil is truly a living foundation and an integral part of the tea garden, an ever-evolving, dynamic organism.

Some people wonder whether organic tea from happy, healthy plants grown in organic soil actually tastes better, but we wonder how could it not?

1 Demeter International Production Standards, p. 4

 

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