I guess it was somewhat inevitable – my destiny so to speak. With the revelation that I possess a thoroughly green thumb and a lifelong love of the tea leaf in all its forms and manifestations, I now find myself on a land-buying quest for a dozen or so acres to attempt the cultivation of Camellia sinensis on Vancouver Island. After this bold statement, I suspect a lot of you are chuckling to yourselves. Growing tea in the frozen north of Canada? Is this guy completely off his rocker? However, I am not one to fuss over geographical semantics, and have yet to back away from any challenge. The ball has begun to roll and there is little else I can do but chase it.
After visiting the Charleston Tea Plantation this past September, the idea that I could potentially grow tea in Canada has moved from a distant fantasy to a burgeoning reality. Climate change, for all its negative repercussions, has moved the tea-growing belt further north as the planet heats up. This is great news for me up here in an area of western Canada known as the banana belt. And speaking of such, the University of Victoria recently announced that they successfully grew their first batch of real bananas on Vancouver Island. Who would have imagined?
I have also heard talk of an experimental tea farm in northern Washington. Personally, I have never been, and know little of it, other than what other tea people have told me, which is that a camellia sinensis cultivar has successfully taken root in the Pacific Northwest. In fact, T Ching featured a post about it several years ago.
Discovering this was simply the icing on the cake for me. So this past week, after combing the raw land listings for Vancouver Island, I jumped on the ferry and started the process of locating a suitable parcel of land. The prime growing region on the Island is the Cowichan Valley, about a 45-minute drive north of Victoria. It has the warmest annual climate in Canada and already supports a very successful wine industry. The other very cool aspect of the Cowichan is the abundance of south-facing mountain slopes, which we in the tea business know is highly prized for tea cultivation.
My search of more then a dozen properties yielded two potential parcels – one just over 10 acres and the other around 16 acres, both on sloping terrain. Just recently, a tea grower in the Nilgiri Hills in India informed me that he produces around 1,000 pounds of orthodox tea a month from his 45+ acres. This is a yield of 22 pounds per acre. At 10 acres, my little tea garden could potentially produce 220 pounds of orthodox tea a month. The downside, of course, is the painful wait as my little saplings take root and grow into mature tea bushes – a wait that I’m sure will pass with a surmountable collection of challenges.
I’m not getting any younger here, so I’d better get going. I’ll let you know when the first “first flush” is ready for harvest. However, don’t hold your breath – unless you can do so for at least seven years.