When the idea struck me some years ago that Camellia sinensis might grow and possibly thrive on the west coast of Canada, I decided it would probably be best to keep it to myself. It was one of those epiphanies you get when you’re scrunched down in a muddy trench, reaching for a ripe bunch of blueberries that are just beyond your fingertips.
Being the consummate berry picker, I thought about what it would be like to reach out and pluck two leaves and a bud off a tea bush in my own backyard. I felt the hair bristle on the back of my neck. It’s the same feeling I get every time a seemingly brilliant, completely unique and untried venture materializes in my grey matter. Not all of these flashes actually turn out to be quite so brilliant as one might imagine. As is the experience of most entrepreneurs, failure and reality are just around the corner and bound to catch up with any ill-hatched schemes.
The real estate bubble
There are days I feel that way about my latest plan to create a commercial tea garden in the vicinity of Vancouver, BC. Could I not have picked a more expensive place to purchase property of any sort? Vancouver has the dubious distinction of being among the three most expensive places in the world to buy land and a home. There is Hong Kong, then London, and then BC – good ‘ol granola-eating, Birkenstock-clad Vancouver. Locals have renamed the city Hongcouver because of the out-of-touch land and home prices and the influx of Asian immigrants to our warm and beautiful shores. The cost of buying a chunk of land since I started my quest almost a year ago has increased by about 40%. I can share with you with some certainty that my income has not increased 40% in that time, so this disparate wedge is growing and the dream is looking ever more far flung. I am, though, not one to toss in the towel too early.
Meanwhile, back on my patio deck, where 200 of the Assam P126 cultivars continue to eek out an existence, it has been a rough ride. If you recall from my post back in March 2010, I mentioned that I was going to attempt to grow tea here in southwestern BC. I ended up getting a kilo of seeds from a garden in Assam and initially I was ecstatic with my results. Nearly 60% of them germinated and sprouted. That equates to 450 seedlings that poked their heads above ground.
Six months in and I am down to just under 200 little bushes. Some seem to be thriving and a few are in decent shape, but the rest are slowly wilting away. Vancouver doesn’t get much sun in the spring, so the odd sunny day we have I try to take advantage of it and get outside and play. I thought my plants would love to do the same, but after spending a winter under grow lights, little did I know that the direct rays of a full late spring sun would fry the leaves on all the big ones and cook all the ones that were hanging on by the skin of their teeth. I returned that day from climbing in Squamish only to see the devastation the sun had wreaked on the little camellias. Another lesson learned – bitterly I might add too.
So today was transplant day – they got bigger pots and fresh microorganism-filled soil. I have a greenhouse arriving next week and these remaining 175 plants will move into their new quarters as soon as I get the kit unpacked and built.
The not-to-distant future
At this point, if I get 10 to 20 that last another year, they will probably be around for the next 80. One can always graft and clone, and if the few remaining bushes actually do thrive here on the west coast, their offshoots will have a much higher probability of implanting themselves on a piece of land somewhere – and at this stage I have no idea where that might be.
I am nowhere near being a true tea farmer. The question I ask myself is: Am I on the road to becoming one in the not-too-distant future? Or, is this just some ridiculous pipe dream that will never materialize into anything but a lot of time and money wasted and a lesson well learnt?
I am the eternal optimist, so there is nothing I can do but simply disregard what may be the harsh reality and continue to take steps (albeit sometimes backwards) toward the internal pull that I have to succeed at yet another crazy, but not ill-hatched, tea venture.
Thanks for lending me your ear. The story is far from over.