Camellia Forest Nursery

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One of the goals of the USLTG is to spread awareness about US Tea. We begin a series of Featured Grower posts, showcasing the work of tea growers across the country.

Today we welcome our first Featured Grower:
Camellia Forest Nursery.

Grower Feature - Camellia Forest Nursery - Christine

Name: Camellia Forest Nursery
Grower: David & Christine Parks
Location: Chapel Hill, NC

Camellia Forest (www.camforest.com) is a small family-operated retail nursery in Chapel Hill, NC. The Parks Family has been collecting and breeding Camellias for over 50 years, including a wide variety of different species from around the world and the tea plant, Camellia sinensis. They are located in the central North Carolina Piedmont (Zone 7).

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World Tea Expo 2015 Recap

State of the Tea Union (Image)by Naomi Rosen

World Tea Expo 2015, held in Long Beach, CA, was a wrap on May 8, 2015, and what a show it was. Over 100 exhibitors, tasting sessions, unveiling of the World Tea Awards, educational offerings every morning, and a meetup of the US League of Tea Growers! Sorry it has taken me so long to get the recap out…but here it is my friends!

We kicked off the meetup with a slideshow of trends, happenings, and updates from current US tea growers. If you have Powerpoint, you can catch a peek at the slideshow below:

State of the Tea Union 2015

Once the State of the Union was completed, Eva Lee gave us the big announcement about the TOTUS Awards, we had had a chance to hear from Mark Adams about becoming a member of the League, and Nigel Melican updated us about the USLTG elections (held in June).

We had so much information to share, we actually ran out of time for our Q & A! So, we’d like to host it on here? What questions do you have for the USLTG?

What is TOTUS?

TOTUS logoby Naomi Rosen

Raise your hand if you are still running on the high of World Tea Expo? (***Raises hand!) The offerings this year did not disappoint:

  • The USLTG hosted a well attended meetup.
  • Nigel Melican led an informative and thought provoking class on how to Sucessfully Grow Tea in the US (more details to come).
  • Selena Ahmed led an incredible class on Sustainability and Climate Mitigation in Tea Growing (more details to come).
  • Jason McDonald led a successful Tea Planting Workshop at the Tealet House right after Expo.

It’d be hard to imagine something that could top the line-up above, but I left Expo buzzing about this news: The TOTUS Awards are going to crown a US grown tea! 

What is TOTUS

TOTUS stands for “Tea of the United States”. Per their website, “Now that there is an increase in domestic tea production aligned with an American origin initiative, we hope that the TOTUS Awards 2015 will encourage those who have pioneered US tea farming to gain national recognition for their uniquely crafted teas and further educate consumers supporting domestic tea agriculture.”

So how is this going to work? 

It’s pretty simple. The competition is open to all US growers, small or large, Commercial or Non-Commercial. You simply have to be able to provide a tea sample weighing 36 grams. Commerical growers will submit their samples ($100 entry fee per sample) into 4 different categories: White, Green, Oolong, and Black. Non-commercial growers are able to enter the same categories ($40 entry fee per sample), but will compete against other non-commercial growers.

  • Commercial Grower – Tea Growers that produce and sell a minimum of 5 pounds of 100% US grown Camellia sinensis tea per year.
  • Non-Commerical Grower – Beginning Farmers, Researchers, and/or Hobbyists that produce and sell less than 5 pounds of 100% US grown Camellia sinensis tea per year.

Growers will need to submit an entry form by October 16, 2015, and all samples will have to be in hand by October 26, 2015. For more details about the submission of teas, please visit the TOTUS Rules & Info page

Judging and Awards

The judging process will be held November 4, 2015 and is closed to the public. There are 5 esteemed jurors on the panel including Jane Pettigrew, Kevin Gascoyne, and Selena Ahmed. TOTUS Award winners will be announced online on November 7, 2015, and a celebratory event is tentatively being scheduled in Hawaii for that day as well.

Commercial growers will be competing for a cash prize in each category (White, Green, Oolong, and Black) as well as a public announcement on Totus1Awards.com.

  • 1st Place $1,000
  • 2nd Place $500
  • 3rd Place $250 

Non-commecial growers will be competing for certificate awards in each category (White, Green, Oolong, and Black) as well as a public announcement on Totus1Awards.com.

  • 1st Place certificates 
  • 2nd Place certificates 
  • 3rd Place certificates 

Did I mention that the US League of Tea Growers is a proud Camellia Sinensis Level Sponsor and we encourage our friends to look into supporting this event as well?

So, let’s hear it! How exciting is this? In just a few months, we’ll have US tea growers going head to head and standards for US grown tea will start to take form. These are exciting times my friends, exciting times indeed.

NEW: Grower Spotlight

Tea House Timesby Naomi Rosen

We’d like to send a gigantic thank you to Gail and the team at The Tea House Times! They have graciously offered the USLTG a regular monthly column on their blog, and we’ve decided that that space would be best served spotlighting our US tea growers!

There are a few ways you can help us out!

  1. Visit the Tea House Times blog and check out the very first grower spotlight: Tsubaki Camellias, Inc.
  2. Let us know what you’d like to hear about from US tea growers! What questions should we ask? What information is helpful to other growers? You can do so in the comments section below, or email our Media team directly at naomi@joysteaspoon.com.
  3. Last, but certainly not least, let us know if you and your tea growing venture would like to be featured. You must grow tea in the US, and you must be a member of the USLTG in good standing. Again, you can email our media team at naomi@joysteaspoon.com!

Again, thank you so much to The Tea House Times for supporting US tea growing efforts and thank you to our growers that are willing to share a bit about their gardens.

Tea Geese?

Tea Geese (MSU)by Naomi Rosen

A few months ago, a picture on my FB feed showed geese weeding a field. For a farmer looking for organic alternatives, this is a unique option. The researchers at MSU thought the same thing and are now conducting a 2-year study on weeder geese and tea fields. Judson LeCompte, Research Associate at Mississippi State University, was gracious enough to take a few minutes and answer some questions about the geese and the study. He also sent me some ridiculously cute pictures! Enjoy!

USLTG: What sparked the interest in researching weeder geese?

Judson: As we have been looking at factors that would affect tea growers in Mississippi, weed control kept coming up as a problem that we didn’t have a very good answer to. We can use a few different herbicides, but what happens if a grower wants to be organic? One day while talking with one of our growers, he mentioned the idea of using geese. I thought he was crazy but I looked into it. There were a couple of studies done in the 1990s, but nothing recent. I called him and asked why he thought this was such a great idea, and he said, “Judson, if it doesn’t work it will make a good story.” So far he was right, it has been very interesting. People give you really funny looks when you have 12 geese walking behind you on campus.

USLTG: What type of geese are these? Tea Geese (MSU) 4

Judson: Our geese are White Chinese Geese. This breed was developed from the Swan Goose, Anser cygnoides, in Asia as a dual purpose breed for both meat and egg production.

USLTG: Does the type of goose matter? Can you do this with any breed?

Judson: Maybe. It depends on your intent. If you have a crop that is fragile, like young tea plants, it is important to have a smaller breed, like the Chinese Goose. If you were growing something like mature fruit trees, a larger meat breed like Embden Geese would be suitable and you would have a larger bird for slaughter. Chinese Geese also have a longer neck allowing them to get in places other geese might not be able to reach. They are a noisier breed, so hopefully it will make them more intimidating to predators. But overall many breeds have been used as biological weed control for hundreds of years.

USLTG: Are there certain crops this is ideal for? 

Judson: From my research I have found they have been used to weed alfalfa, asparagus, beans, beets, berries, castor, citrus, cotton, grapes, herbs, hops, melons, onions, potatoes, and trees. The key is that they prefer to forage on tender shoots, leaving behind tougher shoots with a waxy cuticle.

Tea Geese (MSU) 2USLTG: Are there other regions that practice this type of weed control?

Judson: In the U.S. there are some organic farmers that utilize geese for weed control. Internationally, China has been using weeder geese for hundreds of years. Geese were widely used across the U.S. until the introduction of conventional herbicides. These herbicides gave excellent control allowing farmers to produce a higher yields and eliminating the need for geese.  It is important to note that each grower will have to determine the amount of weeds that are suitable for their cropping system. Geese are not going to give control that would be similar to conventional herbicides.

USLTG: How do you keep the geese from leaving?

Judson: Our geese are still in a brooder which is just a place to keep them warm and dry until they are fully feathered. Once they get fully feathered they will permanently go to a fenced holding pen. When they go to the research plots to weed they will also be fenced to a certain area of tea field. Right now we go on walks around the farm to let them graze for a couple of hours a day. They have imprinted on me and will follow me everywhere. I should change my job title to “The Goose Father.” They are domesticated so they generally will not fly. If we do have one that likes to be adventurous, we can trim the flight feathers from one wing to make them unbalanced when they try to fly. This procedure doesn’t hurt them, it is like getting a haircut. They are also easy to herd and move where you want them to go, so for farmers that don’t want to fence in their field they can just herd them like sheep.

USLTG: How do you figure out the number of geese you would need? 

Judson: There are a few recommendations around but I think a farmer should learn as they go. Each farm is going to be different in regards to weed pressure, crop, types of weeds, and climate. A figure we are going off of is 6-10 geese per acre. Keep in mind the geese do not have to weed 24/7, they can be held in a pen until weeding is necessary. You could have 50 geese per acre but they wouldn’t be able to graze as long per acre and you would have to supplement their diet with feed.

USLTG: How much do these geese eat? Tea Geese (MSU) 3

Judson: Right now our goslings are almost 4 weeks old and they eat loads! Research that I have seen with the Canada Goose shows they eat around 4 pounds a day in green forage.

USLTG: Where would one begin if they were interested in doing something similar on their farm?

Judson: Information and research on geese as a biological weed control has been limited. We are hoping to be able to share our results and management techniques, but that will be once the study is complete. Currently there are a few sites for hobbyists and many of the hatcheries provide information on using geese as weeders. Also, check with your state extension office, they should have information on raising geese.

A huge thank you to Judson for sharing his experiences and expertise. We will check in with Judson periodically to see how the geese are doing and find out the latest news. Do you have any experience working with feeder geese? Have questions about this form of weed control? We want to hear about it!