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Tea is an essential part of everyday life for many Aussies. More than half of the over fifties drink nearly 11 cups a week on average. If you love your cuppa and like to garden, have you ever contemplated the idea of growing your own tea?
Pia Dowling loves brewing her home-grown herbal tea every morning.
The leaves are freshly picked in an aromatic surrounding with frequent visitors of nature ranging from the bees to butterflies.
“I might have some German chamomile, some lemongrass, some mint, some variety of pineapple sage, whatever I’ve got I just put basically a pinch of each of those into the pot, then I put evaporated sea salt. So, I usually put about a large pinch of that, and then I can use that brew to rehydrate myself during the day so the results help so that you don’t get cramp at two in the morning!”
Dowling has fine-tuned her tea-planting process into a book that describes how you can grow your own tea.
By using sustainable techniques it saves her time, cost and water without using chemical.
The weather isn’t her main concern since she’s dug into different kinds of soil across various parts of New Zealand and Australia.
Her secret lies in the nutritious soil made from rainwater and recycled kitchen scraps.
“It provides essential nutrients for plants, moisture for the plant so your plants are going to be the most rigorous and healthy that they can be so when you are then extracting the leaves and the stems and the stalks and the flowers, they are going to be absolutely maximum maturation and you know…nutrients that your body is gonna go ‘hoora!’”
Tea plants can take between three to five years to reach maturity for harvesting.
Dowling’s own experience shows you can speed up the process by following the right steps. She recommends seating the viable soil with compost for about 14 days before starting to grow your tea plants.
“Your plants will grow magnificently within six to twelve months, you can brew your own tea.”
Kym Cooper is a tea connoisseur with an online tea business.
She runs tea workshops and meet-ups for tea enthusiasts in Brisbane.
As a passionate tea practitioner, Cooper has tried growing her own camellia sinensis tea plant at home in the inner suburb of Brisbane.
She finds it challenging to grow tea plants in the hot Queensland climate.
“What tends to happen is I get these really young cuttings from the nursery and I put them into pots and as soon as I start to get some new growth from the bug set, the possums absolutely love the plants and they’ll nibble down all of the new growth and it certainly impacts the way that plant behaves and they tend to die on me after that. They don’t really recuperate very well.”
Cooper finds that Australia’s tea enthusiasts are more into exploring the stories behind the teas they purchase instead of growing their own.
“I think what happens with tea enthusiasts or tea practitioners is that there might be a bit of a desire to see how the tea plant actually grows and how you can emulate that process of finished tea for yourself but I just don’t think the reward would be there necessarily in terms of getting enough tea to drink.”
At Queensland’s tropical north, Margaret Wilson runs Brynhill Farm which specialises in growing camellia sinensis - one of hundreds of different species of camellias grown around the world.
The tea plant can be processed into black, green, white or oolong tea depending on your method.
Wilson is getting interests from Australians of diverse backgrounds sourcing camellia sinensis plants to grow their own cuppa.
“We all know that tea bags are detrimental to environment and to our own health so to grow your own tea straight away, you have access to freshly picked loose leaf tea and then you can process it in any form you want. So if you’re a black tea drinker, it’s really easy to do a Google search and find out how to make your own black tea using the oven or the microwave or something. If you prefer white tea or green tea it’s as anything to make your own and it’s going to be loose leaf pesticide free and hoe grown.”
The national guidelines encourage people aged over 65 to engage in physical activity for at least 30 minutes a day to stay healthy.
As a dietician and a tea farmer, Wilson highly recommends gardening to improve one’s physical and mental wellbeing.
She says it comes down to personal choice at the end of the day.
“Improving your health, your heart health, your mental health. There are studies showing it improves arthritis, diabetes, dementia risk. There are so many benefits to doing it and I think consumers make time for what is important to them so they can choose to spend 10 hours a week watching television or they can choose to spend 10 hours doing something that benefits their health.”