Sunday, March 13, 2011

The humble Blushing Maiden

In our quest to try to provide more foodstuff ourselves from our medium sized suburban lot, we have had to learn a lot about exactly where the things we love come from. Tea and coffee are often the furthest travelers to our table and so I took it upon myself to find out more about growing tea.

Now, there is a new tea farm here in our Cowichan Valley ( but his bushes are too small yet to produce marketable tea so I figured if he could grow tea, so could I. The first hurdle was finding a supplier. Called the local nurseries first and had no luck at all. Even left a standing order at one in case they found any and never even got a call back. Then, when I got an email from Bob and Verna Duncan about my bare root apple trees, I thought, heck why not ask. Surprise, surprise, not only did their supplier have some but they had an inventory that was just being prepared for sale. Yesterday Gerry and I drove to their 1 acre citrus-growing mecca and picked up six little Blushing Maiden (camellia sinensis) tea bushes.

Being a variant of this area's ever-present camellia bush, these little beauties are hardy to Zone 7 (we are a Zone 7/8 border I think) so planting outside against the house should provide a great growing area. They also like acidic soil which we have and sun or partial shade. Sounds perfect so far! But the greatest bonus I have found to my Blushing Maidens is that they flower in the fall, when all the other blooms have gone. Apparently bees love their small pink blooms. So here we are satisfying my need for a closer to home tea supply and the need for lengthening the nectar season for my soon-to-arrive bee colonies -- all with something that doesn't require too much effort to make successful.

These bushes grow to about 4 ft. and for green tea all you do is pick the young three end leaves off each branch (early spring and late summer) and steep some in boiling water. Of course, if you have other herbs in your yard, they also can be steeped to give a combination green/herbed tea.The variations for this type of tea are potentially endless as I am converting a formerly ornamenetal flower bed into a herb bed.

In order to get a black tea (the kind I prefer most of all), the leaves have to be allowed to oxidize and dehydrate (thanks to Wikipedia for such a complete and procedural description of the variations in tea leaf processing). There are a variety of teas that result from different curing or "fermenting" options including white, yellow, red, black, and oolong. Amazing really when I thought these were all different types of tea plant and not just the way in which they are processed after picking. Sounds like there will be a lot of experimenting to find the method that we like best.

On a day when the news is devastatingly awful and we lament for the lives lost in Japan and Christchurch and Libya, six little Blushing Maidens give me hope that life is full of good surprises and optimism.

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