Tea time!

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No, I’m not kidding. I’m growing tea. I know it’s going to be a good long time before I can harvest anything from this little guy, but a packet of seeds was $3.00 from Bountiful Gardens, and bare root plants in my other catalogs were going for $20.00 and up. Granted, I had expected a hedge-load of tea plants instead of just one – but at least it was only $3.00. Well, $3.00 and a considerable amount of patience: I planted my seeds on 03/16/11. My little tea baby looks lonely, so I think I’d better order up another packet of seeds and make him some siblings.

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Tea is a kind of Camellia, specifically Camellia sinensis. I expected it to be difficult to find growing and fermenting information for tea, but one of my first search results was a PDF version of an article titled “Camellia sinensis: The Tea Plant” from a back issue of The Camellia Journal, and it had all the information I needed (at least enough to get started). The seed packet says to protect my tea plants from freezing temperatures, but the Camellia Journal article says that C. sinensis will grow in zones 6-9 and I’m somewhere in the area of 7b, so I may try leaving one outside some winter. Otherwise, my new friends will overwinter as houseplants until I get off my lazy ass and put that greenhouse together.

Matt and I both drink tea, and we both hate each other’s tea type. He drinks Irish breakfast with a ginormous glob of honey and I drink straight-up Earl Grey (I’m particularly fond of Stash’s Double Bergamot version), and we sit on either side of a packet of rich tea biscuits, scowling at each other’s mugs and wrinkling our noses at the stench. I won’t be able to make real Earl Grey because it is flavored with oil of bergamot, a small, thick-skinned citrus fruit that I don’t (yet?) grow. I do have the next best thing: seeds for Monarda didyma, an herbaceous perennial from the east coast of the US which is also called bergamot because it has a very similar flavor. The story goes that the Native Americans taught the early settlers to make a tisane from Monarda as a substitute for their precious and highly taxed tea. I’ll experiment with combinations of Monarda and black tea and see if I get something drinkable and Earl Grey-like. If it sucks there’s really no loss – Monarda‘s also a stunning border plant that attracts bees, and I’m planting it in an ornamental bed anyway.

— Amanda

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