One thing tea bushes do not like is the cold. Nor do they take to dry weather. Every year from mid-December to the beginning of March, Assam experiences its cold dry season. The tea bushes go dormant, refusing to put out any new leaf.
We have not plucked a cup’s worth of tea at Chota Tingrai since December. But that does not mean we have not been busy! Here’s everything we doing in the gardens.
- We prune the tea bushes: To promote healthy growth in the spring, we prune tea bushes on a three-year cycle—unpruned, deep skiff, and light prune. Ironically, light pruning entails the most cutting of the tea bushes.
Comparison of unpruned and light pruned tea
Pruning is necessary to maintain the garden’s table, and the shape of the bush. The bush will grow into a tree otherwise. Additionally, pruning increases the number of pluck points, and the ratio of new leaf to maintenance leaves, improving the yield of the bush.
We rotate the pruning the garden into thirds (one third unpruned, one third deep skiff, one third light prune) to keep the garden healthy and manageable.
- We make compost: Cold Weather Season is a great time to make compost. During the rainy seasons, we can find plenty of cow dung and green manure, but face a scarcity of dry carbon material. But in cold weather season the shade trees drop their old leaves. And the pruned branches of the tea bushes dry out quickly in the dry air. Both make great sources of carbon for composting.
Our Cold Season 2017 compost
- We fix the tea garden drains: Chota Tingrai has over 50 kilometers of drains running through the gardens. Since these are dirt drains, they erode in the rainy season. We regular re-dig them during the dry days of the cold season. The large drains we cut with a tractor. The small drains we cut by hand.
A drain at Chota Tingrai Tea Estate
- We trim the shade trees: Ensuring that the bushes receive the proper balance of sun and shade is an important part of tea management. During the cold season, we trim the shade trees with a pole saw to ensure the proper balance in the spring and summer.
- We fix fences, especially the "goat proof" ones: We also have over 20 kilometers of “goat proof fence” on Chota Tingrai Tea Estate. Thanks to the goats’ lack of understanding on its goat proof-ness, we spend a lot of time fixing gaps made over, under, and through the fence.
- We plant new tea: We plant new tea in cold season. (A lot more about this in future blogs.)
With so much to do, the “off season” is really the busiest time of year at an organic Assam tea garden!