Thursday, 12 July 2012

Growing Tea and Loving It

 REAL WORLD GARDENER Wed. 5pm 2RRR 88.5fm Sydney and Across Australia on the Community Radio Network.
The complete CRN edition of RWG is available on , just click on 2RRR to find this week’s edition.

Compost Capers:

with Cameron Little from  By now you might’ve guessed that I think that composting plays an important role in the garden. You might remember a few weeks ago I mentioned that some gardeners refer to the liquid you get from worm farms as worm tea or black gold. In fact, recently I’ve used a dilute mixture of worm tea to green up some yellow looking Slipper Orchids. Magic. But sometimes getting a worm farm going can be problematic. Hopefully Cameron can fix all that.
The worms and other micro-organisms break down the food scraps before they have a chance to rot. Did you know that around 90% of greenhouse gas emissions from landfills are a result of decomposing organic material such as food waste? If you’re having problems with your existing worm farm, drop us a line to and Cameron or the RWG team will be happy to help.

Vegetable Heroes:

O.K. I hear you. Growing tea is not vegetables, but it is growing something that you can consume nevertheless. Commercial growers use two varieties of Camellias. The China tea bush, or Camellia chinensis var chinensis, produces small tea leaves and grows to about 1.6m. It’is a very hardy, multi-stemmed but slow growing shrub. The leaves are dark green, glossy and small as you would expect being a Camellia. The second variety, which will be hard to source for the home gardener is the Assam tea bush (Camellia chinensis var Assamica) The Assam tea bush has much larger leaves-almost twice the size leaves of the China tea bush. The leaves grow up to20cm or 8 inches. It’is quick growing and loosely branched. Assam tea leaves are light green and glossy. What’s nice about growing the tea plant, is that right now it has small, (about 8cm wide), single white flowers with a bunch of yellow stamens in the centre. The white flowers set off the dark green leaves- so very attractive. The Camellia sinensis var sinensis plant is a small shrub about 1.6-2 metres in height, though it will grow taller if you don't prune it. Camellia sinensis  can withstand hot droughts and severe winters so you can grow it virtually in all climates of Australia. You don't need a large garden to grow your own tea and being a small and slow grower, pot or tub culture suits this plant right down to the ground. Camellia sinensis var. sinensis, or the Tea Camellia, grows just like any other Camellia bush that you might have growing in your garden. I’ve got to say though, it’s one of the slowest growing Camellias that I know. If you’re having trouble getting plant, you can grow it from seed, available from  and online organic seed company called To make  green tea -Pick the very youngest leaves and leaf buds. Blot the leaves dry, and let them dry in the shade for a few hours. Steam the leaves (like you would vegetables) on your stove for about a minute. Spread the leaves on a baking sheet and dry in the oven at 120 C for 20 minutes. Store the dried tea leaves in an air-tight container To make black tea- Pick the very youngest leaves and leaf buds like before. Roll the leaves between your hands, and crush them until the leaves start to darken and turn red. Spread them out on a tray, and leave them in a cool location for 2-3 days. Dry them in the oven at 120 C (250F)  for about 20 minutes. Store in an air-tight container. Tea bushes can be attacked by mites, scales, aphids, and caterpillars, but most pest problems can be solved with horticultural oil, that kills pests by suffocating them, without harming birds or other beneficial insects.
Barnsley Manor, England. photo:M. Cannon

Design Elements:

  Design Elements is a garden design segment that not only lets you find out about different ideas for your garden, but also what some design features actually mean and how they can shape the appearance of your garden, turning it from a bit more than ordinary to extraordinary.  This series begins a lesson on Structure in the Garden with Lesley Simpson, garden designer. Let’s find out more.

Plant of the Week:

Grevillea "Pick O the Crop". Released in 2011. Genus species:  Grevillea bipinnatifida x thyrsoides This is what I would call a sub-shrub, sort of between a ground cover and low shrub, growing to 30cm high but spreading to over a metre. The plant breeders, Austraflora say that it has a medium frost tolerance that means down to  -30 C.     Grevilleas like full sun to light shade and you can grow it in all parts of Australia, because according to Austraflora, it will do well in  Cool temperate to tropical & semi arid; 1st line coastal.
As will all Grevilleas, a well drained site will gaurantee success. Pruning is minimal with groundcover types of Grevilleas, just trim off the finished flowers and give it a tidy up about once a year.
Grevilleas of all types attract nectar feeding birds, and if you plant a corner of your garden with various Banksias and Grevilleas of differing heights, with perhaps a birdbath or some sort of water for the birds, you should be successful.
For a picture of this particular Grevillea, go to

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