USLTG, Robert McArthur
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USLTG Grower Spotlight: Robert McArthur - Mobile, Alabama (Northern Gulf Coast)

Friday, July 10th 2015 @ 12:00 AM

Once the US League of Tea Growers launched its’ first official membership drive, we started to find that we had many, many tea growers that had started as hobbyists and for years have been successfully growing! Robert is one such man. He’s now looking for more space on his land to grow - what a problem to have!

 

How long have you been growing tea? 

10 years ago I began purchasing roughly a dozen tea plants from various sources.  From this I gathered an interesting variety of plants.

 

How much tea are you growing? 

Currently I have roughly 300 plants in the ground in my suburban neighborhood landscape of just under 1/2 acre.

 

What got you started? 

My interest in moving beyond a handful of plants came when I sat in on a lecture by Fairhope Tea Plantation (Baldwin Co. Alabama) owner Donnie Barrett.  This inspired me to propagate additional plants from the ones I had already maturing in my yard.  Barrett promotes propagation by cuttings rather than by seed.  Following his formula I began taking cuttings from my existing plants each fall and rooting them in a cold-frame over winter.  I have been doing this each year producing from 60 - 80 plants per year.  The success rate for this process is very high.

 

Any special tips/tricks for growing tea where you are located? Soil issues? Water issues? 

Propagation by cuttings:  In the fall take cuttings of present year growth 4 - 5 inches in length with 2 - 3 leaves.  Dip the cut end in water and dip in rooting hormone and then root in a container of moist vermiculite.  Place container in a cold frame for the winter to protect from the cold and to keep in the moisture/humidity.  Check occasionally to maintain moisture.  In the summer, before it gets too hot, the plants will be ready to be potted or put in the ground  in a shady area to allow to ‘harden.’  After a year or so, transplant to a permanent sunny location.

 

Anything in particular you would like to share about what you've had to overcome? 

For me, the greatest obstacle to overcome has been the lack of an all-inclusive written source of information on tea plant propagation and maintenance.  There are sources that exist, but obtaining one, written in English, is not a simple task.  For me, there has been a great deal of trial and error.  My greatest challenge and the one I am still trying to overcome is the proper technique for pruning to insure the most healthy and productive plant.  My tea garden is still very much a work in progress.

 

Are you growing anything in conjunction with tea? Something symbiotic? 

I also grow Japanese Maples and few citrus trees.   Recently I have added a few small olive trees to my landscape.  I have worked these olive trees into my tea garden.  Each of these trees has basically the same soil and fertilization needs as the tea plants and will offer some, but not too much, shade for the plants during mid-day hot spells.

 

What's the best part about growing tea? 

To drink a cup of tea with the knowledge that you have taken this cup through every stage from seed/cutting to the finished product in the cup is beyond satisfying.  You can truly taste the freshness of the tea.  The taste is distinctive and makes all the effort worthwhile.

 

Do you process tea? Do you sell tea?  

I do process my own tea.  This in itself has been an interesting ‘trial and error’ experience.  My first attempts were in the line of a green tea and has worked its way through the spectrum to more of a black tea in recent times.   Up to this point, what I have processed has been in fairly small quantities - enough only for my own consumption.  As more and more of my young plants mature in the next few years, I expect my production to increase a great deal.  I hope that in the not too distant future I may be producing enough to begin offering it for sale.  Stay tuned.

 


~ USLTG - US LEAGUE OF TEA GROWERS

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USLTG ~ The US League of Tea Growers, a non-profit organization, provides education, resources, networking and support to tea growers across all 50 states. Their goal is to promote knowledge of specialty tea, encourage collaboration, represent US tea growers on the international front, and recruit academia to establish "best practices" for  growers here in the US. Find USLTG on Facebook here:  http://www.facebook.com/usltg  Website here: http://www.usteagrowers.com

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