Growing Tea: An Experiment

A few weeks ago in the midst of spring, I moved forward with a little tea planting project that had been on my mind for the longest time. Out of sheer curiosity, I reached out to my friends at Big Island Tea, asking if they might be able to send along a few tea plant seeds for me to experiment with.

Known for growing some of the best tea in Hawaii, Eliah and Cam of Big Island Tea were nice enough to send along a generous packet of tea seeds. After picking them up from the mailbox I came straight home to get them settled in.In side and shape, the tea seeds reminded me of unhusked hazelnuts. I was surprised that the seeds were so large. The seeds came with a quick note: Try to plant ASAP-keep soil most-acidic fertilizer. Aloha, Eliah. For a clueless wannabe gardener like myself, this was an adventure to say the least. 

Eliah of Big Island Tea is a busy lady. On any given day she’s busy about her tea farm–growing tea, processing tea, and even giving tea farm tours. Not wanting to pepper her with annoying questions, I went ahead and planted the seeds in regular potting soil mixed with extra perlite for better drainage. Did she say perlite? No…but like I told you, I’m experimenting!In a few of the pots, I placed 2 seeds instead of one. Again, I had no idea if this was right. What Eliah did mention was to keep the pots in the shade, to ensure good drainage and to spritz with water when the first spout appears.

I placed the seeds about 1″ down into biodegradable planters filled with regular potting soil, then gave them a good shower with water. As the soil compacted, I topped each potted plant with a bit more soil and showered them again until the dirt was just moist.

To keep the soil acidic, I purchased some peat moss which I used to top the pots as the soil compacted over the following days. Occasionally, I would water with leftover tea–a trick that Eliah taught me when I visited her on the Big Island last year.

Status report: Success!! It’s taken about 5 weeks of watering and waiting and I’m thrilled to show you the first sprout to appear! Beautiful, isn’t it? I’ll be reporting back soon, perhaps a mid-summer update…stay tuned!

Eliah’s Tips for Planting Tea Seeds:

Keep soil moist

Use acidic fertilizer

Grow in the shade

Ensure good drainage

Use sprayer at first sprout

Water with tea

A big mahalo to Eliah of Big Island Tea for the seeds and tips! My gardening pal, Ben (my mom’s King Charles Cavalier), and I worked hard planting the seeds back in mid-May and are thrilled with the results!

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Bonnie Eng

Thanks Jen!! It’s been super exciting seeing the new sprouts. For someone has no clue how to garden, it’s a thrilling feeling! Will update soon! 😉

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Lu Ann @ The Cup of Life

Ooooh, so looking forward to updates on your tea plants now! There is a greenhouse that is by my house that sells a bunch of plants, and one year they had tea plants! I bought two and they did well in the Canadian summer, but I failed them during the Canadian winter, lol. I moved one inside my house, and I moved one inside our little greenhouse. The one in the greenhouse lasted much longer than the other. I really need to get more and try again!

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Bonnie Eng

Thanks Lu Ann!! These little sprouts are truly a labor of love. I’ve had to move their location since summer started and am hoping that they continue to do well! 😉

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Nicole Martin

Lucky you, getting seeds all the way from Hawaii! Growing tea is challenging but definitely a lot of fun. I had some seeds from Russia that were growing well but then a neighborhood squirrel decided that they were tasty 😛

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Bonnie Eng

Thank you, Nicole!! Indeed, it is challenging…gives you that much more respect for those artisans who grow tea! We have squirrels around these parts too–hope they leave my sprouts alone!! 🙂

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Anna @ The Tea Squirrel

OMG Bonnie, this is amazing! I’ve been dreaming of growing my own tea plant since forever! I cannot wait for your updates on the growth of the little tea plants, they are gorgeous! How long until you can harvest and process your own tea?

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Bonnie Eng

Anna!! If I can get these to a more robust state, I will hand one off to you when we meet up!! And umm, ya, I think I’ll stick to drinking Eliah’s fabulous tea–don’t want to get sick. 😛

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Bea

I love your new tea plant project! I never thought about tea plants having seeds.. but funnily enough they indeed resemble hazelnuts! Good luck with your gardening Bonnie. Looking forward to your update and how the plants are coming along 🙂

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sassy

I love gardening & my balcony is always full of plants!!! Now I want tea plant :)) I never seen seeds from them here in Croatia so I need to find them online

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Bonnie Eng

Yes, see if you can find some! It’s so exciting to see them grow! 🙂

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Alex Zorach

Wow, this is exciting. Growing plants from seed is something I always find very fulfilling, in part because it’s unpredictable; i.e. conditions have to be right for things to sprout, so I always feel excited when things actually sprout, and then more so when they survive the little seedling stage to go on to become actual plants.

I’ll be curious to see how this plays out. I have never grown tea…I have a (very sad-looking, currently) coffee plant that I’ve had for about 5 years or maybe a little more…it once produced a single coffee bean!

I hope this goes well for you and you get to actually enjoy some tea that you grew yourself!

It’s probably too cold to grow tea outdoors where I live. There is one plant in a small garden near me but it’s nestled in a protected alcove against a building and near some heating vents, where there is a little micro-climate that allows a variety of more cold-sensitive plants to also thrive.

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Jenn

I want to hear more about this tea-growing experiment/experience!!! I just stumbled onto your site this morning, and I haven’t gotten ANY work done because of it. I love it! 🙂 I’ll have to check back to see if I can learn more things, since I’ve only read through about half of the site!!!

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Bonnie Eng

Hey Jenn! Sorry for the late reply…I just had to get back to you because your message was so sweet. 🙂 I will post an update of my baby tea plants sometime soon. Not all of them survived, but I guess that’s what happens when you have no clue what you are doing. For sure, the process is giving me a new appreciation for tea! Thanks again for the kind message! 😉

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