Winter cover crops to prepare for planting tea plants

Asked July 17, 2017, 12:59 PM EDT

Hi. I am planning on starting a tea farm on chehalem mountain in yamhill county. I have a couple of questions as things get started. First, I have five hundred tea seeds just beginning to germinate in 4" deep pots but in my rush to get the seed in I did not incorporate fertilizer in the potting mix. I would prefer to keep it organic. Is there an organic fertilizer you would recommend as a top dress? My second question is regarding preparing the land for planting out the tea. I have two years until I need to plant out and would like to incorporate as much nitrogen and organic matter as possible in the interim. I have not yet done soil testing but plan to soon. The field has primarily had a horse and Llama on it and more recently light cattle grazing. It has steep slopes. Any recommendations on what cover crops I should plant through the next couple of years? I have limited equipment available - a light tact or with mower and tiller and a light discer. I appreciate any help you can give me. I have experience as nursery worker and a groundskeeper and a degree in biology but very little farming experience. Thanks, Jesse Dillow

Yamhill County Oregon

1 Response

Camellia sinensis does best at pH 4.5 to 5.5. Regardless of the potting media, your plants will benefit from a fertilizer that acidifies the soil, like those sold for azaleas and camellias. If you are growing your bushes to harvest the leaves, then a fertilizer high in nitrogen is recommended.

Buckwheat, annual rye, field peas, common vetch, fava beans, sudan grass, and crimson clover are all good winter cover crops. To best add nitrogen and organic matter to the soil, utilize a full-season legume cover crop. Additionally, if the ground has been under pasture, it may be compacted and it would benefit from cover crops that can break up the soil.

The following publications may be useful in thinking more critically about the benefits of different cover crops, particularly on your unique site.

- Using Cover Crops in Oregon

- Cover Crops for Vegetable Growers

Depending on how steep the slope is, you may want to build terraces on the slope to make harvesting the tea leaves easier for your harvest crew.