Cultivation of Tea

The first tea bushes of commercial quantity were planted in Sri Lanka by James Taylor, at Loolecondera Estate in Lower Hewaheta in the Kandy district, in 1867. Since then, following the coffee blight in the mid 1800s, all of the coffee which was grown in the mid and high grown district has been replaced with tea.

Initially, when land was allocated to the British people (when Sri Lanka was a colony of the United Kingdom), the jungles were cleared and burnt down and tea seedlings were planted in rows up and down the hill sides.The old seedling tea took many years to reach maturity and provide adequate ground cover and was very low yielding. With research and development after World War II, the seedling tea planted was of selected variety and produced higher yields. Yet, even the best seedling tea could manage to produce at best, only around 1,250kg per hectare with the introduction of chemical fertilising which was not available until the early 1900s.
In the early 1950s tea was planted using vegetative propagated (VP) cuttings grown in tea nurseries as against direct planting of tea seeds in the field. In simple terms, vegetative propagated means tea cuttings which consist of a 1” to 1 ½“ long stalk planted in individual baskets (now in polythene seals) filled with earth.

Prior to planting of tea the land must be cleared of existing growth, be it old tea, jungle or bare land. This is followed by deep forking the land to the depth of 18” to 24” by which all old roots and stones are removed and the land levelled. After levelling, lateral and leader drains are cut to prevent erosion caused by heavy rains.

Rehabilitation of the soil is achieved by planting Guatemala or Mana grass which is sustained for at least two years. This grass is fertilised twice a year with a special grass fertiliser and lopped regularly (twice a year) and provide 10 to 15 tons of mulch per lopping which enhances fertilising of tilts of the ground.

While the prepared land is under rehabilitation, a nursery of tea plants is nurtured one year prior to planting. Planting would generally need to take place during the monsoon so that there is adequate moisture for the tea plant in its first one to six months after being planted.

The tea plant growth phase requires it to be trained for the next two to three years through regular fertilisation and selective trimming to develop its frame into becoming a mature tea bush. Tea plants could be selected from various clones to suit the requirements of the locality and also that of the grower such as yield, agro climatic conditions, type of land, quality of the tea product itself etc. Generally, the new clonal tea could yield 4,000 to 5,000kg per hectare in Sri Lankan conditions and in the virgin soils of Africa and Indonesia, production can even be as high as 10,000 to 12,000kg per hectare.

When the bush develops and a complete ground cover is established (which would take two to three years depending on the climatic conditions and elevation), the tea bushes could be harvested on a regular basis which is approximately once in eight to ten days. The following potential of the tea plant would be achieved only after it receives its second prune and should continue for around 30 to 40 years. Pruning is carried out on a regular basis, once in every three to five years depending on the growing conditions which are related to elevation and climatic conditions.

About F&W

Forbes & Walker was set up in 1881 as a partnership between James Forbes and Chapmen Walker. Although there is no actual record of the date on which it was established the very first cash book, still in the possession of the Finance Director, indicates the brokerages were earned from 1st August 1881. In Sir Thomas Villiers' book “Mercantile Lore” the date of establishment of Forbes & Walker has been put down      Read More...

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