Agriculture

Tea grows best in tropical and subtropical areas where adequate rainfall (200 cm), good drainage, and slightly acid soils prevail. Sinensis variety is the more cold resistant. In hot tropical areas, tea quality is improved by planting at high altitudes, as practiced in India and Sri Lanka, where tea is cultivated at elevations up to 2,000 m. The tea plant is maintained by pruning as a low shrub (1-1.5 m) at a density of 5,000 to 10,000 plants/ha. Tea is now primarily propagated from leaf cuttings rather than from seed. The establishment of desirable clones is accomplished by selection on the basis of beverage quality, yield, pest and frost resistance, and other criteria dictated by local conditions and marketing considerations. Yields have been greatly increased and exceed 6,000 kg/ha in some clonal fields, although national averages are very much lower (1). Tissue culture of tea is under investigation as a method for producing and rapidly replicating new clonal material. Plants have been regenerated and set out in soil (4). Tea can remain productive for many decades; some 100-year-old plantings are still being harvested. The use of irrigation, fertilizers, mulches, and pesticides has been extensively researched in many tea-growing areas and the results reported in the journals of the various tea research institutes (5-8). Pesticides banned in the United States are not used (9).

New tea growth (flush) is harvested at intervals of 6 to 12 days depending on climatic conditions. In cooler areas such as North India, Japan, and Georgia there is a dormancy period. Plucking is a hand operation on most estates. Varying degrees of mechanization are being applied in some countries where terrain and labor costs are appropriate. These range from handheld cutters powered by small back-packed gasoline engines to large self-propelled harvesters that straddle the tea row. Removing the apical bud and two leaves below it ("two and a bud") constitutes the ideal plucking practice, but it is not always realized, and never with mechanical harvesting. Tea estates range in size from small peasant holdings of 1 ha or less to large establishments of up to 1,000 ha. The larger estates usually include housing, schools, hospitals, and other facilities for the workers employed in this labor-intensive activity. Labor utilization is often at the rate of 3 persons/ha. Plucking may account for half of the total requirement.

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