Growing tea is a very long term project but it’s been a while since we have updated on the progress of the tea plantation located in the grounds of ‘Just Live A Little’ farm and granola factory on the shores of Strangford Lough on the Ards Peninsula.
The tea planting guru, Nigel Mellican, who helped with the initial phase of the ‘Grow Tea NI’ project, once told me that, ‘the best thing to put on the land is the farmer’s boots’. Annie and I, and the good folk at Just Live A little had been putting in our hours, but we soon realised we needed an expert eye on the job. We live a long distance from the tea garden and frequent monitoring of progress and hands on approach was always going to be the key to its success.
On reaching out for a local keen gardener, Darren Kelly (26) made contact and we knew that the tea garden would be in safe hands! Darren was on a 3-year trip travelling Australia, but it was cut short due to Covid so moved back to Portaferry. During his time in Australia he worked for a company called Withcott Seedlings. They were suppliers of vegetable seedlings to the east coast of Australia. It was there he took an interest in this line of work. It’s hard graft but as Darren is a blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and recently spent 2 months in Thailand on a Muay Thai boxing training camp, that didn’t phase him.
Darren has helped with nurturing and caring for the seedlings and nursery plants under polytunnel, and with providing the ideal conditions for these to flourish, and with transplanting these out into the Tea Garden. Maintaining correct temperature, light intensity, humidity, airing of plants and watering is key to successful tea nursery management, so his expertise came in handy. Active growth requires night temperatures to remain above 10°C and day temperatures to remain below 30°C. He then worked to harden the plants for planting out, prepping the ground, and planting out over 500 plants, keeping them irrigated and recently creating a protective wind shield for imminent wintry days.
Darren has future plans to teach English around the world. For now, he is continuing to be our main man on the ground – a shout out to Darren for his hard work and devoted attention to the Portaferry Tea Garden! Bring on 2022 when we can finally harvest and have a cuppa from our very own Tea Garden.