The fragile white blooms on Lee Gulley’s camellia vegetation are only a bonus. The true treasure is the brand new development shoots on the high of his decorative evergreens.
“It’s the tip and the highest two leaves, that’s what you decide,” mentioned Gulley, who’s constructing a fledgling farm-to-cup tea leaf enterprise. He’s cultivated about 500 vegetation on his Lobelia property up to now.
Rising tea wasn’t on his radar a couple of years again when he visited the Fayetteville Camellia Pageant. However in the course of the occasion, his household participated in a Japanese tea ceremony and Gulley was smitten.
Black tea, inexperienced tea, oolong tea and white tea are thought of the 4 true teas. What’s exceptional is that they’re all produced from the identical species, the frequent tea plant or Camellia sinensis.
“I had all the time favored tea they usually had a couple of tea vegetation on the market on the pageant. Slowly I started to construct up a group and began doing extra analysis. North Carolina is about as far north as you may go to efficiently increase a tea crop.”
A landscaper by commerce, Gulley has lived within the space for the reason that Nineteen Eighties. His brother owns Gulley’s Backyard Middle in downtown Southern Pines. Each grew up in tobacco nation in Edgecombe County.
“Our complete household enjoys rising issues. Alone, I realized about tea, decide it and course of it.”
Gulley additionally found out that he’d want a complete lot of vegetation to supply sufficient materials to market his tea commercially. He and his spouse, Karen, established Pinehurst Tea Backyard within the Lobelia group close to Vass, the place he grows his vegetation organically, although the farm is just not formally licensed as natural.
Just lately the couple constructed a processing shed with an outside gas-fired cooking space, due to a $7,700 grant by the College of Mount Olive AgPrime program. The funding is supported by the North Carolina Tobacco Belief Fund Fee and allotted to North Carolina farmers for brand spanking new and/or revolutionary initiatives in communities which have been negatively impacted by the downturn of the tobacco economic system.
Gulley mentioned the watertight shed offers area to dry out and roll the tea leaves, and likewise means the operation can meet state meals security necessities. There are totally different processing strategies for black tea and inexperienced tea, that are the 2 varieties he plans to focus on. The objective is to start promoting commercially subsequent spring.
“I’m nonetheless within the developmental stage,” he mentioned, noting there’s been a steep studying curve, particularly in terms of roasting the inexperienced tea leaves correctly. He’s additionally spent about 4 years perfecting when, the place and the way deep to prune the vegetation for greatest outcomes.
Camellias are slow-growing however simply maintained. They’re additionally warmth and drought tolerant, and like sandy well-drained soil. The Sandhills are a fairly preferrred match, agriculturally, however Gulley mentioned it nonetheless takes follow and endurance.
“It’s a labor intensive crop” and requires handpicking every shoot to ensure the leaves should not broken within the harvesting effort. Gulley mentioned lower leaves lose each worth and taste and are the explanation tea can typically style bitter.
Pinehurst Tea Backyard merchandise will likely be marketed on-line by subsequent yr. For now, Gulley mentioned he’s trying ahead to assembly different passion growers and retains busy promoting daylilies, one other of his artisanal crops, at native farmers markets. To contact Lee Gulley, electronic mail firstname.lastname@example.org