After the last batch of teas was sent to Estonia at the beginning of November, we went straight to the fields to start with plantation maintenance works and prepare the fields for spring. From this season, Mario has been taking the responsibility for managing and coordinating all the works in our plantations and therefore we stayed in Georgia also for the winter. So, here’s what we have been up to during the last few months:
A new team
Firstly we started with the most important thing - formulating a new team who would work in the plantations. Since the end of the last season, we adjusted our working practices based on the experience we have gained. Since the bushes are bigger and weed controlling will get easier now every year, we don’t need to have big groups of temporary workers. Therefore, we decided to move towards smaller professional teams who would be working full time all year round. Most of the permanent workers are still coming from nearby villages, but the approach is different.
Meet our new field team (from the left) - Mishiko, Varlam, Daviti, Saba, Soso and Mario
Making cow-proof fences
The first week in November was spent fixing all the fences and gates in our plantations to avoid the unwanted four-legged friends who like to wander between the tea bushes and during the wintertime, also to give a little trim to the bushes. This went relatively smoothly and after we finished with this project, we were really eager to move on to the cleaning part.
Daviti and Varlam fixing fences at Rioni Estate
At the moment we have around 30 hectares of productive tea fields combined in all of our three estates. We started with cleaning the Renegade Estate. One of the first plots that we cleaned from weeds was in an area that was “abandoned” since last June so you can imagine the jungle that we had there. As the tea bushes were really small in some places, then the whole section was cleaned by hands and this took a lot of time. We had really mixed emotions with this one - it took a lot of resources but in the end, when we saw the final result, it gave a little motivation boost and we were ready to move to the next one. The first months were spent cleaning the fields at Renegade Estate.
Deep pruning and fertilizing
As our tea bushes have matured and grown quite a bit, we have also started with the next cycle of the rehabilitation process - deep pruning the bushes to about 30 cm height to stimulate new growth and spreading of the “frame”. We are doing deep pruning for around 6-7 hectares this year and mainly at Renegade Estate. Also, during the pruning we have been cultivating the soil between the rows and applying organic fertilizers to some of the plots. We also plan to apply some vermicompost and sawdust to the deep pruned areas, but this is something that is still on our task list and needs to get done before the bushes start to grow again.
Each step is coordinated also with our organic certification partner to make sure that everything is done according to their guidelines. This process continues next winter with another 7-10 hectares. It is something new for us and it will be very interesting to see how the pruned bushes develop during the new season and what we can learn from this experience.
1,5 months to go
Until now we have managed to clean in total around 17 hectares of fields, deep pruned around 6 hectares of fields, and medium pruned (cutting the bushes to about 60 cm height) around 5 hectares of fields. So far we have finished with all the works at Rioni Estate and done the majority of cleaning and pruning works at Renegade Estate.
The weather was quite tricky in February and also now at the beginning of March - we had rain, we had snow. On some days it feels like spring is coming, but the next day the fields are covered in snow again. This has forced pauses on our plantation works, but we have been using every single day when there were no precipitations to manage as much as we could. We have quite an ambitious plan with our plantation works that we want to accomplish before our harvest season starts, so now we are hoping for good weather and no unexpected surprises. Fingers crossed!
Snow at Renegade Estate, February 2021
During this month we are going to clean the fields from the weeds and do deep pruning together with fertilizing in Mandikori. As we don’t have a lot of time left until the tea starts to grow, we will use the approach of putting together one big team of guys from nearby villages to help us to clean the whole plantation within a week or so, and our main team will take care of the pruning and fertilizing part so we could be ready on time with all the needed works.
The weather stations
In the last week of February, we also installed our first weather stations so we could monitor and analyze the weather situation better in our plantation. We started with installing two different weather stations, both to Rioni Estate, to firstly compare them before installing more of them to all of our plantations. This is again one small, but also a big step ahead to be a proper tea farm :)
Mario installing the weather stations at Rioni Estate
We can feel the pressure
Let’s say that we can feel the pressure. Time just flies by and as the weather is dictating everything that is happening on the fields, it doesn’t make planning very easy, but this is just the way it is in agriculture. On a positive note - we have managed to do quite a lot and we are very happy with the team of people whom we are working with at the moment. Walking in Rioni and Renegade Estate feels already quite good. Soon it will feel the same in Mandikori! :)
Renegade Estate, March 2021