I have been wanting to grow my own tea plants since the first time I visited a Japanese tea farm back in 2017. However, I did not get any tea seeds until just recently, when a friend of mine traveled to Wazuka and sent me some once she was back in Europe.
While I am not new to growing plants out of seeds, I used to have 150 tomato plants in my balcony during the time I lived in Glasgow, I have never grown a tea plant from a seed before. Neither I have grown anything here in Sweden for that matter. Technically, I haven't grown any tea plant yet since even though I managed to get some sprouts, the most developed tea plant I currently have is so tiny that I am not sure if it qualifies to be referred to as a tea plant. Plus I am not entirely sure if it will survive, so I cannot say I have successfully managed to grow tea plants out of seeds, at least not yet. My goal is to re-purpose an old aquarium and to grow at least one tea plant inside. I would love to have more than one inside the aquarium/terrarium but I do not think they would grow properly since tea plants have a very complex set of roots. I am not even sure if a single plant could grow inside the tank actually. I want to find it out, hence this experiment.
By no means I am a tea farmer, a botanist or a horticulturist. Nevertheless, I wanted to share my own experience with you all, in case you would also wanted to give tea plant growing a go. But before I explain the process I have followed in detail, I wanted to talk a bit more about the tea plant itself.
The plant from where all the true teas are made from no matter if green, black, pu-erh, oolong... is known as Camellia Sinensis. Main varieties are Assamica and Sinensis, Assamica most commonly used in India, Sri Lanka or China for instance whereas Sinensis is more widely available in regions like Japan. The seeds I got from Japan are from the Sinensis Sinensis variety. The tea plant produces tea seeds for several months each year. The fresher the tea seeds, the higher the chance of obtaining a tea plant. The older the tea seeds, the less likely they will become viable due to among other things moisture lost. The best time to get the tea seeds is between March and July. However, this might be differ region by region, I sow mine at the beginning of March.
Tea seeds are also used in Asia to produce a healthy type of oil by cold pressing the tea seeds. It has been used for cooking and in cosmetics during centuries and it is known as Camellia Oil or Camellia Tree Oil. Not to be mistaken with the tea tree oil which is a different product made out of a completely different type of plant. Tea seeds are covered by a hard brown shell that has to be broken down for the tea plant to be able to sprout. Once they get the right amount of moisture, the seeds start sprouting slowly and we can see a tiny white head that becomes green once it starts growing. I did not take photos of all the process unfortunately, however, I found a superb set of photomicrographs from a study on Camellia Sinensis seeds that helps to understand their life cycle of the tea seeds sprouting perfectly. Even though they used a particular technique I did not use, the photos of each step shown in these pictures, look very similar to the results I have gotten while growing my own tea seeds at home.
What do you need to grow tea seeds?
First and foremost you will need tea seeds. If you get them in or from Japan they should be fine. You can get them fresh if you visit some tea gardens, they are usually laying around the tea bushes in the farms. Or you could also get them at a tea fair, some tea farmers sell them right on the spot.
If you are not going to Japan any time soon or do not have any reliable contact over there, you can try to get them from a reputable vendor over the internet. It could be a hit or miss depending on the vendor you choose so make sure you read all the reviews from other customers before making any purchases. You will also need water, a container to place the tea seeds in for 24/48 hours, smaller containers to keep the tea seeds in while growing, more water, kitchen towel, empty bottles and soil. You can use any type of container you want, there are some special containers in the market for seedling plants I usually like the ones made out of fiber. And there are also propagators as well. While both help when growing seeds from scratch, they are not strictly necessary. I used old rice bowls and discarded water bottles myself.
Tea plants like acidic soil, however, to sprout the seeds you can use any type you have at hand. I read an article that recommended the use of vermiculite to keep the seeds moist. Definitely, this is a method that would work very well, I have grown other plants this way before, mushrooms to be more precise. However, I did not use vermiculite this time and my seeds sprouted just fine. This is how I grew them
Soak the tea seeds for 24/48 hours
Remove the seeds from the water, discard the floaters (they are not viable, I tried, they became moldy)
Fill a container (I used a tea bowl) with potting soil (I used a generic one)
Crack the outer surface of the tea seeds (be super careful, don't damage the actual seed)
Place the seeds on top of the soil (some might have started rooting, ensure they are placed in the new soil accordingly)
Take a piece of wet kitchen towel, place it on top of the leaves.
From this point on, you will be monitoring the tea seeds on daily basis. Make sure they do not get dry. Moist the kitchen towel as soon as it gets almost dry. I also dampened a bit each single tea seed daily. If the tea seeds get dry at this point, they will not sprout so it is important to keep them moist.
Once you start seeing a small white head coming out and the tea seed becoming to split open, it is time to transfer the seed to its own container. I still used the same type of potting soil. First, I transferred them to a bowl, later on a had a better idea.
Cut a water bottle off, the idea is to obtain two parts, one to keep water underneath, the other one to fill in with soil and to place the tea seed on top. Fill the bottom part with water. Fill the top part with soil. At this point I started using buffered coco coir. I have used coco coir before to grow everything from tomatoes to raspberries, and it has always worked well. It is one of my favourite mediums for growing plants and vegetables of all sorts. Place the tea seed at the top, surround it with some soil but allow it to be exposed to the light. I hand mine in a windowsill that had filtered light. It is warm and cozy over there yet the light doesn't hit the plants directly. Don't forget to place a piece of wet kitchen towel on top of the seed. Ensure that it remains wet, soak it daily. It might take around six full weeks to see some results. Keep monitoring your sprouts daily. ensure that there is a source of moisture but avoid them to get completely wet.
In the meantime, I have been preparing the terrarium, cleaning it and disinfecting it. I added a layer of generic soil at the bottom. Then another layer of clay rocks in order to improve its drainage capability. Another layer of generic soil, then a layer of compost. In between, I am adding my discarded tea leaves from daily brewing so they decompose in the soil and also discarded coffee grounds. Later on I will be adding a coco coir layer and some specific soil for tea plant growing as well.
Tea plants are quite resilient and can be grown successfully as potted plants. However, growing them inside a terrarium is a different story. We will have to wait for a bit until seeing the results. We need three years, for a tea plant to start producing some tea leaves that could be used to make tea. So it is not a short process.
I also wanted to try to grow one or two tea bushes in the wild around my area. I am still thinking about it. However, since they like to remove everything often, they might remove my tea plants as well (unknowingly). Plus it is super windy around here, they might be blown away. Before I conclude, I want to share with you a real jewel and great source on tea growing within Europe. Windyhollow farm, a tea garden in Scotland. I follow her on Instagram and I love the way she explains things with her nice a soothing Scottish accent. She is a source of real tea growing wisdom so if you are interested in the topic make sure to check her Instagram out. All the photos contained in this post have been taken by myself. The tea plants depicted in the photos are currently growing indoors at my home in Gothenburg, Sweden. I will give you an update over here once I have more interesting developments to show you. In the meantime, I will be posting some pics on Instagram from time to time. Follow me if you don't want to miss anything out. Thanks a lot for reading my posts, contact me if you have questions. Subscribe to the blog so you don't miss out anything published here in the future. Have you tried to grow your own tea plants from seeds before? Share your experiences below!
Until next Monday, have a lovely week!