August sun scorch threatens tea leaves in Cornwall

It’s August. The schools are out. Unfortunately the sun is not!

However, regardless monsoon of conditions recently seen in the South-West of England, our tea plantations thriving next to the banks of the River Fal are in danger of getting sunburn. As sun dips towards the autumn, the sun’s angle in relation to the Earth changes. Next week the angle of the sun means rays will be fiercely bouncing off the estuary, reflecting straight onto the precious leaves in our Tregothnan South plantations at Halwyn, Coombe.

Tregothnan’s trading MD and tea master, Jonathon Jones, commented:

“Tea bushes, Camellia sinensis, are difficult plants to grow. In their early years they live to die. Tea can be killed by frosts, ripped from their roots by wind and are particularly favoured by pests. We are lucky at Tregothnan to have a special set of ingredients which make a unique and perfect micro-climate for tea bushes. The 18 metre deep sea creek of the Fal river brings warm water from the gulf stream right to the heart of Tregothnan estate and protects us from cold without risk of salt wind. The one hazard is sunburn from river refection, not a problem our friends in Darjeeling have to deal with!

You wouldn’t think that too much sun would be a danger to tea plants being native to countries like India, but the leaves can be scorched and become bitter. This problem with the sun bouncing off the river comes around every year, but the plants have grown so big that they are now right in the sun’s glare. The forecast next week is our call to action, we are covering the youngest bushes now with white fleece sun protection. It is a temporary situation and it is hoped the fleece can be removed in September.”

The young bushes alongside the river will be wrapped in the fleecy sun protection for the duration of next week just as the angle of the sun becomes optimum for sun scorch. The fleecy blankets will look like gigantic white lizards among rows of tea terraces, protecting leaves from sunburn. Only a few hundred tea plants are at risk among the tens of thousands of young bushes out of direct glare from the river.

Next year the problem will be combatted by the natural shading offered by the trees currently growing around the plantation. The trees and shrubs surrounding the tea bushes grow at a much faster rate and will become thick enough over the course of the next year to catch the rays bouncing off the river.