Organic management has proven daunting for tea gardens in India.
Nutrients in most tea soils have been leached off by years of over cultivation. This has encouraged the over use of chemical fertilizers, predominately urea, to provide the macro nutrients—Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P) and Potassium (K)—required by plants to prosper. In many tea gardens, this over use of chemical fertilizers has hardened the soil and formed a salt pan. These factors inhibit the tea bush's nutrient uptake. As a result, many gardens add even more chemical fertilizer to their soil to maintain the tea crop. This application of extra chemical fertilizer further degrades the soil environment. This forces many tea gardens into a vicious cycle of ever increasing dependence on chemical fertilizer, and ever increasing soil damage.
Additionally, all plant health issues and pest attacks result from weak plants. Those tea gardens relying on chemical fertilizer find themselves requiring dangerous levels of chemical pesticides to overcome insect and fungus attacks, further damaging their soils and local environment.
Many tea estates have failed when trying to convert their gardens to organic management. This is mainly due to lack of good organic management that substitutes chemical fertilizers appropriately, leading to severe drop in yields and heavy pest infestations. This has led many in the Indian tea industry to think that organic management of tea is infeasible.
At Mana Organics, we have always believed that organic management of tea isn’t just feasible- it’s better. In 2012, we set out to prove in our own tea gardens that when organic management is done right, it benefits the health of workers, improves the soil and environment, and increases the quality of tea produced.
We have found that success in organic tea management requires focus on soil fertility. At Mana, we approach soil fertility holistically. To improve the soil health and natural balance of nutrients in the soil environment, our field managers use compost instead of the chemical fertilizers to provide plant nutrition. Our compost ensures that our tea bushes get the right balance of NPK and micronutrients. Mana’s compost also creates a better soil environment for earthworms and other soil micro-organisms. This soil life helps breakdown nutrients, increase soil aeration, and maintain soil moisture. Additionally, composting builds the carbon content in the soil, which benefits plants and acts as a carbon sink, reducing our impact on climate change.
To ensure all benefits of composting, it is important to mix in the compost with the soil around the plant like you see in the video. This ensures the compost is available to the plant root system and interacts with the soil environment without losing its benefits to leaching or erosion.
To see Mana's organic composting application in action, check out our video:
00:12— The importance of composting
00:41— How we apply compost to our tea bushes
01:19—Benefits of our compost application process for tea bushes
John: Hi, welcome to behind the scenes with Mana Organics. In today’s video, we are going to show you how we do composting on our tea estate.
John: Composting is one of the most important activities in organic management. It is the main source of nutrition for our tea plants. Through composting we ensure a healthy balance of Nitrogen, Phosphate, and Potassium. Additionally, composting provides several micro nutrients, increases the carbon content in the soil, and provides a great environment for beneficial microbes.
John: To apply the compost, the tea workers make a ring around each bush. Each bush gets approximately 300 g of compost.
John: The workers then fork each row of compost into the soil around the plant. Because tea bushes are perennials and have a productive lifespan of over 70 years, it’s really important to mix the compost in like this and aerate the soil. This allows the soil to breathe, and allows the plants better access to the nutrients and water that’s retained in the compost.
John: Thank you for watching our video. Hope you enjoyed it. Check back soon for more updates from Mana Organics.