As you know by now, conservation farming is our heart. As always, we are looking for the best products, the best equipment and the most effective way to combat disease so that we can keep supplying top quality rooibos direct from the farm to you, our customer.
The harvesting season is at hand but first we took a look at our planting, growing and risk management challenges and opportunities. At a recent suppliers’ meeting the latest equipment and products were discussed to ensure the best possible harvest and top rooibos tea quality.
In our efforts to maintain the norms we strive to uphold, and to ensure safe consuming of our product, we invited Prof Ben-Erik Van Wyk, Internationally recognised botanist from Univ of Johannesburg and Dr. Marietjie Stander, analytical chemist at the Stellenbosch University, to highlight the latest research being done in the field of foreign weeds and plants and how to detect them.
Gilbert Theron from Afgri also joins our quest with their conviction that “Great companies have a sense of purpose that goes deeper than the bottomline”. Jaco Visser from Viking ensures our drive for ‘healthy soil, healthy roots’ continues successfully.
The evening was concluded with our MD Mientjie Mouton reiterating the importance of our certifications, such as Organic, Rain Forest Alliance /UTZ and Fair Trade Standards and Practices, which ensure continuity and quality, that enable us to remain the preferred rooibos supplier in the product health category.
Despite many new product developments in rooibos field, Carmién Tea, in the speciality tea segment, remains high in popularity, esp. based on our great taste profile built up over many years, plus our consistent quality and excellent variety of products and natural herbal blends.
Underlying our success are these foundational principles: maintaining quality of product, strong social responsibility, food safety and sustainability.
She concludes,“ It’s not just about doing things right but doing ordinary things extra-ordinary”
When does gratitude supersede expectation?
When we still have a harvest, albeit 30% less than expectation.
When we still have water, albeit less than we require.
When we can still fill our orders , even if it is on our knees most of the time.
And, when we know that what goes down, must come up again, that summer always precedes winter, and that drought will eventually be relieved by rain. And we are grateful. Grateful also for those who fight the battle with us and give their all so that eventually we can all get through this.
Its harvest time.
5 am. Before the sun has lifted its head behind the Cederberg mountains, sickles are rhythmically cutting handfuls of rooibos. 50 men a field. Each bundle carefully laid on a small sail until it is full. Two hooks join the cuttings into a sheaf that can stand on its own.
Each sheaf weighs in at between 18-25 kgs, is carefully documented, and soon, like an army of watchmen waiting to see if their buddies are going to make it, an area of stacked sheaves gets cleared and loaded onto a waiting truck. The cutters take a welcome break and then it is back to the sickle and sheaf as the morning cool makes way for blazing hot days.
To reach minimum wage, 350 kgs has to be cut per worker per day. Some way exceed that with averages between 550-650 kgs per day so there is great reward in the hard work.
6 am. Higher up in the valley at Bergendal Rooibos, long rows of cut, fermenting tea have been building up steamy temperatures of up to 42 degrees Celsius overnight. As the covering sails are lifted and the tea is given one more turning over, a thick mist rises up, obscuring your view, and that familiar sweet rooibos smell permeates the air. It is a beautiful experience. What landed on the court yesterday as green tea, has now miraculously turned red. The wonder of rooibos.
State of the art machines suck up the tea and two rotating arms scatter it thinly over the tea court for a few hours of drying in the hot sun. Each batch carefully documented and monitored to ensure full traceability. Once again it is gathered up into 400 kg bags and now batch after batch goes through a sifting process, separating dust from tea leaves and shaking out mulch at the end. Cut lengths are monitored, batches are sifted and blended according to each client’s requirements and then sent through a pasteurizer and finally hot air drying before being bagged, weighed and shrink-wrapped per palette, ready to be shipped or moved next door to the packing facility.
Behind the scenes, temperatures are checked, batch after batch is tasted, noted, quality checks carried out and finally certification approval before one gram of tea can leave the factory.
In the meantime truck after truck arrives with freshly cut sheaves. It is weighed, offloaded, each sheaf opened, separated, and fed though a cutting machine which cuts even lengths of between 1-5 mm. The bruised green cuttings are fed via conveyer belt into a wagon from where it will be dumped in long low rows to ferment overnight and so the process repeats itself.
Day after day.
Its always worth it. We love what we do.
Rooibos tea seems to love extremes when it comes to planting and harvesting. It gets planted in the cold of winter and harvested in the heat of summer. The Western Cape, home to Rooibos, have had some really chilly days but it is so worth venturing out into the cold to watch the tea planting process. Sit back and enjoy watching this big event with us!
Of course, it starts with rain and just the right soil conditions. The Western Cape has been hard hit by drought so planting this year is very challenging and we are grateful for every drop of rain. Rooibos requires well drenched sandy soil but not so sandy that the water disappears too quickly. Depending on the type of soil, there are two options available to our farmers, direct seed sowing or planting seedlings.
We use the latter but gathering the seed is an interesting process. The Rooibos plant bears little yellow flowers which eventually burst into seed. These are collected by literally scraping together the top thin layer of soil around the plant. This ‘seed soil ‘ goes through a first sifting to get rid of most of the coarse sand. Then it gets sifted again but this time underwater so that the Rooibos seeds can float to the top and from there the seed, which has a hard outer scale, is put through a rubbing process to aid germination. The seed is returned to the nurseries where our seedlings are grown between Feb and early June.
Soil preparation, if it is a new field, starts just after the harvesting process which runs from Jan to April. At Carmién Tea we believe in conservation farming and minimum handling of the soil so no plowing takes place in establishing a new field. No animals are allowed on the fields at any stage. Wheat, also called the soil doctor, prepares the field for the seedlings and is sown in this field the first year. The first seedlings are only planted during the second year of a new field’s existence. The wheat stubble is also left as protection.
Planting starts during the last weeks of June. Good rain is essential during this period as the soil needs to be well hydrated for the planting process which starts with holes , about 10-15 cm deep, being made at regular intervals. If the soil is too dry the holes close up before the plants can be inserted!
A special planting machine does 4 rows at a time and are manned with 8 people each who separate the seedlings and teams of two take turns placing them in slots which then on rotation takes them down to the ground where they are inserted in the holes.
Two wheels then close up and secure the little plants in the soil.
Quite mesmerizing to watch!
The little plants take about a month to settle. Although the Rooibos plant is quite hardy, planting has to be completed by end August as the seedlings are too big by September to establish successfully. Now the babysitting starts and keen eyes keep a watch on natural pests that may attack the plants.
In the first year of being planted a Rooibos field is just topped, not harvested. It is only harvested from year two and delivers peak crops for about four years wherafter it needs replacing again ….time for a younger generation to take over!