2015-06-03 / Gardening Tips / Columns

Gardening Tips by Bob Beyfuss: June 3, 2015

All About Tea

Well, we have had to deal with another weird week of May weather. Memorial Day weekend had some of us scrambling to cover our tender transplants as widespread frost was reported throughout the region. By Monday, we were back in the mid 80s once more. This provides yet another reminder that gardening is best commenced by measuring the soil temperature, not the air temperature and surely not the calendar. The old adage that it is safe to set out tender, warm- season crops by Memorial Day weekend is not always true in our area and it is especially questionable when the holiday occurs as early as it did this year. We are also, still, in a serious drought for much of the region. Heavy thunderstorms that may produce an inch of rain in 15 minutes may help to put water in streams, but they do little to saturate the soil. We need a steady, all day or even two or three day, gentle rain to get soil moisture levels back to normal. The hot weather forced an explosion of flowers on trees and shrubs but there are lots of seeds and perennials still waiting for rain before they will grow. Once your soil is 60 degrees or warmer you can plant most anything, but corn, tomatoes, peppers, beans, squash and cucumbers will grow much better if you wait until it is 70 degrees.

Most widely consumed beverage

As for this week’s topic, there is little question that the most widely consumed beverage on the planet, other than plain water, is tea. When I say “tea,” I am referring to the plant that botanically is known as Camellia sinensis. This plant originated is Southeast Asia somewhere near northern Burma and into Sichuan province in China, but is now widely cultivated in many tropical areas. Technically the term “tea” may be applied to almost any liquid suspension. At one time, various types of so called “manure” teas were occasionally used by organic gardeners as liquid fertilizer, but this practice is now strongly discouraged due to the possible presence of pathogens in the fresh manure. People have become ill after consuming produce that was watered with manure tea. Bags of dehydrated, composted manure that you can buy at garden centers are still fine to add to your soil but don’t make them into a tea for foliar feeding.

I can recall when herbal teas burst upon the market 30 or 40 years ago in a big way and today the herbal tea business is a huge, multi-billion dollar industry. One of my favorite beverages whenever I am in the south is “sweet tea”. I have no idea what exactly is in “sweet tea” except for lots of sugar, but I do enjoy it on occasion. Brewing any plant or herb into a tea is called making an “infusion.”

Brewing is an art

The brewing process itself is somewhat of an art form among aficionados. I have an electric machine designed specifically for making teas and it has separate temperature settings for “green”, “white”, “oolong”, “French press” and “black”. Making tea is also a good way to conserve very expensive ingredients such as dry ginseng roots. Typically, in Chinese households, a small piece of dry ginseng root is gently simmered in a ceramic vessel for 12 hours or more and the resulting beverage is consumed. Infusions are a good way to extract most water soluble ingredients in lots of different herbs. Many Traditional Chinese Medicine combinations are specifically prescribed to be made into tea blends.

Albany Tea Festival planned

On Friday, June 5 from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. the first “Albany Tea Festival” will be held at Overit, 435 New Scotland Ave in Albany. There will be booths and displays and a series of talks by experts beginning at 5:30 p.m. with certified herbalist Maureen Robison talking about “Everyday Kitchen Herbals”. At 6 p.m. I will be talking about “Ginseng and other Herbs”. I know little to nothing about teas but I do know lots of interesting things about ginseng that I will share. At 6:30 p.m., mixologist Josh Pfeil will talk about “Fermentation, Kombuca and Beyond.”

At 7:30 p.m. tea expert Matt Zacharewicz, will talk about “Making the Perfect Cold Brews and Iced Teas” and at 8 p.m., tea expert Rebecca Angel will talk about “Tea Trivia”. There will be lots of vendors selling many different items from herbs to honey or providing educational information on many topics. The best part is that there is no admission for this event! For more information go to Albanyteafestival @gmail.com.

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