Munnar Tea Estates
Munnar is essentially a tea town. The tea plantations have now been taken over by the TATA Tea Company. The visitor is greeted with miles and miles of unending tea plantations on entry into Munnar. TATA Tea, consisting of estates mainly in Munnar, is a dominant player of Tea. The other important tea estates of Kerala are Harrison Malayalam, Michael’s Tea, Brooke Bond, AVT tea.
In Munnar we can see the Assam variety of tea plants. Regular pruning keeps its height to a more manageable 4 to 5feet tall. It has an economic life of 40 years with regular pruning and plucking.
Tea bushes are planted 1 meter to 1.5 meters apart to follow the natural contours of the landscape. Sometimes they are grown on specially prepared terraces to help irrigation and to prevent erosion. Fifty years ago tea plants were raised from tea seeds and they were known as seedlings. Each plantation grew its own seed bearers in tea trees which grew to a height of approximately 25 meters. Now young plants are raised from the cuttings obtained from a strong and rich bush. They are carefully tendered in special nursery beds until 12-15 months old and then planted in the tea gardens. Trees are often planted in between the tea plants to protect them against intense heat and light, particularly on the plains of Assam and Kenya, where sunshine is most intense. The trees also provide microclimatic and soil improvements. Geometric spacing are used, often in quite wide spacing. This, again, ensures uniform treatment (shade) and ease in mechanized operations. Common shade trees are Erythrina, Gliricidia, and Silver Oak.
When the tea plant is allowed to grow wild and unfettered it becomes 10 m high. To simplify cultivation and stimulate the production of leaf buds, they are regularly pruned and shaped into flat-topped bushes of about one meter in height. When the plant develops to a height of about half a meter above ground, it is cut back – pruned to within a few inches off the ground – to set it on course to develop into a flat-topped bush. Generally, a tea bush is 1 to 1.5 meters in height. Regular 2 to 3 year pruning cycles encourage the supply of shoots, the flush which is plucked every week to ten days, depending on where it is cultivated.
Tea estates of munnar The tea leaves are mostly hand plucked. The tea plant is plucked every 5- 10 days, depending on where it grows. The length of time needed for the plucked shoot to redevelop a new shoot ready for plucking varies according to the plucking system and the climatic conditions. Intervals of between seventy and ninety days are common.
When the tea plant is plucked two leaves and a bud are cut. An experienced pluckier can pluck up to 30 kg tealeaves per day. To make one kg black tea, approx. 4 kg tea leaves are needed. One tea plant produces about 70 kg black tea a year. In a warm climate the plant is plucked for the first time after four years and it will produce tea for at least 50 years. A suitable climate for cultivation has a minimum annual rainfall of 1,140 to 1,270 millimeters. Tea soils must be acid; tea cannot be grown in alkaline soils. A crop of 11,650 kilograms per hectare requires 3.7 to 4.9 workers per hectare to pluck the tea shoots and maintain the fields. Mechanical plucking has been tried, but because of its lack of selectivity, cannot replace hand plucking. Since 1900, advancements in tea cultivation have increased the average yield per acre in India from 180 to 450 kilograms, with many estates producing over 680 kilograms.