News from the Farm: June 2023

A freezing cold winter has hit the Western Cape with a vengeance and power outages and flooding remain the order of the day.

Citrusdal, often cited as the gateway to the Rooibos region, seemed central to the floods of heaven with the road that leads into the village being swept away and the bridge left standing on the far side, a river of water dividing the two. We had no access into or out of the village for days but in a farming community help and neighbourliness abound as people were guided to safety, provided with food and blankets and the massive clean-up and rebuilding very slowly gain momentum under a continuous downpour.



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A post shared by Henk Kruger (@henkpix)

Photo credit: Henk Kruger (@henkpix)

How does all this water affect our Rooibos tea fields?

Rooibos gets harvested in summer but planted in winter as it requires good soil moisture for germination and regular follow up rains to flourish. Existing tea fields are also dependent on winter rains for growth. A balanced interplay between sun and rain ensures a stable and healthy rooibos plant. Fortunately we have not started planting the new fields yet as the newly planted seedlings would certainly have been washed away. Providing we get good follow up rains and the soil moisture levels remain good, we can still plant as late as August.

The current excessive rains will benefit the higher lying tea fields on the mountain slopes where deep, well- drained soil with low clay levels will lead to good growth when the sun finally shows up again. The greatest downside will be combatting an explosion of weed growth so cleaning takes preference at the moment. Equipment are also adapted to help get rid of excess weeds on new fields waiting to be planted. Timing is a crucial factor in eradicating weed growth otherwise it becomes an insurmountable issue.

Rooibos root systems are usually found at around one meter deep so lower lying tea fields with shallow soil levels and clay appearing at 60-80 cm deep are negatively affected by the flooding because the soil doesn’t drain well and the excess moisture then causes the plants to die. These fields also usually only produce two good harvests and then the plant yield drops radically. The exceptional cold also affects good growth.

One could possibly manipulate the season and plant rooibos in summer (harvest time) but that would require more than just regular  irrigation and a complete change of nature’s way. A wise man said, “We do not complain about the troubles of nature, only those troubles we bring upon ourselves.”