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Did you know that you can grow your own tea at home? We’re not talking about tea that you make from herbs, flowers, and other plants. It’s real tea, the real deal “Camellia sinensis”. While the majority of plants in the camellia family are decorative, the “sinensis” genus is where true tea leaves come from.

Choose Your Plant

The two main varieties of tea plants are from the same Camellia genus, but are not to be confused. Camellia sinensis var. sinensis is a Chinese tea plant valued for its green, white, and oolong teas. Its Indian counterpart Camellia sinensis var. assimica is where the black teas come from.

Most home growers choose the Chinese varieties for more than just the purported health benefits. These plants are much easier to grow, are a more manageable size, and are less susceptible to the cold than the Indian varieties. The bush is covered in small, fragrant flowers that are beautiful against the dark, shiny leaves.

In contrast, the assimica plants can grow fifty feet or higher and require a more tropical environment. Their leaves are proportionately larger and thicker as well. But, if you have your heart set on growing your own black tea, don’t let this discourage you. Gardeners in every type of climate do have success with both types of plants at some point.

Basic Needs

If you have a garden, a planter, or even just a good-sized pot, give your own tea plant a try. This hardy shrub grows well outside in gardening zones from 8-13 (approximately). Your camellia can also be sheltered in a greenhouse or building with south-facing windows in cooler climates.

The camellia genus of plants isn’t particular about its soil, sun, or shade needs. Like most of the common plants in your garden, they do prefer acidic conditions with several hours of sun. They will still thrive in the shade with poor soil as long as they aren’t competing with other plants for moisture. That said, they don’t have high water needs and are actually resilient during a drought situation. They just don’t like competition for that little bit of water.

Pests

Aphids, caterpillars, mites, and scales are common pests that often plague tea bushes. By using natural horticultural oil, you can eliminate these pests without harming the beneficial bugs. Horticultural oil is not harmful to humans or animals either.

Harvesting Your Tea

As with most good things, you must wait for your tea bushes to mature before harvesting them. A minimum of two years’ growth is required before you remove any leaves. It is actually recommended you wait until they are about four years old for any regular harvesting starts. At this time, you should be able to support your tea drinking habit easily.

To harvest the tea you will need to remove the bud and at least the two or three newest leaves from each shoot. Keep in mind that you don’t want to remove all of the shoots as you do need to allow for future growth.

Processing the Tea

Just as with grapes, how you process the tea once you’ve harvested it will determine what it turns into. The sinensis variety will provide green, oolong, and white tea while the assimica is where black tea comes from.

  • Black Tea – Black tea takes the longest to process, due in part to the larger, thicker leaves of the assimica plant/tree. Wilt the leaves and buds for about 12-16 hours or more, by leaving them on a tray in the shade or indoors. Using a cloth to roll the leaves and break them down is the most efficient method of bruising these leaves. This rolling and kneading process should continue until the juices are oozing from the wilted leaves. Once sufficiently bruised, allow the leaves to oxidize in a warm, dry place for another 12 hours. When the leaves have turned a reddish-brown color, you are ready to proceed directly to the drying stage below.
  • Green Tea – For green tea, wilt your buds and leaves either in the shade or indoors for approximately 6-8 hours. Once wilted, heat them in a dry frying pan for about 4 minutes to prevent further oxidation and to stop the enzymes from breaking them down further. When cooled, roll the leaves in your hands or a clean cloth in order to break them up and bruise further.
  • Oolong Tea – Wilt the leaves and buds as above, shaking them regularly. Once wilted, bruise them either by hand or by rolling in a clean cloth and then spread on a tray. Leave them on the tray for at least 30 minutes so they can darken before heating in a pan as above.
  • White Tea – White tea is the easiest and least processed of the four types. Once harvested the leaves and buds can be spread onto a tray and left alone in a shaded area out of the sun for a few days. When completely dry and wilted, follow the final step below.
Drying and Storage

The final step for processing each of the above tea types is the same. Place the leaves and buds on a baking sheet and dry in an oven at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for about 25 minutes. The leaves must be completely dry for storage to ensure freshness and keep mold from forming.

Store your finished tea in an airtight, opaque container that also keeps light and moisture out. Keep the container in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight.

Now enjoy your tea!

So what is your favorite tea? Have you ever tried growing your own?

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Sewing Tips for Beginners – What’s In Your Sewing Box?

Sewing Tips for Beginners

Machine sewing is an important skill. Imagine being able to make custom drapes or one-of-a-kind Halloween costumes. For a beginner, a trip to the local fabric and craft store can be overwhelming with its vast array of tools and equipment. Whether you are interested in making custom garments, DIY home projects, crafts or simply want to be able to hem and mend, having a well-stocked sewing box is the best way to meet every challenge. Here are fifteen important sewing tips to having a complete sewing kit.

A Good Quality Sewing Machine

The most important, and most confusing, sewing tool you are going to purchase is a sewing machine. These machines come with a vast array of features and many price points. If this is your first sewing machine, make sure the machine has a few basic features: a forward stitch, backstitch and zigzag stitch. A built-in buttonhole option is also helpful. Check reviews on the machine you select and pay particular attention to what reviewers have said about the ease of use. Once you become more proficient, you can always upgrade to a more complex model. Before you run out to the fabric store to stock your sewing basket, check to see if some of the items are included with the sewing machine because many come with basic tools.

Bobbins and a Bobbin Case

While most sewing machines come with a bobbin, one is never enough. You will need a bobbin for every thread color you use, and if you only have one bobbin, you will be constantly emptying it and changing the thread color. Start with at least a dozen bobbins. As your collection of bobbins begins to grow, consider a bobbin case to keep them organized and accessible.

Sewing Machine Needles

Sewing machine needles come in different sizes for different fabrics. Purchase a package of needles that has a combination of sizes. Regular point needles are perfect for woven fabrics and ballpoint needles work best for knits. It is very common, especially when learning to sew, to break sewing machine needles, so make sure you have several backup needles on hand.

Fabric Scissors

Good fabric scissors are one of the most important tools in your sewing basket. Specially designed to cut fabric, these scissors come in several styles. Angled shears are most like regular scissors and are a good choice for the beginning sewer. There are also fabric scissors that have a spring action. While these can be easier on the wrist and hand because you push the blades together instead of pulling them apart, they are also trickier to use. Because paper and other non-fabric materials dull a good pair of sewing scissors, make sure to only use them on fabric. Rotary cutters are also a great way to cut fabric, but add them to your sewing basket after you have become a little more proficient.

Pinking Shears

Pinking shears are scissors with zigzag teeth. They can be used to cut woven fabrics to keep them from fraying. While not necessary, they are a nice addition to a beginner’s sewing basket because they give a seam a finished look.

Thread Snips

Sixth on our list of sewing tips is a good pair of snips! Thread snips are small, spring-action scissors. They are much easier to grab and use when you have a few threads to cut. Keep them beside your sewing machine for easy access and have an extra pair by your iron so you can snip threads as your press your seams.

Seam Ripper

Mistakes are inevitable. A good, sharp seam ripper will make it much easier to remove stitching. The sharp point and razor edge slips into stitches easily, cutting through them without damaging the fabric. Seam rippers are also used to cut the fabric in the center of a buttonhole.

Thread

Before you embark on any sewing project, stock your sewing basket with basic thread colors. The absolute essential threads you always want to keep on hand are: black, white, khaki, navy and red. Not all threads are created equal. Thin shiny threads are often not as sturdy and tend to break when sewing. Threads on cones might look like a bargain, but they are made for sergers and are thinner and might contain knots. When purchasing fabric for a project, select a good dual-purpose thread in a color that matches the material. For heavier fabrics like denim, purchase a heavyweight thread. If you are making a project that will have a lot of stitches, consider purchasing several spools of thread. There is nothing worse than running out of thread in the middle of a project.

Pins and Pincushion

When selecting sewing pins, select a long, good-quality pin. Pins with plastic balls or flowers on the end are easier to grasp. Longer pins are more versatile for beginning sewers because they can get through thick layers of fabric. If you plan to sew with a lot of knits, ballpoint pins are a good choice.

Make pins easier to contain and grab by placing them on a magnetic pin holder or in a pincushion. For a safe place to store pins, choose a traditional pincushion that looks like a tomato. These often have an emery-filled strawberry hanging from the center. Periodically push your pins into the strawberry to keep them sharp and free of burrs. Another option to keep your pins from cluttering your workspace is a magnetic pin holder. These make picking up pins a breeze.

Hand Sewing Needles

No sewing basket is complete without a set of hand sewing needles. Even when sewing by machine, finishing touches like hems and buttons are usually sewn by hand. Choose a variety pack with multiple sizes and have the right needle for every project.

Needle Threader

A good needle threader is a handy tool to own, especially for the beginner. Thicker threads are sometimes hard to fit through the eye of a needle. A needle threader makes it a breeze. The simplest threaders are a folded wire in a holder. While they are effective, the wire tends to break or pull out of the holder. Consider a more substantial device if threading needles is a challenge for you.

Sewing Gauge

Most sewing gauges are six inches long and have a sliding marker to help you make consistent measurements. They are perfect for measuring seam allowances and hems. Consider placing one near your machine and another by your ironing board, because these are the two places you will reach for them most.

Measuring Tape

In addition to a sewing gauge, you need a measuring tape. While most frequently used to take body measurements, you’ll be surprised how many times you will reach for one. They can be used to help you follow the grain of the fabric or draft patterns as you become more advanced, and are a great sewing tool for measuring curved pieces of fabric.

Yardstick

While a measuring tape is great for many measurements, when determining hem length of a garment, you need a yardstick. Opt for a metal yardstick and use the firm edge as a guide for your rotary cutter once your skills advance.

Iron and Ironing Board

This one might seem like the weirdest  of the sewing tips, but a good iron and ironing board are two of a beginning sewer’s most important tools. Carefully pressing seams as you sew gives a polished finish to your garment. Choose a quality iron with a steam feature. The ironing board should be sturdy and easily adjusted to suit your height.

Whether you are learning to sew yourself or introducing your child to the art of stitchery, a well-equipped sewing room is a must. Having the necessary tools on hand before you get started is important to the success of any sewing project. Whether you want to save money by doing your own alterations, ensure a perfect fit by sewing your own garments or want to discover the joy of DIY crafting, sewing is a wonderful skill to learn.

 


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