Forest Gardening – A Sustainable Alternative to Monocultures
A traveler journeying into the highlands of Sri Lanka will be met by an array of breathtaking sights: gorgeous hills, dense valleys and magnificent waterfalls. The traveler will also be greeted by lush, rolling tea estates that garland the mountain tops. These extend as far as the eye can see and provide a soothing effect to an already serene environment.
Traditional tea plantations are monocultures
Nonetheless, the beauty of the tea estates comes at a price. Tea plantations are monocultures that tolerate nothing but the tea bush. In the long run, monocultures breed a variety of environmental problems.
An ecosystem contains numerous different species, each with unique adaptations to its environment. Monocultures destroy this variability, abolishing the diversity and replacing it with a single species. All large-scale monocultures take a toll on the earth, one reason being that the growers view what were once local and natural plants and animals as weeds or pests. This upsets the ecological balance, causing outbreaks of illnesses and negative feedback cycles.
Growing so many homogenous plants in one area requires a lot of artificial chemical and mineral input. In nature, plants and animals feed each other the chemicals and minerals required to thrive. For example, leguminous plants fix nitrogen into the soil, a chemical required for growth, and animals provide fecal matter rich in minerals. Eliminating these natural cycles from a diverse ecosystem requires artificial fertilizers that are used to boost crop yields at a great expense to local biodiversity.
Moreover, monocultures are particularly susceptible to disease, which can spread far more quickly over a large area covered by a single crop than in a biodiverse ecosystem. In order to fight these “weeds”, pests and disease outbreaks, cultivators will apply even more herbicides and pesticides to keep the plants growing.
Forest Gardens – A solution to monoculture farming
Forest gardening is a plant-based food production system based on woodland ecosystems; it is a sustainable alternative to monoculture farming. Forest gardening is an ancient practice; there is evidence that people have consciously shaped the forests in which they lived for millennia. In tropical Asia, China and Africa, complex forest gardens have existed for thousands of years. Forest gardening increases local biodiversity, encourages wildlife and tackles problems of pollution and waste by promoting composting.
The benefits of forest garden systems
● Crops in forest gardens are resilient, withstanding drought and flooding through well-developed root networks
● They maintain soil fertility and can be used to reclaim soils that have been polluted
● The gardens control soil erosion and water runoff
● They provide their own nutrient requirements, through leaf fall and the planting of deep-rooting mineral accumulators
● Forest gardens are low maintenance once established
● The food they provide is nutrient rich and promote good health
● They are excellent for wildlife, creating a variety of habitats and attracting beneficial insects
● They prevent or remedy soil salinization and acidification
● The gardens utilize sunlight far more effectively than monoculture systems
● They are attractive, and provide great spaces for play, education and relaxation
Tea So Tea – Grown in a certified organic forest garden
Tea So Tea is proud to source her tea from a certified organic forest plantation in the Uva highlands of Sri Lanka. Our tea forest is rich in biodiversity, filled with colorful birds, butterflies, Sri Lankan reed frogs, cascading vines of orchids and other native flora and fauna. 82 distinct animal species including 8 mammal species, 44 different bird species, 5 reptile species and 16 insect (butterflies and dragonflies) species reside in our forest garden. The incredible diversity of plant life in the forest adds a special texture to our tea.
Tea So Tea was launched with the belief that tea should be an agent of positive, social and environmental good. Using tea grown in a forest garden was one of the steps that we took in our attempt to make the world’s most ethical tea. By being a pioneer in the concept of forest gardening in the Sri Lankan tea industry we seek to motivate other companies to follow our lead, shy away from monocultures and adopt sustainable farming practices.