Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Nairobi, Kiambethu Tea Farm in Limuru

Nairobi, Kiambethu Tea Farm in Limuru

A roadside stand in a village market in Limuru
Kenyan Napier grasses for fodder
Min took us to see Kiambethu Tea Farm in Limuru about 20 km north-west of Nairobi. We passed some village towns and markets. The roadside stands were really very rude covered with dirty plastic sheets. We saw people carrying big bundles of tall Kenyan Napier grasses for fodder, and saw cart pulled by donkey. In the market, there were many matatus parking, and on the road, people wearing nice clothes were waiting for this transportation.

Vegetable garden with netting
Neatly maintain hedges along the road
Once we were out of the busy village market, the road returned to its peaceful country atmosphere. As we approached the area of tea plantation, we first saw several large fields covered by black netting. Min said that they were vegetable garden, and that was where she got her weekly supply of fresh farm products. The garden and hedges along side the road were neatly maintained as we got closer to the heart of the tea plantation. It was like driving through the Runda residential area. We saw the first tea factory on the road, Maramba, and a groups of red corrugated roof houses for the workers. We turned into a road to the tea farm. At the corner of the road was an All Saints Church, and a large chicken farm. I was surprised that we didn’t smell anything as we passed. Min said that it was the place where she ordered her chickens.
Soon we were in front of the gate of Kiambethu Tea Farm. We nearly missed it because the sign posted was not eye catching. 

Garden in Kiambethu Tea Farm
Fiona explaining tea plant
After passing a short and shade driveway covered densely with hedge, we were in front of the large and beautiful garden surrounded by flower beds and tall trees. For the first time, I saw the mountain papaya which was very much look like an ordinary papaya except it had many branches like a tree. We later ate the fruit which had been peeled and cooked in syrup. It tasted like canned pear. Another family of visitor had arrived before us, and soon the owner Mrs. Fonia Vernon took us for the tour after some introduction.

Flower and fruit of the tea plant
Tea leaves and stem to be shipped to factory
She first showed us a told tea plant, and explained to us its flowers and fruits. The flower was like a small (1.5 inches), five petals, light yellow gardenia, and the kernel of the fruit looked like a small hazelnut. The plants in the plantation was originally started by seed, but now they used cutting. She continued her explanation in the living room where we were served with tea and cookies. The tea plants grew in the area was hybrid tea. The young leaf could be 4 inches long, and the leaves were harvested continually without season. The mature leaves on the tree were much smaller in size and usually were less than two inches. No chemical was used in growing tea except fertilizers. All of them were imported. The tea factory insisted that the grower must buy the fertilizer from them to ensure the quality of the tea. The owner of small plantation hired pickers in harvest time, and they were paid by the weight.

Tea plantation
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Tea pickers at work
The top four young leaves were picked with its stem. A picker could pick about 75 kg a day, and the harvested leaves were sent to tea factory immediately by truck. The weight loss from the grower to factory was insignificant. The factory would first take sample of the leaves; they would send it back to the grower if they found the quality was not acceptable. The most common problem was the stem was picked too long by the picker to increase its weight, and therefore, the grower must do their inspection prior to shipping the leaves. The leave and stems were air dried for 24 hours, and then baked in hot oven for a short time until it was fully oxidized and changed colour to deep dark brown. Then it was put through a shredder which would cut them into small pieces. Finally they were sent through sorter where the final products were sorted by centrifugal force. The product with the coarsest texture was most likely came from the stem, and the finest one might mostly came from the tip of the youngest leaves. Different products would have different colour and taste when they were brew. These were packed individually and shipped to Mombasa for the weekly auction. All teas produced in Kenya and neighbouring countries were all gone through the auction house in Mombasa. All tea factory employed tea taster to monitor and control their production, and there were many secrete detail in the processing, and usually they didn’t take any visitor.

A small indigenous forest
A guide took us for a tour of a small indigenous forest behind the tea farm. The forest was originally many hundred acres but now had been reduced to only 50 acres. There were supposed to be rare colobus monkeys in the forest, but we didn’t see any. The guide showed to us a parasite plant on a tree like mistletoe, and after killing the host tree,  It could grow and became a very large tree as big as the host tree. Inside the forest, the guide showed and explained to us many plants and trees which had medicinal applications.  

Mountain papaya
After the tour, we had buffet for lunch in the garden. We had soup, bread, stew beef, fried zucchini, and salad. I particularly liked the home made butter. It had heavy cheesy flavour. For the first time I ate the tree tomato in the salad, and the tree papaya with cream as dessert. They were delicious.

After lunch, the staff showed us their vegetable garden. In addition to many vegetables, we saw plum and tree tomato.

Tea pickers
We stopped at the All Saints Church on our way home. On the road, we saw pickers were busy at their works. When we passed the village market, we saw a crowd of people on the road. They were surrounding two men lying on the ground probably hit by a car. Not far from the crowd were four policemen standing beside a small sedan. It seemed more important to protect the car and its owner rather than to deal with the injured persons.

More photos can be seen by searching "lku99999, photo" in Google.

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