Monday, September 19, 2016

Exploring the Charleston Tea Plantation and Angel Oak Tree

For two years we tried to go the Charleston Tea Plantation and stop by the Angel Oak Tree. Each time, either due to weather or other conflicts, this trip had to be postponed and rescheduled to another date. It was so frustrating, I almost didn't think it would ever happen, but then, all of a sudden a date worked out, and we were on our way! Everyone was so excited!

We met up at my house early Saturday morning, got everyone situated as to who was riding with who, or driving themselves, and we were off, 6 of us and 4 year old Parker who loves our farm trips!

After just about 2 hours travel time, with a rest stop en route, we arrived at the Angel Oak Tree. Oh my goodness it is magnificent! We felt like ants walking around under it and for good reason; it is huge!

Local mythology claims the tree to be over 1400 years old and the oldest living thing, east of the Rocky Mountains. A more reasonable guess of the magnificent tree’s age would be between 300 and 500 years old. Regardless of its age, the Angel Oak is one of the most beautiful, inspiring and often-visited trees in the southeastern United States.

The tree is 65 feet tall with a diameter of 8.5 feet and has a shade area of approximately 
17, 000 square feet. The longest limb is 89 feet long and it has a circumference of 11.5 feet. From tip to tip Its longest branch distance is 187 ft.

The property on which the Angel Oak stands was originally part of a land grant to Abraham Waight in 1717. Waight became a prosperous planter owning several plantations including The Point where the Angel Oak stood. The property passed from generation to generation, acquiring the Angel name when Martha Waight married Justis Angel in 1810. The City of Charleston acquired the Angel Oak and surrounding property in 1991 and the Angel Oak Park was opened to the public on September 23 of the same year." (source: Angel Oak

After about 20 minutes of "ooooing," "ahhhhhing," and capturing the moment with our phones or cameras, it was time to get in our cars and head a few miles down the road to our destination of the day, The Charleston Tea Plantation! Once we arrived, we quickly parked our cars and made our way into the tea room.

The Charleston Tea Plantation is located on historic Wadmalaw Island in the heart of the Lowcountry of South Carolina.  We're just a few miles south of the historic city of  Charleston. The history of the Island dates back to mid-June of 1666 when it is believed that Captain Robert Sanford and the crew of the Berkeley Bay landed on the shores of what is now known as Rockville, South Carolina. On June 23, 1666, he and his crew claimed the land for England and the Lords Proprietors. Today, Wadmalaw is considered to be one of Charleston's most unspoiled islands. It is approximately 10 miles long and 6 miles wide. The Island's only connection to the mainland is a bridge that crosses over Church Creek. 

Home to The Charleston Tea Plantation, Wadmalaw provides the perfect environment for propagating tea. With its sandy soils, sub-tropical climate and average rainfall of 52 inches per year, Wadmalaw possesses idyllic conditions for the Camellia Sinensis tea plant. This plant is currently used to produce both black and green teas and exists in over 320 varieties on the 127 acre grounds of the Charleston Tea Plantation.

The Charleston Tea Plantation was purchased by family-owned Bigelow Tea Company in 2003, when it became the dream of Eunice and David Bigelow and local partner Bill Hall to combine talents and share their love of tea as a vibrant piece of Americana for all to enjoy. Today, the beautiful 127-acre Charleston Tea Plantation has become the standard bearer for the long and illustrious American tea story. (source: Charleston Tea Plantation)

There we found all the free iced tea you can drink and extremely pleasant and cheerful staff. They really were awesome. We purchased tickets for the trolley tour around the plantation, then some shopped and others participated in a fascinating self-guided factory tour.

After the factory tour it was off on the trolley tour where our guide, along with an audio narration from William (Bill) Barclay Hall, the owner, presented the history and tidbits of information all along the ride. It was fascinating!

William (Bill) Barclay Hall examining the tea plants
Did you know? All the trolley cars came from Kentucky and are named after famous race horses from the Kentucky Derby? Our trolley was Man-O-War!

The tea plants are related to the Southern Camellia, and produce a small flower resembling popped corn when in bloom, which is typically in later October. I can only imagine how beautiful an entire field would be then!

And the plantation manages all of it's harvesting with the aid of a special piece of equipment designed exclusively for them. This equipment allows them to manage and process all the tea with just 4 people as opposed to the 500 or so required at other tea plantations in the world.

Most importantly, the Charleston Tea Plantation also has a strong environmental commitment.

One of the most important things that the Bigelow family as well as everyone at the Charleston Tea Plantation tries to do is make a difference. How do we do that? We do it in many ways, and it is the philosophy started by Ruth Campbell Bigelow and very much continued by the Bigelow family that has influenced us. Today it is ingrained in the culture of our company as articulated in the Bigelow Tea "Mission Statement". It is simple "do the right thing and good things will follow".

This pertains to all aspects of our business. It starts with growing the tea made in America. We at the Charleston Tea Plantation are serious about protecting the environment, giving back to our community and taking care of our employees and their families...for future generations.

Here are just a few of the things we do to protect our planet and to improve our community...                                     
We do NOT use any pesticides (herbicides, fungicides and insecticides)!

Thanks to our custom designed irrigation system we are able to rely solely on rain and pond water to hydrate our young tea plants.  This type of water conservation is extremely beneficial to the future of our planet.

Waste (stems and fibers) from made tea is used as mulch in the tea fields.  This mulch not only helps the soil to retain water, it also inhibits weed growth, keeps the soil temperatures from becoming too hot or too cold and even protects sloping ground from soil erosion.  This type of organic mulch breaks down overtime, providing an environment that encourages the growth of earthworms and other beneficial insects.

You can learn more about the Charleston Tea Plantation and their commitment to "do things right" here by watching this short video.

After the trolley tour, we finished up our shopping and headed out to enjoy lunch at the Angel Oak Restaurant. Their menu is sourced completely from local farms and markets, everything is cooked fresh daily and have no microwaves or freezers. It was an amazing meal enjoyed sitting around the table laughing and talking about our adventure, and to me, there's nothing better than good food and good friends!

Once again, it never ceases to amaze me just how great South Carolina local farms, markets and "farm to table" restaurants are, and what fabulous things they are doing for you and me every day. It was truly a great day and one I won't soon forget.

Until next time!


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