Virgin land is very suitable for tea cultivation. Generally such soils are very fertile and have good physical condition. However, the soils physical conditions and fertility can be destroyed within a short time when faulty land preparation techniques are adopted.
Virgin land suitable for tea cultivation is becoming scarce. It is, therefore, very important to take utmost care so that the soil is not destroyed by way of erosion and destruction of its structure. This is owing to the fact that when land is cleared for planting tea, the cover of vegetation which acts as a barrier to the movement of water along the surface is destroyed, making it easier for the rain to wash the loose soil down the slope.
The soil of the proposed area should be tested at least one year ahead of planting to determine its suitability for tea cultivation.
In areas, with more than 2 per cent gradient of slope, layout of field drains, roads etc. should be strictly according to the topography of the land. In such areas, topographical survey by competent surveyor is necessary to survey the area, to identify the catchments and identify the topographical features like main and subsidiary water channels and ridges.
In such sloppy areas, clearing should be done catchment-wise. If the entire catchment cannot be cleared or if it is not required to clear at a time, the clearing should be taken in stages starting from the top. Clearing of the area should be done from the top to the lower portion of the catchment.
The big trees of the area should be killed one season ahead by adopting “Ring barking” method. Ring barking is a method of killing big tree in which the entire root system dies and while removing the stump and roots, no fresh root is left behind in the soil. Fresh vegetative materials left in soil may harbour soil pathogens, hence killing of tree is recommended instead of felling. In rink barking, the bark of the trunk is removed upto cambium making a ring of 30 cm thick at a height of about 1.0 -1.5 m from the ground. This checks the translocation of photosynthates from the leaves and gradually the tree starts dying. The dead trees after felling should be uprooted completely removing their stump and the entire root system. The pits formed due to uprooting of stumps should be filled up with the excavated soil. If there are any ant hills, these should be removed completely and the pit so formed should be filled up with top soil. The under growth can be cleared by cutting down or uprooting leaving the litters in situ. Burning of the jungles should be avoided.
The nature of cultivation to be carried out on virgin clearings is determined by the topography and the type of soil. In steep slopes, where soil disturbance should be kept to a minimum, cultivation is best avoided. Gentle slopes can be ploughed along contours and flat land ploughed crosswise in both directions.
After leveling, drains should be dug and the excavated soil should be thinly spread over the ground, or if possible, the soil should be removed from the site. Generally, the field drains are dug making only 30 cm deep at the time of land preparation and these are deepened only after planting tea. In undulating land, contour drains are marked and dug along the contour maintaining suitable gradient. The tea rows are staked and if possible, green crops like Crotolaria angyroides should be grown in between tea rows. In sloping land, staking should be done in between two contour drains following ‘Master Row’ system.
You will learn later in the lesson “Planting of Tea in Undulating Hilly Areas”, how to plant tea in sloppy or hilly areas based on topographical planning.
All these operations starting with clearing of virgin land and ending in the digging of drains and laying of roads and paths are to be completed within the shortest possible time to reduce chances of erosion of soil by rain and wind. Regions having a long dry season get enough time for completing these operations before the onset of rains. In absence of a dry season, the work will have to be timed precisely to coincide with the period of minimum rain.