Walking through the mist-laden Longjing Mountains (龙井山-lóngjǐngshān), also known as the Dragon Well Mountains, I stumble upon the entrance to Lion’s Peak Village (狮峰-shīfēngcūn)—one of the five villages that comprise Longjing County. As I follow a cobble stone path next to a peaceful flowing stream, I’m suddenly assailed by “Lookie! Lookie! Wanna buy tea! Tea! Tea!”
I ask several assailers questions about their tea operation, but, unfortunately, they aren’t interested in talking with me; they only want to sell me things. Continuing up the path, I run into an amiable woman by the surname Wang. She is very eager to speak with me about the intricacies of running a tea operation in Longjing County and invites me back to her house, situated at the top of a green gully surrounded by lush tea mountains and fresh, misty air.
When we reach her house, she pours me a cup of Longjing tea and introduces her grandson and son. “I’ll go get the boss,” she says.
“Who’s that?” I ask.
Tea Master Wang comes into the room with a big ear-to-ear grin spread out across his face. We sit together and talk over a cup of tea.
Master Wang’s family has been cultivating tea in the Longjing Mountains for over 500 years, which is probably why they have prime land—growing tea in the highest region of Lion’s Peak, where conditions are ideal.
Currently, the Wangs cultivate 5 mu (亩-mǔ) or 5/6 of an acre of land. The local government allots one mu of Lion’s Peak land for every person living under one roof in Lion’s Peak Village. The land is limited and the people are many, so this system seems pretty fair.
The Wangs grow tea through all four seasons, taking a rest for several months in the heart of winter. Spring tea is considered the best because the weather is ideal—it’s cold enough that the buds won’t spring open too fast and the insects aren’t a problem. The insects become a major hazard in the summer when the heat sets in.
“How do you deal with the pests?” I ask.
“I kill them,” he replies.
“Do you use chemical insecticides?”
He grimaces, “Yeah…I don’t have a choice.”
“I read an article published by the Tea Research Institute that outlined other techniques for preventing pests. Have you ever tried introducing carnivorous insects such as spiders and lady bugs to kill the aphids and caterpillars?”
“They don’t work,” he replied. “They can’t kill the pests fast enough. Once the heat sets in, the pests come in swarms. They chew the leaves and suck the juice from the stems. They cause my crop to wither, and once it begins to wither, there’s no turning back. I either spray them or lose my crop and thus all of my income. I have no choice.”
“I’ve heard that some farmers post fluorescent fly paper on trees…”
“Those don’t work,” he gasps. “Insecticides are most effective and, even still, they aren’t great. It all depends on the weather. If the weather’s right, there won’t be many insects. When the air is cool in spring, they stay away. I don’t need to use insecticides in the spring. But, when it’s hot, the swarms come and ruin my crop. The rain keeps the insects out too. If it rains a lot, then pests won’t be much of an issue. If it rains too little, I have to deal with drought conditions and swarms of insects. The sky determines the weather. The sky determines my life. It decides whether my crop will be good or bad. The sky provides for my family. Wo kao tian chi… I depend on the sky for food. I live by the sky.”
“So many people forget that in the city just over these mountains—how much their lives depend on nature.”
“Yeah, they forget it,” he chuckles, “but us farmers, we don’t.”