In the late summer months of February and March the small seeds are planted in well-prepared seedbeds. Thorough and regular wetting is applied to ensure maximum germination. After four to six days, two cotyledons appear above the ground, later followed by needle-like leaves. During the cooler winter months of June to August (after the first rainfall) the seedlings, which have already reached a height of 10 to 20 cm, are transplanted into plantations in neat rows. During the younger stages, effective insect and weed control is applied to ensure the highest establishment percentage.
No fungicides are used during cultivation and pesticides are used sparingly and only when necessary. A certain percentage of the total Rooibos production is organically grown under supervision of the internationally recognised organic certification company CERES.
Harvesting and fermentation
About 18 months after plantations have been established the plants are pruned for the first time and thereafter it is harvested annually by cutting of the branches 50 cm above the ground. These cuttings are neatly bound into bundles and transported to the processing yards. The sheaves are then fed into special cutting machines, which cut it into a uniform length for the final product.
The Rooibos is then bruised between rollers to trigger the important chemical process of fermentation. After proper airing and watering the Rooibos is left in low heaps to ferment. A process of enzymatic oxidation takes place during which the product changes from green to the characteristic brick red colour and develops the distinctive flavour and sweet aroma of Rooibos.
After fermentation, Rooibos is spread out in large drying yards to dry under the hot African sun. Special machines collect the dried Rooibos after which it is delivered to the factory for further processing.
Sorting, grading and packaging
At Rooibos Ltd, the product is graded according to length, colour, flavour and aroma. This guarantees a uniform standard of high quality across all grades suitable for packing into teabags or loose-leaf form. This is followed by screening, blending and steam treatment, using state-of-the-art equipment. Throughout the process, bacteriological control is vigorously monitored by laboratory testing to ensure the final product can be certified as hygienic, safe, superior quality Rooibos.
The finished Rooibos is finally weighed by electronic scales and packed in paper bags, bulk bags or vacuum boxes which are then automatically palletized and stretch-wrapped, ready for dispatch to customers around the world.