Growing coffee plants in your home is an experience which is rich and rewarding. It is quite easy to take care of coffee plants and it can make for a wonderful conversation piece especially during the flowering period.
When you grow coffee beans at home, you can start off with freshly picked coffee cherries. But unless you are currently living in a country where coffee production is normal, you might have to go online to make your purchase. To Speed things up, getting an already established plant from a nursery can save you up to 18 months of waiting.
Selecting the Seed
Arabica coffee needs to be grown from fresh seed. The seeds will naturally lose their viability within the span of three months and after that period should not be used to grow new plants unless you have properly stored them at a high humidity and low temperature.
You should select ripe and healthy fruit from whatever variety it is you want to plant, and the fruit should come from plants with high rates of productivity, and no signs of rust or disease. Pulp the cherries, ferment them for one night, wash them clean, and then dry them using parchment in the shade. It is best to dry them with raised platforms or mesh trays that allow for good air circulation for the span of two or three days.
The moisture content of your seeds should not reach below 10% otherwise the viability of the seed will be affected. The seeds need to be sorted, in an effort to remove those which have become infested with pests, those which are small, and any which are abnormal in shape.
Caring for Your Seedlings
You want to make sure that after the seedlings have been transplanted that you remove any weeds regularly. If you see that the soil has become hard, you can use a hand trowel to break up the hardened soil into smaller, softer pieces.
It is ideal to water the soil regularly to keep it damp. It is important to avoid over watering, as this can cause a disease where fungus develops and kills off your plants. This disease is known as damping-off.
After about three months, you should apply urea at 6 grams per 1 litres of water. This amount is perfect for around 10 seedlings. Apply this every 15 days. If you see that the leaves are becoming dark green, then you should stop.
If you are not using chemical fertilizers, then you can just as easily apply finely crushed manure around your plants, and it will reap the same benefits. You should check on the seedlings daily to make sure they have not developed disease and are protected from pests. If you find that any have damaged plants, dead plants, or diseased plants, remove them from the group so that they do not affect the others.
Make sure that you keep the plants under shade. Two months before you move them to your yard, start to reduce the amount of shade. This will help to sun harden your new plants.
As you see the plants growing, make sure you separate them so that they have enough room to grow. As you notice crowding you will want to thin the plants out just like you would with any group of plants so that they can grow strong. If they are kept together in a tight space, they will be at a higher risk for disease and will start to grow tall and weak. Full grown plants need a spacing of at least 1 metre.
Harvesting Coffee and Preparing the Seeds
This is what you need to look for, if you can find a place where you can collect your own seeds
Coffee cherries which are ripe need to be harvested and picked from trees that enjoyed high rates of production and do not suffer from diseases. You want to pulp the cherry by hand and then wash it using warm water, and ferment it inside of a small container until you see the pulp falling off.
You can test whether the pulp is ready to come off by just rubbing the bean in your hand intermittently throughout the fermentation process.
Fermentation by natural enzymes breaks down the insoluble mucilage around the parchment layer, i.e. the slippery layer you can feel with your fingers.
Place the coffee beans in a plastic bucket to avoid the effects that the container has on quality and add water to cover the beans. Fermentation may be complete in 18-24 hours, depending on the surrounding temperature.
To check whether the fermentation phase is complete, gently wash a handful of the beans. If they come clean and feel gritty (not slippery), then adequate fermentation has been achieved and the beans can be washed. Wash in agitated water and drain. Repeat this process until the water becomes clear. This normally takes approximately three washes.
To strain off the water, use a colander or some fine, net-like material such as an onion bag, as this will prevent the loss of beans. During the washing process, discard any floating beans.
Any coffee beans which float at any stage of the washing process need to be discarded.
The coffee beans must then be dried until they reach about 30% moisture, using a mesh screen.
Dry them outside in the open with plenty of air flow around the beans.
Once you have completed the pulping process the coffee will have about 60-70% moisture content. If you wish to weigh the beans after washing you can continue to weigh the beans during the drying process to determine the appropriate stopping point.
If you do not have a means by which to weigh the beans, you can bite one open to ensure that the outside is dry and the inside is moist and slightly soft.
A pulped bean can be planted immediately and in certain climates, might be advantageous when planted immediately. The problem with trying to grow coffee from seed is that the germination period can be as long as 60 days and the seed can simply rot during the process.
Germinating Coffee Beans
If you cannot find coffee cherries where you live, you can find a green coffee supplier and purchase green coffee. If you opt for this method it is imperative that the bean is from a recent crop as well as a recent shipment. Never accept beans that are old. You can contact local suppliers and ask for their most recent crop.
The fresher the seed the better, the best time for germination is the first four months, but after this, the germination rate reduces dramatically and the time for germination takes a significantly longer period of time. Fresh coffee seeds should complete the germination process in about ten weeks, but older seeds might take up to six months to germinate.
It is recommended that you pre-germinate your seeds. To do this, you should first soak the seeds in water for twenty four hours. Keep only those that show the embryo has emerged this is a small white protrusion about 1/8” (3mm) from 20 seeds you may gain as many as half which will be viable. Once this is done, sow the seeds inside of a mixture of wet vermiculite or sow them inside of damp sand where any excessive moisture can be drained.
Note: Coffee seed used for planting is actually the parchment with the hull still in place. This is not the green bean that has already had the parchment hull removed.
After the coffee seeds begin to germinate, you should remove them from the burlap bags, vermiculite, or sand very carefully. Create a whole approximately 1.25 cm deep inside of friable loam soil that has high humus content. You can add dried blood, bone meal, or rotted manure to it if you see fit. If you cannot find this type of soil in your area, you can use a porous soil which is light weight in nature. Place the seed with the flat side down inside of the hole and sprinkle additional soil over it. Do not press down on the soil, but instead allow it to lightly packed. Then place ½ inch of mulches grass over the soil in order to preserve moisture inside. Note that this should be removed after the seed had germinated.
During this time the seeds need to be watered daily. If you give them too much water, or not enough, it will kill the seed. You want the soil to be well drained, but you want it to be moist at all times and not dry out. Moisture and PH testers can be found at your local garden Centre
Once you have germinated the seeds, the plant should either be left alone, or it should be carefully removed, with the least amount of damage possible to the roots, and re-planted in soil that has high nitrogen content and low pH content. The soil also needs to be porous. It is recommended that you add course sand, manure, or basalt gravel dust to help achieve the porous texture. A fertilizer used on orchids can be used sparingly on the coffee plant to help ensure proper mineral levels and low pH levels.
Germination takes place when the seeds are placed inside of a sufficiently moist environment and can absorb water. The temperature and the moisture level of the soil will directly affect the rate of development. After about four to six weeks you should see some of the cotyledon leaves developing.
The first signs of germination typically include the appearance of the young root, known as the radicle, after about three to four weeks. The part between the soil and the leaves will appear about twenty to twenty five days after that and they will carry the seed, covered in parchment, out of the soil. Shortly after this, when the light covering has been detached, the two leaves will open.
The diagram above explains in a better visual the germination process. Once you plants hit the last two drawings contains in the image above, you can safely transplant.
The image above shows the beginning of the germination process which occurs after three to four weeks of planting.
It is important to note that the cotyledon leaves will appear in stark contrast to ordinary leaves. They have an oval shape and the edges undulate. They span between 20 and 50 millimetres in diameter. The terminal bud will appear around the same time and it will produce two primary leaves that grow in pairs and are opposites. Once this happens, you will naturally see the cotyledon leaves die off because they have completed the nutritional role they play in the growing process.
The root system for the coffee will develop very quickly within the first few weeks of the germination process. The taproot will penetrate into the soil deeply and begin to form many rootlets.
The first lateral branch will start to become visible after the first four to six weeks. This is called the plagiotropic branch. The plant will start to have between five and eleven pairs of leaves at this point. The branches are opposite in pairs and they will begin to grow at alternative points, in a perpendicular fashion, along the main axis of the plant. The primary branches can be most easily identified because they will have buds at each of the nodes that begin to develop into secondary branches, known as plagiotropic or horizontal branches, and under the right conditions they can also develop into flowers.
It is important that you do not let your soil dry out as the seedlings are cultivating. You should avoid over watering them, because they can suffer from damping-off and other disease problems related to over watering. You can safely transplant the seedlings once they reach a height between two hundred and three hundred millimetres.
Growing Coffee Seeds in a Nursery Bed
After you have pre-germinated the seedlings, you can plant them into a nursery bed which contains soil that has between 10-20 litres per meter of well-rotted manure and 100 grams per meter of phosphate fertilizer. The nursery beds should be constructed so that they are one meter wide and fifty centimetres deep. This will allow the seedlings to be spaced about 12-15 centimetres apart to account for plants that are 20 centimetres, or 20 centimetres apart to account for plants that are between 30 and 40 centimetres tall. The beds should be shaded approximately fifty percent for the first few months. The amount of shading should be reduced slowly and two months before the seedlings are planted the shading should be completely removed.
Coffee Plant Care
Coffee plants thrive with artificial plant lights if they are housed indoors. The outside temperature for countries that are located outside of the Tropic Belt is generally too cold and too volatile for the tree to develop fully. The tree should be watered twice per week with full watering and half watering. Half watering is where you add some water to the soil but then allow the water to drain. Full watering is where you add water, allow the water to drain, and then add water containing fertilizer and allow that to drain. It is important that the soil remain moist but well drained.
After the plant has flowered for two or three years, you can begin to except cherries. Initially you should not expect high coffee quality unless you are carefully monitoring the micro climate and located at a high altitude. In theory, with the right conditions, it is feasible to grow high quality coffee at home, especially if you create the ideal environment indoors.
In order to help spur flowering, you should wait until the start of winter and begin to reduce the watering for approximately two to three months. Once spring arrives, you can water the plant well, which will shock the plant into producing higher rates of flowers. At this point, you should expect to water the plant regularly and to water it well. Arabica coffee is unique in that it is self-fertilizing, so there is no need for you to worry about the pollination process.
After the cherries mature, you can begin to harvest them, pulp them, ferment them, dry them, roast them, and enjoy a nice cup of coffee.
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