If you are interested in finding one of the most comprehensive Big Island farm tours on the Kona side, look no further! Our farm has it all, from fruit trees and vegetables gardens to food forests and livestock. One of the most intriguing aspects of our farm tour, especially for coffee connoisseurs, is viewing the coffee plants. Though coffee is a hardy plant that thrives in the lush soils and gentle rains characteristic of the Kona coffee belt, the significance of Kona coffee to Hawaiian culture and economy adds an element of artistry and complexity to coffee cultivation.
Because our coffee crop is modest in size, we grow, process, and roast all of our organic coffee ourselves. In seeking to brew a delicious cup of coffee from seed to cup, we have experimented with multiple methods of cultivation and processing. But perhaps the most crucial aspect of cultivating a delicious, resilient coffee crop is pruning.
This week we will explore the basics of coffee pruning and the methods we are experimenting with. For a more intimate Kona coffee experience, schedule one of our Big Island farm tours.
Why Prune Coffee?
In their first years of life in the ground, coffee plants produce lots of leaves and branches. Coffee trees age rapidly, producing heavily for the first three harvests. They therefore tend to deplete the soil of necessary salts and minerals quite quickly, thus impeding further growth. Furthermore, coffee cherry production drops dramatically in branches that are older than three years, rendering older branches practically useless.
If you were to allow a coffee tree to continue to grow without any maintenance, its verticals, or tall, cherry-producing branches, would gradually become weighed down with cherries. The verticals would multiply, continuing to produce less and less. The tree would then be forced to utilize nutrients to sustain the stump and branches. And that leaves very little nourishment for the cherry.
Pruning the coffee diverts nutrients from the coffee plant’s aging, low-yield branches to baby branches, or “suckers,” with high growth and yield potentials. Trimming dead branches also ensures that the coffee cherry itself receives sufficient nutrients. By extension, pruning ensures a flavorful and anti-oxidant rich coffee.
Regularly pruning your coffee tree also allows you to shape the tree in a way that promotes efficient growth and picking. A tree with several tall, heavy, poor-yield verticals is difficult to pick and doesn’t produce high quality coffee. You want to prune coffee in such a way that you typically have two or three strong and healthy verticals, as well as a few small suckers that will eventually replace current verticals as the primary producing branches. Regular pruning also ensures that you don’t have branches in close proximity competing for space and sunlight.
Methods of Coffee Pruning
There are several different methods of pruning coffee, as you can observe across Big Island farm tours. The Two primary methods are the Kona Style method and the Beaumont Fukunaga method.
The Kona Style method is the traditional method of coffee pruning in the Kona area. Most small, family owned farms typically apply the Kona method. When you prune according to the Kona style, you will prune your entire coffee crop every year, removing large non-producing or unhealthy branches to make room for new growth. The objective is to prune each tree back to two or three healthy, producing branches.
Larger, less established farms typically employ the Beaumont Fukunaga method. The latter method entails planting and pruning coffee based on the age of the coffee trees. Farmers who use the Beaumont Fukunaga method plant trees in rows based on age, from one year to three years. Each year, coffee farmers prune all of the three-year-old plants back to stumps. The three year plants then becomes ones again; the ones, twos; and the twos, threes.
Both methods will require upkeep once the larger pruning process is complete. Once larger branches are pruned, new growth will emerge around the prior cut. Farmers must then remove all but the best of these new suckers to allow the best suckers the space and nutrients necessary for proper growth.
Coffee Pruning at Gingerhill
If you join one of our Big Island farm tours this season, you might witness some pruning in action. It is best to prune coffee between January and April, when coffee is no longer producing. On the Kona side, winter and early spring tend to be sunny and dry, with periodic rains—perfect conditions for coffee pruning.
The first step is to remove all old or green coffee cherry. If these old cherries land on the ground instead, they will produce coffee keiki around the parent plant, creating unhealthy competition between the trees.
We then employ a Kona Style method of coffee pruning. We select branches that are no longer yielding coffee, or that are too heavy for the tree to support, for removal. Then we remove suckers growing below the knee. We leave two suckers, preferably on opposing sides of the tree, to become future verticals.
In accordance with the principles of sustainability, permaculture, Syntropic farming, and agroforestry, we strive to use every part of the coffee plant. We remove the green leaves of the pruned branches and use them to mulch around the base of the trees. Doing so returns critical nutrients, particularly nitrogen, to the soil, enhancing the health of the coffee plant. We also return small, thin parts of the plant to the soil to decompose and breed beneficial microorganisms. Finally, we then use a machete to process the rest of the branches, saving the wood for kindling.
Want to learn more? Check out our Big Island farm tours and see for yourself the difference that quality coffee pruning can make!