Grow Your Own Cup of Coffee
By Laurelynn Martin and Byron Martin
|Coffee Plant Fruit|
|Coffee Plant Fruit|
|Edge Burn on Leaves|
Coffee is a popular beverage around the world. In America alone, 54% of the population over age 18, consume coffee everyday (National Coffee Association 2014). Every few years, a new study comes out and tells us something new about coffee consumption. Lately, the research has been pointing to health benefits such as: long term coffee consumption can reduce the risk of diabetes, slow the progression of liver cancer, lessen the risk of Parkinson's disease and is reported to not have any ill effects with regards to heart disease or stroke (Harvard School of Public Health 2015). Coffee consumption is not going away. Instead, the enjoyment and ritual around a morning cup of coffee has become an obsession. Growing your own coffee beans is now a key part of that obsession.
The coffee plant is in the Rubiacea family, the same family as the gardenia. There are many species of coffee but two specifically are used for commercial production. Coffea arabica, known as Arabica and Coffea canephora, known as Robusta. Arabica accounts for 75-80 % of the world's production of coffee (coffeeresearch.org 2015), even though Robusta produces more abundantly, the flavor of Arabica is far superior to Robusta.
Growing Coffee arabica as a potted plant
Arabica makes an excellent potted plant for gardeners that are outside of the tropics. The coffee plant is one of the best fruiting plants grown indoors in the north. Its ability to fruit under less than three feet in height and its ability to adapt to low light levels make it an ideal candidate for any indoor garden space. The fragrant flowers and fruits, also known as cherries, produce well in many environmental conditions including the dry atmosphere typical in a home as well as dry soil conditions.
Growth Habit of Coffee
Coffee plants have attractive shiny, deep green leaves and lateral branching. The branches come off a central leader stem much like a pine tree. Arabica has a full, bushy habit and the fragrant white flowers emerge on the lateral branches usually in unison, creating quite a show. The sweet fragrance lasts for many days and then, the flowers are followed by the formation of the fruit or 'cherries.'
The Cherry or Coffee Fruit
The cherries emerge green and then ripen to a bright red color. They will turn crimson and then black if they are left on the tree too long. This is past picking time. The best harvest time is when the cherries are bright red. Most cherries have two beans or seeds inside from which the roasted coffee bean is made.
Shade Grown Coffee
The process of growing and flowering is easily done in pots and coffee can handle lower light well. Shade grown coffee is popular because it is better for the environment and biodiversity (Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center 2015). Shade grown coffee uses fewer pesticides, has less erosion, and makes a safe habitat for birds and a whole host of other strong benefits. Arabica has up to 65% yields in shade grown areas plus it is said that the coffee tastes better because it takes longer to ripen. (Coffeehabitat.com 2015). When growing coffee inside, find a full sun to partial shade spot along with temperatures generally above 50°F and regular attention to watering. Although with less light, it may take longer to produce the coffee cherries.
Watering and Fertilizing your Coffee Plant
As a rule, bring the potting mix to visual dryness and then thoroughly saturate the soil mix. Also, coffee plants, when grown as a potted plant, need regular applications of balanced fertilizer. This will keep the leaves green and the plants flowering and fruiting. Add soluble fertilizer to the water or top dress with an organic fertilizer. Remember plants that are grown in lower light need less fertilizer. If the leaves start to brown or have edge burn, then too much fertilizer has been applied. If this happens, simply flush the soil with clear water. Typically, the plant will then grow out of the fertilizer burn.
At Logee's, we propagate coffee from seed and it takes between 6-8 months to grow into a 2.5 inch pot. Once the plant is established, it can take up to another 3 years until coffee cherries start to form. The coffee plant needs to be re-potted several times into larger pots and once your plant is potted into a 14-inch container and lateral branches have formed, flowering and fruit will shortly follow. Coffee plants can be grown in smaller pots but they need to have the ability to grow to 3-5 feet to produce a good crop of cherries.
Coffee's vertical form with lateral branches will outgrow their space quickly and often require some pruning. There are several ways to prune. One method is to reach the desired size and then prune out the top by simply removing a foot or 6 inches of growth. Initially, it will cause a flat top to the pyramid form but in no time it will grow again. This method can be done any time the plant out grows its space. Another way to prune is to head back the lateral branches to maintain size. This should only be done after flowering has occurred. You could also choose to give your plant a severe pruning. A plant that has out grown its space is cut back to half the size or more, which will leave the plant as a stump with a few branches left. If done in the time period from spring to summer, the coffee plant will soon re-sprout from the main stem and in time grow back to its former structure.
Root Disease and Insects
The root system is strong and has good resistance to diseases. It can be maintained in a large pot for years once the maximum pot size is reached. There are few insects that bother coffee other than mealy bug.
There are foliage diseases that can attack the leaves but by giving the plant optimum growing conditions, this can usually be avoided. Part of the optimum growing conditions are some direct sunlight and temperatures above 65°F with high humidity.
Another foliage issue is edge burn, which is often seen on plants that over winter in homes where the light levels are low and the atmosphere is dry. It is important to restrict fertilizer in the early fall so the plant can prepare for winter. Remember plants can be maintained at 3-4 feet if indoor gardening space is at a premium and as long as your coffee plant gets some direct sunlight during the winter, it will thrive.
Transition from Inside to Outside
Generally, coffee plants love to be outside in the summer. As soon as the danger of frost is over, plants that have been grown inside can be moved outside. The plant needs to be hardened off so the leaves don't burn. Over the period of a week or two, gradually increase the amount of direct sunlight the plant receives each day starting in a shady location and giving it slightly more sun each day. If a few leaves get sunburned, simply remove them. If many leaves get burned, simply allow the new growth to emerge and then remove old burned leaves. Summer time is a period of vigorous growth for coffee and flowering can occur in late spring or summer and many times more than one flowering cycle will occur during the growing season.
- Coffee. National Geographic. National Geographic Society, n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2013.
- The History of Coffee Culture in America. Dir. Devin Hahn. Smithsonian.com. Smithsonian Media, n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2013
- Sweetmarias.com. 2015. Growing Coffee Arabica At Home, January 1, 2015.
- Growing Coffee Beans at Home. Coffee Research Institute.
- Coffeeresearch.org Coffee, The Good News, Harvard School of Public Health, hsph.harvard.edu
- National Coffee Drinking Trends. National Coffee Association, Rice, R. 2010.
- The ecological benefits of shade-grown coffee: the case for going Bird-Friendly. Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.
- Growing Tasty Tropical Plants in any home, anywhere. by Laurelynn Martin and Byron Martin, (Storey Publishing, 2010)