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Thursday, August 17, 2023

How to Grow Your Own Coffee

 Original Article

We drink a lot of coffee here in Venezuela. It’s a part of our culture.

It’s a tradition to offer coffee to visitors. Even in the humblest of homes, and if the infusion has to be a little bit watery, with little sugar, visitors will still receive a cup of coffee. Mind you, our Italian/Spanish and even Arabic mixed society has brought along the national desire for strong and tasty cappuccinos, lattes, and a much-extended version: the gravity brewed. That last one is not my favorite, as I prefer to use a small coffee maker to pressure-brew one cup at a time.

However, in every home, there is a gravity brewer. You may now have an idea of the extent of our coffee consumption. When the commies here decreed that all the coffee production had to be sold to the “State,” this just further contributed to the coffee scarcity we saw during the Hyperinflation Period (2017-2021).

You can prep coffee, but how do you grow it? I would like to tell you what my family did to keep coffee in our mugs during the collapse of our country.

It’s no secret that Venezuelans have had it rough over the past few years.

Some had it rougher than others, but that is life.

I consider myself fortunate: my family has some means that not many people had throughout the past couple of years. Like a cabin in the mountains, for instance. A few fruit trees. We are still getting mango juice from the last crop of our four trees, even though the season is almost over. Sadly, most of our citrus trees didn’t survive the past few years, and only one lemon tree made it – currently fighting for its life. We did do well with our tangerines, orange trees, and grapefruit trees. This last one was such a huge producer that we even gave fruit away.

In 2008, a very severe drought hit. I believe I remember meteorologists called this La Niña. As in the opposite of El Niño. Huge water masses went up into the atmosphere instead of pouring down. I remember my father mentioning he had to hire a few trucks to haul water from town (a common practice at the time) to fill up our cement tank. This way, we could have some water for irrigation and household use. Kind of.

I have always liked to think that good people receive blessings.

My father sometimes did a few gigs here and there for a farmer. He never charged him because these were tiny jobs. Half an hour, or maybe a couple of hours, and having some degree of friendship, he never asked for money. One day, this client wanted to give back the favors and came with 20 small plants of his coffee variety. This was the beginning of my family’s coffee grove.

These plants were already used to the climate. They were resilient, strong little plants. There are two popular variants on this side of the world, as far as I know: the one with yellow grain and the one with red grain. The one we have is the latter.

This has to be a resistant variety: the last dry season was too long, and the current rainy season hasn’t been a good one. The rainy days are not so much and far in between, and the rain itself is strong – abundant, but it doesn’t last too long. Cloudy days like those that we are used to seeing in these mountains, even with some morning and afternoon fog and a temperature descent, are not present yet, which is not a good sign.

Coffee plants need sun, but not too much.

They grow better in the shadow of other larger plants, like the cacao tree. Our place is at the optimal height and temperature (10°C-28°C), with a proper geometry of the terrain it likes: steep side hills with organic matter product of years of self-regeneration. This means we left native weeds to grow and cut them endlessly with one month and a half between cuts, for years, forming a layer of mulch. After over 30 years of this treatment, the organic matter layer is seemingly good enough.

I’m not exactly fond of using chemical fertilizers or pesticides, but with the current state of the plants, maybe it is necessary. Being a hilly mountainside with clay-ish, rocky soil (the vegetable layer is maybe 40 cm deep now), nutrients may have washed out downhill. That would explain why there is a large fruit tree, and plants seem to grow better at the bottom of the hill.

Back in the day, the fertilizer used for our small batch of plants was one with 15% of every major “plant” element: phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium – among other minerals in smaller proportions. Just a cup in the foot of every tree was all that was needed. The soil has been intact for so long that a little mineral addition should not alter the biome underneath the first 10-15 cm (2-3.5 inches). Here’s how to produce your own fertilizer.

Coffee plant roots are very delicate.

Albeit the varieties these days are robust, the root system is delicate and needs good preparation months prior to the transplant of the seedlings. I have seen some sites recommending ficus to provide shadow, but I would avoid using this plant at all. In our experience, it consumes too much water, and the roots are very destructive. They will get through anything to get water, including your sewage or water pipes, in no time. And a tree that produces no fruits? No thanks.

An advantage for people in the North (or far enough to the South) is that coffee is not afraid of a little cold until 10°C. A location with a moderate winter could harbor enough plants in a greenhouse to be self-sufficient. Although a few plants did not survive, with the 14-15 remaining ones, my parents were able to harvest enough coffee to have one daily cup for each of them for three years in a row. Mind you, this was without adding any fertilizer or chemicals. I’m sure that with some care, the yield would have been at least double.

The last crop before my father stopped going up to the land (due to his age) lasted them a year and a half. That was long enough to provide them with enough coffee until it was again on the shelves again.

(Want to build up your coffee stores now? Learn how by reading our free QUICKSTART Guide to building a 3-layer food storage plan.)

The main problem we face down here with coffee is plant diseases.

There are organic, environmental-friendly remedies, but the efficiency of industrially-produced chemicals is undeniable.

As far as I remember, these plants have received fumigation just once or maybe twice with such products. The people taking care of the house seemingly grew (like many others) in the “Green Revolution” era, and the mentality of spraying whatever products are for sale without caring too much about the consequences still prevails.

Nevertheless, thanks to my kid and his deep interest in herbalism, botanical products, and other stuff, we have come to see the soil as a different mixture of elements. Fungus, bacteria colonies, microorganisms of all kinds, worms, all of them interacting happily. Many farmers down here merely don’t understand this complexity.

That’s why after 50 years and several generations of pouring chemicals into the ground, they’re facing problems so deep that many of them have sold their land just to go to Europe to work like employees. Unbelievable. The reason why they never tried to fertilize organically and start to recover the soil is beyond my understanding.

You do need a way to process your coffee beans.

They made an agreement with someone that used a pulping machine to separate the bean from the pulp. This person asked for half of the product in exchange. This is the downside of barter during a time of need. If you’re out of luck, you may end up paying an exorbitant price. Remember that you can process your own beans with the sun, time, and some care. If you have power, here’s an article on how to roast green coffee beans.

However, with pure coffee beans, without grinding, at $10 per kilo (it was half this price just a year and a half ago when I arrived), I’m tempted to start a really decent production again. Especially because we already have the plants there. Our plants are over ten years old now, but I don’t want to make myself too many illusions about what they could bring in – especially when we could face unwanted night visitors. I will consider myself satisfied if we can make it to 20 kilos of beans in total.

Living off the land like 100 years ago is exhausting if you didn’t grow up in that environment.

While you may not be able to produce enough coffee to open up a business during the failure of your country, that is now what we strive for down here. It is already hard to raise coffee, even in regular conditions, with modern tools and biochemical products. Many of us want another type of main business and grow coffee on the side.

However, producing as much as you need to cover your consumption is an accomplishable task. Not having to rely on an external source to produce something as valuable as coffee when the supply chains have become much more expensive is priceless.

And my parents can testify to that.

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Have you ever tried growing coffee?

Is this something you’ve tried? If not, is it possible where you live? Let’s talk about growing coffee in the comments.

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