Growing Coffee at Home.

Growing Coffee at home.

Yep. You can do it. In fact, I can’t say enough good things about coffee as an ornamental. It has shiny, dark green leaves, a symmetrical growth pattern and is naturally resistant to many pests. (Caffeine is the plant’s natural defence.) The leaves droop when it is thirsty and it responds well to that type of infrequent watering. I’m not saying that’s the best way to water, but if you forget to water it one day, it’s likely going to be fine. 

Pests:

Pots are too small: Dec 2020

As mentioned, there are few pests. However the coffee plant I bought from….don’t get mad at me…..Home Depot, came with a viral spotting on lower leaves. I looked it up and it is likely Coffee Ringspot Virus. It turns out that it can kill a plant and prevent fruit (the beans) from maturing. I did some further research and found that the virus is spread through a mite. To protect it, regularly disposing of fallen leaves is a must. Of course, I have the perfect solution: Neoseiulus fallacis, the predatory mite. It eats most mites so it was worth a try. I can’t guarantee it worked, but the spotting went away and has never returned. 

With the application of fallacis – which is known to persist on a plant permanently, I have never had to worry about spider mites. And while I spot a fungus gnat from time to time, I put the predatory soil mite Stratiolaelaps scimitus in each pot and took care of that. So it is basically a care free plant in regards to pests.

Growing Conditions:

Again, this seems like the perfect house plant. It loves high humidity, but we just simply don’t get that on the coast (except on dark days when it pours). But despite the dry air, it does particularly well….except on cold, dry days in the winter. I’ll touch on that in a moment.

Coffee is a high altitude plant that naturally has bright, but filtered light. In Southern Canada it is important that the coffee be given as much non-direct light as possible. For me this means situating it in front of large, south facing windows. In the summer it is bright, and with the overhang of the roof, it doesn’t get direct sun except early in the morning or at sunset. In the winter, however, it gets direct sun all day. That coupled with the very low humidity leads to some fairly serious defoliation….which ain’t pretty. I have a humidifier (for the Christmas tree) and I can spray them with water from time to time, but it just isn’t ideal.

When I got the plant it had several plants in one small pot. I successfully divided it into two plants. Both of these young plants went outside for a summer when I lived in Vancouver. We were on a hot, south facing deck which allowed me to grow plants out of season. So I put the coffee plants on the deck early….maybe April? They survived all year. All I did was ensure they were protected from afternoon direct sun and I probably shaded them in the brightest months. However, when they were moved to Victoria I tried the same and within hours all the parts of leaves that faced the sun turned a pink colour….literally sun-burnt! I understood that they didn’t like the direct sun, but I figured Canadian sun is weak enough to not matter much. (Also I saw coffee plantations in Hawaii that had tall trees around the perimeter of the farm but nothing shading the coffee from overhead direct light…go figure.) My only guess is that they went outside early when it was successful and they went out too late in the year when it failed. So the plants had little time to get used to the increase of light. I may have to try it again this year. 

Right above my daughter is the smaller of the two coffees. The big plant is a Meyer Lemon. 2016

Coffee wants rich soil. And if you have followed my blog you’ll be surprised to hear that I have grown the coffee in Miracle Grow brand potting soil and fertilize it occasionally with Miracle Grow. Now, forgive me, but in an apartment, downtown, soil is hard to come by. So the one brand of bagged soil is all I had to work with. And the plant did so well that when it came time to repot them, I simple went with what I know works. But, maybe this is indicative of just how easy the plant is to grow. 

I don’t like water-soluble fertilizers. Essentially they are too good. Plants don’t choose to uptake nutrients, they have to. So when you supply abundant, easily available nutrients, you can stress them. Too much nitrogen and it forces leaf growth and too much of the others can harden the plant off. Ideally, you mimic natural conditions. So I fertilize at half strength maybe three to four times a year. I have also added some worm castings from my worm bin. What’s important here is to remember that it goes is rich soil (think of the nabob commercials sighting “rich volcanic soil”), so unlike your succulents, you’ll need to provide adequate nutrients. 

Harvest

It’s also the perfect Christmas plant! I’m writing this on Christmas Eve, and I just harvested the berries yesterday (hoping for a FRESH cup of coffee Christmas morning). Had I left the berries on, Christmas morning would be a scene of a Christmas Tree with presents and two large, dark green coffee trees speckled with clusters of plump red berries. It’s spectacular, really!

My son’s expression when I said he couldn’t eat them.

It seems to depend a little on growing conditions, but each year the berries seem to ripen in the winter – this has been the earliest so far. 

How to Harvest

Easy! Pick the dark red berries and put them in a bowl of water. Let them sit over night.

Next day: Squeeze them until the pulp separates from the bean. It’s satisfying as they will shoot out.)

Clean the water, compost the pulp and return the beans to the water. They will be slippery with a this membrane.

Clean the water again. Now rub them together and in your hands to remove the membrane.

Disclosure: Child labour was used for my coffee harvest.

Dry.

Roast: For this, I’ll refer you to the internet. I don’t know what method is best at home. A cast iron pan on low is fine as long as you’re tossing them around from time to time. Like many beans and seeds, they are likely to burn if left unattended. Otherwise, the internet suggests putting them on a pan in the oven. This freaks me out, but at low heat, it might work fine. Again, these beans you’ve grown are precious, so watch them closely!

Use right away? You bet. Don’t store them…..you might as well buy coffee beans.

Problems going forward.

In our new house we transplanted the coffee into two beautiful royal blue pots – beautiful homes for beautiful plants. I spent a bit of money on these pots as we felt these would be a long-term addition to the living room. They were placed in a sunny spot and given lots of love. Less than one year later, the rate of growth was so much that the plants had out-grown their pots! I kid you not! They loved it. I’ve now spent the last year and a half watering them almost every second day because they are so root bound.

There are two big problems:

One: The pots are tapered at the mouth, so the root ball can’t just slide out without breaking the pot.

Two: My wife no longer likes the plants. They are too big for the space and they have lost too many leaves to be the nice, full, lush plants they should be. (Part of that is seasonal…they look best in late Spring).

Options:

One: Put the plants in the spare bedroom against a similar south facing window. But, we risk killing them because “out of sight is out of mind.” I usually water the plants when I notice the slightest droop in the leaves. If I don’t see the plants every day, I’ll forget to do this. Plus, no one will see the beauty of them.

Two: Break the pots. I could give them nice new, bigger pots at the expense of new ones. I’d likely go with plastic to reduce the cost. This might convince my wife to let them stay, especially if they fill out again. But, this doesn’t deal with the fact that they are getting too big for the room. 

Three: Sell them? But it takes a few years to fruit and I’d likely just get another coffee plant, so what’s the point?

Four: Repot, move to the spare room in the winter, but try outside again in the summer.

If you have any ideas of what to do with plants you love but are too big to keep, please let me know. 

June 30, 2016. Coffee is outdoors in full sun (Bottom right) Ignore the other plants.

Recap:

Growing coffee is easy and it’s a beautiful plant. 

The quality of light and humidity are your biggest concerns, so pick a spot for it carefully.

Pests aren’t a problem with the right bio controls – and that is minimal anyways. 

You WILL get coffee beans to harvest. And BOY does your neighbourhood smell nice when you’re roasting them.

PS: Curious what it was like for someone like me in an apartment without a garden?:

Maximize space on the big south facing open deck.
2015 it was a jungle
I kept bees on an adjacent roof with lots of habitat for them (including a water garden, far left)
We were lucky to have the space we did. This covered North/East facing deck was small. Perfect place for a morning coffee. I ended up growing fuchsia and blueberries, as seen there.
It was important to build structures to maximize space. There’s bath time and the coffees again in the back.

Happy Holidays! Two weeks away from my first Spring Plantings.

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