Coffee is a type of plant that has pretty flowers and its seeds are used to make different kinds of coffee drinks and products. It belongs to a plant family called Rubiaceae.

These plants are like small trees or bushes and they originally come from warm parts of Africa and Asia.

Coffee is really important and valuable around the world. It’s a crop that gets traded a lot and many countries depend on it for their exports. In Kenya, for example, it’s a big deal and they grow a lot of coffee on big and small farms.

The trees produce fruits that can be eaten. These fruits are either red or purple and are called cherries. Inside the cherries, there are two seeds that we call coffee beans, even though they’re not actually beans.

People mainly grow coffee for drinking, but they can also use leftover parts of the plant for things like making fuel or a good kind of dirt called mulch.

In Kenya, the most common type of coffee is called Arabica coffee.

Ecological Requirements

For coffee plants to grow well, they need specific conditions like where they’re located, how much sun they get, the temperature, the wind, how much rain they get, and what kind of soil they’re in.

Arabica coffee likes temperatures between 18 and 24 degrees Celsius. It shouldn’t get hotter than 30 degrees during the day or colder than 15 degrees at night.

Arabica coffee usually grows at elevations of 1400 to 2000 meters above sea level, and it needs at least 1000 millimeters of rain every year. If it doesn’t get enough rain, it’s important to use mulch to keep the moisture in the soil.

Robusta coffee is stronger against bugs and pests. It likes warm and humid climates near the equator, where the average temperature is between 22 and 26 degrees Celsius. It shouldn’t get colder than 10 degrees, and it grows at elevations of 100 to 800 meters. It needs about 2000 millimeters of rain every year, but the best range is between 1500 and 1900 millimeters.

Coffee plants like soil that drains well and has some air in it. The soil should be at least 1.5 meters deep, and in dry areas, it should be at least 3 meters deep.

It’s also good if the soil has a lot of decayed plants in it and is slightly acidic, with a pH between 4.4 and 5.4.

Field Operations

Land preparation & Planting

Propagation methods include using seeds or grafts to cultivate coffee plants.

Before planting, it is recommended to use CLAMPDOWN 480SL, a non-selective herbicide that effectively controls all types of weeds, to prepare the planting site.

For traditional coffee varieties, dig holes measuring 60 cm x 60 cm x 60 cm with a spacing of 2.75m x 2.75m. Small-scale farmers without spray roads can use a closer spacing of 2m x 1m on flat land.

Fill the holes four weeks prior to planting with a mixture of topsoil, farmyard manure, or well-rotted coffee pulp along with DAP fertilizer. To enhance nutrient uptake and stimulate plant growth, mix the fertilizer and manure with HUMIPOWER, which offers various benefits.

For “Ruiru II” variety, recommended spacing is 2m x 2m or 2m x 1m, resulting in a population density of 2,500 – 3,300 trees per hectare for small-scale farmers.

Transplant potted seedlings when they reach a height of around 30-40 cm, with mature bark of about 15 cm and 2-3 pairs of lateral branches, usually at 12-15 months old.

Mulching plays a vital role in coffee production by conserving moisture during dry periods, suppressing weed growth, improving soil structure and water infiltration, reducing soil erosion and temperature fluctuations, as well as minimizing pests like thrips. Sisal waste, coffee pruning, maize or banana trash can be used for mulching.

Shade trees are beneficial for coffee plants as they reduce stress caused by harsh conditions such as strong winds. At higher altitudes, temporary shade trees can be gradually removed once the coffee plants are well-established. It is advisable to plant shade trees before transplanting coffee.

Pruning is crucial in coffee production as it shapes the tree, maximizes new wood for future crops, maintains a proper balance between leaf area and crop, and prevents overbearing, which can lead to reduced production or tree mortality.

Weeding is essential to prevent weeds from competing with coffee plants for nutrients, sunlight, space, and water. Apply CLAMPDOWN 480SL at a rate of 150-300 milliliters per 20 liters of water to control both broadleaved and grass weeds and keep the garden weed-free.

Providing proper nutrition is vital for optimal coffee production. Both macro and micronutrients are necessary and can be supplied through basal and foliar fertilizers.

Basal fertilizers, such as DAP, CAN, and NPK, are applied to the soil and absorbed through the roots. It is recommended to mix the fertilizer (50kg) with HUMIPOWER (1kg) during application to enhance nutrient uptake, add organic matter, stimulate growth, and stabilize soil pH levels.

Manure can also be added depending on the organic matter content of the soil.

Foliar fertilizers are sprayed on the foliage and include products like OPTIMIZER, GOLDCHANCE SERIES, LAVENDER, LEGENDARY, DIMIPHITE, and BIODISTINCTION, among others.

Providing proper nutrition not only improves crop resistance to diseases and weather stress but also enhances overall performance.

Common Pests & Disease Control

Pests

Coffee Berry Borer

The coffee berry borer is a harmful pest found in many countries where coffee is grown. It can cause significant losses, ranging from 50% to 100%. The adult beetle is small and blackish, resembling a tiny cylinder. It feeds by tunneling into the coffee beans, leading to their destruction. The borer undergoes pupation within the coffee berry.

Signs of infestation include small round holes near the top of green or ripe berries, and the damaged beans exhibit a distinctive blue-green stain and may contain up to 20 larvae. Female beetles also attack young berries. The damage caused by the coffee berry borer makes the beans susceptible to fungal infections and contamination with mycotoxins.

To combat the coffee berry borer, spraying options include RANGER 480EC (30ml/20L), PROFILE 440EC (30ml/20L), or PRESENTO 200SP (5g/20L).

Antestia Bugs

Antestia bugs are significant pests affecting coffee in East African countries. These shield-shaped bugs are approximately 6 to 8 mm long and have dark brown bodies with orange and white markings. They hide within coffee berry or flower clusters. Female bugs lay eggs in groups of about 12 on the undersides of leaves.

Antestia bugs feed on sap from tender leaves, petioles, and berries. Severe infestations result in leaf and berry drop. Additionally, the bugs produce honeydew, which leads to the growth of sooty mold.

Recommended sprays for controlling Antestia bugs include PRESENTO 200SP (5g/20L), EMERALD 200SL (15ml/20L), or RANGER 480EC (30ml/20L).

Soft Green Scales

Soft green scales are a serious concern for transplanted coffee seedlings during their initial two years in the field. These yellowish to greenish flat oval scales measure about 5 mm in length. They prefer attacking green wood, leaves, and often appear in rows along the main leaf vein and near the tips of green shoots.

The scales cause damage by feeding on shoots, leaves, and berries. They also produce a significant amount of honeydew, which attracts ants and leads to the development of sooty mold. This mold causes the leaves to appear black and sticky.

To control soft green scales, recommended sprays include RANGER 480EC (30ml/20L), EMERALD 200SL (15ml/20L), or LOYALTY 700WDG (5g/20L).

Coffee Thrips

Coffee thrips are small insects, with adults measuring 1-1.5 mm in length and gray-brown in color. Nymphs are wingless and yellow. Both adults and nymphs feed on the underside of leaves, and in severe infestations, they also attack the upper side of leaves, berries, and green shoots.

Infested plant parts exhibit irregular gray or silvery patches covered in tiny black spots, which are the thrips’ excrement. Severe infestations may result in leaf dryness and leaf drop.

To manage coffee thrips, suggested sprays include DEFENDER 25EC (40ml/20L), ALONZE 50EC (5ml/20L), or PROFILE 440EC (30ml/20L).

Coffee Berry Moth

The coffee berry moth is a small golden-brown moth with a wingspan of around 1.3 mm. Female moths lay scale-like eggs near or on green berries. The caterpillars, or larvae, are reddish to pink with dark markings on their backs and grow to approximately 13 mm in size.

The larvae bore into green, partially grown berries, starting near the stalk and hollowing them out. Each caterpillar typically attacks several berries within a single cluster. Infested berries turn brown to black. The caterpillar leaves one berry after consumption and moves to another, connecting them with silk threads. The moth may also target flower buds and the tips of suckers.

To combat the coffee berry moth, suggested sprays include SINOPHATE 750SP (20g/20L), RANGER 480EC (30ml/20L), or PRESENTO 200SP (5g/20L).

White Coffee Borer

The white coffee borer, also known as the white stem borer, is a beetle that measures about 3 cm in length and features long antennae. Its body is dark brownish-grey, while the wing cases are greyish-white with dark markings towards the end.

Adult beetles primarily feed on branches’ bark, causing minimal damage. Female beetles lay eggs on the tree trunks, usually near the ground level. The legless, whitish larvae burrow into the trunk’s bark and wood, primarily affecting the main roots. Pupation occurs within large chambers within the trunk. Larval attacks cause severe damage, particularly when the trunks are almost ring-barked. Young trees may even die as a result, while older trees may experience wilting, yellowing, and reduced crop yield.

Signs of infestation include round exit holes from adult beetles in the trunk, as well as wood shavings protruding from the bark or roots below the soil level.

Recommended sprays for controlling the white coffee borer include EMERALD 200SL (15ml/20L), LEXUS 247SC (8ml/20L), or PRESENTO 200SP (5g/20L).

Red Coffee Mite

The red coffee mite can become a localized pest, particularly in unshaded coffee during the dry season. These mites attack the upper surface of mature leaves, resulting in a rusty, purple, or yellow-brown color change. Under drought stress, young leaves may also be affected.

To manage red coffee mite infestations, suggested sprays include ALONZE 50EC (5ml/20L) or BAZOOKA 18EC (10ml/20L).

Root-Knot Nematodes

Root-knot nematodes are microscopic roundworms that parasitize plant roots. Infected plants show stunted growth and yellowing leaves. Characteristic knots or galls may be present on the root system, the severity of which depends on the nematode species and the coffee variety.

To address root-knot nematode issues, drenching the soil with ALONZE 50EC (10ml/20L) or mixing basal fertilizer (50kg) with ADVENTURE 0.5GR (2kg) is recommended.

Leaf Skeletonizer

The leaf skeletonizer is typically a minor pest, although severe outbreaks can occur, especially in nurseries. The adult moth is gray and brown with a wing-span of approximately 1.3 cm, held at right angles to the body. They lay yellow-green eggs individually or in small groups, primarily on the underside of leaves. The larvae feed on the leaf’s underside, usually near the mid-rib, resulting in irregular lace-like patches.

To manage leaf skeletonizer infestations, suggested sprays include ALONZE 50EC (5ml/20L), ESCORT 19EC (10ml/20L), or SINOPHATE 750SP (20g/20L).

Diseases

Coffee Leaf Rust (Hemileia vastatrix)

Yellow to orange powdery patches can be seen on the underside of coffee leaves, and this leads to the development of chlorotic patches on the upper side.

A significant impact of coffee leaf rust is the defoliation it causes, leading to leaf loss.

In humid conditions, hyper-parasitic fungi such as Verticillium lecanii grow over the rust lesions, resulting in a pale mycelial growth.

Recommended sprays to combat coffee leaf rust include GREEEN COP 500WP (50g/20L), JUPITER 125SC (15ml/20L), or DUCASSE 250EW (20ml/20L).

Coffee Berry Disease (CBD) (Colletotrichum kahawae)

Also known as “coffee berry anthracnose” or “brown blight of coffee.”

A distinctive symptom is the progressive blackening of young coffee berries, starting as small water-soaked lesions that quickly become dark and sunken. As the disease progresses, the entire berry rots. In humid conditions, pink spore masses become visible on the lesion’s surface.

Coffee berry disease can also infect flowers, causing brown lesions on the petals.

To control coffee berry disease, recommended sprays include GREEEN COP 500WP (50g/20L), KATERINA 720SC (50ml/20L), or COMPLIANT 560SC (40ml/20L).

Armillaria Root Rot (Armillaria heimii)

Symptoms include wilting leaves, death of verticals (branches), and eventual death of affected coffee trees. White fungal growth can be observed beneath the bark in the root system of affected trees.

In advanced stages, the affected tree’s wood decomposes into a white, wet mass with characteristic black zone lines running through it.

To manage Armillaria root rot, drench the soil with PYRAMID 700WP (100g/20L), CHANCETYL ELITE 800WDG (100g/20L), or GREENCOP 500WP (100g/20L).

Coffee Wilt (Fusarium xylarioides)

Symptoms of coffee wilt include wilting, chlorosis (yellowing), and defoliation of the above-ground parts of the coffee plant. The trunk may exhibit numerous vertical and spiral cracks. Characteristic blue-black streaks can be seen in the wood when inspected beneath the bark, particularly around the collar. Fruiting bodies of the fungus producing spores may be observed in the bark.

Infected berries turn red prematurely, and seed infection leads to a blue-black discoloration of the parchment and silver skin.

Recommended sprays to combat coffee wilt include GREENCOP 500WP (100g/20L), CHANCETYL ELITE 800WDG (10g/20L), or GEARLOCK TURBO 250WP (50g/20L).

Maturity, Harvesting & Post-Harvest Handling

A coffee tree reaches maturity after 4 to 7 years, at which point it starts producing fruit in clusters called cherries.

The cherries start off green and turn red when they are ready for harvesting.

Inside the red skin of the cherries, there is pulp, an outer layer, and a parchment-like covering that protects the beans. Inside these layers are two oval-shaped beans with flat sides facing each other.

The timing of the harvest varies depending on the region and altitude.

Only ripe berries should be harvested because immature and overripe berries result in poor bean quality.

Coffee is harvested by hand using one of two methods: strip picking or selective picking.

Strip picking involves harvesting all the beans from the tree at once, including ripe and unripe cherries. This method is commonly used for Robusta coffee. Machines can also be used to mechanically strip the cherries off the branches.

Selective picking involves selecting only the ripe cherries and returning to the tree multiple times over several weeks to pick the remaining cherries as they ripen. This method is more labor-intensive and is typically used for Arabica coffee.

In Kenya, coffee is harvested by selectively picking ripe berries.

Sorting

Before pulping, cherries are sorted to remove immature, diseased, insect-damaged, and dry berries, as well as leaves, twigs, and other foreign matter. The sorted berries are then ready for further processing.

Processing

Processing should begin immediately after harvesting and involves removing the husk and fruit from the coffee beans, followed by drying the beans to a moisture content of 11%. Delaying this process for more than 48 hours can negatively affect bean quality.

There are two main processing methods: the Dry Method and the Wet Method.

The Dry Method, also known as the Natural Process, is the traditional way of processing coffee. Cherries are spread out on a patio and exposed to sunlight. Regular raking prevents fermentation. After 7 to 10 days, when the cherries’ moisture levels reach around 11%, they are considered dry. The outer shell darkens and becomes brittle. The dried cherries are then stored in silos.

The Wet Method involves using a pulping machine to remove the outer layers of the cherries within 24 hours of harvesting. Cherries are carried by water, and the pulping machine separates the beans from the cherry pulp. Washing channels then separate the mature beans from the immature ones. The beans are subsequently stored in fermentation tanks for 12 to 48 hours, allowing enzymes to naturally remove the remaining outer layer. After this process, the beans need to be dried to 11% moisture content, which can be achieved by sun-drying on patios or using mechanical dryers.

Both methods result in parchment coffee, which refers to the final layer that remains on the beans.

The chosen processing method has a significant impact on the coffee’s flavor profile.

Note:

When conducting foliar sprays, it is advisable to mix the product(s) with INTEGRA (3ml/20L), which enhances efficacy for more effective results.

JAMBO CLEAN (100ml/20L) is used to clean sooty mold that occurs after infestation by sap-sucking pests like scales.

To prevent resistance build-up, it is recommended to alternate various chemicals, especially fungicides and insecticides, throughout the crop’s season rather than relying on a single chemical.

All basal fertilizers and manures should be mixed with HUMIPOWER, which improves nutrient uptake, stimulates beneficial microbial activities, and promotes plant development, among other benefits.

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