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Coffee Production in the Bamboo Garden

Coffee is a great candidate for home growing if you live in (or can reproduce the conditions of) the montane or cool tropical, and subtropical forest habitats of the plant (Coffea arabica), and have space for growing small shrubs. Since it can be productive even as a shrub kept pruned to around one metre, even space-poor apartment dwellers may be able to keep a small hedge of them if a protected verandah or window box is available which receives at least few hours of sunlight each day.


Green beans: unhulled, hulled, hulls

In The Bamboo Garden we grow coffee under a canopy of larger native forest species. Self-sown seedlings frequently nominate themselves for service and are hardy if needing to be moved. The plants are attractive evergreens with a seasonal show of gorgeous white flowers preceding the berries (actually drupes), which ripen here around August.

The coffee attracts bees (both honeybees and natives) and other nectar loving insects while flowering, so plays the part of insectary as well as luxury beverage crop in our grove planting strategy. It is also great habitat for predatory insects and can be hedged or trained to provide visual structure in the mid-storey of an urban forest fragment like ours.

As with any crop, fertility can be depleted if the soil is not cared for. In a forest polyculture like this one however, this is no problem, as the leaf litter from surrounding trees provides year-round mulch, tended and manured by wild birds, lizards, and a single rogue chicken named Moonwalk. Chook food imports are rarely required, as this bird easily feeds itself from the polyculture. Supplementary food in the form of particularly choice kitchen scraps (greens, berries, seeds etc.) are reserved for her but the rest goes to the various worm farms and compost systems we have going. They will make their way to her  eventually anyway, in the form of invertebrates and skinks she forages from the litter.

A tremendous diversity of soil organisms then get both the finished compost and the super-condensed goodness of chook poo (along with the equally rich guano from skinks and visiting birds, frass from insects etc.), in discrete packets scattered around and eventually turned in by our miniature dinosaurian roto-tiller and innumerable earthworms.

All of this contributes to the fertility and complexity of our coffee terroir. The sophistication of these support systems is utterly failed by my own lack of experience in harvesting and processing coffee, nonetheless we recently tasted the first cup from our garden… (details to come)

Roasted beans: with parchment shells, without, parchment shell fragmentsGiven the high cost at retail of quality coffee, it makes good economic sense as a home crop for the dedicated addict, although the cost of processing equipment for larger quantities (which are tiresome to process by hand) may take as long to amortize as your initial investment in the trees. At our rate of consumption here though, one crop from about four trees is enough for our weekly cup of coffee (we are more tea drinkers) for several weeks after fruiting. And we could probably fit several more into our food-forest understorey.

For us, the economics of home coffee production are almost as convincing as the ethical implications: guaranteed free from child-slavery (unless you have your own home-grown indentured labourers) and the potential to achieve absolutely the lowest environmental cost-per-cup possible.

The next step in beverage sustainability in The Bamboo Garden will be a small Camellia hedge to supplement our serious tea habit. Stay tuned!

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Reader Comments (1)

Ben might be a bit too modest to say it, but the coffee was excellent!
Now my to-do list for the orchard includes ripping out the decorative hedge at the front and replacing it with coffee. Aside from the harvest, the tree hedges up nicely with attractive glossy deep green leaves and the white flowers have a wonderful fragrance.

December 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSal

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