Growing Coffee Plants

Growing Coffee – Choosing the best plants for our altitude and soil type.

The terrain here in Costa Rica varies sometimes from foot step to foot step. You can drastically change your elevation in just a few minutes. The composition of the soil is just as varied. The piece of land down by our river has a beautiful dark, wormy soil while the orange soil at the top of the hill crumbles underneath your shoes. When we plant food and flowers we have to take into consideration what the nutrient requirements are for each plant.  In most cases, we need to haul soil from the riverbank and mix it in during planting.

When we decided on growing coffee our reading suggested that coffee normally only grows at higher elevations. A great coffee bean is grown on the side of a volcano at about 2000 ft elevation with clearly defined rainy and dry seasons. Our farm is only 300 ft above sea level at its highest point and summer last year was from April to July versus July through September this year, basically anything goes when it comes to the weather here. I walked to the store one day and it was raining in town and it was dry as a bone back on the farm. So, we set out to find a coffee plant that would meet our unique requirements.

We heard of an Indian couple that was growing coffee in an environment much like ours. They lived just on the next ridge and they had some starts for sale. They didn’t have a road going up to their place so we would have to walk in. It took us a little while to find our way and we had to follow the sound of a dog to get us to the house. There we met this lovely couple.

Indians selling coffee

They have their food inter-planted beautifully. The bananas shade their coffee plants, the ginger is shaded by cacao trees and the corn is in the open spots. They have fruit trees that are the size of our house if not bigger. We took a long walk around while we were inspecting the health of the coffee plants and listening to the man’s stories. He had a lot of questions for us about the United States. They asked us about snow, which is a common question for us here. It makes me miss a cold winter day on the farm in Indiana every time I am asked to describe it.

The plants were in great condition and just looking at the beans made me thirsty. We decided to buy 30 starts.

Green Coffee Beans on Plant

Fully grown coffee plant

The woman and I went to the house while the men discussed the price. We have found that in this part of the country, especially on a farm, the men take care of the business. I had already told the husband what to pay so it didn’t bother me. Maria showed me drawings done by her granddaughter that lived in the city. She said that her daughter was very busy and didn’t visit much. I had a difficult time understanding everything she said but she looked proud while talking about her family.
Buying Coffee Plants from Locals

When the men finally came to an agreement on $2 a plant I was summoned to start picking out the ones I wanted. I wanted signs of growth, but nothing root-bound.

Buying Coffee

Selecting Cafe Plants

We planted our coffee directly across from where our house will be up on the hill. We didn’t prepare the area for planting. We simply made holes directly where the plants were placed.  The organic material left around the plants will slowly decompose adding nutrients and less pests will be attracted to them because they are camouflaged. They get dappled sunlight throughout the day and are protected from heavy winds and rains. Hopefully, my next coffee post will include the bright red coffee “cherries”, how we roast the beans and us enjoying our first cup!

New Coffee Plant in dirt

Small Coffee Plant growing

See other Fruits and Foods of Costa Rica

12 comments on “Growing Coffee Plants”

  1. Bob Reply

    I currently have 250 castillo coffee plants in Columbia that I would like to bag and sell to commercial growers or homeowners and plant to grow more. Would you know what is the safest way to dig and preserve these plants for transport and replanting. ( regarding size of rootball, best season to dig, bagged or potted?)

    • Kimberly Beck Reply

      Bob – I am not sure what size your plants are, that makes a difference in what is needed to move them. Every large bush that we have ever moved (blackberry) we have dug with a wide berth and used burlap sacks to carry. Here is a good diagram of the coffee plant root system (http://www.fao.org/docrep/006/ad219e/AD219E05.htm) . It doesn’t exactly answer your questions but it may help.

  2. darby Reply

    You two make us so proud…how you research everything and figure out how to process your food. When g’pa plants tomato plants he puts powdered milk or powdered creamer in the hole before he puts the plants in the ground. There again, it is the calcium that is required. Our tomatoes were just perfect this year.
    What you two write sure beats watching tv (ha). g’ma

  3. LeeAnn Renshaw Reply

    I have been looking for a coffee plant to grow here in CR. Can you tell me where I need to go to get one?

  4. cindy Reply

    How wonderful! best of luck with your coffee plantation..I so enjoy your posts and living vicariously in Costa Rica ;-)It is also wonderful to see folks inter planting and to learn of anything but industrial ag!

  5. ABINA Reply

    Your stories are inspiring. I enjoyed hearing about the couple you bought the coffee plants from.

  6. Marlene & Caryn Reply

    You guys blow me away…I love the stories, and just hope I can learn some of the wonderful things you do.

  7. Art Sulenski Reply

    I been told by a couple of growers that coffee plants are calcium hungry. I bought a 50 kilo bag of cal-dolomita and added 2 cups to each of the 3 plants we have (should have been added to the soil when they were planted), that sure made a difference, before they weren’t doing very well in our clay/compost soil. We have added cal-dolomita around all of our plants, bushes and trees, they have responded very well. Twice a month I give each plant, bush or tree a dose of 15-15-15 and now also the CD which has made a huge difference, a couple of the trees have nearly a foot of new growth. I read somewhere that the CD helps all of the plants to take in the nutrients in the soil, whatever, it sure has made a difference here.

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