Growing a coffee plant at home

Growing a coffee plant at home

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Growing a coffee plant at home

Hello again,

Growing your own coffee plant, at home.

Couple of days ago I read in the "Forum", about some sickly coffee plants, transported from Hawaii to Canada, and thought I might be able help anyone wanting to grow their own coffee plants, outside the tropics.

With my own coffee plantation, and ideal growing conditions: I can only try and give you the ideal conditions, that we have, and attempt to "translate" them into the conditions you would need, at home. I have been a keen gardener, all my life, I love plants, and when I was back in England, I tried to grow as many "unusual" plants, as I could. BUT, up here on the plantation, it is difficult to reproduce "less than ideal" conditions for the coffee!

Every plant species has evolved to fit into a particular "niche", and to grow any plant, successfully, the closer you can make the conditions to its "natural" habitat, the better the plant will flourish.

Coffee only grows in the tropics, and to successfully grow it in temperate regions, requires the best efforts to reproduce the most important of the tropical conditions, outside the tropics.


Just another tropical sunset!

To grow your own coffee plant, from seed:-

Do not waste your time trying to grow "green bean" coffee: if properly dried, the beans, with rare exceptions, will not germinate ( but more important; you will be wasting some good drinking coffee!! ). You will need to get hold of "seed beans": coffee beans that have been partially, not been fully dried in the sun, and still have the parchment sheath, on them.

I am more than happy to supply you with some seed-beans ( Geisha, or Blue Mountain, varietals ) for just a single USdollar over the packing/mailing costs ( as they are available, from the plantation!!!! ).

The seed beans would be picked, to your order, separated from the outer "fruit", and dried for a few days, before being packed, and mailed to you, as partially dried, parchment, beans/seeds.

A coffee seed has a very long "incubation" period before it germinates, measured in months, rather than days. The first step is to soak the seed bean, in warm water ( about 60F ) for 1 to 2 days, before planting.

Soil:- our soil up here, is slightly alkaline ( from the Limestone ) but as long as your soil is close to pH neutral, the coffee should grow. Our soil is poor in humus, and well drained. I would suggest a sandy or stony potting mixture, with a little bonemeal, and some compost: avoid any clay soils, as they could become waterlogged, something which coffee does not like!

Put the soaked bean, flat side down on top of the soil, in a small flower pot ( 6 inches deep ) cover with about an inch of loose soil, and water gently, allow the excess water to drain out, put in a warm place ( around 65F ); and cover the pot, with a plastic bag. At this stage no light is required, but you must check the pot every few days, ensure it is kept damp ( NOT wet: do not leave the pot standing in water!! ), until the coffee germinates, and shows itself above the soil.

Don't expect anything to happen, for ( what will seem like an eternity!! ) a couple of months, and don't throw it away for at least 4 to 5 months; some beans will take that long to germinate!

When you first see the emerging plant, move the pot ( leave it in the plastic bag ) to a warm, well lit area; away from any cold draughts, or excessive heat.


A germinating coffee seed, just a couple of days old: this seedling is about 3 inches long, tip to tip; ( ensure you leave sufficient space, in the plastic bag, for the shoot to grow above the soil ) about half of it is above the soil, and roots hidden in the soil. Note that the leaves are fully enclosed in the parchment shell, and it will be several days before the leaves emerge from this sheath. Do not try and assist the seedling, by removing the sheath, all you will succeed in doing, is damaging the, very delicate, new leaves.


The first pair of leaves emerging from the parchment sheath.

The first pair of leaves are almost round, a totally different shape to the later leaves, and they will drop off the plant, as the main leaves fully develop.


The first pair of "adult" leaves sprouting from the coffee plant, along with a couple of spots of fungal rust.


This seedling still has the parchment sheath "stuck" on the stem, below the leaves ( ignore it, it will soon drop off )


Coffee seedling, about 4 months after germination, and about 4 inches high


Three months later, and it is approaching 6 inches high


After about 10 months, and it is close to 12 inches high.

The seedlings tend to grow in "spurts", and at the ( average ) rate of around 1 inch per month. The vertical growth slows down as a new pair of leaves develop and open, then a spurt as the stem grows, and the next pair of leaves develop.

Coffee grows with a long, single, central root: and needs a deep pot for the roots to develop properly, to grow a large ( 5 foot high ) coffee plant, you will need a container at least 3 feet deep, and a minimum of 2 feet in diameter: choose the container carefully: you will have to move it around!!

The coffee seedling will be quite happy in a 6 inch deep pot, for about 12 months ( when it should be around 12 inches high ) and it will need to be transplanted to a much deeper pot, a 12 inch deep pot should accommodate the seedling for another year, until it is 24 to 30 inches high.

You can check the condition of the roots, by carefully removing the seedling from the pot ( without disturbing the soil more than necessary ) and if you see the roots forming in to circles around the bottom of the pot, it is well past the time to re-pot the plant.

When you re-pot; put a handful of compost right at the bottom of the new pot, add soil to the depth of the base of the plant, slide two of your fingers around the base of the stem of the plant, and up-end the old pot; the plant, with all the soil, should just fall out of the pot, in to your palm, in one "lump", disturb the soil and the roots, as little as possible, then stand the seedling, complete with as much of the soil as possible from the old pot still around the roots, on top of the soil in the new pot, add more soil around the edges, water well, and add more soil to level the surface in the pot. Replace the clear plastic bag with a much larger one, to allow at least 9 inches clear space, above the top shoot of the plant: continue to change the air in the bag, every few days.

Water:- Coffee does not like too much water, they like to be kept damp, rather than wet: over watering, or allowing the soil to become over-wet or water-logged, will deprive the roots of Oxygen, and they will not grow. Equally, if allowed to dry out, the plant will not grow.

Humidity:- The young coffee loves high humidity, the more mature bushes can withstand much lower humidity, but lose a lot of leaves, if "distressed" by long periods of low humidity. Our Blue Mountains, are blessed with the famous "mists", which maintain the high humidity.

Most, if not all, modern homes, with central heating, have a humidity which is far too low for the coffee to thrive: I would suggest that you grow, and keep the young plants, inside a large, transparent, plastic bag, which will provide the developing plant with the high humidity, as well from any cold draughts.

Every few days; change the air in the plastic bag, and before replacing it over the young plant, inflate it with a couple of deep breaths into the plastic bag, and give the seedling plenty of Carbon Dioxide, to "feed" on.

One of the problems with high humidity, is that moulds and fungi just love it: if you detect any roundish, brown or red spots on the leaves ( for example, the picture above ) spray gently with a fungicide, of a type recommended for house plants.

Temperature:- Coffee is quite sensitive to temperature: it can manage short periods of temperatures in the mid 50'sF, or above 80F: and by short periods- just a couple of days, or they go into "distress", the leaves all go brown, and drop off: and it takes several weeks for them to recover.

Ideally the plants should be kept between 65F and 75F, and away from draughts.

Sunlight:- As a very general "rule", the darker-green the leaves of a plant, the better it can survive in shady locations. Due to the mists, it is somewhat difficult to evaluate the effects of our mountain sun, on the coffee.

The mists usually appear late morning, shading out the full strength of the midday sun, and they fade away in the early afternoon: also; the variation in the length of the day ( midsummer to midwinter ) is only about 2 hours, far less than would be found in temperate zones.

A day-light spectrum electric light, should be capable of replacing the natural sun light, during the winter.

In the Spring, the plants would certainly benefit from some "real" sunlight, but must be protected from low temperatures, and cold draughts; a sunny window sill? but still in the protective plastic bag.

During the summer, they should be put outside, preferably in a green house, in a partially shaded area ( not in full shade, but partial shade, to keep the temperature below 80F ): and brought back inside the house, before the autumn night time temperatures ( inside the greenhouse ) drop below 60F.

Feeding:- For fast vegetative growth, feed the plants a high Nitrogen "diet", and an occasional pinch of a multi-mineral, trace element, house plant fertilizer ( Orchid fertilizer, is as good as any ).

If you are VERY lucky, you might get the plant to flower in its third year, but the fourth year is much more common; the flowers will only appear on the old growth, never the new ( this years ) growth. You can see the difference between the "old" and "new" growth, by the change in colour of the stems: new growth is green, and the old growth, is a grey/brown colour: if you look carefully, this colour change is just vivible, in some of the pictures, above.

To induce the plant to flower, give it minimal water, when it is inside, during the winter, almost to the stage where the leaves start to wilt slightly: then give it plenty of water, fortified with a few doses of a high Potassium, and Phosphorus ( and low Nitrogen ) fertilizer; and, if it is going to flower, they will appear within a few days.

Coffee flowers will self pollinate, if there are no bees, or other pollinators, around.

Here, on my plantation, the coffee usually flowers when there is a good heavy shower of rain, after a 2 to 3 week period of no rain.

As the beans develop, continue with the low Nitrogen, high Potassium and Phosphorus, fertilizer: only returning to the high Nitrogen fertilizer, after picking your coffee crop.

Much is made of the elevation at which the coffee is grown, growing the plants at home, there is not really very much you can do, other than move house!!

But, exactly what difference does the elevation, actually make??

Comparing the daily "climate" between my plantation ( at 3,500 feet ) and Kingston ( around sea level ):-

Temperature, Kingston is about 10 to 15F hotter ( often rising into the 90'sF, far too hot for Arabica coffee ).

Air pressure, up here is about 16% lower:

Sunlight is therefore, a little "stronger": but as the coffee prefers growing under shade, this hardly seems important.

Humidity, if anything, the humidity in Kingston, is higher than up here ( the mists apart! ).

Carbon Dioxide, absolutely no difference in the concentration in the air, just a bit less air, up here.

Rain, we get a bit more rain than in Kingston, and the mists condense on the trees and bushes, keeping the plantation damper ( rather than wetter ).

Air pollution, could be a minor factor, especially in the more urban areas; mountain air is usually cleaner, but most of the best coffees are not grown anywhere near major pollution sources: but it could be a problem when growing coffee at home ( air fresheners, fumes from cleaning products etc. ).

The variation in soil types, throughout the coffee growing areas of the world, would suggest that soil type is of little relevance: as long as there is a sufficiency of organic matter, minerals, and trace elements, in the soil and available to the coffee plants.

The closer one gets to the Equator, the smaller the annual temperature variation, between the summer maximum, and the winter minimum: but; at lower elevations, the daytime temperature frequently rises above the level that the Arabica coffee likes: so: the obvious thing is to grow the coffee, at an elevation that provides the ideal temperature range: or is that just too simple and obvious???

My own thoughts ( purely for the growing of the plant, itself ) are that the temperature is the most important single thing: followed by the humidity: in the 6 years I have been here, maximum temperature I have recorded, is 84F, and a minimum of 54F, and that the elevation is irrelevant, other than giving Arabica coffee the temperature range in which it thrives.

The effects of elevation on the coffee, is all to do with the flavour of the "result". The more slowly the beans ripen, the more intense the flavour ( which is also dependant on the varietal, grown ).

Here, in the Blue Mountains, it takes between 7 and 10 months for the coffee to fully ripen: the best flavoured coffee comes from the main crop, flowering of the bushes ( April/May ) which do not really begin to ripen until late December, and the really superb coffee comes from a later flowering ( small, and not to be relied on, and if it occurs, will be in July, or August ) which is the slowest to ripen ( through the "winter" ), and will be picked in April and May. It is usual, for the coffee to flower, early in the year, while there are both ripe, and unripe berries still on the bush; but that is here, for how the coffee reacts, in temperate regions: I can but await for some feedback, from you, my readers!!

Quite how you arrange for these slow berry ripening, conditions, at home, is a problem!!

Lower the temperature slightly ( 60 to 65F ) lower the light levels ( plant metabolism is more dependant on the amount of light absorbed, than the levels of Carbon Dioxide in the air ) and keep the amount of water as low as possible without "distressing" the plant: and cut back on the fertilizer: would seem to be the most obvious things to try.

Back in England, I grew many tropical plants ( but never tried a coffee plant ) in a heated conservatory; the glass was double glazed only during the winter ( with thick, clear, plastic sheeting stretched over removable wooden frames ) and twice a week I would burn about 1 inch of a standard candle, to supply the plants with some Carbon Dioxide: all the shade loving plants thrived, but not the sunlight loving plants, which struggled with the lack of sunlight, and short winter days ( despite the artificial lights ), but they all survived. My greatest success was a passion fruit, which produced saleable ( in the village store ) amounts of fruit.

YOUR thoughts, and comments: along with any success or failure, with growing coffee from seeds, would be appreciated: and can easily added as an appendix, to these thoughts of mine.

Until next time,

Robin Plough, friend of

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A New Year on the Plantation
A Visit to Paradise
A year in the life..What makes JBM, the 'legend' of coffee?
Assessing your coffee (part 1)
Assessing your coffee (part 2)
Assessing your coffee (part 3)
Economics of JBM. Part 1
Economics of JBM. Part 2
Everything you wanted to know about the Coffee Board
Growing Coffee. Part 1
Growing Coffee. Part 2
Growing Coffee. Part 3
Growing Coffee. Part 4
Growing Coffee. Part 5
Growing: Part 1
Growing: Part 2
Jamaican food (part 1)
Jamaican food (part 2)
Jamaican food (part 3)
Jamaican newsletter
Living in Paradise: Part I
Living in Paradise: Part II
Living in Paradise: Part III
Processing our coffee (part 1)
Processing our coffee (part 2)
Random thoughts on the end of the world
Random thoughts on the end of the world (II)
Special Report: Coffee Leaf Rust Fungus Part 1
Special Report: Coffee Leaf Rust Fungus Part 2
SPECIAL: Coffee borer beetle in Hawaii
Trivia and other ramblings: part 1
Trivia and other ramblings: part 2
Tropical Storm Nichole
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