Coffee pruning and leaf/soil sampling field day

Friday morning we attended the two-hour Coffee Pruning and Leaf/Soil Sampling Field Day at the CTAHR Kona Research Station, which is about two miles away. We are so fortunate to have this University of Hawaii Extension office so close by. The staff is very knowledgable, patient, and friendly. We are really lucky to learn from the experiments they do at the Research Station demo field.

I’ve taken the pruning class before, but the attraction this time was to look at the demo trees that were stumped in February, March, April, and May in 2022. They also had trees that were stumped in November and December 2022 and January 2023. We could see how the timing of stumping affected the growth of the tree. They will collect data, including yield, over the next years. Just from the visual appearance without the data, it seems earlier is better (February). They think that sometime between Winter Solstice and end-February is probably the best time to prune for most farms.

Attending a field workshop is great to network with the staff and others who are growing coffee. You learn so much, and when you’re walking as a group amongst the trees, questions come up and it’s interesting to hear answers and others’ experience. At the end of the workshop, as a bonus a company had donated tools for a drawing. Our names got pulled and Hubby and I got Felco collapsible hand saw and bypass shears. Extra woo hoo!

Stories I can tell from a few minutes of taking photos

It has been completely dry for a few weeks now. Many of the coffee trees’ leaves are drooping down. The trees near the house have a lot of blossoms on their way to becoming fruit. Such a shame they’ll be stumped. The landscape changes, too, when the trees are stumped. I’ll show this area again after the stumping.

Our ‘ulu (breadfruit) tree is looking good. We have a fruit. We had one last year, but at some point it was gone.

The Buddha’s Hand entry size tree (12″-18″) arrived from California in good condition. Because many of Four Winds Growers’ trees are grown in a greenhouse, their trees would be shocked to be directly placed in sunlight. They have to be acclimated to our environment and “hardened.” So it will be in this shady area in our courtyard for two weeks. It will get moved around a bit during that time to build up its direct sun tolerance. It’s similar to people. You have to build up your protective tan. You can’t just get off the plane and spend the whole day in the Hawaiian sunlight.

Inside the Buddha’s hand is all pith, firm and dense

Acclimating plants isn’t a new concept for me. I am Bea’s daughter, after all. [Aside: Bea’s son and plants is another story. For him, as a joke we purchased Plant Life Support from a favorite store, the Kona Treehouse in Holualoa.] It’s super valuable to have a personal plant expert you can always consult.

Hubby and I are going to take a next step. We’ve decided to finally get the training to be Master Gardeners. I’m excited to learn more, to get tours of nearby special plant places, to network with plant experts, to be in a group where we’ll continually learn, and to hopefully give back to the community in a meaningful way. We have been on the receiving end when we emailed photos to the Master Gardeners to ask what was wrong with a few plants. We received prompt responses, and even got a correction to the first response. I think sometimes they have a newer Master Gardener answer, but a more experienced one checks answers later. It seems like they have a process to let newer members practice in a supported environment.

If you were a master gardener and received this photo and were asked, “What is this plant?” What would you answer?

On another topic, our visiting friend reacted to something she saw in the courtyard roof direction. I asked, “What??!!” Gecko. I told her, “That’s like saying, ‘squirrel!!’ in California.” But it was the first gecko she had seen in several days. I answered, “Oh. I hadn’t realized. You just have to look.” We found these, all different, in one minute. [Bea can’t stand reptiles. Mom, if you’re reading, the post ends here. Skip looking at the photos.] There’s a reason our cat hangs out under these Costus French Kiss plants.

It’s a new year. Keep on keepin’ on.

Greetings in 2023! I hope your year is off to a good start. This post’s photo is a humorous take on Japanese kagami mochi for the new year. For a proper kagami mochi, there should be two round mochi, a larger one supporting a smaller one, and on top of them, a citrus with one leaf. The mochi represents the going year and the coming year. The citrus, daidai, means generations. Everything about this photo is wrong: one dented, hard mochi, a huge citrus, with more than one leaf.

This citrus is one of the two navel oranges Bea had on her tree this year, and she kindly insisted we eat the only two oranges. Her oddly low orange yield reminded me of our coffee yield. Anyway, it was special, so I wanted to commemorate its existence. At the time we only had one store-bought mochi left after our New Year’s ozoni mochi soup. The mochi that was lovingly, thoughtfully handmade by friends for us, had, and must still be having, a big adventure this year, thanks to Southwest Airlines and the U.S. Postal Service. I wonder if it will meet up with a six pound coffee package that has gone missing. Why is it always the larger packages that get shipped to the wrong place or get lost, and not a half pound order?

A few non-coffee-drinking friends had asked about the Mauna Loa eruption back in December, so I shared the link to the two posts I made about it. They were surprised to see that I’ve maintained blogging for many years. You do something regularly, and after a while, it all adds up. Thus the title, “keep on keepin’ on.”

My recent posts were not so much, or at all, about coffee, more about “this Hawaiian life.” I guess my topics are about our coffee, weather and problems that affect our coffee, other things we grow or encounter on our farm, coffee in general, Kona, Big Island volcanoes, modern and older Hawaiian culture and history having to do with the Kona Coffee Belt, and namesake Bea (Mom).

We went to see Bea in Southern California this holiday. We flew Hawaiian Airlines and kept our seatbelt firmly fastened so we wouldn’t dent the ceiling if we encountered severe turbulence. It rained more frequently than usual, i.e., it rained, period. Ha ha. The Rose Parade in Pasadena (less than 40 miles away from Bea) is always on New Year’s Day, but not if it’s on a Sunday. That worked out well this year, since it rained on New Year’s Day but was beautiful the Monday after. I just googled about rain and the Rose Parade, and this was the answer: “In the 1st 60 years(about) it rained 9 times. In the next 60 years (about) it rained once.”

Bea still had fruit on her Buddha’s hand tree. I’ve posted on Instagram, but here they are in the blog, too. I just ordered a little entry tree from California-based Four Winds Growers. They’re allowed to ship to Hawai’i. We’re already successfully growing a seedless kumquat and a yuzu from them. I want to grow my own shaka and octopus! It’s worth it for the heavenly fragrance of the fruit. I’m content just leaving it in the house to smell it. The zest will add specialness to any recipe calling for citrus zest. A cranberry recipe is better with zest from a Buddha’s hand instead of orange or lemon. I mention cranberries because Bea’s fruit always seems to be ripe around Thanksgiving.

On another note, we gave my mom a more interesting tea than we realized. We bought it since it was made of Hawaiian ingredients. We knew māmaki and lemongrass, and we completely ignored the second listed ingredient, butterfly pea. We hadn’t paid close attention to the description, and neither did she. “For when you need a little extra magic in your life, a captivating, color-changing tea.”

The first time we drank it, it was like we all expected. It was māmaki (supposed to be good for you), and tasted better because of the other ingredients. It was the second night we had some that we all noticed, “Hey, it’s green!” It hadn’t seemed to be that weird green color the first night. Then we studied the packaging. If you add citrus, it’s supposed to change color. Apparently butterfly pea is known to mixologists (hello, Big Joe!) for its vivid color and ability to change color.

There you have it. Maybe you’ve learned something new, like we have.

OK, on to coffee. The past coffee season is really over now that we have strip-picked all fruit as part of our coffee hygiene. This way borer beetles and other pests won’t have homes. Our cherry harvest, in the end was 24% of the previous season’s harvest. I’ve mentioned a figure close to that a few times, but now it’s final. I’ll be interested to see how much green coffee of estate quality we’ll end up with after dry milling. Somehow I expect it’ll be less than 24% of last year’s green coffee, i.e., I think we’ll have more smaller and inferior quality beans. Our estate coffee has to be of certain grades: Extra Fancy, Fancy, and Number 1, and Prime, and is comprised of those grades in the ratios we get when we harvest. The grades lower than Prime won’t be in our estate coffee. I suspect we’ll probably just have even less estate coffee to offer than 24% of the previous season’s amount. Sigh.

This “dry” season (October-February) has not been too dry so far. I’m not implying that’s good or bad. The rainfall chart below starts in October, which is the start of the dry season. It’s also when the Kainaliu rain gauge annually restarts its cumulative count. The cumulative rainfall of the previous entire dry season, from Oct’21-Feb’22, was 7.7 inches. We got 7.5 inches just in December 2022. I study the chart and can see no trends year to year in these past few years, which have been very dynamic with Kīlauea starting and stopping. Three sentence volcano eruption summary: From 1983 to 2018 eruptive activity was nearly continuous, then it stopped. It resumed December 2020 to May 2021, stopped, then resumed September 2021. And Mauna Loa started at the end of November 2022, after a 38 year hiatus, then stopped mid-December.

Forward and onward. We had another decent blossoming round, from the rain we received around Christmas. Someone reassured me that the season following a Mauna Loa eruption tends to be good. I don’t know about the implied cause and effect, but I’d feel better with at least a decent season after this one. There are definitely optimistic farmers out there. Aunty planted 50 new, rust-resistant seedlings. And some others are clearing acres of land and planting trees with the vision of some really high output per acre, more than we get from our three acres. You go, happy farmers!

I’ll close with a cute photo of UH in Holualoa feeding a donkey ti leaves on New Year’s Eve day. He must have been reminiscing about his old chore of caring for the family Kona nightingale.

A Kona Coffee Christmas Poem

The Kona Coffee Farmers Association published this poem today. It’s such a good one, I have to share it, too. It was written by KCFA member Joanie Wynn to her husband Steve, for Christmas 2022.

A KONA COFFEE CHRISTMAS POEM 

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when out on the farm
The pigs were all snorting and causing alarm,
They’d torn up the lawn and caused damage to trees,
Which was nothing compared to the coffee disease.


“A fungus among us!” cursed old farmer Steve,
“A leaf rust, a menace, it’s hard to believe!”
But that wasn’t all the poor farmer had battled,
CBB beetles had made him quite rattled.


The weeds overwhelmed him, the drought gave a fright,
Each month he slogged through, with no end in sight.
Supply chains were straining, fuel prices rising,
The fact he survived it was somewhat surprising.


The coffee still grew, though somewhat diminished.
Pickers went home, for the harvest was finished.
The cherry all pulped, laid on the deck drying,
A sense of achievement, no matter how trying.


The farmer, so weary, turned in for the night,
Dreaming of coffee not ruined by blight.
Under the covers, tucked tight in his bed,
Dark roasted coffee beans danced in his head.


No visions of Santa or tiny reindeer,
Just hope for a more robust crop without fear.
His dreams were of coffee fields loaded with cherry,
of bags full of green beans, of farmers so merry.


The next morning came with a strong cup of Kona,
Gifts were delivered; FedEx, Amazona.
The farmer would smile and put away strife,
Embracing the joys of his Big Island life.


A happy occasion, a time to rejoice,
With friends and with family, a time to give voice,
To gratitude, fellowship, season of hope,
To fortitude, strength, and the courage to cope.


More fruit was coming, new snow on the trees,
A hearty crop promising bounty and ease.
The yields would be staggering, bigger and better,
The farmer believed that, now more than ever.


Despite all his trials, he truly felt blessed.
He was cheerful and buoyant, no longer stressed.
He grinned and exclaimed as he kicked off his flip-flop
“Merry Christmas to all! And to all a good crop!”

Our poinsettia planted in 2020 in December 2022.

Winter storm, confused blip of fame, and a failed planting

We’re experiencing a winter storm at the moment. Perhaps related though not reported as such, maybe you’ve seen the news that a Hawaiian Airlines Phoenix-Honolulu flight yesterday experienced severe turbulence. Thirty six people were treated, of those 20 were transported for further treatment, and 11 of those were seriously injured. It was a blustery day yesterday, and the ocean was rough and choppy, with lots of white caps, everywhere we could see. It’s a good thing the Lighted Boat Parade wasn’t scheduled for yesterday. We watched kids standing at the end of the pier enjoying the occasional wave crashing over them. I just hoped they wouldn’t get washed out to sea. The hard rain started at our place around 5:30pm. We received an inch in just over an hour.

Around 2am we had a long-lasting, exciting thunderstorm. There were lightning flashes in the sky that were occurring every few seconds, and sometimes close and blindingly bright. I sat outside and tried to film it on my trusty iPhone. It didn’t correctly capture my experience, but you get the idea. It wasn’t pitch black when there wasn’t lightning, though that’s the way the video is. Here is a screenshot I made from one of the videos, and two short videos. Big storm, but not all that much more rain throughout the night. Only another inch added to the 5:30pm downpour.

For the few of you who are curious or care, during the thunderstorm we brought our cat out of her private sleeping quarters, the laundry room. She’s not a dog, though, and didn’t seem all that nervous or agitated about the thunderstorm. In fact, the rest of the night she was the sometimes sleeping, but more often playful, attacking pest she normally is, waking me up multiple times by bringing her favorite self-generated ball (felted from her fur) on the bed and playing with it, sleeping on my head, sleeping on my legs and attacking me if I moved. She has sealed her fate of sleeping in the laundry room whenever I’m home.

Continuing on topics from previous posts … I was excited when my dragon lava photo got printed in West Hawaii Today on Friday. I only learned the Sunday prior, almost two weeks after it was taken, that I had shared a photo with a dragon in it. While we were at breakfast out, a friend just wanted a photo of what we had seen the night prior, so I just quickly texted two. When she later shared it had a dragon in it, I wanted to share it with a wider audience.

Before I submitted it to the paper, I shared it with several people and wanted to give credit where credit was due, and said it was Rune’s photo. But when I was going to submit it to the paper and looked at the information to find the date and time, I noticed it was taken on an iPhone XS, my phone. It made sense since it wasn’t as close up as the photos taken on Rune’s DSLR and my shot included more of the clouds and smoke.

After it got published with my name, people tried to keep me honest. Starting bright and early with my friend who texted me at 5:22am, “Get u~~p Ur pic is on WHT i thought its Rune’s.” I happened to get up at 4am that day because it was raining pretty hard, but I didn’t see the text until 5:30 when I picked up my phone. And a few people commented about me taking credit for Rune’s photo. It’s all so funny.

I’m always tickled by serendipity. Another example happened around the same time, with my house guests. My friend’s wife shared that she’s buying adjoining parcels of land in another state and wants to restore the native plants and forest in that area. I looked up again a friend of a friend’s website, Future Forests Nursery. It was a great fit with my friend’s wife’s interests, and she managed to join a tour in their short visit here. Later that evening she was bubbling with enthusiasm and so very impressed with Jill Wagner’s knowledge and her work.

Hubby and I are going to have to take a tour and/or have her visit and assess our farm and get to know Jill in her professional capacity. Maybe this will help us figure out possibilities of how we can best move forward from our coffee farm. I had also recently talked with someone who many years ago replaced coffee trees with native trees and received a federal grant to do so, and who also has bee hives to satisfy the agricultural designation of the land. We’ll have to investigate and inform ourselves of what options there are. If the low yield we got this year ends up not being an anomaly, running this farm as we have been makes no sense. Hubby shared this article, “Former White House Chef Says Coffee Will Be ‘Quite Scarce’ in the Near Future.”

To the theme of diversifying the farm beyond coffee, and another update on a previous topic, the tree babies … unfortunately, one of our recently planted tree babies didn’t survive. It made me realize that we actually have pretty good success with most things we plant, if the pigs don’t attack them. Luckily, we had planted two cherimoya seedlings. One is fine; one is dead, probably not enough soil where we planted it. There are areas in the land that have dense, very hard blue rock beneath the surface soil. It seems a bit early to hit that problem, though. Maybe the roots got damaged during the transfer out of the pot. We have a few more cherimoya seedlings in pots in our courtyard, so we can plant another.

As to coffee … because we had such a low coffee yield, and peaberry is about 5% of that, we had a dismal amount of peaberry to offer, and I suspect we won’t have any more of note in our final dry milling of this season’s coffee. We did have some nice rains late November and December, so we’re having occasional Kona snow (coffee blossoms). We’ll probably have a round at the turn of the year thanks to this storm. It’s hard, though, because we see all the snow on the trees closest to the house, and that’s the block up for pruning in a month or so. Bye, bye, budding coffee fruit.