The 2023 block of trees are stumped

In one full day’s of work, Antonio stumped the block of trees that were designated to be stumped this year. All done with a hand saw. Antonio is a very hard worker. Over the next two days, two others dragged all the branches to the edge of the coffee road down the center of our property so that the branches can easily be chipped. Chipping usually takes about an hour, with several guys feeding in the branches.

The stumping makes it clear what weeding we now have to do, including getting rid of the ever-present autograph trees. Even though our weeding efforts are not perfect, because there’s regular attention paid, the weed tree situation is manageable. There are no longer years of weed trees taking root.

I think we’ll do like last year and methodically get rid of all visible autograph trees in the stumped block, so that we have a moment in time when there aren’t any visible. And after the coffee stumps leaf out, we’ll count the trees. It’s easier to get around and count them when they’re little and not branched and leafed out, and we can see where we are in the block. We have been estimating the number of trees, and by actually counting them, we’ll feel more satisfied with the better accuracy. It will take three years to get the count, though, since we’re doing it by stumped block and we only started last year.

Below are four photos of the same area, by the road (Mamalahoa Hwy.) Note the leaves of the dwarf banana plants in the upper left of each photo. I’m glad to have this area stumped, because the trees are densely planted, and they grew very tall. There wasn’t much circulation between them, and it was a hot spot for coffee leaf rust. It was also the area I was most plagued by mosquitoes. The terrain is very uneven, too. It was a difficult area to weed when it was grown in, as is now very visible. Maybe we should rebuild and reinforce the rock wall terraces while the coffee is stumped. I’ve tried to find photos from the 1970’s and 80’s of this area, but I haven’t been successful.

And a few more photos. In the last photo we can see our other non-coffee trees more easily now.

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!

The Season’s Numbers Are Coming In

As feared, the numbers are downright grim. This is our fifth coffee season as Bea’s Knees Farm. Our cherry picked season-to-date is a paltry 21%(!) of what we had in last year’s season through August.

We still have fruit on the trees, but we know there won’t be much to finish the season. You will soon be seeing a big jump in price for our coffee. We will also adjust the shipping charges to reflect the USPS increases that have happened since we last adjusted in February 2020. We simply won’t have much coffee, and the next season won’t be ready until Fall 2023. We will sell out before then.

On the positive side, most trees are still alive, and they look reasonably healthy. I hope rust won’t take hold again and damage the trees. And I hope we won’t have a 2-month dry spell like we did last year. We are at the end of our rainy season, but this month has already had more rain than the four inches we had in August. Our dry season should not be bone dry, though it was in Oct. and Nov. last year. The dry season should just produce less rain than the rainy season. The official rain gauge year starts in October. Last year we had 70″ of rain (Oct. ’20 – Sept. ’21). We aren’t at the end of September yet, but so far we’re at 46″ for this year.

On another note, we were recently on the mainland visiting different sets of friends in different places. Big Joe in Seattle spoiled us. When we arrived there was already a freshly home baked bread made, plus leftovers from a few bread experiments. And while we were there, one day he baked three different sourdough breads: one with some spelt flour, a walnut loaf, and an olive rosemary loaf. Yummo! I think he wanted to experiment, and he needed guinea pigs who eat carbs and gluten. Can’t have all that delicious bread sitting around with insufficient eaters. Plus he could discuss techniques and tricks with Hubby (the bread baker in the family). Bea would have loved to be a guinea pig. She loves bread! We’ll have to create a GoFundMe site to Send Bea to Big Joe. Bea actually has history with Washington state and Seattle, which was before she settled in Southern California.

I shared this statement and link before in a previous post: Artisan bread complements specialty coffee in various ways. This article addresses How are artisan bread and specialty coffee linked?

Big Joe didn’t have a coffee burr grinder, so we gave him one to thank him for hosting us. I think it was the second or third grind, and he poured the beans ONTO the plastic lid (like he and we did on our grinder last year). It was his solution to put a sticker on the lid of our grinder, so we employed the same fix on his. We hope he’ll enjoy many cups of delicious, freshly ground coffee. And thank you to our other friends, including our new ones, who filled our mainland trip with socializing and fun adventures, and thanks to the sitters who kept the household and farm humming along in our absence.

Coffee on the tree high up and in your cup

It will soon be time for another round of coffee picking. The pickers pull the flexible, tall verticals to reach the cherry that’s out of reach. They should spring back up, but every year some of the verticals remain bent over. Sometimes they’re bent from the weight of all the fruit even before picking, but they aren’t heavily bearing this year. The trees with the tallest verticals are the ones that are next in line to be stumped in February. So we won’t have to look at the branches like this for too much longer.

In this official artwork from the 2016 Kona Coffee Cultural Festival, Kona artist Carol Tredway depicts the old-style way of picking. A dead coffee branch with a hook at its end would be used to pull down tall branches in order to pick the coffee. The vertical in the drawing is several feet taller than the picker, but she hooks and pulls the top down down. Note the Kona nightingale looking on.

With the pruning style we now use, it’s not like the old days when there were more verticals, and taller verticals, often requiring a ladder for picking. I’ve seen photos of the trees from the olden days and was impressed with the yield per tree, but of course I can’t find any of that when I’m hunting around on the internet.

In the process, though, I did find an interesting article, one of a former blog series (2012-2016), Maile’s Meanderings, under the Kona Historical Society. It doesn’t show the old growing style (really tall trees with lots of branches) because the trees are newly planted according to the article, “Konawaena High School Road.” In it she also talks about “the only school schedule in the Territory dictated by an agricultural crop. With no classes from mid-August to early November, schoolchildren were available to help their parents pick coffee.” Which ties in nicely to her ending quote, “When coffee’s perking, people are working, kids aren’t shirking, and trouble’s not lurking!”

The article’s image, with a tidy tree farm and buildings that stand out and not a lot of huge, unmaintained greenery, reminds me that UH has requested that I blog about “The Beauty of Kona.” I have to talk to him more about what he means, and I think he might want to write it, really. He has his youthful memories and has seen and lived Kona’s transformation. The change might be more pronounced to him since he lived on the mainland for decades before he retired here. When he returned, it was no longer the Kona of his youth.

He often bemoans the old days when you could clearly see from our road (Mamalahoa Hwy) all the way to the ocean. Now we have so many huge weed, invasive trees like the autograph tree, schefflera, African tulip, etc. obstructing that sightline he remembers. I remember seeing faded black and white photos of my mom, her siblings, cousins, friends, etc. out and about. The terrain was much different, yes. There seemed to be a lot more aged lava rock with some plants versus the verdant, varied, sometimes lush (in south Kona, with more rain) plant scape we now see. There has been a plethora of plants brought here, legally and illegally, knowingly and not, and spread by birds, animals, and man.

On another note, a friend shared this video, “The Ultimate V60 Technique” for making a pour over, because this coffee nerd apparently reminded him of us. I learned a few tips I want to try. Our friend said he was trying a few of the techniques, but then it came out that he doesn’t freshly grind his coffee. In my opinion, he’d get more payoff for his efforts by freshly grinding rather than perfecting his pour over technique. He says he buys a pound of coffee and has them grind it. If you don’t have a good burr grinder, using a professional’s grinder IS one of those times when pre-ground might be better than grinding your own right before brewing (e.g., if you use a blade chopper grinder). It’s also important how and how long you store ground coffee.

I told him to try an experiment of holding back some whole beans and compare that same coffee (a) freshly ground with (b) the pre-ground that’s nearing its lifetime at his drinking rate. I recommended he get an inexpensive hand burr grinder, which is fine for a cup or two of coffee, not for a family of six who all drink coffee at the same time. Or you can borrow someone’s burr grinder to run your experiment. Is it worth it to *you*? If you taste and appreciate the difference, you might want to invest in an electric burr grinder. And if you have purchased a hand grinder, it can become your travel grinder. I had just recently read a rerun article from Perfect Daily Grind about exactly this topic so I’ll share with you all: “Is Pre-Ground Coffee Ever Better Than Freshly Ground?

Mangos, avocados, and coffee

Today will be just a little photo tour of the farm, with a few present and past photos for comparison.

This weekend we picked the one fruit from our potted Rapoza mango we’ve kept for months in our pig-free courtyard. It hasn’t changed for weeks. The fruit is hard and on the small side. We aren’t sure if it’ll ripen enough so we can taste it. But it’s time to put that tree out in the land to enjoy volcanic soil. With hubby’s always creative pig protection. Fingers crossed.

The Julie mango we planted back in February 2021 now looks like this. It’s known to be a slow grower, which is desirable to us. Hubby put some protection around its trunk so pigs won’t rub or gnaw and damage the bark. More interestingly, it has flowers now. It’s supposed to be three to five months from flower to ripe fruit, and this is supposed to be a summer fruiter. We’ll see how this tree evolves and what kind of fruiting cycle it’ll have.

The two varieties of avocados we planted last year in February got lace bug and lost almost all their leaves by November. The Yamagata one additionally got gnawed upon by pigs. After treating for lace bug, adding pig protection, rain, and more time, they’re doing OK now. When things look bad, we remind ourselves that plants want to live (too bad weeds do, too).

Our “peace with the pigs” attitude has held. Our bucket of rocks on our lanai is still there (guess we aren’t fully committed to peace), but we haven’t thrown any. We still see pigs, but not as frequently, and not as many. They also haven’t been as destructive. Maybe it was just one or a few bad characters. The little coffee trees planted last year have been left alone to grow, some more vigorously than others. Over a month ago I finally got a photo of something I’ve seen a few times: a mynah bird riding a pig. We think it’s hoping to scavenge something that a pig might uproot.

Last but not least, the coffee. We had our first picking of this season last month. A few hundred pounds of cherry. Yikes, that’s low. There’s still more on the trees, but it doesn’t look like much. Less fruit than previous years and smaller. Another farmer who took over a farm with established trees back in the 90’s thinks this year will be his lowest yield since he started. I asked him why he thinks it’s so. The new-ish, problematic coffee leaf rust? Some historically low rainfall months last year followed by heavy rain in late November? He refused to attribute it to any one thing. Shrug. I guess it is what it is. Which this year, is not good.

Maybe we’ll have to offer Airbnb “Experiences” instead. Briefly browsing what’s offered nearby, I found, e.g., an *opportunity* starting from $10 to volunteer for two hours on a farm, and a $43/person tour of a fruit farm. How much would you pay for the opportunity to weed at a Kona coffee farm and build a cool compost mountain? What to do, what to do …