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 …

Annual stump report, 2022

I had been doing this in June, but we’re in the middle of vertical selection, so I’m doing this a few days before June. Brief review: we stump one third of our trees (in blocks vs. rows, which is another technique) in January/February to help control beetle and now rust and to give the trees a break from bearing fruit. It also keeps our trees a bit more orderly. It’s not like the old days when the child laborers had to tote around ladders to pick fruit from tall coffee trees. These are the posts from 2021 and 2020. I suppose if you aren’t really interested in coffee plants, these posts are worse than looking at photos of your friend’s children, grandchildren or pet.

After a few months we have “lollipops” and need to choose the three to six verticals for each tree which will live on and support all the fruit for the following two years.

It rained earlier today than usual, so work got interrupted. I went out after the rain took a break in the late afternoon to get some photos. (Click on an image below to expand it and scroll through the photo gallery.)

There were some chickens running around the land and at least one Kalij pheasant. I was trying to get a photo of the pheasant when a large pig went running by. I didn’t get a photo of the pheasant, but this photo is of one we saw at Volcano National Park.

We’ve been seeing pigs much more frequently during the daytime now. Our neighbor cousins are, as well. It’s starting to get dangerous to work in the land because there’s a momma pig with five piglets. Maybe we’ll have to start lugging around a pitchfork. If hubby throws a rock, they quickly run into the weeds. I remarked that we don’t even see the weeds wiggle indicating where they are. Hubby said it’s because they have tunnels. Before I went in, I wanted to get some photos of some pig tunnels. Then not too far away in a clearing I saw a big pig and a few piglets, each about a foot long. Of course, they dashed into the weeds. I heard big snorts from momma coming from somewhere in the weeds. I started to wonder if I’d die a pig-gored death trying to get photos. I called it a day.

“You’ve got to make peace with the pigs”

Last weekend we invited a couple over for dinner. Inevitably, the conversation turned to pigs. Pigs do visit us more frequently than any other mammals. This couple has family coffee land, which they don’t actively farm, and they had a pig problem many years ago. I’m not as good a storyteller as they are, and I might not have the details 100% correct, but you’ll get the gist of it.

At first they started with the “young farmers” who wanted to trap the pigs on this couple’s property. “Young,” as in their 70’s or 80’s. Apparently they were drinking beer and talking story in the couple’s carport most of the time, when the couple was away at work. The Mr. was the first to find out, unbeknownst to the Mrs., because he had to go home mid-day for some reason. Apparently, he just joined them and had a beer with them in the carport. The Mrs. found out some time later and put an end to that. One random day, I think one of the young farmers went into their office and plopped a big pig leg onto her work desk. “Here, this is your share.” I guess at least one of the traps worked.

The turnaround point with their pigs was like a story of magic realism. The Mr. had a dream where he was commanded to make peace with the pigs, and he saw a white pig. I’m fuzzy on the details here, but it was a dream anyway. The next day in real life, he saw a pig carcass on their property, and it had a white coat of hair. From that point on, there was peace. No more ripped out pineapple or other plants.

What?!! That’s too simple! Just like that?! **HOW** did you make peace with the pigs?! Details, details. He fenced in certain areas, not even electric fencing, and he gave them their space, and the humans had theirs. I’m concluding it was essentially a mindset and presumable mutual respect. As we gave more examples of what we took as pig meanness and our frustration outlet of throwing rocks from the lānai, he sensed our combative attitudes and reactions. He gently chided, “That’s not making peace with the pigs.” He agreed that the pigs did seem to be drawn to plants/places of our interest, and they did seem to do spiteful acts. But he shrugged it off, like “they’re pigs.” I’m going to remind myself of my post from a few weeks ago: Peace in your heart, that’s where it starts.

Bea asked how much an electric fence is. We don’t even know. She asked, “Fifty thousand?” If it is, it’s not worth it for us! Somehow that large figure got me to evaluate the problem differently. Spend a lot to keep pigs out of a certain area, our area, and it just pushes the problem elsewhere. And there’d be fence maintenance and repair and maybe just another new source of frustration. We should just spend more money to buy and plant taller, more mature plants and trees that the pigs can’t destroy. Again, it’s all in the way we choose to look at and react to the situation. (I’m coaching myself here … peace, peace, peace with the pigs).

I’ll close with another photo gallery, scenes from the farm on Sunday, May 22.