The Stumps of 2020 Are Growing

We’ve been through this the past two years now. Trees are stumped at the end of January, and by April/May they’re like green-leaf lollipops. They will be pruned a little later, to keep the strongest 3-5 verticals.

With all the rain, there’s a lot of other growth, too. Weeds … the constant battle. Ignore them, and you’ll soon have a tropical jungle.

(If you’re new to this blog, you might want to see this post from February 2020 which refers back to a few years of the pruning-related posts).

The Whole Farm Has Met the Ax

We’ve reached an important milestone for our farm — as of mid-January, the whole farm has now been stumped. It’s a harsh pruning method, but now that we know that the trees recover, it is also a good way to tame a “feral” coffee farm.

Yay! Celebrate!

We’ve reclaimed the coffee farm. The days of a jungle coffee farm are behind us!

See (1) my very first post and (2) this post from last year for more background on pruning. Because of our terrain, it didn’t make sense to stump by rows, but by blocks. When we started in 2018, it was the plan to stump a block a year, meaning 1/3 of our farm is growing leaves and not producing fruit every year. No fruit means no housing for coffee borer beetles.

The Stump Class of 2020

As of a few weeks ago, with this block, all of our coffee trees have now been stumped.

The Stump Class of 2019

This block did not contribute any fruit to the past season’s coffee harvest. They got to concentrate on growing, without having to produce fruit.

This part of Block 2, stumped in January 2019, is doing well.
The trees circled in orange were stumped at the same time. Some recovered fine; some didn’t fare so well. The larger trees between the foreground and banana trees, circled in purple, were stumped in 2018.

This blog post is from about a year ago:

This article looked at those 2019 stumps a few months later, in June:

The Stump Class of 2018

The trees in the first block to be stumped in 2018 have mostly survived. Yet it’s very interesting how some trees have thrived (they’re currently 9′-12′ tall), and some are only 3′ tall. It’s probably not the pruning, though. Some trees have very small trunks — they weren’t big to start with. Maybe the nutrients or water flow away there, or the roots have hit bedrock, whereas other trees’ roots have tapped into the good stuff.

This blog post was written five months after stumping Block 1, class of 2018:

There are always more problems to solve and more to be done, and it sometimes weighs heavily on me. But we do have to try and reflect upon and linger on what we have accomplished. For my own encouragement, this is a meatier post I’ll have to refer back to every once in a while.

Farming Then and Now

I hope you folks have had a nice Thanksgiving. Bea, AKA Mom, was surprised that the harvest is over before Thanksgiving. I reminded her that this and last year have been unusual. Back in her time, the school year was adjusted so that kids could help with the harvest. The school year ended in about the third week of August (versus late May now). And it started up about two weeks before Thanksgiving (versus early-August now). And they used to pick coffee through the Christmas holiday, when they had two weeks or so off of school. They only got New Year’s Day off of coffee picking. My mom says the Japanese believe that if you’re laboring on January 1, you’ll be working hard your entire life. Those kids knew hard, manual labor.

This segues to a recent human interest article about a local family in West Hawaii Today, “Organic ‘glamor camping’: Bonderas living sustainably on Kanalani Ohana Farm in South Kona.” I’ve been seeing them around and/or their names for years, but I learned more from this article. For example, Colehour Bondera, a regular at the Keauhou Farmers Market, was one of 11 kids and grew up working on a farm in Oregon. Click through the photos in the newspaper article. I’d like to get that bike-driven mill (pulper) and put my husband and cyclist friends to work. (I don’t think we have enough coffee to keep Keish Doi sufficiently busy to replace his daily Kailua-Hawi round trip ride. Ha ha.)

The Bonderas have been in Hawaii now for about 20 years. The Bonderas’ farm, Kanalani Ohana, is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed earlier this year in the U.S. District Court in Seattle about fake Kona coffee. I mentioned it in my 3/10/19 post. I appreciate how involved they are with the community.

“I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live.”

— George Bernard Shaw

The 2019 Harvest Is Pau (Finished)

Kona’s dry season starts in November, and it has been dry. All the rain we received and the bluer, vog-less sky, however, is probably why our yield was about doubled this year. Last year (the big eruption year) was a low-yield for most farmers, and it was odd because picking was over before Thanksgiving, when it usually extends into December, possibly January.

This was an unusual year, too. There was a lot of coffee, with some large harvests, but we will be done with all picking before Thanksgiving for a second year. We will be strip picking the rest of the few beans on the trees as part of our farm hygiene; these beans, mostly off-grade, don’t go into our estate coffee we sell.

Since we have more coffee and we’re heading towards the potential yield of this farm, we can be more selective. This year we’re excluding the Prime grade (lowest quality) from our estate coffee. (See this blog post for more info on grading).

Prime grade beans are shown in comparison to the top three grades.

Prime grade green beans are in the hand at top. Our estate coffee is in the hands below. It’s not a striking difference. Prime is still considered Kona coffee. It might be slightly smaller, has a few more defects, and the color isn’t quite as uniform. It does not have any undesirable flavor or aroma when brewed.

If the rains allow, we’re going to stump the last block on our farm in December rather than wait for January. I’m looking forward to this last one. The areas are the most jungly and unwieldy. Rain makes coffee grow, but a lot of other things grow, too! We haven’t been spending a lot of time cleaning up here since the big ax job will happen with the stumping.

This farm is truly a work in progress. It wasn’t that long ago that we had to bushwhack to see the outer edges of our property.

Although it has been dry, last weekend and Monday or Tuesday there was a flash flood advisory, for the entire state and specific areas, like Kona, at times. I didn’t pay close attention. Already Saturday night we watched at least an hour of lightning flashes over the ocean. It reminds me of looking for shooting stars. You just stare out, and occasionally you see something. It’s weird to see the pitch black expanse suddenly light up, revealing the horizon line and the heavy clouds and sky pattern, but just for a split second. I like that you experience it, and you don’t worry about trying to capture it in a photo.

Sunday it was the same thing — heavy humidity, hot, electric flashes, but still no rain or storm. Early Monday morning, it finally arrived. The storm came and went. A few hours later, the heaviness to the air was lifted, there were blue sky, light clouds, and occasionally some puddles to be seen.

$16/Cup of California-Grown Coffee

My last post was about farming, sustainability, and privilege, which segues nicely to today’s topic. Last year I read a San Francisco Magazine article, “Could Coffee Be California’s Next Cash Crop?” The coffee farmer, Jay Ruskey, in Goleta (near Santa Barbara) isn’t too far from the Biggest Little Farm. The California coffee growing madness has spread to San Diego County via Frinj, the company formed by Ruskey and partners to “provide California farmers an opportunity to diversify their farm portfolios.”

This seems a bit crazy to me since these areas don’t have much rain. There is no way you could dry farm coffee in these areas (not that they say they’re dry farming). Water is a very precious resource in California, and in the areas they’re talking about growing coffee, there might be an inch of rain, total, between April and October.

When I searched to see what recent news I could find, I found this online article, “The Birth of a Coffee Industry in California,” including a beautiful, romantic photographic series. There wasn’t really any new news, but there was an even nicer package to the story. Frinj has a slick website, but there isn’t any product for sale. In the San Diego news in March, they stated that Bird Rock Coffee Roasters had a pound of coffee for sale for $100, but the link showed it was $100 for 200 grams, not a pound, but about 7 ounces; that’s about $229/pound. The link is still sitting there, accessible directly, but you can’t reach it from the Bird Rock website.

We went to the San Francisco Coffee Festival a week ago, my first festival other than the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival. I’m trying to better understand the coffee ecosystem. The festivals are different beasts altogether. The Kona Coffee Cultural Festival started in 1970(!), before the time of third-wave coffee urbanites, is heavy on the culture, lasts 10 days, and is very community based and chill. My impressions in SF were that it was super popular; there were a lot of roasters there; oat milk is the new, hot thing; and we saw a lot of Chemex and other pourover equipment in use to provide tastings. We saw only one Kona coffee stand, and I was surprised that they were offering their tastings in large pump thermoses (I don’t think they did their product justice when the other roasters were making fresh, small batch tastings).

I was excited to see that Bird Rock Coffee Roasters had a stand, since I was already working on this blog post. After tasting two delicious coffees of theirs (I forgot from exactly where since I didn’t write them down), I chatted with our helper, who turned out to be their Creative Director. I asked about the California coffee availability, price, etc. It sells out really quickly because they have a very limited supply (18 pounds?), and it IS that expensive, if not more. He ran through some numbers (cherry, green, roasted), and I thought I caught some conclusion of $225 for four ounces and someone from Dubai buying it. What??!!

Back to my internet searching … in general, I mostly found a lot of articles around 2018 about the fact that there IS coffee grown in California, and Blue Bottle sold it for a lot of money. In this Blue Bottle blog post, “Sustainable Coffee Farming, Right Here in California,” from the days of the media push, “Jay hopes someday to make California a sustainable coffee growing region.” Really?!! What’s he smoking?!! What else is he growing on that farm? Or are they counting on selling roasted coffee on the order of $200+/pound or unroasted beans to Blue Bottle for $65/pound, who then sells pour-overs at $16/cup? Lead me to THAT market!!

I would be thrilled if they were successful with their sustainable California coffee dream. And I would love it, too, if the Biggest Little Farm will continue on, sustainable from the farm, not a successful film.

Note: in the background of the featured image for this posting is Bea’s coffee tree growing in California. Anyone want to buy her California-grown coffee cherry? It takes about 9 pounds of cherry to make one pound of roasted beans, so $200/pound roasted would be about $22/pound cherry.