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By Lizzie Powell

The Coffee Bean Nursery

The very clever bean and how it starts its journey to your cup

Coffee is grown on trees within the tropic of Cancer and tropic of Capricorn

These hot climates are ideal conditions for coffee plantations and in some parts the trees grow naturally as part of the ecosystem; more commonly they are cultivated and then harvested, but within these regions they are widely found on roadsides and hills.

Picture above: The Coffee Bean Nursery in Colombia

Pictures above: A series of images showing the growth from coffee bean in the silt to the mature plant around 3 months old and ready to plant

Commercially, the coffee bean is planted in raised beds of silt, usually from nearby river banks. The silt is high in minerals and provides the coffee bean with all the nutrients it needs to grow from bean to plant.

Once the bean has matured into a sapling, it is transplanted into a larger bed where it is contained within a small plastic bag around the root system. This makes transplantation easier and less traumatic for the young plant. 

There are specialist nurseries that only grow plants for 3 months and sell them to the plantations locally; we visited one of the largest nurseries in Colombia to have a look at the process.

The stages of a coffee tree

The 16 week old saplings, now 25cm in height, are transplanted to new locations and regularly pruned to ensure that the optimum growth is achieved. There will not be any signs of a coffee cherry until the plant first blossoms in a further 52 weeks. 30 weeks after this, the first harvest can be picked. 

The coffee tree will produce fruit for 4-5 years. 

After this, the coffee tree will be cut down to the ground and the root system will generate 3 new shoots into a tree. The extensive root system remains and the new trees start the cycle again. 

This is the most effective way of producing coffee and gives the highest yield; however this does mean one fifth of the farm will never be cropping, only growing to reach maturity.

In Colombia as in many other countries, the plants crop twice per year.

Click here to read part two - The Coffee Cherry

The specialist nursery we visited in Colombia

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