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Are you the type of person who likes doing things from scratch? Would you – given an ideal world – start knitting a sweater by feeding a lamb? If growing everyday things from scratch appeals to you, you may like trying to grow your own coffee. Imagine drinking a fresh cup of coffee just days away from the coffee plant. It’s not that impossible, especially if you live in a warm region of the country. Even if you live in the far Northern reaches, it’s not difficult to grow your own coffee. It just takes time, patience and a bit of care and feeding to grow your own coffee from seed to roaster.
Coffee is a flowering shrub native to Africa and Asia. It requires tropical/sub-tropical conditions in order to grow. If you’ve had success growing tropical plants indoors, though, you’ll be able to grow your own coffee plants as well, and if you live in an area that doesn’t experience winter frosts, you’ll be able to grow your own coffee shrubs and trees outdoors. In fact, coffee trees are a fairly popular landscape plant in areas of Southern Florida. The glossy green leaves, white waxy flowers and bright red cherries make them attractive indoor and outdoor flowering plants.
A mature coffee plant will produce two to ten pounds of dried coffee beans per year. If you grow your own coffee from seed, you can expect to wait at least four years before your coffee plant sets fruit, but after that, you’ll have fruit every year.
There are several different ways to grow your own coffee. You can start coffee plants from seed, purchase plants from a nursery or propagate them from stem cuttings. It’s fairly easy to grow your own coffee using any of those three methods.
The most difficult part of growing coffee from seed is finding viable seeds. Coffee plants are best grown from fresh fruit – by actually planting the entire coffee cherry. Unless you have access to a flowering coffee plant, this is probably not an option. The second best option is green, unroasted coffee beans that many coffee importers sell to home roasters. You can buy raw beans from numerous suppliers for as little as three to four dollars a pound. These green beans may germinate for up to two months after harvesting. If you want to grow your own coffee, you can order raw green coffee beans, and make a point of specifying that you want the latest stock. Once you have your green coffee beans:
– Soak about twenty beans in an inch of water.
– Within 12-24 hours, you’ll find that five to eight of them have a tiny white bump growing from the end. This is the coffee plant embryo.
– Plant the germinated seeds in vermiculite in a deep pot about 1.5″ deep. Do use a real pot. The coffee bean will need to set a very deep tap root, and small seedling pots don’t give enough room.
– Water well.
– Cover pot with plastic wrap or a plant tent.
– Keep moist, but don’t overwater.
– Wait 60 days.
It will be about 60 days before you see a small gooseneck sprout poking its way out of the soil. This is the most difficult part of starting plants to grow your own coffee. Some enthusiasts admit that they get a living plant from about one of every 50 germinated seeds. The long sprouting process makes it very likely that the seeds will rot before they grow.
If you have access to a living, flowering coffee plant, your chances of success are far greater. Since the coffee bean will not have gone through any processing, you’ve got a far higher chance that the bean will sprout. If you are starting your own coffee plants from live fruit, strip the skin from the coffee cherry, then follow the instructions above.
It will be another three to four months before your coffee plant has leaves, and up to nine months before it shows true leaves. Keep watering it well, and repot it when the roots start getting crowded.
If you have access to a live coffee plant, you can try to grow your own coffee from a stem cutting and avoid the whole seed roulette game.
– Choose a stem that is 3/16 to 5/16 of an inch in diameter.
– Remove one of the two leaves on the stem.
– Cut the second leaf in half.
– Dip the end of the stem into rooting hormone for about 15 seconds.
– Put the cutting immediately into a small container with moist growing medium.
– Cover with a polyethylene tent.
– Place in moderate shade.
– Gradually open and remove tent as plant roots and begins to grow.
– Repot into larger containers as necessary.
If you’re just too impatient to wait four years for your first fruit, there is an easier way to grow your own coffee. Shop around online at nurseries to find one that sells three to four year old plants. You’ll get a young tree about four feet tall that is ready to flower and set fruit for the first time.
Coffee plants need a LOT of water and a moderate amount of fertilizer in the spring in order to set fruit. If you buy a nursery plant, you’ll get watering and fertilization instructions with the plant. If not, you can find a good set of instructions at U. Florida’s agricultural extension page.
You can get coffee plants at: