Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Making of Kona Coffee

The roses are sleeping, so I thought I would stray from my favorite topic and tell you about our visit to a coffee plantation this past December when we were in Hawaii.

A butterfly on a coffee tree blossom

I have never seen coffee grown commercially before, so to see a plantation of one of the most expensive coffees in the world was fascinating.

My first impression on walking into the farm was that coffee trees don't really look like trees. At least, not the graceful statuesque trees that a more northern gardener is used to. They do have a single trunk, but branching starts very low and the plants are barely 6' tall.

Trees bloom in late winter and early spring.

But we did see some trees in full bloom in December

Blossoms are wonderfully fragrant, not unlike orange blossoms, and butterflies seem to love them.

Coffee berries (called cherries) ripen all year long, a few berries at a time, so that each tree has some ripe and unripe berries on it. Cherries are harvested three times a year from the same tree (I wish I could do that with my plums and peaches).

Coffee trees are delicate, and although they need heat, they are easily scorched by the sun. On Hawaii, plantations get reliable cloud cover every afternoon shading the trees from the hottest sun. The trees are not long lived either, so new ones are grown from cuttings for replacement. It must be quite a challenge to grow coffee trees well.

A nursery for replacement trees
Quite a few steps need to be taken to turn a cherry on a coffee tree into an aromatic and richly colored roast in a cup.

My boys get a closer look
Right after picking, cherries are shelled in a pulper which extracts two sticky beans from each cherry.

After a brief period in a fermentation tank, the beans are then spread to dry on a drying rack called hoshidana.

Once they are dry, the "green" beans can be stored in their skin (called parchment) until they are roasted.

A dried green bean with part of the skin taken off. A "skinless" bean is ready for roasting.

 A lot of the work on a coffee farm, from picking to drying, is done by hand. I have come to appreciate my morning cup of coffee a bit more now that I know how much effort goes into its making.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Bit of Backyard Bird Watching

I was roused today by crows clattering in our neighbor's yard. When I came out to investigate I saw the birds feasting on persimmons which my neighbor left on the tree. It seemed to take them only a few gulps to leave nothing but a piece of skin. The tree certainly does not look as decorative as it did only a few weeks ago...

California towhees, along with hummers, are my favorite birds. They are quiet and very meticulous. They give my flowerbeds a thorough daily inspection, turning over mulch and leaves in search of insects. I love watching them work, they let me get quite close and don't seem to be bothered by my camera clicking away.

My neighbor's privet is full of berries. Normally privets are nothing but trouble with their aggressive roots, messy berries and a million seedlings I dig out of my rose beds every year.

But I have to admit that when the whole tree is alive with birds (robins and cedar waxwings today), it is a sight that makes me smile.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

My First Multi Graft Fruit Tree

I have been so busy gardening these past few weeks that I feel all sore and tired.  We finally had our old ash tree stump ground and I ended up with an enormous pile of chips on the patio and an even bigger hole in my lawn. We couldn't really leave the hole unfilled, and covering it with sod seemed too boring, so we decided to plant another tree. We thought a fruit tree would be nice next to a patio, providing, besides fruit, a bit of shade and a nice shape to look at without growing too large or out of scale with the rest of the garden. We settled on a pluot.

Here it is fresh from the nursery and festooned with tags like a Christmas tree
Pluots are a cross between plums and apricots, and some varieties, in particular Flavor King and Flavor Supreme, are among the best fruit I have ever eaten.

Some of my last year's pluots

The fruit comes off the tree absolutely perfect every time, no worms, bugs or rot. Even squirrels don't take bites out of them. All I do is spray them once a year with dormant spray.

We emptied chips out of the hole and filled it with native soil and a good planting mix

Unfortunately, undamaged, beautiful and tasty fruit grows on trees that are really tricky to take care of. They are either too weak even on rootstock (reminds me of some roses), or too vigorous gaining size quickly at the expense of flowering and setting fruit. They crack, they need to be hard-pruned every year, they are finicky about pollination. I chose a 4-in-1 tree with these issues in mind.

All done, the tree in the ground and four roses at the base. We did leave some room to come up to the tree :)

 Generally I try to avoid multi graft fruit trees because I can see how some grafts would be stronger than others and dominate the tree creating lots of pruning issues in future.

The chips were spread as mulch around the roses and perennials

However, in the case of pluots, a multi graft had a few definite advantages. First, I hope that having four varieties within inches of each other would make pollination a bit more of a certainty, so I would finally get to eat some of the wonderful Flavor Supreme which our single variety tree refuses to bear for me. Another is that I hope that the trunk will be less prone to cracking. I placed the strongest graft facing north, and the weakest facing south (it seems they were grafted with this specific placement in mind). We will see how it turns out, but my hopes are high.

And I hope the roses like the mulch