I remember our first tree-planting activity some 13 years ago in Barangay Pangil in Amadeo, Cavite when then Mayor OJ Ambagan started the “Adopt a Farm” project. The landowners who had no funds to invest in new plantings had their land “adopted” for five years at a very affordable P1 per square meter, or P10,000 a year for one hectare. The program had more than 140 hectares adopted, contributing greatly to Amadeo’s coffee production today.
In 2005, we again ventured in planting coffee trees of the Barako variety as many farmers were not keen on planting the big tree as it took up more land space. We were able to start the Barako revolution, so to speak, by telling the farmers to sort their coffee and Barako would fetch a higher price when sorted from Robusta. To this day, Barako still fetches a higher price than Robusta, and many farmers started to plant this variety.
But how does one really start planting coffee? First task is to check elevation. Robusta, Barako (Liberica) and Excelsa all grow at elevations of at least 300 meters above sea level. Arabica will need at least 900 meters above sea level but many of our Arabica grow on higher elevations like 1,600 meters such as the areas in the Cordillera and other mountain ranges in the country. The higher the elevation, the harder the bean quality. The harder the bean, the better the flavor gets.
Next is to check if the soil is sandy loam. You can do this by bringing a sample batch of the soil to the Bureau of Soils. (www.da.gov.ph). They can also tell you the N-P-K levels of your soil sample. Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium must always in a good ratio as recommended for the plant or crop.
If you wish to grow organic coffee, you will have to check your neighboring lots or land and see what farm practices they have. Do they use chemicals? Do they spray their plants with pesticides? Their practices can affect your produce, too.
Do you see bees and insects hovering around your property? Then chances are the environment is still pristine and organic. Bees move away once they smell pesticides or chemical sprays.
Whatever your elevation, it is important to know where your seedlings will come from. Will you start with “ready to plant” seedlings? Or will you start with sowing the seeds yourself? If you just want to plant some Barako seedlings, we keep some in our farm for you to try and plant. If you need thousands of seedlings, you may start by sowing the seeds yourself.
The Philippine Coffee Board keeps tabs on seedling suppliers around the country. Just e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org so they can direct you to the right party or contact person.
What can grow with coffee? For soil conditioning and balance of nutrients, the recommended companion crops are peanuts or legumes as they are nitrogen-fixing, Banana and papaya for potassium and pineapples, too. When you plant the right companion crops, you enrich the soil even as it gives you fruits and you are able to get enough produce while waiting for coffee to bear fruit. Coffee may take 18 months to three years before you see the first fruit. No matter what variety, you may as well plant cash crops while waiting for your first coffee harvest, because coffee does take some time to mature.
The spaces are usually three meters by three meters between trees. For dimensions of holes to dig, you can use a 2ft by 2 ft by 2 ft hole and 18 inches deep. And remember to remove the plastic or the seedling bag. I have seen many tree planting activities where the plastic is left under the soil!
It is fun to harvest your own coffee, as we now do at the farm. But rather than hulling and roasting the coffee, we share the seeds with others who wish to plant Barako, the Big bean. Or we sow them into seedlings. The rains are coming soon, we hope. Time to plant coffee!
Do your homework and start to work on your own coffee farm!
Chit Juan is the Founder and President of ECHOstore Sustainable Lifestyle located in Serendra , Podium, Centris, Davao City, Makati and Cebu .She is the President of Women’s Business Council of the Philippines and the Philippine Coffee Board Inc. She often speaks to corporates, academe and entrepreneurs about her advocacies: Social Enterprise, Women Empowerment and Coffee. You can reach her at email@example.com or find her on Twitter@Chitjuan , Instagram: CHITJUAN or Linked In: Pacita Juan.