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Selecting Verticals
8 October 2006


Branches Coffee trees aren't actually trees, officially they are shrubs.  One major difference between a tree and a shrub, at least as far as this Kona coffee farmer is concerned, is that shrubs need to be pruned a lot more often.  We prune our coffee "trees" after the harvest season.  That's a great time to cut off the larger branches because all the coffee has been picked and it's the beginning of the dormant season.

A couple months after pruning, the trunks will be covered with vigorous new sprouts all competing for space.  That means we have to make a second pass through all the trees to select which branches we want to keep and which ones go.  Too few branches would obviously mean not enough coffee.  Too many suckers stresses the tree and creates weak branches, leading to a poor harvest the following year.  Three or four vigorous branches seems to be just about right.  All the others have to go.

Learning which branches stay and which ones go takes some practice.  Most branches grow laterally, they can stay, we only prune the branches that grow vertically.  The verticals that are too high all have to go, that part is easy.  All branches way down Selecting low by the ground also go.  It's the ones in between that are tricky.  Decisions made now will effect the coffee production for many years to come.  It takes some practice to be able to look at a tiny sprout and imagine what it will look like years from now and how much coffee it will produce.

Selecting the verticals has to be done a couple times a year.  We selected once back in June.  We should have done it again in early September but didn't get around to it until now.  That's ok, our trees are a bit slow this year anyways.  The only problem with waiting until now is that the normal labor crew is busy with harvest season and not really interested in pruning.  Luckily, Valerie and the girls have decided that removing suckers is more fun than picking coffee.  We make it a family activity.

It has been taking us a little over an hour per row.  At that rate, it would take us 60-80 hours to finish the entire farm.  It would be nice if we could get in 8 hours a day but that's just not reasonable for us.  Putting in an average of two or three hours a day is about the best we can hope for.  That means it would take us a month to finish the whole farm by ourselves.  We just don't have that kind of time so we have to hire help.  If you're planning a trip to the Big Island and want some extra cash, feel free to drop by.  We'll be happy to put you to work.

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