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Pruning Kona Coffee
4 March 2007


As soon as the season's last ripe Kona coffee cherry is picked off the tree then it's time to start pruning.  With several thousand trees, pruning is a process that takes some time.  This year's pruning took even longer than usual because the process was interrupted by flowers.

I had put in two days of pruning when all the trees started to bloom.  It was a heavy bloom and all those flowers means plenty of bees.  The entire place was buzzing with bees.  The bees generally don't bother people but pruning tree after tree covered in bees might be asking for it.  Even if they're harmless, the bees presented a good excuse to put off pruning for a few days until the bloom was finished.

Not only is pruning a lot of hard work, it also takes a fair amount of training.  Pruning incorrectly can hurt the trees and decreases production while proper pruning keeps the trees healthy and maximizes production.  The problem is every coffee farmer in Kona has a different opinion on the "proper" way to prune Kona coffee trees.  There are two main camps:  traditional Kona style and Beaumont-Fukunaga.

Traditional Kona style pruning consists of removing only the oldest branches from each tree so there's room for new branches to replace them.  Coffee branches require a year or two to reach full maturity and production starts to drop off by the fourth year.  By constantly removing older branches to make room for younger branches the tree can produce at a steady level year after year.  It's also possible to prune lighter some years to help boost production and prune heavier in other years to prevent over-bearing die back.  The main disadvantage of traditional Kona style pruning is that every tree must be pruned every year.

Beaumont-Fukunaga is a relatively new method of pruning that removes all of a tree's branches, leaving only the stump.  This may sound drastic but it can actually help to reinvigorate the tree.  Every third row is cut back to stumps once every third year, rotating to the next row the following year.  This means every tree will be pruned once every three years and each year only one third of the trees need to be pruned.  Sometimes it's done on a cycle of four or five years but three is more typical.

The time savings gained from Beaumont-Fukunaga style pruning is the obvious gain.  Another gain is that it takes considerably less training to stump a tree than it does to select which branches go and which ones stay.  The big disadvantage is that every year a third of the trees have been stumped and produce no coffee.  This loss of production is partially made up for by the vigorous growth in subsequent years.  Being able to hire less skilled labor for less time also helps make up for loss of production.

The larger farms usually use Beaumont-Fukunaga while the older, smaller farms often prefer traditional Kona style pruning.  Here at Kona Earth we don't have a strong opinion one way or the other and prefer to use whatever method works best for a particular situation.  Sometimes a tree needs a rest so it will get cut way back while other trees do great year after year so they don't get a heavy trim until they need it.  This hybrid approach seems to be a good blend of the two methods and is working well for us.

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