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Coffee Pulp
14 October 2007

Pulp Pulping is the process of removing the outer cherry skin from the inner coffee beans.  The beans are washed and dried then eventually roasted and brewed into the coffee we drink.  We are usually focused on the coffee beans, almost everything we do is to get the best Kona coffee beans possible.  But occasionally the discarded outer cherry skins need some attention too.

If ignored the discarded pulp quickly turn into a very large pile of smelly, messy, rotting gook.  Like any organic matter, a pile of rotting pulped skins will eventually break down and make decent fertilizer.  The problem is what to do with that huge pile of nastiness in the mean time.  We certainly don't want it sitting anywhere near the house or barn or anywhere that we can see or smell it.

Every farmer approaches the problem differently.  Some use fancy manure spreaders to spread the pulped skins back across their fields.  This not only gets rid of the waste but it also adds some nutrients back to the soil.  Manure spreaders are neither cheap nor maintenance free.  I once commented to another coffee farmer that I was jealous of his manure spreading trailer.  He said he hated the thing because it was always breaking, didn't fling coffee skins very well and was difficult to maneuver down the rows.

Truck I know another farmer that has a beat up old pickup truck with a hydraulic dumping bed on the back.  The pulp is loaded onto the truck, driven into the fields and dumped out the back.  Of course this isn't a problem free solution either.  Being constantly covered with the dripping acidic slim isn't exactly good for a truck.  Last year their hydraulic dump wasn't working so every morning one of their workers spent a couple hours with a shovel emptying the truck by hand.  I think that's a solution I'd like to avoid.

I know several other farmers that simply pile the pulped skins in out of the way places around their farms.  One guy has a steep hill that is covered in rocks.  His pulper is at the top of the hill and every year he dumps the skins over the side.  By the end of the season the rocks are covered in rotting coffee pulp.  By the beginning of the next season the pulp has composted away and the rocky hillside is ready for another load.  If he keeps up the cycle for a few decades he may eventually have a hillside with nice dirt instead of a pile of rocks.

Skins We don't have any place near the barn where we can dump our pulped coffee skins so whether I dump them or spread them, either way the pulp has to be loaded into some sort of trailer and hauled away.  The trick is to find a cheap and easy way to do the hauling.

My current solution is an old trailer that had been abandoned at the back of our property.  I had to fix the flat tires, pound the tongue back into shape and use an old 2x4 to bolt the trailer bed back onto the frame.  It's still a rusty pile of junk but it works.  The dump latch is broken so the trailer bed won't stay latched and the trailer likes to spontaneously dump it's load at inconvenient times.  This isn't an insurmountable problem though and can even have it's advantages.

As I fill the trailer with freshly pulped skins all the extra water drips through all the rusty holes in the trailer.  That's good because it keeps the trailer from getting too heavy.  When the trailer is full I have to very carefully tow it out to the coffee fields, making sure I don't go too fast or else the trailer will tip and dump all the skins in the wrong place.  Once I manage to maneuver the trailer into place then I jump on the gas and go flying down the row.  This causes the trailer bed to slam violently up and down, flinging the coffee skins all over the place.  The trailer gets bent a little more every time I do this but I figure it will probably last another couple years.  For now the rusty old trailer seems like the perfect tool for spreading a nasty pile of mess.

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