BEST PRACTICES: PRUNING PRACTICES
(Presentation by Bob Smith)
Coffee beans form on last year’s growth. Three years growth on the vertical gives the maximum crop.
Remove suckers on bent over verticals
Beaumont-Fukunaga prunes every third row to the stump, permitting more space and light and thus better yield per tree. This works well for new plantings. It is very efficient, because one only has to remember which row to prune, and no decisions other than pruning down to the stump.
However, for older trees, OK to have 1, 2 and 3 year old verticals on the same stump. Remember the idea is to give plenty of light and air to each vertical. Older trees have more space to have multi-age verticals.
Leave at least one vertical on each section because without new growth, that section will die. If you completely remove the suckers and verticals, that’s a dead section of an older tree. Develop space between verticals.
Even at best, you will lose some trees with each pruning; replant yearly when a tree is shaky or not thriving. “If a tree is not doing well for me, it’s gone.” Use the pull test: if the tree is shaky, get rid of it.”
“Pruning is the start of the farming year…”
(a) Selection of the new and old verticals to prune. Never prune before January. WAIT UNTIL THERE IS ADEQUATE RAINFALL FOR NEW GROWTH. Growth develops May, June, July and August. Rains are usually strong in March.
(b) First suckering about three months later
(c) Suckering the second time about three months after this
In selecting the verticals to prune, gently bend the verticals or the suckers over. You should be able to bend it and have it return to the vertical. Other suckers are more weakly attached and will later break or fail to thrive.
Wait until suckers are about 12 inches tall so you can bend gently and check which to prune and which to keep. Remember, “new growth must be unimpeded. Take off any cross-laterals that will impede new growth. Too many branches is NOT better! Let the light in!”
Takes 4 years to go from seedling to maximum bearing wood
The height of the stump should be about as high as your knee: approx 2 ft depending on your own height. This is for ease of pruning and harvesting. The stump grows slowly.
You will get a LOT of coffee in the 5th year for a vertical, when it starts to lean over, but not so easy to pick. The decision for older trees on whether to cut or to prop depends on your sense of spatial relations. Always remember you want to give ample light and room. If the 5th year vertical bending over would interfere with light and room, cut; if not, keep.
There are only very small differences in yield between the two systems. Workers prefer Beaumont-Fukunaga, because in harvesting, they can trash every third row, as it will be cut down to the stump anyhow—particularly in a managed farm.
Suckers that are bonded together happen on almost every tree. Cut these off UNLESS there are no other suckers and it is absolutely necessary in order to keep that section of the stump alive. You can split or pinch carefully.
I prune for square stumps, not at an angle. Select shoots closest to the prune line to remain, in order to get the strongest connection to the tree. Tree seal is not needed: coffee trees are all self-sealing.
Remember the importance of the pruning cycle. I get about 30 lbs/tree/year cherry on the average.
Q: Can you bend the verticals and grow the trees like grape vines?
A: No, coffee is not a vine
C: Leave the prunings and clippings where they fall to increase humus. Do not need to haul them away, pile them up, and just chip them in the field if you can get a chipper there or let them decay. “Never burn anything, not even a twig borer. I break the twig in half and stick each end in the ground.”
C: You have to return organic matter to the soil.
Q: What is the life cycle of the twig borer?
A: CTAHR has done a lot of work on this insect. Eggs are laid in clusters inside the twigs, they hatch into white larvae with a distinct head, they pupate within the gallery in the twig, and then the adult emerges. After mating the females emerge and bore into a new twig. The life cycle takes an average of 29 days.
C: We see the white larvae in the cavity and know these can’t live on their own. There has been a big increase in the twig borer recently. The University researchers should forget all this enthusiasm for GMO coffee and find out what the predator of the twig borer is and how we can control it, and what’s happening with the increase.