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Planting Coffee
13 May 2007

Field

Dig One of the many things that makes Kona coffee special is that the seasons are backwards.  Winter is the dry season while summer is the rainy season.  Having dry winters helps the coffee ripen and allows the trees a semi-dormant period after the harvest while wet summers means a vigorous growing season.

During the rainy season almost every morning will start bright and sunny then just when it starts to get too hot in the afternoon, cool clouds will roll in and give us some warm rain showers.  The coffee trees love this weather.  The reliable summer rains also makes late spring a great time to plant baby coffee trees.  So we've been planting our front field with more Kona coffee trees.

Keiki The first step in planting a coffee tree is digging a hole.  The problem is that the island of Hawaii is a giant volcano.  Being geologically young, the ground is more rock than dirt.  Lava rock is more brittle than most other rocks but it is still a rock, traditional augers and post hole diggers just aren't up to the task of digging through this ground.  In many cases a jack hammer is the only way to break up the lava rock.  It's common to use a hydraulic hammer attached to a backhoe or small excavator.  I decided to try digging the holes by hand first, figuring I'd hire the expensive excavator as a last resort.

It took a couple days to dig the first 40 or so holes myself.  With nearly 400 holes to go, I decided it was time to hire help.  I hired a crew of four guys and armed them with pick-axes.  They arrived at 7:30am and dug all day long.   I figured it would take them a couple days but they had all 400 holes dug by 4:30.  Even a hydraulic excavator can't dig that many holes in a single day.  I did some digging but mostly I scrambled to stay ahead of them, marking the holes and removing the big rocks they pulled out of the ground.

The next day I was ready to start planting.  Well, that's not true, the next day I sat on my butt and rested.  The day after that I started planting.  Each hole was filled with a few shovels worth of top soil.  Pure top soil is too expensive so it was actually a mix of one part top soil, one part crushed lava rock and one part manure.  It's just enough to help the coffee trees get established then they grow great in the rocky ground.  All I have to do is keep the weeds back so the baby trees have a chance.  At the rate the weeds grow around here, even that simple task will be a challenge.  What I need now are some visitors so I can give them a hoe and point them towards the front field.

Plant



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