The coffee plant is a warm climate trim that can develop to a height of somewhere in the range of 16 and 40 feet. In many farms the trees are kept at six feet for better yields and easier picking. The trees have lavish, sparkly green leaves joined to long thin branches. At the point when the plant is in season, little white blooms show up from the base of the leaves. After pollination, the blossoms are replaced by fruits.
Kenya grows mainly Arabica on rich volcanic soils found in the highlands of the country and most is produced by small-scale farmers. Kenya coffee has a bright acidity and a wonderful sweetness with a dry winy aftertaste, according to the Coffee Research Foundation. A good Kenya coffee will also have a black-current flavor and aroma, it says.
Coffee is also one of Kenya’s largest revenue earners and has farmers this year smiling from cheek to cheek, over the good prices. Kenya’s varieties are currently among the most expensive globally.
Management of Coffee
Management and growing of coffee has gone through the bad times over the years, only until just recently because prices were down and it had lost appeal. Many farmers had dumped or uprooted the crop. Others had totally neglected their bushes, which were bringing more losses than benefits. But now, things have changed and many are rushing to grow the crop or tend to it again. Problem is how do you go about it?
There are various varieties of the crop developed to suit different altitudes and growing areas. Coffee growing from bean to cup also goes through various stages. The process starts from selection of the right variety for your area, sowing the seed in beds, transplanting into special foil planting bags, final transplanting, fertilizing, pruning for older crops, spraying and harvesting. Alternatively, seedlings are bought from CRF and its centers.
Coffee varieties grown in Kenya
There are two main varieties :- Arabica and Robusta
Arabica beans are mild in the cup, with comparatively less caffeine, while Robusta has more aromatic. The Robusta tree appears bushier, the leaves are larger and the berries form in clusters
- Coffee Research Foundation (CRF) currently produces four commercial cultivars (varieties) of Arabica coffee. Different varieties are recommended for various altitudes.
- K7 – low altitude coffee areas with serious Coffee Leaf Rust (CLR).
- SL 28 – medium to high coffee areas without serious CLR.
- SL 34 – high coffee zone with good rainfall.
- Ruiru 11 – all coffee growing areas. Resistant to both Coffee Berry Disease (CBD) and CLR.
K7 cultivar was selected at Legetet Estate in Muhoroni from the French Mission Coffee. It is distinguished by its spreading habit on young laterals although older primaries tend to be decumbent or drooping. It has characteristic medium to narrow leaves with young shoot-tips that are intermediate bronze in colour. The cultivar has resistance to some races of CLR as well as partial resistance to CBD. It is suited for lower altitudes where CLR is prevalent. The bean and liquor qualities are good.
The SL 28 cultivar was selected at the former Scott Laboratories (now the National Agricultural Laboratories, NARL situated at Kabete) on a single tree basis from the Tanganyika Drought Resistant variety selected in Northern Tanzania in 1931. The prefix SL in the variety name are acronymous for Scott Laboratories where the variety was selected. The name is completed by a serial number (28) for the selection. The variety is suited for medium to high altitude coffee growing zones.
SL 34 was also selected at the former Scott Laboratories from French Mission Coffee. The cultivar is adapted to high altitude areas with good rainfall. It is majorly characterized by dark bronze shoot tipped plants with a few green-tipped strains. The laterals have semi-erect habit which tend to become decumbent or drooping on older primaries. The cultivar produces high yields of fine quality coffee but is susceptible to CBD, CLR and BBC.
Ruiru 11 variety was released in 1985. The variety name has the prefix “Ruiru” referring to the location of the Kenyan Coffee Research Station where the variety was developed. The name is completed by an additional two code numbers, 11. The first code number denotes the type of variety as a one way cross between two designated parent populations and the second number defines the sequence of release, in this case the first release. The variety is not only resistant to CBD and CLR but is also compact allowing farmers to intensity production per unit land especially in high potential areas where population is high and coffee is in competition with other crops and farm enterprises required for food security and income. Ruiru 11 is planted at a density of 2500/3300 trees/ha compared to 1300 trees/ha for the traditional varieties. This translates into a higher production per unit area of land. The variety comes into production earlier, hence earlier realization of benefits to the farmers. The development of Ruiru 11 also took into consideration the importance of quality as a major marketing parameter. Since the quality of the traditional varieties was already popular among consumers of Kenyan coffee, Ruiru 11 was developed with quality attributes similar to the traditional varieties.
- Planting materials can be picked from the
- Coffee Research Foundation.
- the seeds germinate if sown within eight weeks following the harvest. They are sown one to two centimetres deep in specially constructed beds.
- After five to eight weeks the tiny plants reach the surface. As soon as the first pair of leaves appear, sometimes even sooner, the seedlings are transplanted to special foil planting bags called polycovers or to peat pots. They are then set 20 to 25 cm apart in large, predominantly shaded beds.
- Six months later, the young plants are 30 to 50 cm tall. They are then transplanted to their final place in the coffee plantation, now at a distance of one to three meters apart.
- The newer varieties of coffee trees begin to bear fruit from the second or third year. Older varieties produce their first harvest after five years. The new Batian variety starts producing fruit after two years.
A tree does well in well aerated areas with well drained with fertile soil. Coffee trees need a lot of oxygen to their roots during the growth process, which is why many farmers rely on aerating the soil to help them thrive and grow.
According to Mr Maina, an experienced farmer, says coffee trees require a steady amount of rainfall at anywhere from 1500 to 2000 mm per year. If there is less rainfall yearly within the coffee growing region, then that deficit needs to be accounted for through irrigation.
Many of the finest trees are grown at higher altitudes at over 3000 feet. The reason that this is so important to growing coffee plants, is because it provides cloud cover and mist.