Welcome back to the next update in this series of reports coming to you from our very own in-house Biologist and Value Chain Analyst, Valentina Pedrotti!
This series is designed to give you a greater insight into the “Art of Coffee Science” that is being implemented throughout our network of 10 (soon to be 11!) specialty coffee farms in Panama.
In your own words..take it away Valentina!
Now that we have a broader picture of the current situation of the 12-hectare farm located in Jaramillo, we can start developing activities and coping strategies to improve its soil condition in the short, medium and long term.
Since producing high quality specialty coffee is our main goal, we decided to start planting coffee trees this year. However, the strategies implemented are different compared to the strategies we have already implemented on other farms.
In this specific case, we need to make sure that the immediate area occupied by the root system of the coffee plants is well-conditioned. That means that the plants will have access to micro and macro elements with no difficulties.
For that reason, we decided to start localized soil recovery strategies in the plantation area (around 30 cm diameter around each plant). This allowed us to start planting coffee saplings this year, and not waiting until the whole area is 100% recovered.
The first step consists on designing the planting pattern. As I mentioned in the first article (Phase I: diagnosis), many of the strategies we are going to implement in this project will meet more than one function.
This is the case of the planting pattern we chose. The pattern of planting 1×3 m (1 meter between plants and 3 meters between the rows) follows the contour line of the surface of the soil. It is almost perpendicular to the surface, facilitating the harvest activities and also reducing the rate of erosion.
Once the planting pattern was defined in the field and the holes were opened, the farmers started to bring the young coffee plants up to the farm. It is a very demanding activity since the farm has no direct connection to a main road yet. It takes around 20 min for each trip to bring the thousands of plants from the main road to the farm.
The second strategy consists of improving the soil conditions of the immediate area occupied by the coffee plant. For that, around 30 cm diameter holes were opened to allow aeration and gases exchange in the soil as the first strategy.
Afterwards, the coffee plants were planted using an organic and highly nutritious product: hens manure. This specific hen manure comes from laying hens. This type of hen has a longer lifetime compare to chickens for human consumption.
It means that the manure accumulates for a longer time resulting in a higher quality fertilizer. Hens manure, or what we call gallinaza in Spanish, has a fast mineralization rate. This is the decomposition process of organic matter that produces inorganic nitrogen (nitrate and ammonium) that the plant consumes.
Each coffee plant was provided with 3 oz of hens’ manure. In this farm, we are planting two different varietals, Typica (6000 plants) and Geisha (5500 plants)
Again, this is a double function strategy. It will provide nutrients to our coffee plants, while regulating the soil pH. As it was mentioned before, high acidity was one of the issues we found on the farm.
By adding organic matter (OM) to the soil we are promoting the regulation of the pH in the soil, while increasing the “O” horizon (the most superficial soil layers with a high percentage of organic matter).
See you soon in the next report coming directly from the ICFC coffee farms right here in Boquete, Panama.