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In order to obtain the best results the coffee tree requires to be properly planted, and during its life time needs frequent and intelligent cultivation.

The various operations incidental to the opening and carrying on of a coffee plantation will be taken up in their proper order and described in as plain language as possible, and as briefly as is consistent with a clear explanation of the subject.

The very first thing the planter should do after obtaining possession of his land is to plant a nursery, so that he may have, as soon as possible, an abundant supply of strong healthy plants. Many planters have planted their fields with wild stumps, these are young coffee plants that are found under wild growths of coffee trees. The young trees are cut off about six inches above the ground, they are then taken up and the lateral roots trimmed close to the tap root. The thready end of the tap root is cut off and the stump is ready to plant. In some cases the young plants are taken up, from under the wild trees, and planted just as they are. This method can be dismissed at once as the worst possible method of planting the coffee tree. The very best plants are strong healthy nursery plants, that is, plants that have been grown from the best seed in a properly prepared nursery. The next best plants to use are nursery stumps. These are nursery trees that have grown too large to safely transplant. By cutting them down and trimming the roots they can be safely transplanted to the field, where they will grow into good healthy trees. Stumps soon after planting send up several shoots, these, with the exception of the strongest one, are taken off. This latter shoot is to grow and make the coffee trees.


The size of the nursery will depend on how large the plantation is to be. For a 75-acre plantation, one acre of ground will more than supply all the plants required. It is always desirable to have a greater number of plants than is needed to just plant the acreage the plantation is to be, for after the fields are planted some of the plants may get injured from dry weather and require replacing with plants from the nursery. Any surplus left, after the trees in the fields are well established, can be sold to some later planter, who will find it to his advantage to purchase good nursery plants for his first planting and thereby save one year of time. It is advisable for all planters to buy plants for their first planting, but for the second year’s planting they should have a nursery of their own from which they can select the strongest and most forward plants.

The land for the nursery should be selected as close as possible to where the plantation is to be. It should be on a slight slope to insure drainage, and free from rocks and stones. The soil should be ploughed or dug over to the depth of one foot and made as fine as possible. Beds should be thrown up six inches high and three feet wide. The surface of the beds should be made quite smooth and level; the seeds should be planted six inches apart and three quarters of an inch deep. A good way to ensure even and regular planting is to make a frame three feet wide each way. Pegs, three quarters of an inch long and five eighths of an inch diameter, should be fastened to one side of the frame, placing them exactly six inches apart. The frame, thus prepared, is placed, pegs down, on the bed. A slight pressure will sink the pegs into the soil. The frame is now lifted and you have the holes for the seeds all of one depth and equi-distant from each other. The seeds can now be dropped one in each hole. The seeds should be placed flat side down, and covered by brushing over the surface of the bed. If the weather is at all dry it is a good plan to mulch the surface of the bed with dry grass or fern leaves. The soil should be kept moist, and if there is not sufficient rain the beds must be watered. In six or seven weeks the seeds should sprout and show above ground. The mulching should now be moved from over the plants and arranged in the rows. It has been the practice of some planters to plant the seed much closer than six inches apart, but it will be found that plants at six inches apart can be more easily and safely transplanted than from close planted beds. It will be advisable in taking up plants from the beds, to take only every other one, this will give the remaining plants more room to develop and grow more stocky than would be the case if all the plants were taken up from each bed as they were required.


The next thing for the planter to do is to get his land cleared. This can be done more satisfactorily and cheaply by contract than can be done by days’ work. Gangs of Chinese and Japanese undertake the clearing of land and will make a contract to clear the land as per specification. In the Olaa District land costs from $20 to $50 per acre to clear, according to the kind of clearing done. The land is forest land and some planters have the trees cut down and everything burned making the land quite clear, while others just have the vines and ferns cut and the trees felled, leaving everything on the land to rot. This method while costing much less than burning up everything, makes it more expensive to lay out and plant the land. The planter must decide for himself which of the two methods he will pursue. However, it can be said in the case of those who only cut and fell, in a few years everything, trees, vines and ferns rot down and greatly increase the fertility of the soil. The next thing is to lay out the land for the digging of the holes where it is intended to set out the young trees. There is a wide diversity of opinion as to the proper distance apart to plant coffee trees. From 10x12 feet down to 5x6 and all intermediate distances are practiced. It is a significant fact that planters who formerly planted their trees at the wider distances are now setting out trees as close as 6x5. Trees planted 6x6 will probably yield better results per acre than trees planted at a wider or closer distance. Having fixed upon the distance apart the trees are to be planted, the planter proceeds to mark with pegs the places where he wants the holes dug. This is usually done with a line or rope that has pieces of red rag fastened in the strands, at the distance apart at which it is intended to dig the holes. The line is drawn tightly across one end of the clearing and a peg driven into the soil at every place that is marked on the line. The men, holding the two ends of the line, are each provided with a stick the exact length that the rows are to be apart. After one row is pegged, the line is advanced one length of the stick and the operation repeated until the whole clearing is pegged. After the first line is pegged a line should be laid at exactly right angles to the first line so that the rows will be straight both ways. The pegging being completed, the holes should be dug not less than 18 inches wide and 18 inches deep. The top soil should be carefully placed on one side of the hole and the subsoil on the other, the holes should remain open as long as possible and should only be filled in a week or so before planting the trees. The bottoms of the holes should be explored with a light crowbar and, if any rocks or stones are found, they should be removed. In filling the holes the top soil (that has been placed on one side) should be placed in the bottom of the hole and other top soil should be taken from between the rows until the hole is full, the subsoil can now be disposed of by scattering it between the rows. The holes after filling should have the marking pegs replaced in the center of the filling, this will serve as a guide for planting the trees.


There is no operation in all the work of establishing a coffee plantation that requires such careful supervision as that of planting out the young trees. If the work is carelessly done and the slender tap root is doubled up or, if it is shortened too much, the tree will never thrive. It may grow fairly well for a time, perhaps until the time for the first crop, then the foliage will turn yellow and the tree show every sign of decay. The effort to produce a crop is too much for the tree and the sooner it is pulled up and replaced by a properly planted tree the better.

The closest supervision is necessary in order that the planter may be certain that the tap roots are placed perfectly straight in the ground; and the lateral roots placed in a natural position. In order to effect this, with the least amount of trouble, transplanters have been used. A transplanter that has been used with success is made as follows: two pieces of sheet iron (galvanized) are bent into two half circles, which, when placed together, form a cylinder 3 inches in diameter and seven inches long. A piece of hoop iron is bent to a ring, that will fit over the cylinder, and riveted. The mode of using is as follows: The two halves of the cylinder are pressed into the ground, one on each side of the young coffee tree. They are pressed down until the upper ends are level with the surface of the soil. The hoop iron ring is then pressed over the ends of the two halves of the cylinder, binding them firmly together. The cylinder can now be lifted from the ground bringing with it the young tree with all its roots in the position in which they grew. In this condition the young trees are carried to the field and, the holes being opened, the cylinder, holding the tree, is placed in the ground and the soil packed firmly around it. The hoop iron ring is then removed and the two halves of the cylinder withdrawn. The soil is again compacted around the roots and the tree is planted. There is another transplanter, invented in America, that would probably be better and more economical in working than the one described above. This transplanter consists of a cylinder of thin sheet steel. These are made in America of various sizes to suit different kinds of trees. For a coffee tree a good size would be 7 inches long and 5 inches in diameter. The cylinder has an opening, five-eighths of an inch wide, running the whole length of the cylinder and exactly opposite this opening a handle is riveted. This handle is of half inch round iron, 18 inches long with a cross bar on top. The rod is bent outward in the form of a bow, so that in working, the branches of the young tree may not be injured. The mode of working the transplanter is as follows: the cylinder is placed on the ground with the tree in the center of the cylinder. This can be done by allowing the stem of the young tree to pass through the slot in the cylinder. Then, by means of the cross handle, the cylinder is turned and pressed into the soil until the upper end is level with the surface of the ground. Then, by lifting on the stem of the tree and the handle of the transplanter at the same time, the tree is taken from the ground with its roots undisturbed. Should the end of the tap root project below the end of the cylinder, the thready end should be pinched off with the thumb nail. By placing the lower end of the cylinder on the bottom of a box and inserting a wedge-shaped piece of wood in the slot, the cylinder is sprung open and can be withdrawn, leaving the young tree, with a cylinder of earth around its roots, standing on the bottom of the box. This operation can be repeated until the box is full of the young trees, when it is carried to the field and the trees placed one at each hole. By using a duplicate transplanter a cylinder of earth is removed from the spot where the tree is to be placed, and the tree with its cylinder of earth is placed in the round hole, which it exactly fits, the earth being slightly compacted around the roots. The tree is thus planted with the absolute certainty that the roots are in their natural position.


The old adage, “a stitch in time saves nine,” will bear its fullest application in the care and weeding of a coffee estate. From the time the land is first cleared, weeding should commence, and it is astonishing how little it will cost if care is taken that no weed be allowed to run to seed. The bulk of Hawaiian coffee lands is situated in the forests where the land is covered with a dense undergrowth of ferns and vines and there are no pernicious weeds to bother. But soon after clearing, the seeds of weeds are dropped by the birds and are carried in on the feet and clothing of the laborers and visitors. We have no weeds that run to seed in less than thirty days, and if the fields are gone over, once a month, and any weed that can be found pulled up and buried, the work of weeding will be reduced to a minimum. But if the weeds, that are bound to spring up, are allowed to run to seed, the work of weeding will be greatly increased and will require the labor of a large gang to keep the fields in order. If taken in time, the labor of one man will keep from 15 to 25 acres quite clean. During the first year after setting out the fields, all that is required is to keep the fields clear of weeds and the replacing, with a healthy tree from the nursery, any tree that from any cause looks sickly and does not come along well.

It will be found that in parts of the field some trees, while looking healthy, do not grow as fast as the average of the trees, this is often due to the soil not being of as good a quality. Knolls and side hills are not generally so rich as the hollows and valleys, and the coffee trees, planted in the poorest parts of the field, should be fertilized until they are as vigorous as the trees in the best parts.


During the second year the young trees will have begun to make a good growth and will require handling. In order to make clear the description of the operations of handling and pruning, it may be well to describe here the component parts of the coffee tree.

The underground portion consists of a tap root and numerous lateral or side roots. The parts above ground consist of:

1st. The stem or trunk.

2d. The primaries or first branches; these grow from the trunk in pairs at intervals of from two to four inches, the two primaries, making a pair, grow one opposite to the other, the pair above radiating out at a different angle and so on to the top of the tree.

3rd. The secondaries; these are the branches that grow in pairs from the primaries.

4th. The tertiaries; these are the third branches that grow in pairs from the secondaries in the same manner as the secondaries grow on the primaries.

5th. The leaves that grow on all the branches.

During the whole of the second year, the field should be gone over at least every two months and all the secondaries that make their appearance should be rubbed off; this can be done by a touch of the fingers, if the secondaries are not more than two or three inches long. If allowed to grow longer, the knife must be used, or there is danger of tearing out the eye or bud, which we depend upon for growing new secondaries at the proper time. During the second year, the secondaries will make their appearance only on the lower sets of primaries, the upper sets as they grow being too young to grow secondaries. At the beginning of the third year all the secondaries should be allowed to grow till they attain a length of six inches; then the trees should be carefully gone over and all but five of the secondaries on each primary cut off with a sharp pruning knife. No pairs should be left, and only the strongest and most vigorous should be retained. They should be disposed on alternate sides of the primary and none left in a space of six inches from the stem of the tree. The object of this is to allow the light to penetrate to the center of the tree, for the coffee tree bears fruit in greater profusion on branches that are exposed to the light than on those that are shaded.

During this third year the tree will blossom and bear the first or maiden crop. In some cases the tree will blossom in the second year, but it is a wise plan to rub all the blossoms off, as it only weakens the tree to bear a crop at such an early age. It is of the utmost importance that in the first crop, as well as in all future crops, the tree should not be overburdened with a superabundance of growing wood. If left to itself, the lower primaries will grow a mass of secondaries, so much so that no blossom will set on them, and the first crop will come only on the upper primaries, and be only a third or fourth of the crop that would be produced if the trees were properly handled. By handling, as described above, the tree is relieved of all superfluous wood and only such secondaries are left as are needed to bear the fourth year’s crop, and the maiden crop will grow on the primaries. It may be well to mention here, that coffee only grows on wood of the second year’s growth, and does not grow on the same wood twice.

During the third year, the secondaries will come on the upper primaries. When they are well set, they should be reduced in number and in no case should more than five be left to grow. In some cases four or even three will be sufficient. Whatever the number that may be left, it must be understood that these are the branches that will bear the crop for the fourth year. During the third year new secondaries will grow from the places where the former secondaries grew. Sometimes two will grow from one bud, they should all be removed, the trees being gone over two months, but at the last handling before blossoming time, which varies greatly with the elevation above sea level, enough of these new secondaries should be left to make wood for the fifth year’s crop. From this time on the coffee planter should be able to point out the wood on which the present and the next year’s crop will be borne, and it is this wood and that only, that should be allowed to grow. All other shoots, suckers, etc., should be rubbed off each time the tree is handled, provision being made each year for the wood for the crop two years hence.

During the third year, the trees will require topping. As to the height at which a coffee tree should be topped, there is a great diversity of opinion. Some planters advocate topping as low as four and a half feet, others at six or seven feet; as a matter of fact the coffee tree will bear fruit if topped as low as one and one half feet or if not topped at all. The only valid reason for topping as low as four and a half feet is for the convenience of picking the crop. Five and a half or six feet is a good height to top a coffee tree on the rich lands of the Hawaiian Islands. In fact the planters should not be guided by the number of feet, but by the number of primaries he desires the tree to carry. Eighteen to twenty pairs are a reasonable number for a coffee tree to carry in this country, and it will be found that by not counting those primaries that grow on the stem within fifteen inches from the ground, eighteen or twenty pairs of primaries will come on the stem within six feet from the ground. Before topping the tree, it should be allowed to grow somewhat higher that it is intended to top, so that the wood may be hardened and not decay as it sometimes does if topped when the wood is too young. Topping is performed by cutting off the top of the tree at a point an inch above a pair of primaries. Both primaries should also be cut off an inch from the stem. This will leave the top in the form of a cross; a knot will form at this point from which the tree will constantly send up shoots striving to make a new top. These should be torn off every time the tree is handled.

We have now arrived at the time when the tree is bearing the first or maiden crop. Through careful handling the tree has been divested of all superfluous shoots, branches, etc., and the crop is maturing on the primaries. If the trees are situated on good rich soil, and the trees are well grown, there should be at least thirteen pairs of primaries bearing crop. At an average of fifty berries to each primary there will be a yield of over one and a quarter pounds of clean coffee to the tree. This yield for the first crop has been much exceeded in this country, but it can only be assured by careful cultivation and handling as described in this paper.

We will now take a look at the condition of our three years old trees. They have all been topped and are carrying from thirty-six to forty primaries, of which all except the upper six or eight are carrying four or five secondaries that are well advanced and which will bear the crop for the fourth year. There will also be four or five secondaries, that are one or two months old, which are intended to bear the fifth year’s crop. All other growth should be removed as before up to the time of blossoming for the fourth year’s crop. This may be estimated as follows: There should be at least twenty-four primaries that have on each of them say, four bearing secondaries. At thirty berries to each secondary, the yield would be close to three pounds of clean coffee to each tree. This again has been exceeded in this country for four year old trees, but it must be borne in mind, that in order to obtain these results, proper cultivation, handling and pruning must be done. Without proper care such results would be impossible, the coffee cannot grow an abundance of wood and coffee at the same time. As soon as the crop of the fourth year is gathered the work of pruning must commence without delay. This consists of cutting off with a sharp knife the secondaries that have borne the crop. They must not be cut so close as to injure the eye or bud. About three-sixteenths of an inch from the stem of the primary will be quite safe, and the secondaries for the fifth year’s crop will soon make their appearance. Care should be taken to leave the stem of the tree clear of shoots and foliage for a space of six inches from the stem; the tree will want all the light it can get. The coffee tree can be said to be in full bearing when all the primaries are carrying bearing secondaries. During the life of the coffee tree, the planter must keep a close watch on his trees and restrict their wood-bearing propensities to the wood that is to bear his crops; nothing else should be allowed to grow. If the work is commenced rightly and carried on systematically, the work will not be difficult and no crops will be lost. But on the other hand, if the work is neglected, the trees will become matted and all the lower primaries die off. These, if once lost, will not grow again. The tree under these conditions will only bear a tithe of the crop it would bear with proper attention, and furthermore it is a most difficult matter to bring a neglected tree into proper shape and it can only be done at a loss of one and perhaps two years’ time. There are many minor details connected with the care of the coffee tree which would occupy too much space to describe here, and which the coffee planter can easily learn as he carries on the work of coffee planting. Without doubt coffee planting in this country is destined to become a great industry. We have large tracts of the finest coffee lands in the world, only waiting to be cultivated to make prosperous and happy homes. One parting word to the intending coffee planter, take Davie Crockett’s motto, “Be sure you’re right and then go ahead.”