In this quick but very informative article, we translated the basic stages of growing the coffee seedlings, written by FLOR DE CAFÉ´s association producer and agronomic engineer Alexandre Teixeira Vilella, that is also specialized in coffee fermentation. We think that knowing the very stages of growing coffee in farms is a great way to know the value of the whole chain needed until that great cup of coffee reaches your cafeteria of choice or your house.

Being the coffee plant a perennial crop, grown for a long period (up to 20 years on average since its plantin), it requires the perfect choice of healthy seedlings, which have a good root structure formation, a good leaf area, called aerial part, and good ability to maintain the genetic load of the plant that gave rise to it, all of that combined with a good productive standard and adaptability to the conditions of climate and soil where they will be planted. As a primary conclusion, a good coffee crop, in addition to cultural treatments and the right choice of cultivar, is consequently the result of a good choice of seedlings.

Coffee can be reproduced with its own seeds (sexual reproduction) or by cuttings and small pieces of its tissue (vegetative or asexual reproduction). The most used reproduction method in the cultivation of Coffea Arabica, in Brazil, is the reproduction by seeds.

The process of the nurseries choosing to be planted passes through the color of the fruits, plant size, productivity and resistance to diseases. Seeds must be obtained from reliable farms, preferably experimental farms from research agencies, whether state or federal, or (producer) farms registered with the Ministry of Agriculture for seed production.
Another very important thing to point here is that for producers who choose to harvest the seeds from their own crops, caution is recommended when choosing the coffee plantation, taking care that the plot chosen for the collection of the seeds is minimally removed from others – a minimum limit of 200 meters between a plot and another – to reduce the risk of crossing between varieties. This crossing, which occurs naturally in the fields, can affect between 5% and 10% of the plants in each plot, significant interference for the loss of specific genetic characteristics. It can result in a different from expected genetic characteristic of the plantation, and therefore loss of quality and rentability for the producer.

Once the quality of the seeds is safeguarded, the first step in the production of the seedlings is the definition of a clean area for the construction of the nursery. It is important that the nursery is facing the sun in an east-west direction, so that there is uniform sunshine on the ground, taking care not to allow the formation of shadows on the seedlings. It is also important to ensure easy access to the water supply. The terrain must also have a difference of approximately 10% slope, for the ideal drainage of water.

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The structure of the nursery is divided into beds of 1.20 to 1.50 meters and corridors of 0.40 meters between the beds, in order to facilitate the management of weeding of invasive plants, as well as pests and diseases monitoring and finally to perform fertilizations that must be made during the seedling formation period.
An average nursery, built by coffee producers, as in the case of Associação Flor de Café, has an average of 600 square meters and a production capacity of one hundred thousand seedlings. The nurseries are usually 2,50 meters high in order to facilitate the movement of people inside them, good air circulation and good irrigation structure, normally attached to the ceiling.
The structure is usually composed of wooden posts, spaced from each other by a distance of 3 X 3 meters, forming squares. They are mostly surrounded by braided wire mesh and the roof consists of a shade screen, 50% shade, usually black or, as seen in recent years, red, which helps in absorbing the light and solar radiation.
Regarding the expenditure of water in the formation of seedlings, it can be said that each seedling consumes around 3 to 4 liters of water, from the planting of seeds to their formation, in a total of approximately seven months, varying according to the rainfall regime. . Which means that in a nursery of 100 thousand seedlings, like the one we are describing, the water expenditure will be between 300 and 400 thousand liters of water in the period.
A small expense compared to other cultures. Not only during the formation of seedlings in the nursery, but during the entire cultivation time of the plants, since coffee has great resistance to drought and very few crops make use of irrigation. In Brazil, we estimate that only 8% of the crops use irrigation.

Regarding seedling formation in Brazil, the country produces 1.5 to 2 billion seedlings every year, mainly for the renovation of existing crops, when old plants are uprooted and a new crop is planted. In the country, an average of 4,000 to 5,000 seedlings are planted per hectare, depending on the spacing between plants and the topography of each region. And the national production average is around 30 bags per hectare.
Back to nursery management, the bags for planting the seeds, where the seedlings will develop, are filled manually, with a substrate prepared from a mixture of soil plus organic fertilizer plus chemical fertilizer, in conventional cultivation.
The soil should be medium in texture, free of unwanted seeds from other plants and pathogens. Therefore, one must avoid the withdrawal of the land where coffee is grown or even where it has been cultivated before. The organic fertilizer added to the land will serve to provide nutrients and improve the physical and biological conditions of the soil. In Brazil, the use of bovine manure is widely used for this purpose. For each cubic meter of land, 150 to 300 liters of bovine manure can be used, which carries around 5% nitrogen. For any other type of organic fertilizer the amount added should vary according to the level of nitrogen contained in each fertilizer and should be recommended by the agronomic engineer.

In these two images we can see two beans being planted in the prepared soil in the left and later in the right the more evolved plant still in the nursery. 

Concerning supply of the nutrients P and K (phosphorus and potassium), which are very important elements for the development of roots in young plants, 3 to 5 kg / m³ of simple superphosphate and 1 kg / m³ of potassium chloride are added to the soil, previously mixed with manure.
Have that been said, in approximately 7 months, seedlings are ready to be planted. Usually, following the Brazilian climate, they are sown from May to September and taken to the countryside from December to March, taking advantage of the rainy season. There is also the so-called “mudão”, larger seedlings, with an average of one year of development, sown from August to October of a given year and then planted from October to September of the following year. The seedling is generally used for replanting seedlings that did not develop in the first months into the open field.
The germination and growth stages of the seedlings are divided into 6 stages, classified as follows:

  • Seed
  • Spore
  • Knee
  • Matchstick
  • Jaguar Ear
  • Start of the definitive pair of leaves

Seeds germination lasts about 60 days and, in colder places, such as in the South of Minas, where Flor de Café Association is located, it can take around 210 days until the plants present 4 pairs of definitive leaves and are taken to open fields.

Here you can find a simple table in BRAZILIAN REAIS of the costs of setting up a seedling nursery. To have it EURO, you can simply divide it by 5.


Text written by PRISCILA PINHO | Time to increase production, it’s time to plant!

We are in the planting season! A large part of Brazilian producers mark the last months of the year and the beginning of the next, in order to start new planting areas.

This is the exactly right period for new coffee to be able to establish itself in the soil, because it coincides with the rainy season, helping in the development of roots and healthy adaptation of plants in the new house. In addition to the large amount of rainfall, the average temperature is around 25 degrees Celsius.

In other periods, such as during the Brazilian winter, there are risks of planting going wrong. Dry and cold weather starts to be frequent and, in this scenario, what the producers call «catch» does not happen and the death of the plants is certain.

The seedlings are ready to be planted when they are about 6 months old, containing 3 to 4 pairs of leaves. There are some cases in which the producers prefer to plant larger seedlings, around 1 year old, with 8 to 10 pairs of leaves, but this is not usual.

Until the moment of transfer to the ground, they stay in the nursery, sheltered from direct sunlight, receiving daily attention.

The time of growth and development of the plants can be relative, but if all goes well and the adaptation is successful in a nutritious and living soil, with 2 and a half years we will have the «first harvest», a harvest of few fruits. After 3 and a half years, the fruits will be able to be processed and sold on a larger scale.

In conventional mechanized planting a machine is used which, when passing through the field, leaves each seedling in the right place. Black boxes full of tubes or black bags containing the plants enter the machine and a person directs it in a specific line, already drawn, with open cribs. Soon the machine passes and fits the seedlings.

Another option is planting done by farm workers, manually. The preparation of the soil for planting can be done with tractors, which revolve the soil, which means stirring, removing clods from the place to unpack the soil.

Soil sampling test is a very important thing to be done too, in order to correct the terrain according to the nutritional deficiencies presented in each location.

The success of the new plants depends, in addition to the choice of the variety and the health of the seedlings, on the care of the soil. All preparation practices must be indicated by an agronomist, including assessment of the relief of the area, correction of the lack of minerals and choice of plant varieties, especially which one will be better for that micro-region.

The average number of coffee bags produced in Brazil is 30 (60kg) per hectare, when all plants are already in adulthood, around 4 years of age. In some places this average is higher, for example among producers associated with Flor de Café. Average of 35 bags per hectare.

It is estimated that in Brazil approximately 50,000 new hectares are planted every year. This obviously includes the replanting of old crops, which are uprooted to make room for new ones.

The easiest varieties to find are: Mundo Novo, Catuaí Vermelho and Catuaí Amarelo. Do you remember the variety of the last coffee you had?

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