The Biology of Shade Grown Organic Coffee

Coffee has lots of great health benefits and healthy organic coffee is the best as going organic helps you avoid more than a hundred impurities that can be found in cup of regular coffee. We know that certified organic coffee is better for the environment as organic coffee farming follows sustainable practices. These practices for coffee include interspersing coffee among shade trees to secure the soil and provide shade for coffee plants. The use of commercial fertilizers is limited and pest control requires natural practices as opposed to chemical insecticides and fungicides. All of this sounds very straightforward from a distance but just what is the biology of shade grown organic coffee? Why does coffee like the shade? Why does coffee grow best in mountainous terrain under cloud cover? Here are a few thoughts about the biology of shade grown organic coffee.

Where Coffee Originated

Coffee evolved in the forested highlands of East Africa (Ethiopia, Eritrea and Sudan). Here is where the plant became accustomed to the seasons, degree of rainfall, soil conditions and pests. From an evolutionary viewpoint coffee has arrived way to fast in various locations around the world and cannot be expected to adapt without some forethought and help in its new locations such as Brazil, Colombia or Vietnam. Nevertheless coffee is planted and flourishes in these locations. And coffee does best where the conditions are similar to where it grew up. The biology of shade grown organic coffee is such that growing coffee in the shade resembles how the plant was meant to grow.

Basic Plant Biology and the Coffee Perspective

Plants use photosynthesis to convert sunlight to energy and along the way convert carbon dioxide in the air in order to grow and exhale oxygen. Plants need nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus and other nutrients. And if they get too much of these and if they get too much sun light they need huge amounts of water as well. But too much water can drown the roots of a plant, including a coffee plant and make it sick. Thus there is an advantage to the biology of shade grown organic coffee in that the terrain of the mountainside keeps water from flooding the plant and the forest canopy limits the amount of sunlight powering growth. Organic coffee farming uses less of the chemicals that fuel growth but also uses an appropriate amount so that the plant does not need excessive amounts of water.

Location, Location, Location

Picking the spot for growing Arabica coffee is a lot like dealing with real estate, location, location and location. Arabica organic coffee likes a temperature range between 15 and 24 degrees Celsius. (That’s 59 degrees to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.) This sort of temperature range is found in the land of eternal spring along the mountainous spine that runs from southern Mexico to Ecuador and Brazil. Soil quality and soil management are important but it starts with an ideal location and ideally a shady one.

Avoidance of Coffee Leaf Rust

The fungal disease that can devastate coffee crops is more prevalent where coffee is planted too closely together, when they are planted in full sun and where it is planted in warmer locations. Growing organic coffee under forest cover at higher altitudes is a better approach if you want to avoid coffee leaf rust than planting tightly spaced coffee at lower altitude in full sun.

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