Growing Coffee in the Shade

There are several great aspects of growing coffee in the shade. First of all it helps preserve the environment. Shade trees provide habitat for birds. Trees help prevent soil erosion. Growing coffee in the shade without excessive use of synthetic fertilizers and without herbicides and pesticides helps keep the water table pure as well. And, second, growing coffee in the shade typically results in better coffee. Coffee is naturally a shade-loving plant. It is only recently that coffee strains have been developed to allow for closely spaced coffee plants in full sun. These plants typically require use of herbicides, pesticides and synthetic fertilizers whereas growing coffee in the shade results in better coffee and a cleaner environment.

Growing Coffee in the Shade - Song Bird

Growing Coffee in the Shade – Song Bird

Coffee Plants Love Shade

Shade grown organic coffee is a return to historic and time tested growing techniques. Natural coffee strains grow best in partial or total shade. The truth is that coffee many plants dry out and die if planted in full sun. So the traditional way to grow coffee is under a canopy of trees. This method of planting on hillsides helps prevent erosion as is still seen in regions of Colombia, Panama, and other parts of the world where coffee is grown on steep slopes. By keeping coffee in its normal habitat growers avoid the repeated infestations of plant diseases and insects seen when crowding the plants in an attempt to increase production. The chances of destroying a whole coffee crop is reduced when the plants are not packed together into a plant monoculture but interspersed among other plants and trees. The means of growing coffee in the shade is in a mixed stand of hardwood trees and fruit trees. There are easily forty different species of tree seen on shade grown organic coffee plantations. It is the mixture of trees and plants that supports an ecosystem of birds and small animals, preserves the soil and protects the ground water. Growing coffee in the shade like this is a self-sustaining way to preserve the ecosystem. Birds and other small animal eat the pests that otherwise would kill coffee plants or require chemicals to control.

Planting Coffee in the Forest

Many small family operations are growing coffee in the shade of an existing forest. Others clear very small sections for planting while retaining the forest canopy for shade. Planters who start with bare ground commonly start by planting rows of plantain to help control erosion on slopes and provide the initial cover for growing coffee in the shade. When growers use plantain or fruit trees they are able to harvest two or more crops from the same ground. Because the price at which a grower can sell his coffee can vary from year to year, another crop or two on the same ground helps him avoid over dependence on coffee for his income. Shade grown organic coffee comes with three possible certifications. One is the USDA certification as organic coffee. The others are UTZ certification and Rain Forest Alliance certification. These two organizations do more than just certify. They teach and they help growers find buyers as well.


USDA Organic Coffee Certification

UTZ Seal

UTZ Organic Coffee Certification

Rainforest Alliance Seal

Rainforest Alliance Certification

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