While selecting the land for coffee plantation, due consideration should be given ti altitude, aspect, rainfall pattern, soil type, land slope, existence of shade trees, temperature prevailing in the area, availability of water resources, exposure to wind and transport facilities. A perennial source of water supply is an essential requirement for growing coffee. Soil rich in human and organic matter; and land with gentle slope providing good drainage are preferred.
Altitude and aspect
Coffee comes up well at an altitude of 1000 to 1300 m but the lower and upper limits of elevation for its cultivation could be 600 m and 1600 m respectively. Locations with a northern or eastern aspects genetrally suffer from longer exposure to the sun, especially at elevation below 900 m. To protect against the afternoon sun, thicker ahade should be given to these areas.
Exposure to wind
Eastern winds in December-February cause injury to plants. To prevent this, wind belts consisting of tall trees like silver oak should be raised on the estate boundary.
Preparation of land
Clean felling is not advocated when the forest land is cleared for planting coffee. Selective retention of desired species of wild shade trees, without too much overcrowding gives best results. The land should be divided into blocks of convenient size with foot paths and roads laid out in between.
Soil conservation measures
For satisfactory performance of coffee, it is essential to conserve the top fertile soil. The loss of top soil is negligible on estates under proper shade. The problem of soil erosion attains serious dimension on steep slopes without good overhead shade. Such fields should be protected with a lower canopy of Ficus spp. (Atthi, Basari), Albizzia spp. And other quality shade trees. In areas which are steep, contour planting and terracing (as described in the chapter on ‘soil management’ may also be adopted
Within each designated block, the points for planting of coffee seedlings should be located by marking the distance between the rows and plants. Generally square system of planting is found to be ideal in flat or gently sloping areas. In steep slopes it is advisable to adopt contour planting. The distance between the rows and spacing of plants would depend upon the type of planting material. The following are the optimum spacing for different coffee varieties.
Types of planting designs
Three types of planting designs are generally practiced in coffee plantations, viz., square, hedge row and paired row planting
Generally square system of planting is found to be ideal in flat to gently slope areas. The distance between the rows and spacing of plants would depend upon the type of planting material. Once the plants are established in the field the space between the rows are well covered reducing the accessibility to each plant. Hence this planting design is not a very ideal one for mechanizing the farm operations.
Hedge row planting
In hedge row method, the spacing within the rows is less than the spacing between the rows, thus making a provision for wider working space between the rows. For Arabica coffee 1.8 m x 0.9(6×3 ft) is the most commonly adopted spacing for hedge-rows. In this planting design a plant population of 2420 can be accommodated in one acre area and it is more amenable for mechanization of farm operations as each plant can be reached easily. The high density of plants in a unit area helps in assured higher production levels.
Paired row planting
Paired row system of plating is practiced in coffee. In this planting design two rows are brought together followed by a wide gap before the next set of two rows. The spacing between inter rows is 1.8 m (6ft) and between intra rows 0.9 m (3ft), with 2.1 m (7ft) spacing between next set of two rows. The advantages of this kind of planting design is that wide spacing is available between the any two sets of paired rows and that can be utilized for movement of small tractors or rubberized track carriers. This system also permits better light interception by the crop and thus can give higher yields. By adopting this planting design about 2234 number of plants can be grown in one acre.
Pits for Planting
Pits are usually opened after the first few summer showers during March/April. The size of the pits is usually determined by the texture and depth of soil. Pits of 45 cm x 45 cm x 45 cm are preferred. After opening, the pits should be exposed for weathering for 15 to 20 days. Later they are filled with the surrounding top soil. Adding well decomposed compost or FYM@1.5 to 2.0 kg/pit along with 20 to 30 g of rock phosphate is also recommended at the time of closing may be inserted at the center of the pits to mark the location of the pits.
Planting in the Field
Disease-free and vigorous seeding should be selected for planting in the field. Seedlings with stunted and twisted roots are to be discarded. Generally, seedlings raised in the secondary beds (about 16 to 18 months old) are planted at the commencement of monsoon (June) and polybag nursery seedlings (6 to 8 months old) are planted during August-September. At the time of planting, a hole is made in the center of the pit to plant the seedling. The pits has already been opened, soil exposed for weathering, and the pits closed again. In case of poly bag seedlings, the polythene bag is cut at the bottom and the tip of the tap root is nipped if it is found to be bending. In the case of poly bag seedlings, the polythene bag is cut at the bottom and the tip of the tap root is nipped if it is found to be bending. In the case of ball plants (secondary nursery seedlings), the tap root and lateral roots are to be spread out in proper position before packing with soil. Care should be taken that soil around the seedling is packed slightly above deep planting of the seedlings in the pit. The planted seedlings are to be provided with cross stakes to prevent wind damage and should be mulched with dry leaves. It may be necessary to water prevails with high temperature, especially after monsoon planting.
Planting of shade Trees
Dadap is commonly used as a lower canopy shade. One to two meter long stakes are planted for every two plants of coffee during June when rains of South-West monsoon commence. During dry season, stems of young dadap are either brushed with dilute lime solution or wrapped with agave leaves to protect them from sun scorch. Silver oaks can be planted as shade belts in East-west direction to protect coffee from southern exposure at a spacing of 6 m apart within a row and 12 m between the two rows. The silver oak stands should be atlernated with dadap rows. Silver oak stands are best suited for training pepper vines also. Permanent shade trees are planted at wider spacing (9 to 12 m), wherever the forest tree cover is inadequate.
Inter planting, replanting and under planting
Robusta coffees are usually planted at wider spacing of 3 m to 3.6 m and the bushes take 6 to 7 years for the maiden crop and 10 to 12 years to give economic returns in areas identified for replanting, two approaches could be made.
- If the blocks are to be replanted with similar material, it is advisable to plant the young seedlings under the existing old blocks, in separate rows laid in between the old rows. The old bushes can be rejuvenated by collar pruning after one or two season, before the newly planted bushes, start covering up the allocated space.
- If the old blocks are to be replanted with different variety whose spacing requirements are different from that of the old material, it is advisable to totally uproot the old stands and take up replanting, manipulation in shade pattern is possible depending upon the requirement of the new variety being planted.
- The clearing should be well fenced to prevent damage by cattle to coffee and dadaps.
- The plants should be protected from cockchafer attack during the first few years.
- Weeds, especially grasses, should be controlled by cover digging in the initial years itself.
- Soil around the newly planted seedlings should be mulched properly.
- In open patches the seedlings should be provided with artificial shade with branchlets of jungle trees (hutting ) during dry months.
- Adopt a regular manuring schedule from March to April of the following year.
- Irrigation through sub-soil injection at 2 1 of water per plant @an interval of 15 days can be given to the plants for better and early establishment.
- If irrigation facilities are inadequate, foliar application of NPK=Zinc spray (Urea 500 g + superphosphate 500 g + MOP 375 g+ Zinc sulphate 500 g+200 1 of water may be given during summer months at 45 days interval before the plants show incipient wilting.
- Plant protection measures as recommended should be carefully followed.