Orchard Perfect 100% Kona Coffee

by Les Drent

George Yasuda’s trees exemplify good health and proper nutrition.

While driving along Mamalahoa Highway, the high and winding mountain road that traverses the Kona coffee belt, one can see a countless number of coffee farms. Some of these farms are tucked into a landscape draped in overgrown vegetation and shadowed by towering trees. Others brandish large iron gates at the front and are surrounded by acres of elaborate rock walls. And yet others are no more than the front or back yard of a gentleman farmer and his wife trying to make a little extra money for Christmas or an overdue vacation.

What is evident is that the Kona coffee industry is now comprised of hundreds of independent farmers of varying size, age and business outlook. While some of these farmers are newcomers who have come to escape a hectic life of business on the mainland, others have descended from families that have been growing coffee for generations. From the very large twenty-five, fifty and one hundred acre estates to the smaller farms consisting of only a few hundred trees I see orchards of trees with varying looks, character, and health. Some farms contain a mix of beautiful old and knotted stumps that have endured a century of weather, prunings, and harvests. These trees, as old as they are, still put out cherry every fall and stand now as living monuments to the enduring coffee industry in Kona.

In many cases though I see farms planted in younger trees staggered across the landscape in no particular manner. In most cases their branches are devoid of the dark, oily, pointed green leaves that are intended to provide for the tree's growth and production of fruit. While these trees have the ability to put forth quality Kona coffee many of these orchards are yielding a crop far less than their potential. For farmers who rely either solely or substantially on the annual income derived from their coffee yield, an orchard of beleaguered trees may be very disheartening. Some say that it is simply the result of a diverse industry comprised of many different growers and growing techniques.

Right to left: Samo Lemus Vargas, Ignacio Ramirez and Enrique Lemus Vargas of Tiare Lani Coffee. Without careful attention to planting techniques a healthy and vibrant orchard is not possible.

It is impossible to ignore the orchards in Kona that have an almost surreal or utopic look to them. Trees stand over eight feet tall, every dark green leaf is spaced perfectly on branches that reach out in rapid growth; and flowers and coffee cherry are in massive size, number, and quality. Many of these orchards, planted and maintained for the maximum production of coffee, are overseen by expert coffee grower and consultant, George Yasuda.

Utilizing a vast array of techniques including special pruning, planting, and tree nutrient program an orchard can be transformed into a vibrant and very productive coffee farm. When you visit one of Yasuda's orchards it is difficult to imagine why someone would choose to not use his techniques. Perhaps the two best descriptives to use when referring to one of his orchards are health and abundance.

Ignacio Ramirez prunes the roots on this new coffee tree.

Weighing in the annual harvest from his farms has proven that Yasuda's coffee orchards more than double the industry average for production, and produce larger and healthier beans. From lower elevations to higher elevations Yasuda understands what is required with the different conditions that exist from farm to farm. His interest in detail is clearly visible as farms are laid out in a manner that utilizes every square foot of land. Even the sun direction plays a part in how the rows of coffee are laid out.

Understanding the importance of a diverse eco system Yasuda also selects certain trees, mostly ohia, to stand above the orchards he plants allowing for the native bird population to co-exist with the coffee. For many in Kona his services have provided a way to stay ahead of the competition as well as to maximize the farmer's investment in not only the land but time and effort that is needed to grow Kona coffee...... all very important aspects for a farmer seeking to compete in today's business of growing and selling coffee.

While I have toured many farms in Kona, I have yet to see a farm that rivals Yasuda's. George, having been born and raised in Kona, is eager to help other farmers struggling with their orchards and for those who are just starting out. I could recommend no one better. George's expertise in coffee growing has extended out beyond the Kona region. He has successfully helped farmers in Maui, the Hamakua region of the Big Island and now the Island of Kauai. George Yasuda can be reached at Tiare Lani Coffee in Holualoa by calling (808) 324-1495 or emailing him at tiarelc@gte.net.

Jim and Vicki Wickersham of Vikiwiki Kona Coffee.

Jim and Vicki Wickersham of Vikiwiki Kona Coffee.

“With George Yasuda's professional consulting we have exceeded our expectations of Kona coffee cherry production both in the size of the bean and total poundage. The George Yasuda new style of planting nursery raised kona coffee trees in rows; first year pruning; and fertilization program our coffee farm has doubled the cherry production from our old-style existing kona coffee trees.”

I met George after reading in your 2000 Spring/Summer issue of Coffee Times about his remarkable track record of producing high yields of top quality Kona coffee. At the time, Anita and I were interested in either buying an existing coffee farm or developing one from scratch. George gave us a lengthy tour of his farms and patiently explained his approach to producing high-quality Kona coffee. His obvious enthusiasm for and love of all aspects Kona coffee was infectious and convinced us to develop Aloha Moku Hale Malu Farms.

Located at an elevation of 1,000 feet in Kealakekua, our farm has 24 acres, 18 of which are planted with about 14,000 trees. The first were planted in April, 2001, are already seven feet tall, and have the deep, rich, green color of a very healthy coffee orchard. Their robust growth has produced strong roots that have withstood the heavy rains and severe windstorms during the past year. George estimates that during this fall's harvest the yield of many of our trees planted last April and May will be 10 to 12 pounds of cherry per tree. Not bad for the first year, considering the average yield is about seven pounds per tree for all trees of all ages on the 600+ farms in the Kona coffee belt!

These extraordinary results are a direct consequence of George's excellent orchard installation and maintenance techniques. The land was first bulldozed and graded before the extensive drip irrigation system was installed. Using surveyor's tools, George then laid out the rows such that the trees line up with symmetrical precision, making the orchard esthetically pleasing. His dedication to precise farm layout was confirmed when the farm was re-surveyed after the planting was completed and a deviation of less than an inch was found in the rows of coffee.

The trees were selected from a reliable nursery, carefully planted, and properly pruned. Under George's guidance, the proper amounts of water and fertilizer as well as trace amounts of minerals have been applied consistently to promote robust growth. Periodic shoot removal, careful monitoring to ensure the irrigation system works properly, and mowing frequently also contribute to the health of the orchard.

George produces Kona coffee of the highest quality on his own farms, as do the farms of his many clients. His calm, professional approach makes him a delight to work with and learn from. It's a privilege to count him as a colleague and friend. I recommend him without hesitation to anyone interested in growing and producing coffee of the highest order.

Jim and Anita Robinette,
Aloha Moku Hale Malu Farms

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Story appeared originally in Coffee Times print magazine and appears online for archival purposes only. Any use or reprinting of these stories without the expressed written consent of the author is prohibited.