hydroponic coffee

Hydroponic Coffee (Explained)

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If you ever considered growing your own coffee plant, hydroponic coffee could be one of the ways of doing this in your own home.

Hydroponic growing refers to growing plants in nutrient-rich water without any soil. Other materials are used to hold the roots, giving them the support soil normally does.

When you grow coffee hydroponically, you’re tweaking the environment it grows in. Which means you can grow it anywhere in the world.

Let me warn that it is a long process, so do not expect to have your coffee beans ready for roasting quickly. But if you are interested in DIY and wish to put the efforts, you should give it a try.

What is Hydroponic Farming? Understanding the Basics

It sounds simple doesn’t it? But hydroponic farming is a bit more complicated than placing some coffee plants into a tub of nutrient-rich water.

Hydroponics means “growing plants in water”. Plants grow through photosynthesis, a process using sunlight and a chemical called chlorophyll found in their leaves. For this process to work, plants need water, oxygen and nutrients. Who says these nutrients can’t be found in water instead of soil?

By maximizing exposure to nutrients and water plus controlling the environmental conditions and pH, you’re creating a customizable environment for plants to grow.

hydroponic coffee

The Fundamentals of Hydroponics

To have a complete set up ready for hydroponic growing, some of the following fundamental components need to be included.

Water

While water is the key component of hydroponics, you can’t use any water. It needs to be filtered and have a balanced pH level of 6 to 6.5. If your water levels are acidic, you can adjust with products sourced from your local hardware.

Oxygen

Your plants need oxygen to grow. Placing them directly in water will eventually starve them of air and they’ll drown. With conventional growing methods in the soil, air pockets in the ground gives the plant the oxygen it needs. When growing hydroponically, the plants need to either have a space between their base and the water reservoir. Or you can oxygenate the water with an air pump.

Support for the Roots

Materials such as vermiculite, coconut fiber, peat moss and perlite work well for holding roots. They’re porous and help to retain the nutrients circulated through by the water.

Nutrients

Plants take in nutrients from the soil to grow. With hydroponics, you’re not using soil as the substrate. So, to ensure your plants are getting the food they need to flourish, nutrients need to be added to the water. This includes magnesium, calcium and phosphorus. You can either experiment with the right quantities or get a pre-mix from a store specializing in these mixes.

Light

Whether you’re growing your coffee indoors in your home or in a greenhouse, you’ll need special lighting. Not only will you need special light bulbs but the placement is crucial too. You’re aiming to achieve the correct Daily Light Integral required for coffee plants.

The Different Methods of Hydroponic Farming

hydroponic coffee

The most common types of hydroponic methods include the following:

  • Deep water culture: This method entails suspending the plant’s roots in nutrient-rich and oxygenated water. Floating rafts are used to suspend the plants roots in up to 18 inches of water. This is not ideal for larger growing plants.
  • Basic wick system: Plants are placed into growing media on top of the water reservoir filled with nutrient-rich water. Wicks feed the water up from the reservoir into the growing media. This is the simplest method of hydroponics and requires no pumps to operate the system. But, it’s not good for plants that don’t do well in a constant moist media. Plants requiring high quantities of nutrients also don’t thrive in this system.
  • Nutrient film technique: Also known as NFT, this system relies on suspending plant roots over a continuous flow of nutrient-rich water. The roots are not fully immersed in water as for deep water culture. Instead, a steady stream of water flows over the tips of the roots. This method works well for commercial production and for lightweight plants. Heavier plants such as tomatoes will need to be staked.
  • Ebb and flow systems: This popular system works on the principle of flooding a grow bed with water from a reservoir situated beneath. A timer manages the length of time water goes into the grow bed and when it’s drained again. This gives the plants enough time to absorb the necessary nutrients. When the water flows out, the roots are given the opportunity to dry out and oxygenate. This method is perfect for larger plants but it does require some maintenance to prevent rot and disease setting in.
  • Drip or top feed system: Aerated and nutrient-rich water is pumped from a reservoir through tubes to individual plants. The plants are kept in pots of growing media. This method keeps the plant’s roots damp and fed with nutrients. This system works well for larger plants and is a popular method used by many home hydroponic growers.
  • Aeroponics: Plants grown under the aeroponics system are suspended in the air with their roots constantly exposed to mist. This mist is full of nutrients. While this method works well for many plants, it doesn’t work for fruiting trees. It’s also an expensive system to set up and requires constant monitoring and maintenance.

What Are the Benefit of Hydroponics?

Why would you want to consider growing your coffee hydroponically? When you understand the basics of hydroponics, the benefits could outweigh growing plants using the traditional methods.

  • You use less water: Not only are using 20 times less water than the conventional soil method of growing plants but you’re re-circulating the water through the system.
  • No pesticides are needed: Hydroponic plants are grown in a sterile environment with zero exposure to pests.
  • You can grow plants anywhere: The growing conditions are controlled by the grower so you can grow any plant anywhere in the world.
  • You can grow throughout the year: if you’re growing indoors using a greenhouse with controlled temperatures and lighting, you can grow your plants throughout the year.
  • Balanced supply of nutrients: The grower is able to ensure the plants get the right balance of nutrients at all times.
  • No soil preparation is required: Traditional methods of growing plants require intensive soil preparation as well as ongoing mulching, tilling and weeding of the soil.
  • Stronger plants: With a constant supply of balanced nutrients being available, plants grow rapidly and are stronger. This is because the plant spends less time using energy to find food. All its energy can be directed into growing.

How to Grow Hydroponic Coffee at Home

hydroponic coffee

If you look at how coffee is grown traditionally various factors will stand out. These include the type of soil the coffee plant grows in, the altitude of the area it’s grown in, the temperature and moisture conditions and the nutrients required, as we have seen for Kona or Jamaican Blue Coffee just to mention a couple of popular beans.

A coffee plant’s natural environment is hot and humid. It likes to grow in shade but needs sufficient sunlight. The ideal temperature for growing coffee is between 60⁰F and 70⁰F. Coffee plants don’t like to be exposed to windy conditions. It takes up to 4 years for a coffee plant to start flowering. It will start producing cherries in its fifth year. And they like high altitudes.

When you grow coffee hydroponically you want to try mimic most of the typical growing conditions of a coffee plant.

Very few people have succeeded at growing hydroponic coffee. But, if you want to have a coffee plant in your home, you can use a simple hydroponic method.

A Step by Step Guide to Growing Coffee Hydroponically at Home

Use the following steps to grow your own coffee plant at home.

  1. Buy a coffee plant seedling from your local nurseryman. Not all nurseries will have coffee plants available so you may need to do some hunting around.
  2. Prepare your hydroponic set up. You can either buy in a hydroponic set from hydroponic suppliers or construct a simple system using the following method:
  • Remove the coffee plant seedling from the soil and wash off any soil from the roots using a gentle flow of warm water.
  • Place the plant into a net pot filled with some clay pebbles.
  • Fill up a mason jar with nutrient-rich water. You’ll need to get the balance right so purchase a pre-mix from your local nursery to simplify the process.
  • Place the net pot into the mason jar.
  • This method requires no water pump and the nutrients only need to be replaced every few months.
  • Place the container out of direct sunlight or under a grow lamp.
  • Your coffee plant will thrive and grow rapidly.

Some home DIY hydroponic coffee growers report good growth and reaping a few cherries 5 years into the growing period.

Watch this video to witness the very initial phases of Aquaponic Coffee planting.

 

Final Thoughts

The idea of growing coffee hydroponically not only sounds exciting but sustainable too. But a lot more research is needed to turn this method into a lucrative production. In the meantime, have fun experimenting with hydroponics at home. You never know, you may be reaping your own coffee beans five years down the line!

Have you ever grown hydroponic coffee? I would love to hear your comments so please feel free to submit comments and suggestions in our comments section below.