Ed's Coffee Library

and Other Thoughts and Findings

By Ed Chen on 2015 22 November

What makes organic soil different?

When I look at the farms around our area, I can see a clear difference between organic cherries and non organic cherries. Non organic cherries tend to be smaller by about 30%-50% in volume, and less plump. This may be due to a number of reasons. When farmers use non-organic methods, they are trading a short term gain in growth and ease of fertilization with the long term health of their plants, and therefore their fruit.

When soil is fertilized with chemical fertilizers such as potassium nitrate and ammonium nitrate, the high osmotic pressure of the salts saps the soil of water, and also kills off many of the helpful fungi (microrhizome) networks, which can extend for acres and sometimes even miles, when allowed to grow naturally. These networks of fungi help to dissolve solid nutrients such as phosphates, as well as micronutrient metals which Coffee needs to develop the various rich oils that give Coffee its deep and rich aroma. Of course, you can grow coffee without any micronutrients, but these coffees will lack the varied profile of oils which give Kona Organic Coffee its special taste as well as nutrient profile. The chemical reason for this (I used to be a chemist and environmental engineer with a MA from Columbia University) is that different metals act as chemical catalysts to form different chemical reasons. When metals exist in large amounts, they will be toxic to plants, but they are necessary in small amounts, and in biologically available chelated forms, which the natural microrhizome of organically grown soils naturally contain. Further, these complex networks of fungi will better distribute concentrations of nutrients from one part of the farm to another, while inorganic soils can build up dangerous levels of various chemicals depending on the industrial farmer fertilizers the land.

The fertilizer provided to inorganic soil also does not last, and gives the coffee short shots of nutrients, rather than a steady source of nutrition. This may make the coffee plants grow bigger and stronger in the short term, but like steroids, it eventually burns out the plants. Our organic methods feed the plants slowly through the natural breakdown of nutrients in organic matter, as well as through folier feeding, which allows the plants to derive a constant supply of breathable nourishment through their leaves.

Returning to the subject of Osmotic pressure, when fertilizer is fed as salts into the soil, plants both absorb the nitrogen and other nutrients through their roots, but also have a tougher time bringing those nutrients to the plant in a uniform manner, because the inherent saltiness of the soil will also exert a negative osmotic pressure on the coffee plants. The result of this is that more fertilizer is needed for the plants, and less micronutrients reach the fruit of the coffee tree. Another major problem that coffee trees, which is becoming more apparent to areas which use industrial farming methods, is that the trees have to draw up more water from the ground in order to shunt their nutrients throughout the plant, rather than simply use the existing nutrients stored in their leaves and branches, to draw rich nutrient solution into their bodies.

Thus, inorganic fertilization of soil leaves the plants deficient in micronutrients which give coffee its unique flavor, though letting the body of the cherries grow big and fat. This is the equivalent of eating McDonalds all the time. Now, I personally love McDonalds, but we all know if you eat McDonalds everyday, your body gets big, but not in a good way.

Another aspect of inorganic farming of coffee is the use of glycophosphates as herbicides, or what is commonly known as Roundup. This is a method to kill weeds which have short roots, by tricking them into absorbing the herbicide as a poison that eventually rots their leaves and kills them, leaving the ground uncovered and bare. This also kills off the beneficial bacterial and microorganisms during periods of drought or sunshine, and prevents the formation of the microrhizone networks we were discussing the previous paragraphs. In addition, without a precise application of glycophosphates, the toxin can leach into the roots of the coffee themselves and ruin the health of the coffee. The effects of glycophosphates are also controversial in humans, and even small amounts of it may be causing problems.

Finally, commonly used industrial pesticides are essentially nerve toxins, many of which were derived from the nerve gases used during World War 1 in the trenches to kill people. Of course these toxins are used in smaller amounts to kill insects, but they are basically the same toxins, and over time can have a cumulative effect on the nervous system.

For all these reasons and more, the inorganic farm is unsustainable, and possibly unhealthy.

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