Coffee can be grown in a hydroponic system, provided it has all the right conditions. There are a few things to consider if you are going to attempt it. It is a very water-efficient way of growing plants by recycling the highly nutrient water. Hydroponics uses 20 times less water than traditional agriculture methods. So how do you start growing coffee hydroponically?
You’ve come to the right place! It may sound out of this world, and that’s because even NASA used a hydroponic system to grow beans in one of their experiments in space. Let’s learn how to start growing coffee hydroponically.
What is Hydroponics?
Hydroponics is using water as a growing medium instead of soil. Another sterile material is also used to hold and strengthen roots. All the macro-and micro-nutrients and elements need to be provided to the plant.
This is done via the oxygen-rich water (hydroponic) system. There are a few different hydroponics systems, including ebb and flow, deep water culture, flood, and drain. It is one of the fastest ways to grow any plant. There is very little to no root resistance, therefore the faster growth than in a soil medium.
There are a few basic principles and fundamental factors to consider in any type of hydroponics growth. Water, oxygen, nutrients, light, sterile root support material, climate, and cleanliness are of the utmost importance.
Growing Coffee Hydroponically: What Hydroponic System is Best?
As mentioned, there are a few different hydroponic systems. The two most common methods for growing coffee are the Constant Water Drip (CWD) and the Flood and Drain systems.
Author Note: The CWD method consists of a container filled with a sterile medium and a reservoir underneath. A small pump pumps the water to just above the medium and drips over the roots and down into the reservoir.
Flood and Drain (Ebb and Flow) systems is the other method used in growing coffee hydroponically. It is similar to the CWD method. Flood and Drain systems have a container filled with a sterile medium and a reservoir of the same size as the plant container. It has a pump that pumps the nutrient-rich water into the container and floods the entire root system. Once filled, a siphon releases the water and flows back into the reservoir.
What Nutrients are Used in Hydroponics to Grow Coffee?
The Nutrients that all plants need to grow consists of macronutrients and micronutrients. Some of the macronutrients are Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium. But plants need micronutrients as well. Some of the micronutrients are Molybdenum, Iron, and Boron, to name a few. In good soil, all of these are present. In hydroponics, all the nutrients are added and dissolved in the ph controlled water.
To measure the number of nutrients in your solution, you will need a TDS meter or an EC meter. The TDS (Total Dissolved Salts) meter measures the total amount of nutrient salts in a solution. The EC (Electro Conductivity) meter measures the conductivity of electricity between the salts.
The products available on the market today have all the macro and micronutrients needed to grow plants hydroponically. Different plants require different ratios of nutrients. Not all of the options are chemical. For the consciences grower, there are a lot of organic hydroponic nutrient options available. Organic nutrients usually need a bit more maintenance in the cleaning of pipes etc., in a Constant Drip System.
Coffee can be grown with most fruit tree ratio mixes. Experienced growers will supplement their hydroponics mixes to tweak it to exactly to what ratios they want. Start at lower ratios and work your way up to prevent nutrient burn.
After about five years, you should be seeing the first signs of the ‘cherry blossoms’ appearing on the tree. This means the fruiting part of the plant’s life cycle has begun. You can slightly adjust the nutrients at this stage with a little bit more potassium than before. Potassium is the macronutrient that plants use during their fruiting or flowering stages.
Calcium Nitrate is also used in hydroponic systems. Not only to boost the vegetative growth with Nitrogen but also because the Calcium makes the other nutrients in the solution more available to plants.
All plants need oxygen to grow. In soil, there are small air pockets in between soil particles. In hydroponics, the roots are oxygenated by the movement from the pumping of the water or an air pump. Without oxygen, plants would drown in a water medium.
The top side of the tree needs a good ventilated environment with fresh air moving in and old air moving out.
Author Note: Some growers add CO2 to their indoor or polyurethane tunnels as a supplement to grow better. Plants turn CO2 into oxygen.
Light is important to take into consideration, no matter what you grow. If it is a full sun plant, then it needs at least 6hours of direct sunlight every day to grow successfully. If you are going to grow indoors, you will have to purchase some special lights. HPS (High-Pressure Sodium) and MH (Metal Halide) lights have been the choice of lighting for indoor growers. New specialized LED grow lights have been developed to bring electricity costs down. In growing coffee, it grows fastest in full sun, but in nature, it is rather shade tolerant, though it does grow slower. Some select coffee companies harvest ‘under canopy’ coffee as they claim the coffee tastes more profound because of the beans’ slow ripening process.
Coffee cannot be grown in a Mediterranean climate unless you grow it indoors, shade house, or in a polyurethane tunnel. This is to control the humidity and heat as coffee needs high humidity, and a warm environment to grow in between 60F and 70F with sufficient light.
You can grow coffee hydroponically anywhere, provided you take control of the microclimate in every aspect of your tree and provide it with its ideal growing conditions. In tropical and subtropical climates, there are way fewer adjustments to amend to grow coffee hydroponically.
Sterile Root Support Material
There is a vast selection of root support material to use. Vermiculite, pearlite, coco fiber, Rockwool, clay pellets, gravel, etc. Each works for different plants differently. When growing coffee hydroponically, clay pellets or rough gravel seems to be best suited. Whatever material used, it HAS to be clean and sterile when setting up. Fungal and mold problems will stunt your root growth, give endless headaches, and could kill your plant(s).
The containers and netting baskets used to house the root support material should be selected to the size of the tree and for the future growth of the plant. Ensure your system is set up to allow for the growth and size increase in pots and containers’ roots and water capacity.
How to Grow Coffee Hydroponically
Choose what system you are going to use.
Using the Constant Water Drip hydroponic system, you can purchase the complete kit or build one and buy all the components, pumps, etc. If you are inexperienced, it advisable to buy the complete kit.
After purchasing the CWD hydroponic kit, you need to buy a coffee tree. Wash off all the soil and compost around the roots. Plant it in the container with the clay pellets. Place in a full sun, covered position receiving 6hrs direct sunlight. It needs to be well ventilated with fresh air. If you don’t have a clear cover over the area, the rain will flood your system and cause havoc.
Setup the pump and pipes. Ensure your electrical sockets and supply units are off the ground and preferably above the planting container’s height. Using water as a growing medium has got some steps of caution that need to be followed.” Water on the ground, electrics off the ground” is a safe rule of thumb.
Author Note: Using a ph-tester, take the ph and adjust it to slightly acid. Mix the hydroponic nutrient plant food according to the manufacturing instructions and test the EC or TDS to match their guide. Fill the reservoir and submerge the pump into it.
Let the system run, and adjust the irrigation dripper to the desired drip speed using an adjuster or small clamp.
If you are going to use the Ebb and Flow (Flood and Drain) system, it is worth considering looking at an aquaponics system. In a nutshell, it is farming fish in your reservoir and using their waste in the water as a nutrient for the plants. All in balance and all organic. And you get to grow protein with your coffee.
Some select growers are doing the hydroponic way of growing coffee in a soilless medium. Whether you purchase the complete kit or DIY options, the two most popular methods are the Constant Water Drip (CWD) and Flood and Drain (Ebb and Flow) hydroponic systems.
Cleanliness is very important during setup and throughout the growing period. Working on the fundamentals of taking care of all aspects the plant may need. From nutrients, water, oxygen, light, climate, and sterile root support material, you are in control of the plant’s life. We hope you enjoyed this article on growing coffee hydroponically.
Stay caffeinated friends!