Six months ago the coffee bushes had their main flush of flowers, it was St Patricks day. This was early for flowering here and accordingly we are getting our first coffee early too. We are honey processing our coffee this year. Today, we inspected progress in the drying room. One tray had turned the magic color of green that indicates just 11.5% moisture. This first batch has been drying for around two weeks and tomorrow morning early, before the temperatures rise we will be bagging it for storage.
We have planted around 5000 plants this year and the end is in sight.
We were very nearly done a couple of weeks ago. Sadly, the plants were unavailable to finish, so we were left with 500 empty holes and no baby coffee to fill them.
Today, we secured the plants for the holes. They were grown by a fine nurseryman in Boquete, seen in the dapper straw hat. Although they were expensive they are beautiful plants. By the end of the week or maybe sometime next, we will be all done with planting for a another year.
Phew. That was quite a job.
15 pickers, two types of cherries, two different picking prices...........happy chaos. We picked the farm almost clean.
Just took a bit longer than usual to pay everyone.
Each guy or girl came up to the bucket to get their volume measured in Maduro (red cherries) and Verde (green cherries). We record name, type of cherry, latas and then get signatures.
Not familiar with this crew. They came from a near by larger farm on their Sunday off. The pickers are starting to leave to go back to the Comarca/Ngobe reservation, so the crews we used earlier in the season have already left. I start to wonder if all is present and correct when we have a whole family of Maduro and Verde surnames on the list. Start again.
Then for the maths. Up until now we only picked red cherries and paid $3 per lata - given quantities of latas picked in a day has never in my experience on this farm exceeded 12 per picker, most of us know our 3x tables and can do the sums in our heads.
Yesterday, much more challenging. We paid $2.25 per lata of green cherries; $3.25 per lata of red mature cherries. We pay more as the picking is harder, less to get. We were cleaning the farm of all fruit, some was ripe some was not.
The manager, the supervisor and me all reached our mental math ceilings on the first picker. I retreated back to the Casa for my calculating machine.
Finally, ATMs don't work for paying coffee pickers. All fifteen made somewhere between $10 and $20 dollars. Lots of ones, fives and change needed. LOTS. Think 30 five pound notes, 20 or so singles and around $10 of quarters and dimes. My purse feels lighter than it has in a long time.
We are nearing the end of the harvest here in Boquete. I was interested in finding out what our coffee pickers are looking for in terms of good working conditions. Getting good coffee pickers is increasingly one of the keys to success.
This is what I found: Apart from lots of coffee and sunny days to pick it............Panama is not keeping pace with Costa Rican incentives. Here in Chiriqui province, we are very close to the border with Costa Rica. Over the border, they are offering the Indigenous coffee pickers from Panama a much sweeter deal.
Fortunately, most of the harvest in Costa Rica finishes before ours really starts but it is a big problem in the first half of the season.
In Costa Rica the government subsidizes coffee farming activities, so the coffee farmers have larger margins to play with. Here are some of the things they are doing:
So what is the worst thing about coffee picking I asked: "When it rains and we can not pick".
It will be a big coffee picking week this week. We will be picking coffee to keep, have processed and roast. Weather has improved almost summer like which is great news for the coffee throughout the Valley.
Never noticed it before, but I found I have one bush of yellow Cataui on the property - JUST ONE. Yellow Cataui has yellow cherries vs red ones when ripe. Not the best flavor and not a good variety to have in heavy rain as it easily looses its yellow cherries.... But it is quite pretty and fun to see.