Carol and Adele visited the Zoa Estate in October 2009. This piece was written by the late Lesley Larkin along with his wife Janet:
Zoa has embarked on a programme of single cultivars, be it the yellow catuai, catimor, geisha, caturra and SL28.
We operate on the principle of G.A.P. Good Agricultural Practises.
Initial plantations are trenched, where the top soils and subsoil’s are separated in the process and then we apply high volumes of "green compost", along with Tea fibre compost, dolomitic lime, then our most prized, vermicompost.
The trench is back filled; the coffee plant is carefully placed at various spacing’s due to the variety and manner of tree growth. It is planted and then irrigated by a method of "hose and basin". Trenching has proved to assist greatly in our soil conservation and prevents erosion. This method of hose and basin irrigation ensures maximum up take by the plant as it is placed directly where it is needed, and not lost to evaporation with the more fancy overhead irrigations systems that are in operation today.
We believe that the soil is the most important factor with our activities on the land. Our very strict composting programmes and agricultural practices has shown benefits to the environment and the ecosystems of the areas where the coffee lands are located.
Our main imputes to our composts are recyclable organic wastes produced from other commercial crops we produce, along with the cattle manure and forestry wastes produced. The ash from the furnaces at the factory are not included in the compost, however are used when planting young trees.
Not only have we a strict regime of high compost input to improve the organic contents of our soils, we also operate on 100% ground cover. This in terms means having no soil open to the hot sun and the lands are heavily mulched with dry matter such as veldt grass, and other varieties which we grow, particularly the highly fragranced ones which contain natural insecticidal properties which assist in our integrated pest management and control. We also have planted " live " ground covers, one such cover is known as arachis pintoii, which is a nitrogenous legume and is controlled by slashing, The trash has nitrogen in it and beneficial to the plants, and the roots of the arachis plant are nitrogen fixing. As a result of the mulching, the soils surrounding the plant are not exposed to the hot sun causing the soil to heat up and there in turn the roots, which causes heat stress and the water management is easier to deal with. All water is recorded and monitored for optimum usage and no wastage is tolerated by any means.
The hose and basin is particularly important as the water applied to the coffee has no detrimental effect on the pesticides and fungicides used and these are not washed off. We also apply a sticking agent, this helps prevent run off and the leaching of the chemicals into the soils as they stay put on the plant.
Our lands are under a strict scouting management and we operate the chemicals and fungicides applications according to the thresholds of pests and diseases found. We only use the "purple" triangle as a knock down when we find that the pest or disease is not being controlled by our other methods. This is to do with the risk to birds and insects that assist in the natural basic way of nature, and chemicals we apply are environmentally friendly. Spraying rounds are coordinated and nothing is applied when the bees are active in the early mornings.
Our coffee is classified as shade grown. We are at the moment concentrating on achieving Rain Forest Alliance accreditation for the Estate.
Our vermiculture section in totally dedicated to the production of vermi compost and vermiwash for the different sections of the estate. This ranges from total applications in the various nurseries to finally the main crops in the fields. The vermi compost is used in the soil mixes for the different crops including forestry, to top dressings in the fields. The vermiwash is widely used in drenching young plants before their final destination and is also used as a foliar feed, and fungicide. The vermiwash is integrated into our spraying rounds as 100% organic foliar feed. We have not used commercial fertilisers in almost 2 years and have been totally reliant on the applications of environmentally friendly composts of various types. Apiaries have been established near by the fields to encourage pollination of the coffee by the bees.
Our Aim is to continue to establish programmes and practices for conducting operations in an environmentally sound manner with continuous improvement and awareness to the communities around us.