How to grow coffee at home

A 40-year-old coffee plant growing in reader Barbara

A 40-year-old coffee plant growing in reader Barbara Timmerman's Port Jefferson Station home. (Credit: Handout)

Jessica Damiano

Jessica Damiano, Newsday columnist Jessica Damiano

Jessica Damiano is a master gardener and journalist with more

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Jessica Damiano demonstrates how to repot a houseplant. Dig This!

DEAR JESSICA: I have two 40-year-old coffee bean plants. Over the past several years I have been getting a few beans on each plant. This year, one of the plants has a wealth of beans. I would like to know how to process them to make a cup of coffee. --Barbara Timmerman, Port Jefferson Station

DEAR BARBARA: Coffee (coffea) is a tropical plant with dark glossy leaves and fragrant white flowers. It can thrive indoors as a houseplant, as you know, and typically takes three to four years for young plants to produce beans, which are called cherries. You'll know cherries are ripe when they turn red. Like other fruit, pulp surrounds each bean, or seed, and must be removed. There are several methods of processing the fruit (wet, dry, semi-dry, fermenting), and each will result in a different acidity level and flavor. Commercial growers have an intricate processing and hulling method that can't be replicated without specialized equipment, but you can use this simple dry method, which dates to ancient times:

Lay cherries out to dry in a single layer and toss daily to ensure even air exposure to all sides. This is usually done outdoors in the sun but can be done at home with diligence to ensure the undersides don't spoil. After a week or two, the cherries' outer membranes will become leathery and should be removed by hand, revealing the beans within. Discard any that look defective.

Next, beans need to be roasted. Commercial roasting drums are heated to 550 degrees, and they spin to avoid scorching the beans. That isn't possible in a home oven, so constantly stirring while dry-roasting in a wok or fry pan on the stovetop is the next best thing. Remove from heat when beans turn brown. Allow to cool, grind and brew. Enjoy!

DEAR JESSICA: When is the best time to cut down beach grasses? I always waited until spring, but they're a mess this year, and I hate looking at them. Is it OK to cut them in late fall or winter? Also, I have a weeping blue atlas cedar tree that has a decent- size branch I want to trim. When is the best time for that without hurting the tree, and if I put the branch into water, is there any chance of starting an offspring? --Mark Hansel, Wading River

DEAR MARK: Ornamental grasses, including beach grass (Ammophila) typically can be cut down anytime after top growth turns strawlike, in fall or winter. I usually wait until early spring, because I like the way they catch the snow and sway in the winter winds. The top growth, although dry, also helps to insulate the roots from the cold. Still, when they get unruly, as yours -- and mine -- did this year, I clean them up in autumn.

The best time to prune your blue atlas cedar is in late winter, before new growth begins for the season. You can't make another tree by soaking a branch in water, unfortunately; they can be propagated only by seed.

DEAR JESSICA: I am at my wit's end. For the second year in a row, my collection of plants that come indoors for the winter have become infested with gnats, and they are driving us all crazy. I am hoping you might have a cure besides the usual soapy water, transplant and rinse roots, or insecticidal spray solutions that I have failed with already. Right now I am trying to let the soil totally dry out, and then I will cover the top layer with sand to hopefully smother the little creatures. If that does not work, I am hoping your wisdom will save the day, otherwise I might have to wave the white flag and just get rid of them. That would be sad. Any advice? Kevin Conroy, Selden Estates

DEAR KEVIN: Yes, but you're not going to like it: The surefire way to rid a potted plant of fungus gnats is to remove the plant from the pot, rinse it completely -- roots and all, wash and sterilize the pot with a bleach solution and repot the plant using a fresh, sterile potting mix.

Avoid overwatering and ensure the pot allows for proper drainage because gnats thrive in excessive moisture. Allowing the soil to dry out will indeed kill off many of the larvae, but be careful to avoid killing the plant. And cover the soil with fresh potato slices instead of sand; they will trap the larvae. Good luck!

Garden club of the week

The Long Island Master Gardeners

Meets: 9:30 a.m., every third Wednesday of the month

Location: Town of Brookhaven Ecology Site, 249 Buckley Rd., Holtsville

Dues: $20 annually

Contact: 631-724-6829, limastergardener.com

Most members are master gardeners, but membership is open to all who enjoy gardening. Meetings include lectures, demonstrations and seed and plant exchanges. Members make floral arrangements for local nursing homes and donate vegetables to local food banks.