Green Solutions for Planting Coffee

Ellepot: Innovation in the Nursery by Alec Lee

If you’ve ever visited a coffee farm, you might have passed by long rows of baby trees tightly packed in plastic tubes, waiting for their turn to join a lot on the farm. Nurseries are essential for consistent production—replanting lots is a necessary task carried out to maintain consistent production year over year. Endless seas of seedlings can be a beautiful sight, but nurseries are also frequently a massive source of plastic waste. 

Coffee saplings in Ellepots
Ellepot Paper is cost-effective and fungus resistant.

At GCC, we are committed to sustainable coffee production, and introducing the Ellepot system to Colombia eliminates plastics from our nursery production. Additionally, we can share this technology with our regional coffee producing community. By using Ellepot’s compostable bags, we’ve stopped the need for plastics and introduced a more efficient propagation strategy that can create a lasting impact in Salgar’s coffee community. 

When using traditional propagation techniques, each plant requires a single-use plastic bag. The material is similar to that of a low-quality trash bag, and often deteriorates over the months, spreading microplastics out across the nursery. Globally, coffee farms produce millions of pounds in plastic waste through nursery propagation using plastic bags.

Furthermore, the system itself is not effective. Around 23% of these seedlings succumb to environmental stress and additional plants are rejected because of split roots or asymmetrical development. Additionally, each bag must be filled manually, and the dirt used is often not conducive to root development. In short, traditional nursery methods are surprisingly inefficient given the nursery’s importance on a coffee farm. 

Our challenge as a large producer (with millions of trees to plant in coming years) was to find a way to grow more trees with less waste in the process. The Green Coffee Company is committed to quality through innovation, and this is why we are one of a few producers in Colombia now using Ellepot’s propagation technology.

Ellepot system
The Ellepot machines deliver the highest level of reliability and flexibility, and offer cost-effective production with little risk of downtime.

The Ellepot potting system and propagation strategy allows us to raise healthier seedlings in less time without using any plastics. A machine fills biodegradable, cellulose bags with a mix of peat perlite and coconut bark that is the ideal development environment for germinated seeds. This improves upon the manual method in several ways:

  • Paper pots completely eliminate plastics from the nursery (115 grams per bag)
  • Cellulose bags encourage healthy root development and by planting the bags directly in the ground, we reduce the development phase by 4.5 months. 
  • Roots develop 15% faster in the germination phase and 23% faster in the nursery phase when compared with traditional methods.
  • We have reduced the mortality rate in our nurseries from 23% to 5% through this technology. Fewer trees perish and more healthy trees make it in the ground.
Marino Restrepo, GCC Chief Agronomist, with a sapling.
Marino Restrepo, GCC Chief Agronomist, with a sapling.

Our agronomy team is thrilled with the effectiveness of the Ellepot and the next phase of this project will be sharing the technology with our neighbors in Salgar. The GCC is excited to share this propagation system to small farmholders in the Salgar area. With higher survival rates, shorter development times, and no plastic bags, farmers are recognizing this propagation system as a smarter, more economical way forward. 

Do you have an experience with Ellepot? Have you encountered other farming technologies that reduce waste and/or are more efficient? We'd love to hear your stories at [email protected]