Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Propagating cacao

The Talamanca region of Costa Rica has been growing cacao for millennium: the indigenous BriBri used it as both sacred medicinal and food; the Spanish grew it commercially beginning in the 1600s; the Afro-Caribbeans farmed it since settling this area a hundred years ago, and now it's seeing a local revival thanks to the growing interest in artisan chocolate.

We grow several heirloom varieties; some collected from indigenous upper Talamanca, some original Matina cacao grown here for centuries and some personal selections from almost 30 years of working the farm. We are collecting and sharing cacao seedlings from local cacao farmers to save and improve on local varieties. It's all quite exciting - especially seeing the enlivened local interest in growing great cacao.

We have the perfect climate with ideal growing conditions- high humidity and temperatures which don't drop below 73 degrees F, even on the coolest night.

Currently we are grafting much of our 'new' cacao, selecting the best from our heirloom trees and replicating. But we always need rootstock, so we sow many seeds. For those of you with an interest, this is what we do.

Cacao, like most tropical seeds, doesn't like to dry out, and will lose viability the drier the seed becomes. Plant as fresh as possible!

Lay cacao seeds on their narrow side, embedded about ⅓ to ½ of their depth into moist soil. Soil should be rich, potting soil, loose and moist. If not growing in the tropics, or if it's cooler than usual, 'tent' the potting tray in a plastic bag. This means place a roomy, transparent plastic bag over the tray, raised with the aid of a stick, with plenty of air inside. This creates a mini greenhouse with a nice moist, warm environment. Ambient temperature should not fall below 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep soil moist, not wet and not dry!

Seeds should germinate in 3 to 6 days, depending on conditions.

 You can see here that we are quite hard on our seeds! But they do just fine.

Here are the seedlings potted up, developing quite nicely: you can see the remnants of the opened seed about 3 inches up from the soil. We will give these another month or so under the shade cloth before we plant them out or graft them.

I also offer cacao seeds for growing on my Etsy store, here's what most Mondays look like: harvest the cacao pod, clean and pack in damp sawdust (from the farm, so organic!), then double bag and label appropriately. There's 10-12 fat, fresh seeds in each bag.

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thanks for sharing!