The Growing of the Cacao Tree - From Seed to Harvesting the Pods
Updated: Feb 1
Here you will follow the journey of the humble Cacao seed to the harvest stage.
Planting the trees:
· Fresh seeds are taken from a freshly cut open Cacao pod, washed and placed in soil, normally in a black plastic bag filled with soil, to germinate.
· This is then allowed to grow into a sapling (a small tree).
· When the sapling is about 10cms tall, it is planted in the ground.
· The young cacao tree grows successfully in an environment where there is about 40% shade, so planting amongst taller trees is favoured.
· In a healthy environment a young cacao tree will have tiny flowers within 2 years, and fully grown pods before three years.
· Trees are planted approximately 5 meters apart, as the trees do not like to grow closely together.
· A seed will be taken from a fresh pod – often from the farmers favourite tree, or a high yielding tree. Often the farmer will check the colour inside the seeds in the pod and plant the finest. The whiter the seed, the finer it is in flavour profile.
· Fresh seeds can be used to plant new trees or put into fermentation for cacao beans.
· The tiny flowers, slowly grow into pods over a period of 7-9 months.
· A tree growing in a natural and healthy environment will have tiny flowers, small pods and ripe pods all at the same time.
· However the tree tends to have two main harvests a year. When these harvests happen depends on the country. In the Solomon Islands it has one peak season April - October. The low season is Nov – March.
· When the pod shows hints of yellow, no matter the colour, it is ready for harvesting.
· The pod will be cut from the branch with a small cutter this is done by hand so it does not damage any other pods on the tree, or flowers that will become pods.
· The trees are pruned to stay at a reasonable height so it can be harvested by hand. On uncared for farms, the tree grows tall and often the fruit at the top cannot be harvested.
· A quality producing tree will bear 60 – 80 pods a year. A low bearing tree, which are common in the Solomons, due to lack of care and knowledge will bear 20-30 pods a year.
· The tree does not drop its fruit. This is because it does not want additional cacao trees growing close to it, so relies on rats and birds to nibble through the husk of the pod, eat the seeds with the fruit and drop them further away.
· The fruit will ripen on a tree over approximately a 4 week period. The farmer walks through his farm simply looking for ripe fruit and cutting them close to the branch.
· A farmer with more experience and a larger farm, will select a section, and mildly prune the trees in that section. This will stress the tree into ripening and so the farmer can focus on harvesting one section at a time.
· However most farms have between 200-500 trees so its is possible for them to walk through looking for ripe pods.
To find out what happens next in the Cacao journey read our blog.