Let’s talk a little bit about harvesting cocoa. A lot of people are interested in the idea of sustainable home food production. Not only is it a lot healthier, but it also tends to be better for the environment. Small-scale farming is a lot easier on the land than large-scale mono crop farming, so it’s only natural that some people have started growing their own cocoa. In case you didn’t know, chocolate comes from the beans of the Cacao tree. These beans are the raw natural form of cocoa. Let’s talk about this unique plant and, specifically, how to harvest its bounty.
How Do You Know When Cocoa is Ripe to Harvest?
Cocoa beans are contained in a large and colourful pod. The thick flesh protects the beans from animals and insects, and this pod is also the best way to tell when the cocoa is ripe for harvest. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that. Cocoa pods come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and colours. For instance, there is one type of cocoa from Brazil that produces beautiful multicoloured pods, while some others are dull yellow or green. In short, every type of cocoa bean has different colours to indicate ripeness. Make sure that you are familiar with the properties of your chosen variety.
You can also get an idea of the cocoa pods’ ripeness by shaking it. When the fruit is unripe, it is attached to the inside of the husk. So, when you shake it, you won’t feel anything moving around. If you shake the fruit and you can feel (or hear) the beans moving around inside, the fruit is most likely ripe. If you get a sloshing, liquidy sound and feel, the fruit is too ripe and will probably need to be plucked and discarded.
There is one other little trick that you might want to try. To test the ripeness of a cocoa pod, scrape off a tiny piece of the husk with your fingernail. This will allow you to see the inner skin of the husk. If it’s still green, the fruit is not ripe. If it has turned colour, it is probably ripe.
How Often is Cocoa Harvested?
Cocoa is native to the tropical parts of the world. As long as the temperature is warm enough, it will give fruit all year round. However, you should remember that your pods won’t ripen at the same time. Even commercial cocoa operations are forced to do multiple harvests per year, but the upside is that you have at least some cocoa all year round.
Where is Cocoa Harvested?
Cocoa cultivation is not possible in all climates. As we said before, this is a tropical plant. That means it requires hot temperatures and climates with little to no winter. It is recommended to cultivate this plant within 20 degrees of the equator, so those of you who live in cold climates are probably out of luck.
That being said, you could still grow cocoa indoors or in a greenhouse. If you go this route, make sure you simulate tropical conditions as closely as possible. Those who live in especially cold climates should definitely avoid this plant, as it will be too expensive to heat the greenhouse. Also, these trees can get pretty large, so you will want to go with one of the smaller varieties and keep it well-trimmed.
How Long Does it Take to Harvest Cocoa?
Cocoa is not the kind of plant that will give you quick results. Like most other trees, it will not produce fruit until it has had a few years to grow. If you are planting a Cacao seedling, you can expect a wait of 3-5 years before you actually start getting any beans.
This might seem like a really inconvenient thing, but it’s not that bad when you think about the big picture. Sure, most crops don’t need 3-5 years to produce fruit, but most of them will also die at the end of each season. Being a tree, the Cacao has a much longer life cycle. Once the tree begins to produce fruit, you can count on 25 years of pod production.
Cocoa Harvesting Tools
A Cocoa harvest isn’t particularly hard and requires only one tool: A good sharp blade. It might be a knife, a machete, or any other edged implement. The cocoa pods are held to the tree by thick stems, and these have to be cut. Trying to break them off by hand will result in a lot of twisting and breaking, so don’t do that at all. It’s bad for the tree, and it’s also quite irritating for you.
In many places, traditional Cacao farmers use a special type of hooked blade to harvest the cocoa pods. This blade resembles the old English “billhook” tools that were commonly used in medieval farming. It has a hooked blade with a sharpened inner edge, making it much like a sickle in its function. Some people will put this hooked blade on the end of a pole to harvest the pods higher up the tree.
As we already outlined, the first step is to cut the pod from the tree. At this point, the fleshy white pulp can be eaten raw. You can even eat the rind if you want to try something a little more adventurous. While it may not be as tasty as chocolate, it’s definitely a lot healthier. You can expect a mature tree to give somewhere between 100 and 350 pods per year, and each pod will contain about 40 beans. These beans can be dried and fermented, and this is essential if you want to make chocolate from them.
While most people don’t think of chocolate as natural food, it starts as nothing more than a pod from a tree. It takes a lot of processing (and a lot of added sugar) to turn these pods into chocolate. Thus, for the home grower, we would recommend that you use these pods in their natural form. Some people like to make jelly from the inner rind, and they compare its taste to that of pineapple. That’s just one example of the interesting possibilities offered by this plant.
For farmers or gardeners who want to try something different, the Cacao tree presents both unique challenges and unique rewards. If you have enjoyed this article, we invite you to support Anarchy Chocolate by visiting our online store.
How Do You Know When Cocoa is Ripe to Harvest?