Growing cocoa trees could be a good way to expand income or save money on chocolate. A good investment for farmers as demand currently outstrips supply, however growing cocoa trees is a long-term commitment. The cacao tree (Theobroma cacao) can grow to be taller than fifty feet. Cocoa trees born to be harvested generally don’t get much bigger than thirty feet though. Cocoa trees can live a long time, over a hundred years although they are only productive for about half of that time.
Cocoa trees are highly sensitive to their surrounding environment until they become fully mature. They must be protected from the sun, wind, and flooding. Keep reading to uncover more details about how to grow cocoa trees.
What Do Cocoa Trees Need to Grow?
Growing cocoa requires a lot of planning, so you should know what you are doing months ahead of time. Cocoa can also be grown indoors, but doing so requires more attention throughout the growing process. For now we will focus on planting a seedling outdoors in a plantation setting.
As with every plant, cocoa trees cannot flourish by simply placing the seedling in some soil and adding water. The cocoa tree is highly sensitive and will require a lot of nurturing during its early life. Farmers should be aware of the specific needs of the cocoa plant. These include loose and fertile soil, a warm environment, water, space, shade, and time.
The soil for planting cocoa trees should be free of most rocks and hard layers of soil. The soil used to nest cocoa seedlings should be permeable and easy for the roots to break through. Cocoa trees have tap-roots. There are branch roots that go deep into the soil and small branch roots that remain near the surface. Farmers should remember that the branch roots of the cocoa tree need a lot of room underneath it to grow to its potential.
For this reason, the planting site should be somewhat clear during the cocoa tree’s infancy. However, farmers should avoid burning the existing vegetation. Burning results in less fertile soil. Organic matter should find its way back into the soil where it can decay and produce humus. Humus adds to the desired structure of the soil. Manure can also be mixed in if the structure of the soil isn’t ideal. Ideally, you need to recreate a forest floor as cocoa thrives in the forests of South America, so make it feel at home.
Months before planting the seedling, the soil should be stirred and loosened. Days before planting, the top soil should be placed at the bottom of the hole to nest the seedling. Be careful not to mix the top soil with the bottom soil when carving out a place for the cocoa trees. On planting day, the tap-root needs to be gently packed down with soil.
Be careful not to twist the root upon planting. Dispose of any seedlings with a twisted tap-root. The bottom soil should be used to pack around the top of the seedling, but don’t cover the crown with earth. The soil must be maintained as the seedling continues to grow. The soil should maintain a pH of around 6.5. Natural fertiliser and compost teas may also be added every few months until the cocoa tree reaches a year or two old.
A warm environment
Cocoa trees grow in warm environments. The ideal temperature for growing cocoa trees is between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit (18 to 29 degrees Celsius). If growers don’t live this close to the equator, nature can be mimicked indoors. Indoor growth will require closer monitoring than growing outdoors.
Cocoa trees should be planted at the beginning of the rainy season. The seedling should be planted on a cloudy day. The soil should also be moist; however, the location of the seedling should be in a place that is well-draining. While moisture is important for the cocoa tree, too much could drown it and make it soggy. Sixty percent humidity is ideal for the cocoa plant.
Farmers should analyze the surrounding trees for those without disease. These should be kept for shade. (However, they will probably require pruning or removal later in the cocoa tree’s life.) Some trees are more desirable to keep near the cocoa seedling than others.
It is more ideal to use existing trees for shade than to plant new ones. However, if there are no trees near the planting site, simply make sure to plant some in advance. Planting in advance is key. The objective with having trees nearby is to provide shade for the cocoa tree. New trees planted around the same time will not provide much shade. Newly planted trees may also take nutrients away from the cocoa seedling.
Be careful not to cover the crown with the soil. However, the seedling will need protection from the sun, especially during its first few days of taking root. A palm frond (or some other form of organic shade) can serve as the seedling’s protection from the sun.
Existing vegetation helps protect the cocoa seeds from the sun and rain. Otherwise, farmers may need to plant a cover crop to help protect the delicate seedlings. Planters may also want to put down a few inches of mulch. They will want to keep the mulch about eight inches from the trunk.
Young cocoa trees need lots of shelter from the sun, but it’s important to remember that they require space in order to take root. Cocoa trees that are planted too close together (or too close to other plants) may fight over nutrients in the soil. Maintain a radius of about three meters for each cocoa plant.
How Long Does it Take to Grow Cocoa?
Cocoa trees require a lot of attention for many years before anything can be harvested. Within three to four years, the seedling will have grown about five feet tall. It will also produce flowers. These flowers should be pollinated early in the morning.
Before long, the cocoa tree will begin to produce pods. These pods will take some time before they are ready to be harvested. After about five years of growing from a seedling into a tree, the cocoa tree will be more self-sustaining and productive.
Where Does Cocoa Grow Best?
Cocoa trees grow best in warm environments about ten to twenty degrees North and South of the equator. Some of the current producers of cocoa are countries like Ghana, Ecuador, Cameroon, and Indonesia. Southern parts of North America, northern parts of South America, much of Africa, and southern parts of Asia are all ideal.
Can you grow cocoa trees in the United States? Yes. Can you grow cocoa trees in Thailand? Sure. India? Nigeria? Brazil? Of course, assuming you grow outdoors. You could also choose to grow indoors. Regardless, the work will be time consuming, so growers should start planning now.
While being a farmer may not be the most lucrative career, it is by far one of the most necessary. Chocolate is in high demand, and the industry is worth billions.
The first step in production is planting the seed. The seed cannot be dried, so growers must get a pod that is still fresh. If you’re thrilled to start growing your cocoa tree, we invite you to subscribe and receive alerts regarding new content and our tree to bar chocolate in the near future. Get the most from your cocoa tree by sharing in our bean-to-bar journey.
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Growing Cocoa Trees