Pest Management

I would love for the title to read Integrated pest management but it's been difficult to keep up with all my other responsibilities including the several new species from the Philippines and attempting to cultivate them in such an adverse environment. Our main issue right now is lack of humidity not allowing a lot of our plants to grow at their optimum strength and with vigor. The cacao and lanzones require lots of humidity and moisture and react with obvious leaf markings and defoliation. Heated mats help with that as well as trays with water left in them. For the Lanzones we had to add a makeshift greenhouse cover by using a zip lock bag as a roof to keep moisture in and heated pad under to evaporate moisture faster.

Pest Management

I would love for the title to read Integrated pest management but it's been difficult to keep up with all my other responsibilities including the several new species from the Philippines and attempting to cultivate them in such an adverse environment. Our main issue right now is lack of humidity not allowing a lot of our plants to grow at their optimum strength and with vigor. The cacao and lanzones require lots of humidity and moisture and react with obvious leaf markings and defoliation. Heated mats help with that as well as trays with water left in them. For the Lanzones we had to add a makeshift greenhouse cover by using a zip lock bag as a roof to keep moisture in and heated pad under to evaporate moisture faster.

Purple & White Cacao Beans

These are the typical results of our Mother cacao tree pods. Usually a 2 to 1 ratio between purple (typical Lower Amazon Forastero trait) and white beans (more typical trait of Criollo cultivar). Our Theobroma cacao tree is currently in the process of undergoing DNA testing to determine and confirm its genetic identity.
The "Genus Theobroma has 22 species all of which are restricted to tropical America with greatest densities of species in Colombia and Panama. Theobroma bicolor (pataste) and Theobroma speciosum (cacaui) are sometimes used to make a chocolate of inferior quality and seed pulp is eaten. Also Theobroma grandiflorum (capuassu) is prized for its aromatic seed pulp which is used to prepare soft drinks, preserves and candy." (From, "Cacao - Origin, Ecology and Natural History of a Hot Commodity" by Frank Almeda)


Making Vanilla Planifolia Right at Home

Once our cacao trees give fruit we're going to need some flavoring to add to our chocolate mix and Vanilla planifolia will make the perfect pairing. The Vanilla plant is a vine and part of the orchid family, one of the two largest flowering plant families. Vanilla is also the only orchid that has been known to be used for economic purposes on a commercial scale. When its greenish-yellow flowers are pollinated this orchid produces a greenish pod much like typical pole or bush beans. These beans are then used as flavoring for many drinks and dishes. These flowers open and are fertile early in the morning and if not pollinated they will just fall off. Vanilla plants in the wild will rarely be pollinated and produce beans for this reason hand pollination is usually administered under controlled situations.
From the information we have garnered so far we know that most Vanilla plants will not produce beans until they have reached an approximate length of at least 10 feet. One other important factor needed for this orchid to grow strong and well is support as it grows. Our vine has produced almost 6 inch long roots as it searches for something to hold on to, so today we finally made it right. Here are some pictures of the homemade support we created for our Vanilla planifolia vine and our Tillandsia usneoides better known as its common name Spanish moss, but it is not from Spain and not a moss. That's why we use its binomial: Tillandsia usneoides. Enjoy.
Original setup of 4 foot Vanilla vine with Tillandsia sprinkled in for company

Tools used: Scissors, plastic bottle, tubing, coco coir and organic green moss

Wrapped coconut coir around plastic bottle with rubber bands

Added organic green moss underneath vine

Wrapped around nice and tight

Oh yeah, and topped it off with the original Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides)

Under the Chocolate Umbrella Part "Tree" - 3

On our 6th month heading into the 7th of experiments under the Theobroma cacao canopy. Specifically speaking about the soil. The cacao tree is one that thrives under the canopies of Musa (Bananas) and even Coffea arabica (Coffee) among other towering plants, but what exactly thrives underneath and within the soil level is just as important for the survival of every species in existence.
Below you will see the results of two different additives (mycorrhizae and 100% mushroom compost) being mixed into the organic soil composition of what we believe is the Forastero species of cacao. One of the three plants has only been supplemented with additional organic soil, such that can be purchased at your local gardening center or hydroponic store. I will admit that there are a few more high quality options and amendments at our local hydroponic store (South Bay Hydroponics operated by Gardening Unlimited) like Roots Organics potting soil and the Native Nutrients 100% mushroom compost that we're using in this experiment. We started all plants with FoxFarm's Ocean Forest potting soil, but have switched to the Roots Organics Original potting soil. I like the additives in this soil versus FoxFarm's. The Roots Organics smells so good that it's a nostalgic experience every time it hits my scent receptors. It's always a good idea to shop around and keep all businesses in mind. Some of course will specialize in some items and others may carry different products for specific needs.
Here is the analysis so far:
Our controlled cacao plant is growing well as they all are, but there is some yellowing of a couple of leaves including some browning edges here and there. It also has a couple of leaves that surpass 9 inches in length with one measuring in at about a foot in length. It hangs just below the soil line since the control cacao plant is itself just over a foot in height and you can see one or two roots have reached the bottom of the pot it is in.
Control plant with no additives

Control plant with no additives

Control plant with no additives
 The 2nd plant has been amended with the Native Nutrients Mushroom compost. This plant is also about a foot tall, but does not have any leaves over 7 inches in length. There is lot more noticeable browning and leaf burn in this specimen including a higher canopy as it has shed its bottom most leaves maybe because of all the added compost/fertilizer. The plant itself is growing just fine, with a couple of roots showing at the bottom of the pot and in general it looks taller than the rest because of its higher canopy and erect leaves. There is currently no new growth and this plant is not as lush as our next specimen. Here are some pictures of the Native Nutrients sample:
Mushroom compost

Mushroom compost

Mushroom compost

Our last cacao plant was amended with mycorrhizae powder, which should stimulate more of the beneficial bacteria to breakdown whats in the soil and make nutrients available for the roots to soak up at their own pace. It hasn't really shown any significant growth until this go round. The sample is so very lush and green. Almost no yellowing of the leaves and very little leaf tip burn. It is currently shooting out a couple of new leaves well over a foot tall and the plant itself is at about 14 inches tall. You can see 2 leaves that are just about a foot long with many others leaves looking like they can easily surpass that mark since they are so lush and green, basically spotless versus our control sample, which is the only other sample to produce and hold onto leaves this long. The stem on this sample is noticeably thicker as well. Here is the proof:
Mycorrhizae sample

Mycorrhizae sample

Mycorrhizae sample

There are several seeds coming in to us of a new species of cacao and once we receive those we are planning on starting another experiment again to see how different natural scenarios or additives can influence Theobroma cacaos growth. We would love for every family in the United States to own, grow and harvest their own cacao plants at home. We believe this will serve as a great learning experience for all as well as possibly stimulating interest in and conversation about the who, what, where, when and whys concerning our nutrition.

Theobroma cacao - Chocolate plants now available for sale at the T.R.E.E. e-bay outlet.


Making Dark Chocolate at Home from Donated Cacao Pods

Mother cacao Tree doing very well
Growing right out of the tree  trunk
Slightly more ripe yellow drupes (aka pods)

Fruit of the Gods: Theobroma cacao
This is the mother tree for all of our current chocolate making purposes. This tree is at least 15 years old. Probably a Forastero cultivar or hybrid. We would love to get our hands on a Criollo variety cacao tree, which is known to be one of the original cacao trees offering high quality fruit and beans ultimately leading to a better tasting end product, but it's not all in the genes. Overall tree care, fermentation process, drying and roasting will all significantly affect the taste of your chocolate product.
Gives you an idea of the size pods we received.

Two cacao pods from the same tree. One ripe and one over-ripe

Individual beans after being separated from their womb-like pod

Over-ripe pod with beans germinating inside
The beans in the dark brown pod were useless as far as making chocolate is concerned, but since they had a head start by being germinated already we just planted them in a mix of well draining soil mixed with mushroom derived compost.

The yellow pod gave us fresh beans with sweet and slightly sour pulp. Very similar taste to the limoncillo (aka Melicoccus bijugatus, Spanish Lime/genip/mamoncillo/guinepa). Most of the pulp was left intact since it is necessary for the fermentation process. After being fermented for three days indoors unlike the typical outdoor fermentation where it is placed between Banana leaves or simply stacked amongst each other. After fermentation we completed the drying stage naturally in open air under the sun then roasted the beans in order to separate the outer shell from the nibs and also to complete the drying and get just the right chocolatey, nutty flavor. Then during the processing you can add other ingredients such as vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc. This is where we will be experimenting with several pods in order to see what taste profiles we end up with. The first batch came out okay, but the next few batches will get spiced up a bit. Here are some more pictures of the original pod and our end result, which was powder cacao aka cocoa.

Succulent moist pulp

Now that's ripe!



Here are the goodies. Beans are said to start fermenting as soon as they're exposed to oxygen.

Some breathing and drainage holes for disintegrating pulp.

Keeping the beans warm and cozy along with trusty thermometer line
After three days fermenting. Already smells like alcohol.

After drying in the sun for two days. Now it really smells like alcohol.

These are the beans after roasting and removing the shells.
Start with some sugar in a coffee blade grinder. Going for a 70/30 dark chocolate

After adding the cacao beans we get a nice cocoa powder.

That's Chocolate.

  Happy 12/12 2011. Here is some advice to help make your days happier. Get your hands on some quality chocolate like "Michel Cluizel - Noir au Grué de Cacao". I found it at Whole Foods. It's a dark chocolate that I just tried for a second time. It's stated to be no less than 60% with cacao bean pieces in it, which gives it an awesome crunchy and nutty mouth-feel. It is almost perfect to me and I wish you all can experience your own satisfaction of enjoying a few pieces of dark chocolate after a meal for example. Versus having a Snickers for brunch on the run. I love Snickers andKITKATs, but regardless, the quality and taste is unparalleled and to have thousands of chocolates to choose from... Oh Life is good.

Just make sure it's a darker chocolate and if it has got pieces of cacao in it then it'll really lend you it's antioxidant and nutritional potentialities. Enjoy. I will.

Under the Chocolate Umbrella Part II

Experimenting with different soil organics under the Theobroma cacao canopy - It was exactly two months ago that the first part of this experiment was presented. We started 3 cacao (chocolate) seeds in FoxFarm's Ocean Forest potting soil. One was left in the Ocean Forest soil only, the 2nd received a 1/2 teaspoon of Great White - Mycorrhizae, while the 3rd sample was supplemented with Native Nutrients 100% Mushroom Compost.
After only 2 months of growth we have noticed some measurable results.
Our control cacao plant in only potting soil had much more vigor and growth than the sample with added mycorrhizae. Mycorrhizae does not supply any nutritional value so as of this month we will be adding fresh potting soil on a monthly basis along with the continued supplement of 1/2 teaspoon of mycorrhizae and growth will continue to be documented. The control cacao did NOT receive any added soil until this month, so if the mycorrhizae has any effect, then it should illustrate itself in its sample for it is the only variable between the two.
Cacao with mycorrhizae supplement
Control cacao with only Ocean Forest soil
 The mushroom compost seemed to have a positive impact on its cacao sample. It shows the most significant growth in thickness of stem, deepest green leaf coloring and significant noticeable root growth. The only noticeable negative was considerable leaf burn. There was also some noticeable leaf damage on the oldest leaf only of the mycorrhizae fortified sample and NO leaf damage at all for the plain Ocean Forest soil sample. Interesting, but I have no clear reasoning for this yet, but it one effect being observed and documented.
The sample with added mycorrhizae is about one leaf behind the others and most of its leaves are smaller even they all germinated and have grown pretty consistently with each other until we started this experiment. We will keep an eye on this most wonderful economical plant. There is so much more to be learned from it.
Cacao sample with added mushroom compost

Mushroom compost view 2








Mycorrhizae sample view 2
Control cacao sample view 2
Root growth exhibited only by mushroom compost sample

Under the Chocoalte Umbrella - Experimenting with different soil organics under the Theobroma cacao canopy

I started three cacao seeds that were passed on to me from a cacao tree in the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers. The first seedling was the control and potted only with Fox Farm's Ocean soil, the second seedling also with this soil, but I added beneficial mycorrhizae in powder form. The last seedling received and will continue to be fed "Native Nutrients 100% Mushroom Compost" alongside it's Fox Farm Ocean mix. All 3 plants will be kept on an East facing window with morning light exposure at around 50/50 light to shade until about 11a and then on until sundown they will have bright shade. Indoor temperatures average around 72 degrees (f) with between 62-78% humidity in it's placement within the kitchen. With cacao plants growing so well under shade it is quite obvious that their relationship with beneficial bacteria and fungi is essential for it's basic survival and growth.

There are only a two variables that can interfere with results like depth of the pots (not likely, but easily visible if it becomes a factor) and the fact that one of the cacao seedlings (in mushroom compost mix) after removing its dried out, outer brown skin looks to be a pale green bean versus the reddish brown undercover pigmentation of the other two beans.
We shall see. I've read, "The Chocolate Tree - A Natural History of Cacao" by Allen M. Young and if you're interested in chocolate like I am then you should at least read this through once along with "The Chocolate Tree: A Natural History of Cacao" (Smithsonian Nature Books), which seems to be a different book by the same author.
Control Bean "A"

Bean "B" w/ Mushroom compost
Bean "B" picture 2



Bean "C" w/ Mycorrhizae
Bean "C" picture 2
Control Bean "A" picture 2