There’s no chocolate without cacao

Before getting to cacao, a few updates from our farm. The papaya tree (AKA, avocado or green bell pepper) is tall enough that six foot hubby now needs assistance. I bought the toilet plunger at Lowe’s. A stranger passed by me when I was in the plunger aisle and had it in my hand. He said, “I know what you’re going to do with that!” I answered, “Pick papayas?” I could almost see his head swivel a few 360’s in confusion. A few months ago we couldn’t even find this cheapo plunger. All the plungers were too fancy and designed for good toilet plunging.

This inexpensive rubber plunger, with a shallow cup and an edge around it, is better for picking papayas than other “real” fruit pickers we’ve found. The metal claw, kind of lacrosse stick shape, often pokes holes in the fruit, and might not even dislodge the papaya. With the plunger, you come up from under the fruit, and give it a little supported twisty action, and maybe you need to use that gentle rubber edge to help. Our family always seemed to have this type of cobbled together picker around.

Unfortunately, an update on the red plumeria is already needed. The pigs got to it last Friday. Argh!! We probably needed some stakes inside our pig protection. They knocked it over, and it broke the trunk. But the roots and a short stumpy piece are still in the ground. We just gave that ripped trunk a clean cut, and we’ll see if it does anything. It’s a bit low to the ground, though. And we’ll have to stick the longer branch in the ground. So, at this point, we now have three pieces of this red plumeria, pictured left to right below: (1) a Y-shaped piece from the first pig attack, (2) a stump with roots from the piece we potted and kept in the courtyard for over a year, and (3) the bigger trunk from (2). It’s just becoming its own special challenge — get this plumeria to grow into a tree!

OK! To the cacao. We visited a friend’s who’s a neighbor who has now planted about 400 cacao trees in the past year. I’m very interested because we have to be prepared for possibilities other than coffee. Our coffee is pretty old (80-ish years), and there are problems, as you know. I asked a lot of questions about the cacao and their farm, but I’m not sure I understood or recall all the details correctly, so just consider this a general story.

When they brought their lot about only four years ago, it was full of big trees. As for size, Hubby and I already remember differently, so let’s say the parcel is 5-8 acres or so. They took the trees down, used heavy equipment to make some big terrace levels, flattened out a big section for their house, some plantings, a barn, etc. They didn’t have coffee. They had someone consult them about agroforestry, edible landscaping and planting a diversity of plants and trees. So in addition to cacao they have bananas, avocados, citrus, breadfruit, etc., the usual suspects.

They bought their cacao seedlings from Sharkey’s on the Hilo side. The seedlings are in a blue grow sleeve to protect the young trees from beetles. Supposedly, once they’re big enough they can handle the beetles. They set up irrigation. They have cut monstera leaves around the base of trees. We forgot to ask them exactly why. We figured it was to keep the growth down near the base of the trees. When you mow or weed whack, you don’t get too close to trees and typically tufts of longer grass surround trunks.

They already know a business here on the west side of the island that offered to buy any of the cacao they have, so their sense is demand is high. They’re feeling optimistic about this endeavor. I wish them lots of luck, and I’m thankful to know someone in our area who’s trying it. I’ve seen some smaller scale, but more mature cacao in South Kona, but I don’t know those farmers.

A side note, my friend is a very talented artist. We had gone to their place to oooh and aaaah at her art studio and to look more carefully at the cacao. She’s trying to keep the art of wood block printing alive. She is so generous with her time, skills (beyond the visual arts), knowledge and sharing her art. She is very inspirational and I am so glad to know her. Check out her website and her Etsy store.

By the way, there’s a fairly new shop here in Kainaliu, next to the parking lot we use for our Master Gardeners class. It’s called [Kainaliu] Hale Cocoa, part of Puna Chocolate. They’re working on getting a little cafe established at the makai (ocean) side of the shop, too. They have some interesting posters on the glass windows at the storefront, sharing that cacao can only grow within about 20° north and south of the equator, etc. The trees only flourish under specific conditions, including fairly uniform temperatures, high humidity, abundant rain, nitrogen-rich soil, and protection from wind. It seems like the market for Hawai’i chocolate is growing. We’ll have to attend one of the conferences or classes that further educate farmers about the crop.

2 thoughts on “There’s no chocolate without cacao

  1. What a fun read and thanks for the share Sharlene.
    Thanks Kathy H 🙂
    I love reading about your coffee and farming adventures.
    We’re working on a middle way food forest. We mulch with monstera and other green waste as well as using recycled perforated cardboard around trees. We’re excited about Hawaii Cacao. Recent findings show that chocolate has cadmium and lead from the soil where it’s grown. Our volcanic soil doesn’t have that. Hawaiian chocolate will be some of the best in the world.

    I do love my sunny studio where I carve and print my Buddha woodblocks.

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