Growing Cacao Trees from Seeds: A Step-by-Step Guide

So, you’ve got your hands on fresh cacao fruits and you’re eager to grow your own cacao trees. Exciting! With the right approach, you can turn those fresh seeds into thriving cacao trees that will yield delicious chocolate. Let’s dive into the process and get started.

Storing Fresh Cacao Fruits

Freshly harvested cacao fruits can be stored in a cool, dark place without refrigeration. This storage method will keep the fruits in good condition with viable seeds for about 1-2 weeks. As time goes by, the fruit may turn brown and the seeds may start to develop mold. But don’t worry, as long as the seeds are firm, the germination process won’t be affected. However, it’s always best to plant them as soon as possible to ensure higher viability.

Fresh Cacao Pods

Opening the Cacao Fruit

To begin the germination process, you’ll need to break open the hard outer shell of the cacao fruit. You can either hit it against a hard surface, like a concrete floor or step, or carefully cut it with a sharp knife. Be cautious not to damage the seeds while doing this. Inside the fruit, you’ll find a delicious sweet-sour pulp surrounding the seeds. It’s important to note that the amount of pulp varies among different cacao varieties, and overripe fruits may have dried out or sprouted seeds.

Cleaning Cacao Seeds in Water

Preparing the Seeds for Planting

Once you’ve removed the pulp from the seeds, place them in a shallow container and cover them with a small amount of water. Every day, wash the seeds under running water while gently rubbing them to remove any remaining pulp. Remember to change the water in the container. After about 3-4 days, you’ll notice a white root emerging from the wider end of the seed. At this point, even if the seeds aren’t completely clean, they are ready to be planted.

Freshly Planted Cacao Seeds in Tray

Planting the Cacao Seeds

Cacao seeds are prone to rotting if kept too wet, so it’s crucial to plant them properly. Lay the seeds flat or at a slight angle with the root end facing downwards. It’s important to use well-drained soil mixed with perlite or coarse sand, ensuring at least 50% of the mix consists of these components. The soil should be consistently moist but not waterlogged.

Germinating Cacao Seeds in Tray

Germination and Growth

To promote successful germination, keep the seeds warm, ideally between 70-90°F, and provide them with about 50-70% shade. Typically, it takes 2-3 weeks for the seeds to germinate. As the developing stem straightens and lengthens, the cotyledons will turn greenish and lift up, and eventually, the shoot will emerge between them. In some cases, the seed hull may not fall off on its own, and you may need to carefully remove it to allow the shoot to grow freely.

Germinating Cacao Seeds in Growbags

Transplantation and Care

Once the young seedlings have emerged, you can transplant them into small pots, cell trays, or larger containers like grow bags. However, be cautious with larger containers as overwatering can become a concern. Smaller containers offer the advantage of easy discarding of ungerminated or rotted seeds and abnormal seedlings during the transplanting process.

Cacao Plugs Ready to Transplant

Maintaining the young trees under 30-50% shade with regular watering is essential. Keep the soil evenly moist without excessive water retention. To ensure healthy growth, fertilize the trees every 2-3 months with a diluted 20-20-20 solution, fish emulsion, or an equivalent amount of slow-release fertilizer.

One Year Old Cacao Tree in a Growbag

Maturation and Planting

After approximately 10-12 months, your young cacao trees are ready for their next stage. You have various options: grafting, planting them directly in the field as seedlings, or transferring them to larger containers.

Grafted Cacao Tree Ready for Field Planting

With patience and care, you can successfully grow cacao trees from seeds, opening up a world of chocolate-making possibilities. So go ahead, embark on this exciting journey, and enjoy the process of nurturing your very own cacao trees. Happy growing!