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On The Farm: A Look Inside Our Planting Process

This summer, and into the fall, we have been busy planting new cacao trees. Here at Lydgate Farms the more chocolate we have, the more we can share with you – our growing Chocolate Ohana – so we get excited about planting! It all starts at the nursery. Here we sprout seedling cacao trees that we select from our favorite mother trees, and we also make grafted trees (see our blog post on grafting). We use both the seedlings and our grafts in our new plantings. 

Cacao tree seedlings in crates ready for plantingOur nursery, where we sprout seedlings and prepared grafted trees

When we plant, we take a holistic look at the land we are planting them in and take several steps to ensure a thriving cacao-based ecosystem. First we take a soil sample and send it to our top notch organic nutrition specialist Pete Bunn, with Crop Nutrient Services, for analysis. Based on the analysis we may add various organic nutrients to our soil, including green sand, tropical lime, dolomite, and compost. These amendments make our fields sweeter for the cacao trees and also promote soil health and organic carbon retention. After we incorporate nutrients, we lay down seed for cover crops such as perennial peanut. Cover crops are plants that live in the rows between main plantings, they have many benefits.

Close up of grafted cacao tree seedlings in crates ready for plantingThis photo was taken when the grafts were just a few weeks old.
You can still see the grafting tape on the graft union.

The first is that they are a free source of nitrogen for our cacao (an essential nutrient for plant growth). They also make major contributions to soil health in particular to the soil microbiome, which is the bacteria, fungi, and archaea which play a major role in the functioning of an ecosystem. This practice of using cover crops was underscored by my recent visit to our United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) 6000-acre Beltsville Agricultural Research Center. While I was there I was exposed to the research of soil scientist and researcher Dr. Jude Maul. Dr. Maul showed us how organic fertilizers, crop diversity, and use of cover crops have a positive impact on soil microbiome. And good soil microbiome has been shown by USDA human nutrition researchers to have a positive impact on nutritional characteristics as well as flavor. It makes me happy that research is confirming what I have thought all along, that organic practices are better for soil health. And soil health benefits our quality, our local ecosystem, and makes a small dent in our increased planetary CO2 levels by keeping some of that organic carbon in the soil. In short, it’s good for the land, and it is good for making great tasting chocolate.

perennial peanut cover crop used at the Lydgate Farms. The leaves are clover-shaped and bloom with small, yellow flowers. Cover crops! The round leaves of the perennial peanut
look almost like clover and it has small yellow flowers.

After the ground is prepped, irrigation lines and laid and holes for trees are drilled, after which our baby cacao trees are planted. The white cylinders you see in some of the photos are plastic reusable ‘shelters’ which have several purposes; they protect baby trees from too much wind, provide shade, and they make our trees invisible to an insect that likes to chew the leaves of young cacao trees called the Chinese Rose Beetle.

You’ll also see also see a tree over our cacao called Gliricidia, known as Madre de Cacao in the tropical Americas which means Mother of Cacao. This tree will give some nice shade in addition to the cloud cover we get up here on the farm. 

Mother of Cacao treesThese trees were planted in October 2018 and have beautiful architecture
with low branching crowns which will bear a lot of cacao pods.
Note the tall Gliricidia trees (madre de cacao) that provide some
shade to the short cacao trees as well as improve soil health.

Cacao Pod Kauai Farm Trees
This field was planted in April 2014
and we have a nice fall pod set about to be harvested.

Loving learning about chocolate? Join us on our signature Chocolate Farm Tour & Tasting when you’re on Kauai! You’ll more about the growing, harvesting, fermenting and making process while enjoying chocolate from the farm and around the world. Tours sell out fast, you can now book online in advance. We hope to see you on the farm!