This section is from the book "The Planting, Cultivation And Expression Of Coconuts, Kernels, Cacao And Edible Vegetable Oils And Seeds Of Commerce", by H. Osman Newland. Also available from Amazon: The Planting, Cultivation And Expression Of Coconuts, Kernels, Cacao And Edible Vegetable Oils And Seeds Of Commerce.
Seeds " at stake are protected by a palm-leaf or similar covering, and except in purely native plantations, all but the strongest plants are removed when the seedlings reach 1 foot in height.
Sowing " at stake" is not recommended where frequent periods of dry weather occur during the rainy season, as the young cacao trees demand a moist soil during the first four or five months of their existence.
If not sown " at stake," cacao seeds are planted either in a nursery made of wicker and palm-leaf, or in bamboo pots on the spot upon which they are definitely intended to grow. The seeds are planted 4 inches apart in rows at intervals of 9 inches, the stringy centre of the pod being planted downwards.
When the seedlings are about a foot high they can be planted out, an unbroken wall of earth being taken up with each seedling.
A month or two before transplanting takes place holes about 3 feet square and 2 feet deep are dug, the sub-soil being thrown into a heap alongside the hole. On steep hill-slopes this soil is best placed on the lower side of the hole. If water stagnates in the holes this indicates that drainage is necessary and must receive attention before planting commences.
A few days previous to transplanting the young cacao plants, the holes are filled with any rich surface-soil in the neighbourhood, or, should this not be available, a good layer of animal manure is placed at the bottom of the hole.
The best time for planting cacao is at the commence-ment of the rainy season, as this gives the young plants sufficient time to become thoroughly established before the dry weather appears. Having partly accustomed the young nursery plants to the conditions of the open field, by removing all shade from them, transplanting commences during a spell of wet or cloudy weather. The soil is first thoroughly saturated with water in the baskets or pots, to facilitate the subsequent removal of the plants. The roots are disturbed as little as possible, and not buried too deeply in the ground ; it is sufficient if the surface-soil is on a level with the top of the ball of earth taken from the pot or basket. Should this ball be broken, the roots in the ground are buried so that the surface-soil just reaches the point where the stem issues from the soil in the pot. Large numbers of young cacao plants fail to grow satisfactorily if they have been planted too deeply or too far out of the ground. The soil is firmly pressed around the ball of earth enclosing the roots ; but it is almost impossible to carry out transplanting without slightly disturbing the roots.
Leafy twigs or palm leaves bent over in the form of a cage, provide the necessary shade until the young plants start into growth.
Should a spell of dry weather set in before they become established, as many as 30 per cent, of the plants perish during the first year following the establishment of the plantation. As the greatest percentage of organic matter is almost invariably found in the uppermost layers of a soil, unless this surface-soil is protected the organic matter is liable to be washed away by heavy rains. There is, however, less loss of organic matter occurring on an estate where the soil is held together by a mass of fibrous roots- e.g., where all the vacant spaces between the trees are occupied by catch-crops. Some planters affirm that the soil is best protected by allowing weeds to grow, and by cutting them down at intervals. There is something to be said in favour of this practice, especially on hilly lands, for the surface-soil is prevented from being washed away by the network of fibrous roots formed by grasses and similar weeds. When they are cut down, the plant-foods which they have extracted from the soil are in a measure returned as soon as decomposition sets in.
Cacao Beans upon specially pruned trees.
The best season to prune is when the sap is least active, and this frequently coincides with the end of the principal crop season. Most cacao trees carry more or less fruit all through the year, but they produce more towards the end of the rainy season. The removal of large branches is very rarely necessary from cacao trees which have been always properly pruned ; indeed, the best pruned trees are those from which all undesirable growths have been removed with a pocket pruning-knife.
In Trinidad, where cacao plants are planted about 12 feet apart, large forest trees used to be planted for shade purposes- usually the Bois Immortelle- while in Samoa trees are often left standing for this purpose at intervals when the forest is being cleared. Rubber and bread fruit for permanent shade, and smaller ' catch-crops ' or " side-crops " for temporary shade, are now frequently used at' being more remunerative.
In West Africa the banana is used for temporary shade purposes, and gives a profitable local return while the cacao tree is growing. Cassava or tapioca is also employed, but is not recommended, as it takes too much nourishment from the soil.
Manuring, except for delicate plants, and upon soil lacking necessary chemical constituents, is not actually necessary until after the first crops, although a moderate application often quickens growth and production. As soon, however, as the crop-taking has begun, regular manuring is necessary to ensure permanent and im proving crops.
The leaves of the plant, at first a tender yellowish-brown, ultimately turn to a bright green. They often grow to 14 or 18 inches in length.
Scale insects attack the leaves, and grubs will quickly rot the limbs and trunks, unless attended to. If left to nature, lichen, moss, ferns, and vines will encroach upon the tree.
The greatest number of flowers are produced on the stem and principal branches, and a tree may continue to bear flowers and fruit from the same areas for many consecutive years. The flower is small, considering the size of the fruit. Flowers may be found on the trees throughout the year (and clusters of the pink and yellow blossoms may often be found on the trunk itself), but the greatest number are usually present about six months before the principal crop season.