Very, very exciting to find the first pod set at our Opaeula farm this week. After caring for these trees from seedling on, it almost feels magical to see them set fruit.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Very exciting! Although these are some of our oldest grafted trees, it’s a thrill to see flowering in the orchard, and we’ll likely see first fruit set next spring.

Jorquette. Plagiotropic whorls. Basically, this is the stage in a cacao tree’s development when the foundations of its eventual canopy begin to radiate out from the central trunk. And now towards the end of summer we’re seeing an awful lot of this in our Opaeula orchard, which is exciting and really fun from a strictly cacao botany geek perspective. In most of our trees we’re seeing this first whorl around the 1m mark in height, although there’s definitely some strong variation there between differing genetic parentages.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Just a couple photos of North Shore development:

Wind is a substantial challenge for cacao here in Hawaii. Having evolved as an understory rainforest tree, Cacao has a large foliar mass (aka big leaves to catch sunlight), and those same nice fat leaves just happen to catch wind pretty well also. Our day-to-day tradewinds don’t seem to be much of an issue, but there’s always the odd intense wind event, and when that comes in the form of a Kona or Kauai wind, it can really cause some damage.

Our solution for the youngsters just entering the orchard is to use tree tubes for protection through their first winter (see the little white boxes making their way down the hill in the picture), and this approach turns out to have a couple unexpected benefits:

1) The trees seem to really thrive in these little houses, and the overall protection from direct sun and wind are proving to be a good transitional tool to prevent the shock of transfer from nice safe cozy greenhouse to big bad world.

2) Most interesting of all, these physical barriers are a great deterrent to rose beetles, which otherwise love to snack on cacao leaves. It turns out that rose beetles are not very clever flyers–they simply can’t figure out how to fly up and over the wall to get to their target, so the tree tubes are acting as great defacto pest control, avoiding either some degree of mortality from just letting the bugs have their food, or the use of a chemical control (probably Carboryl or something similar), which we certainly want to avoid.

Michael Niemann’s blog Bitter Chocolate has a great post today about cacao, forestry, and Francois Ruf’s concept of “Forest Rent”. It’s well worth checking out, and relevant for our purposes as it describes exactly what we’re trying to roll back (in our admittedly small way) here in Hawaii.

The idea of agriforestry is at the center of what we’re trying to achieve here at Ko’Ka. Working on the ex-sugar tablelands of the North Shore, the recreation of a biodiverse environment is an absolute necessity after so many years of extractive conventional agriculture, and the integration of cacao and tropical hardwoods has two major benefits:

1) Environmental. Cacao needs robust shelter from the wind and moderate shading at our orchard, and the use of both hardwoods and grasses (natives like Koa and Pili where possible, augmented with exotics like Teak and Mahogany) allows us to reinvigorate the soils and biodiversity of our farm at the same time as we create a high-value organic tree fruit crop.

2) Economic. Even in the coming age of carbon markets and cap-and-trade systems, it is difficult to find functional models that encourage the reforestration of the tropics. The integration of cacao into an agriforestry model takes some of the short-term sting out of the cost of planting these longer-term tree crops, offering at least a potential way forward toward the recreation of productive diversified ag and forestry systems.

It is crucial to us that Ko’Ka serve as at least one good model of a climate-positive future for cacao and chocolate, and we see an agriforestry approach as key to that central idea.

Very exciting to see these youngsters opening up! These two are some of the newest members of our greenhouse grow-out. In the next week or so we’ll be moving the older seedlings outside to harden them for the sun.

Cotelydon just breaking open