More often than not these days I drive the snaking road through the valleys and up the hill to Steelgrass Farm. Farming here is becoming a routine way of life. It offers an opportunity to move one step closer to living with the land. Last week I spent a few 10-hour days in the lettuce patch all alone with the dirt and surrounding trees and mountains. There's very little human noise to be heard, so when there's a 'moo' in the distance or a tree limb falling, it sounds really loud. In the middle left in the picture below is a little gap in the forest with green fields and white wind cages around the keiki cacao trees. That's where I be.
To get to the lettuce go past the coconut orchard.
Past the bee hives.
Down the road by the pig pen and mango trees.
Go past the tour group and homegrown chocolate-filled gift shop.
Here I am.
Grooming the grounds for a new planting. I've been combing through the fresh dozed lettuce rows with a dirt rake and machete, like finding needles in a haystack, except the needles are mostly buried.
There's no rush, so I'm making compost. Thank you Farmer Phil for all that you've taught me.
The jeep is a garden on wheels... it hauls the fertilizer, tools, lunch, kid, tent and the gardener.
Did I say I was a gardener? I mean, I'm a trench digger, tree trimmer, lettuce growing wannabe bow boar hunter and smoke dat meat chef.
The nursery is coming.
A secondary occupation to constructing the lettuce patch is taking care of hundreds of cacao trees. Two weeks ago I hooked up with a traveling lad that specializes in cacao farm management and is an overall genius when it comes to anything related to chocolate.
He taught me how to graft and told me about what he's seen around the globe on cacao farms. Every week it sounded like he was in another country, on some farm, helping cacao farmers make the best of what they can. Some of the production stories he told me were somewhat shocking, but then again, how much do we really know about of all the products and ingredients we ship into our borders. Does organic certified really stand true when crossing borders? Do food facilities abroad carry the same sanitation rules and procedures? Well, given a taste of what I've seen, and what he's seen, all the more reason to do it right here in our backyard in an organic, clean and smart way.
My first attempt at grafting, feels like I'm either going to make or break the tree. The goal of grafting is to take scion material from known mother trees that have large and tasty pods (and/or perhaps are resistant to local weather extremes and pests) and then place it onto a stable root tree; human-engineered natural selection. This process propagates the select kind of cacao one wants. You can take a piece of root material from a cacao tree on one continent and grow it on top a base from another continent, here-in stands the globalization of cacao.
Two beautiful red babies and two with natural wilt. Trees know how much fruit they feed, so over time they will let some go.
Cacao pods come in all different colors, shapes and sizes.
This one looks ono.