Growing Cocoa in London by Chantal Coady

I fancy myself as a bit of a gardener, at least I can say that I don’t have black thumbs like some people I know.

Propagation from seed

My first attempt at growing cocoa was with the late Mott Green who had brought some fresh pods from Grenada to London from the small that cocoa farm that we bought together. It was June 2009 when we took a pod and scarified the seeds. This is not essential, but Mott had been told to do it by a farmer in Grenada, and it most certainly helps to ensure germination. You have to take off the slippery skin from the seed very gently and then it’s ready to be planted.

The best medium for planting seeds is:

  • 3 parts soil
  • 2 parts organic matter, manure and woody material mixed with fine gravel

Plant the seed 5cm deep in a potting bag or pot.

In London, put in a warm place, which could even be dark for the first few days, then bring into the light. Sunny but indirect light is best and a constant temperature of at least 18C is best.

Pot on when the plant gets too big for its container, and feed regularly with an iron rich liquid food.

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Propagation from branches

If you happen to be surrounded by cocoa trees you can propagate by cutting, which is much quicker than growing from the seed.

  1. Take the end of a branch just above a nodule about 30 cm long.
  2. Cut the ends off the leaves, as it will help cut down the amount of transpiration from the plant, place in small pot of planting medium (as above) and leave in a glass house for about two weeks until the root system is formed. You will know when this is ready as it will stay in the pot when gently yanked.
  3. Plant out in your rain forest…

My seeds that I planted with Mott in 2009 were shared with the Chelsea Physic Garden, and we both have mature trees from that time. I am envious of theirs which is much stronger than mine and benefits from the irrigation and sprinkler systems as well as warmer climate of their tropical hot house. This year it has flowered twice, and we are all holding our breath to see if it will produce a pod or two.

My tree is in the kitchen, under a large north facing roof light, it never gets below 18C and does not get direct sun. The one thing it lacks is humidity, so I have installed my own rain machine, much to the chagrin of my long suffering husband. In the last year it has shot up and crowned into 5 main branches. Over the summer when we were on holiday, our house guests neglected it terribly, and it still does not look entirely happy. Must give it a good feed and a shake. Mott used to say in the forest it would get buffeted by the wind, so I try to remember to do this when I go past.

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This April I collected a beautiful pod specimen from the Cocoa Nursery in Grenada, that was verified as a Criollo. The Chelsea Physic Garden managed to germinate ALL the seeds and we have three plants looking for a good home.  Keep an eye on our Facebook and Twitter to see how you can win them.

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