Monday, August 25, 2014

Protecting Grenada's genetic diversity tastes great

This past week we were joined on the farm by leading cocoa experts from the Grenada Cocoa Association.  Together the team grafted 37 cocoa trees with criollo cocoa samples from a genetic preservation nursery near Grenville, Grenada.  We cut small pieces of branches and buds from three different types of criollo trees and transported them to our land to graft onto recently planted young trees.  If the grafts are successful, these trees will start to produce criollo pods from these branches.

Representatives from the Grenada Cocoa Association grafting on our farm

Criollo cocoa is world renowned for having the best flavor. It is very rare because it does not have the pest resistance or high yield of more hearty varieties.  Often compared to the superior Arabica coffee beans, it is well known for having complex caramel, nut, vanilla and tobacco flavor notes.  We didn’t believe our Jouvay chocolate could get any better, but we’re taking on the challenge to care for these rare trees to increase flavor bean production, and protect the genetic diversity of Grenada’s cocoa heritage.  Many farmers who rely on cocoa for their income are simply not able to take the risk with criollo trees and typically use crossbreeds, making criollo beans less than 1% of the world’s cocoa supply.  We are happy to have the opportunity to continue to preserve these beans, and think our chocolate customers will be happy too!

Scions need to be kept moist and clean to prevent drying and bacteria

Based on the size of the small trees, we focused on top grafts.  We also did a few bud and side grafts, as well as experiment with grafting on mature trees that are no longer producing as much.  As mentioned, grafting is a very delicate art, and grafting out in the field adds to the risks. Everything must be properly sanitized and done quickly so as not to introduce any bacteria to the cocoa plants. 

Taping a top graft to ensure key pieces connect and to prevent moisture and bacteria from entering

In two weeks we will remove the plastic bags (which keep moisture out and protect the graft from harsh weather).  In two more weeks, we will remove the tape and continue to monitor our trees to make sure they survive.

Completed top-graft using ICS 32, the purest variety of criollo in Grenada.
Check out our Facebook page to watch cocoa extension officer, Kelwin Noel demonstrate a top-graft:

Monday, August 18, 2014

We're Becoming Worm Farmers

Thanks to our composting intern, Alexander Thompson, we now have two vermiculture bins on the land!  These bins are unique for Grenada and we are excited to promote vermicomposting to local farmers.

Worm composting bins on our cocoa farm

What is vermicompost?
Vermiculture is worm farming!  Vermicompost is a composting system that cultivates a large worm population within the compost.  Worms help break down the materials quicker, aerate the soil and turn the compost into rich organic matter. 

Why use vermiculture?
The water run off (“worm tea”) and final compost (worm castings) generated from the vermicompost bins are one of the most nutritious and beneficial fertilizers available. This compost has significantly higher beneficial microorganisms and bacteria, and is considered a perfect organic fertilizer. Farmers can save a considerable amount of money on fertilizers and avoid putting harmful chemicals into their soil.

Benefits of worm farming:
  • Aerates soil
  • Increases plant growth and yield
  • Reduces waste going to landfills
  • Replaces chemical fertilizers
  • Improves root growth
  • Provides worms for fish bait or chicken feed
  • Protects plants from disease 

Our bins:
Our two worm bins were made inexpensively, with materials accessible in our community.  Our goal is to demonstrate vermiculture as a beneficial practice any farmer here could adopt. Once the bins are made, they are easy to maintain. Our staff adds partially broken down compost and moistens the soil every few days, and the worms do the rest of the work! Water that drips down to the bottom bucket – "worm tea" - is diluted and used to water our vegetables. It is extremely nutritious, and helps protect plants against diseases. After a few weeks, the broken down compost can be removed from the bin, and used to fertilizer cocoa trees and vegetables, or boost our regular composting system.  New decomposing material is added to the bin and the hungry worms gravitate to the new material.

Our worms:

Our worms were collected during an expedition to collect seaweed for our extensive composting system.  These worms don’t grow to be as large as traditional earthworms, but are aggressive composters and native to Grenada.

Worms from CFFI vermiculture bins

We're excited about this new addition on our farm and can't wait to try out the fertilizer when its ready!