Theobroma Cacao, the Aztec’s Food of the Gods, is one of the trickier plants to grow. Cacao plants are quite rare in the United States, and viable seeds are even rarer. This is because the seeds have an extremely short viability. Only seeds obtained in the fruit or those that have been recently removed are suitable for growing. Dried cocoa beans are often sold for edible and aromatic applications, but do not be fooled into thinking you will be able to grow these. More importantly, beware of vendors selling these seeds for growing. If the beans are dry when you get them, they are no good.
So you’ll need to find a fresh fruit. It is important to slice around the perimeter of the fruit so that you do not damage the cocoa seeds in the center. It is a good idea to squeeze the sliced cacao pod to break it fully apart rather than slicing too deep. Once you have the two halves, you will seed a conglomeration of about 20-40 cocoa beans (depending on variety) stuck together with each individual seed coated by a white fruity material. This material is one of the things that makes growing cacao tricky.
The white fleshy material on the outside of the cacao seeds is problematic because it is an ideal place to harbor molds and disease that could harm the seed during germination. You may want to suck off the white fruit pulp as it can be extremely delicious. Afterwards, a tooth or sharp kitchen knife can be used to scratch the outer skin covering of the seed. That’s what you want to remove since it attaches to the pulp. Once, the skin has been breached in one area, you should be able to peel off the entire skin, revealing just the dark purple/brown seed inside. While one seed was being worked on, the other seeds should be put in water to keep from drying out and to keep any of the remaining fruit material workable. Leave them to soak overnight.
The following day you will want to wipe each seed dry and clean with a paper towel. Often, you will be wiping off pieces of clear inner skin and other pieces of outer skin you may have missed when peeling the seeds. Be sure to thoroughly clean off anything you can without breaking the seed. Especially when they’ve been soaking,cocoa seeds can be soft. You also want to make sure not to damage any roots that may have already begun to emerge. if you break off the root, then it will not be able to grow. If you break the dark part of the seed, it should still be able to grow as long as the root inside was not broken in any way.
Once the seeds have been cleaned, place them in a bed of moist spagnum moss or in a damp paper towel. If you use moss, use the long-fiber kind sold in craft stores and used for hanging baskets. This should not be confused with peat moss that is used as a soil component. We usually recommend very lightly moist paper towels because they harbor less mold/ bacteria. Keep the seeds in this medium until the tap roots are significantly developed. It is better to wait than to rush them into soil since soil is a dirtier environment. Clean each seed every day or two by wiping them down and changing the medium. If you’ve bought seeds from us, then you’ll likely have gotten them somewhere in this stage.
Eventually, you want to move them into a light airy mix, such as jiffy mix. Ideally, you want the root to be at least half an inch before sowing. This way, you can put the seed itself just above the soil line. By minimizing contact between the seed ans soil you minimize the risk of a mold outbreak. Place some moist spagnum moss around the top to keep the seed head from drying out. This acts almost like a little layer of mulch. But make sure it does not develop mold. Place the planted seed directly under a grow light. If you see mold, be sure to wipe the seed down with water or a mild peroxide solution and dry the surface of the seed out for a day or two. That doesn;t mean taking the seed out of the soil. But if you can remove the layer of spagnum moss and do not mist. A fan may be helpful in this case too. Mold is acceptable as long as it does not get out of hand or attack the root. It is common that you would see some mold in growing these seeds, but you must also be diligent in managing it. Once the seed heads arise above the jiffy mix, be sure to spray it regularly so it can open. Otherwise, it could prevent the leaves from ever popping out. These seeds may sprout slowly, so be patient.