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Grafting Our Cacao Saplings!

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The early stages of developing a new cacao plantation are certainly the most interesting and exciting. After eight busy months of developing the nursery, preparing the land, and planting 75,000 cacao saplings, now it's almost time for grafting!

So, what is grafting and why do we do it?

Grafting is a form of vegetative cloning or propagation. Vegetative cloning allows growers to perpetuate specific traits such as fruit quality, flavor, disease resistance, and high yield.

In cacao, just as in coffee, different varietals have different qualities. Some are more robust, with strong root systems, high yields, and are resistant to disease, but tend to have a low quality of cacao. Other varietals produce super high-quality cacao but have a weak root system and are susceptible to disease.

Grafting allows us to marry the best of both.

So how do we do it?

Grafting is a skill that not all cacao farmers possess, so we are hiring ten specialist cacao grafters for this 12-week project.

In the images below, you will see the main supplies needed for grafting. #1 the rootstock, #2 the scion (budwood), #3 a grafting knife, and #4 special grafting rubber, and #5 70% isopropyl alcohol.

Supplies needed for grafting.
Supplies needed for grafting.

We will be grafting directly onto the saplings that our team is busy planting as we speak. So instead of moving the saplings after grafting, which can cause damage, our Rootstock is already growing on the farm. The varietal of rootstock chosen is IMC67, and some hybrids, natural to the region.

The Scion, or Budwood, has been carefully selected and ordered from a trusted grower in the Bocas del Toro region, the same supplier where we sourced the cacao seeds for our nursery. The budwood chosen are CATIE R1, R6, and R4 as well as PMCT58, ICS95 and CC137. All chosen to provide a range of excellent quality, aroma and flavor profiles.

They will deliver the budwood freshly cut, disinfected and waxed to protect against disease and water loss.

When ready to begin, the grafter will sterilize his grafting knife with 70% alcohol to disinfect it and do so in between every graft.

In the field, he will cut off the top of the sapling (rootstock), remove the leaves, and cut the stem at an angle, exposing the cambium tissue.

Example of an ideal cacao rootstock. Cacao rootstocks are typically grown from seed.
Example of an ideal cacao rootstock. Cacao rootstocks are typically grown from seed.
(Left) An ideal candidate for scion material. Note the slightly swollen buds. (Middle) A stem with buds that have extended, not ideal for scion material. (Right) An over-matured branch with dormant buds, also not ideal for scion material.
(Left) An ideal candidate for scion material. Note the slightly swollen buds. (Middle) A stem with buds that have extended, not ideal for scion material. (Right) An over-matured branch with dormant buds, also not ideal for scion material.
(Left) Using pruning clippers to remove top of rootstock. (Right) An ideal rootstock prune with several leaves below the graft point and about 1 inch for the grafting area.
(Left) Using pruning clippers to remove top of rootstock. (Right) An ideal rootstock prune with several leaves below the graft point and about 1 inch for the grafting area.
(Left) Making the rootstock cut by carefully rocking the knife blade into the cut stem. (Right) Stopping the cut at a depth equal to one or two blade widths, depending on the length available at the bottom of your prepared scion piece.
(Left) Making the rootstock cut by carefully rocking the knife blade into the cut stem. (Right) Stopping the cut at a depth equal to one or two blade widths, depending on the length available at the bottom of your prepared scion piece.
Preparing the proper wedge shape on the scion that will be attached to the rootstock.
Preparing the proper wedge shape on the scion that will be attached to the rootstock.
Wrapping the scion and rootstock union with grafting rubbers.
Wrapping the scion and rootstock union with grafting rubbers.

He will then make a similar cut to the base of the budwood, then attach the budwood to the rootstock, making sure the cambium tissue of both is matching and sealed. Then the graft union is wrapped with special grafting rubber and sealed with parafilm for extra protection.

This process will be done to all 75,000 saplings over 12 weeks, starting soon, and we will be sure to update you with photos during the process.

If you enjoyed learning about grafting and how we develop our cacao plantations, come see for yourself!

Now that the world is getting back to normal, we are starting our origin tours again.

AgroNosotros coffee farm tour
AgroNosotros cacao farm tour

Since we held our last tour, pre-pandemic, we have added this new cacao farm and opened our chocolate factory. So now you can visit coffee and cacao farms, see the post-harvest facilities and learn how chocolate is made, all on the same tour.

We can now offer a vertically integrated tour, of coffee and chocolate, from the seed to the finished product, all here in Panama.

We will soon be announcing dates for our group tours, so stay tuned and be sure to sign up, as spaces usually fill up quickly.

Or, if you prefer a private tour, we are here and ready to receive you anytime.

Simply let me know your desired dates and how many travelers are with you, and we will set it up.

We are looking forward to opening up the farms, facilities, and our AgroNosotros family to group and private tours, and we cannot wait to meet you all.

Darren Doyle
Darren Doyle
Co-Founder & President of AgroNosotros
darrend@agronosotros.com
Toll Free USA/Canada 877-208-7988
Direct +520-226-9119
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