Cacao Gardener Vision #1




01   Before the Beginning

02   Choosing the Right Seeds

03   The Cacao Nursery

04   Protection & Nourishment

05   A Messenger of the Heart



06   Strong Roots

07   Growing a Cacao Tree at Home

08   The Plantation Cycle

09   The Cacao Gardener


cacao mama fresh pod
© Grit Siwonia



Dear Gardeners and friends of the sacred Cacao tree.


Our journey begins at the very beginning. 

The beginning of all things Cacao.


But where is this beginning, you may ask.

Where does the sacred Cacao journey actually begin?


Inside the flower? Inside the pod? Inside the bean?


Inside the garden of our minds.

Here we nurture the vision of a healthy and spirited cacao forest.


Journey with us to the very beginning and learn about the first station of a young Cacao tree: the Cacao nursery. The nursery keeps  the seedlings for our spirited Cacao forest warm and safe and offers shade and protection before being  sent out into the open field. A nest that offers the young seedlings everything they need to grow healthy. 


Thank you for taking care of a Cacao tree.

The Earth thanks you. 


Your Cacao Gardeners

April 22, 2022 



Establishing a Cacao Forest is a mystical voyage that teaches profound insights not only about the plantation itself but also about life. Throughout the process, the value of soul intentions, of responsible choice, of dedicated work, of patience, of respectfulness and reverence is reinforced at every step.


The process to set up a healthy, long-lasting  and productive Cacao Forest has the following basic stages:

  • First Stage: Installation. It is about the location in the field and the management of all the species of the system, in a phased manner. 
  • Second Stage: Raise or development. It is the management from the installation until the Cacao production begins. 
  • Third Stage: Sustaining the plantation in its productive phase.   



Before the beginning of every stage, there must be done a task that is not found in any Cacao plantation establishment guide: The Pagamento (Ritual Offering). This is an indigenous practice performed by a Mamo, in the case of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, that can be fulfilled at any moment of the Cacao forest life, especially before the three main stages.


The Pagamento is one of the most important spiritual practices in all the towns of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. It is associated with the vision of perpetual motion of energy. 


The art of giving and receiving, immersed in all the movements of nature, is the origin of this ritual and its practice is considered essential for the development of life. The ritual offering is a symbolic act that is based on thankfulness, on the cycle of giving and receiving between human beings and nature. The Pagamento is related to the conception that one is born from mother earth and therefore there is a commitment to caring for the natural world. Caring for the earth and what the Pachamama left behind is a way in which we also take care of ourselves.



TEXT by LENA BRANDT, JUAN PABLO Galvis & RICARDO LEYVA · PICTURES BY Kristiana Pinne & rodrigo flores

Choosing the best Cacao variety to grow is like choosing the best wine. Ultimately, it’s a subjective decision.

Some people invest a lot of time, money and effort to find the variety they want to work with. Travelling the lands of Mama Cacao, combing through the jungles in search of trees with superior flavour potential.


Native Cacao varieties that can be found in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the land of our Cacao Gardener plantation, are commonly called Criollo varieties or 'White Cacao’ because of the colour of their beans.


Various trees with these characteristics were found mainly near hillsides and in places where agro-ecological conditions allowed them to survive. They have been able to survive both climatic changes and human use of the land. This type of cacao is susceptible to pests and diseases when moved to other areas; however, when kept in its native habitat, it is very robust. 


Their main characteristic is that they are soft in taste and aroma. There are trees with different types of pods and beans, some larger than others. You can also find trees that are more productive than others. But they all have a common denominator, namely their soft sensory profile. Their organoleptic characteristics are mainly fruits and nuts.


To start growing a Cacao Tree, you will need beans taken from a ripe pod from another Cacao tree. The pod is ripe when the beans are loose and the pod will rattle when shaken. Choose healthy pods from trees that display good agronomic traits like:

- High yields

- Good pod index

- Disease tolerance

- Shapely architecture

- Reasonable vigour


as these traits might be passed down from the mother tree to the seedlings.


But please have in mind: The seedlings will unfortunately not resemble the mother tree. This is just how nature works — the children are beings of their own. To bypass that issue, there’s the technique of grafting, which we will explain to you in an article of its own in the edition "Our Cacao Family".



For the nursery at Sierra Divina, we use beans from a Forastero variety called IMC-67 (Iquitos Mixed Calabacillo series), which originally comes from the Marañon River basin in the Peruvian Amazon. They are robust, disease-resistant (especially fungus resistant) and have a strong root system. The beans were collected from a tree that was planted near Sierra Divina and is therefore already adapted to the conditions in this area.


Around the globe, there are countless varieties and sub-varieties of Cacao, some of which are still unknown and have yet to be found. They all come with different qualities, different origins and different compositions of genetic material; all with different characteristics and flavours. They respond differently to diseases, some varieties have higher or lower yields, and produce beans with different flavour profiles.


There is so much diversity to be discovered. I would say more than we can imagine. In this way, Cacao connects us back to the land. The unique flavour reflects the unique composition of its land of origin — the soil, the water, the air, the sun, the animals, the people, the more-than-human world. And also its tree ancestors. Next time you prepare your Cacao or drink a cup of this rainbow medicine, I invite you to try to REALLY taste it — and connect with the land.


TEXT by GABRIELE DETSCHMANN complemented by Ricardo's invaluable practical knowledge · Pictures By Ricardo Leyva


The Cacao Nursery is similar to other tree crop nurseries: it is designed as a temporary location for Cacao seedlings to grow into healthy young trees in a protected environment. This gives them a better chance at survival until they are ready to join a biodiverse forest. To me, there is something remarkably peaceful about contemplating the concept of the Cacao nursery, a place that is all about new life, growth and care-taking: where new Cacao trees are being born and kept safe, where tiny organisms are being cared for and properly nurtured so that one day, they will become full ecosystems in their own right. 



Creating an Enabling Environment – The Nursery Site

Since Cacao is native to the rainforest, it loves shade and needs quite a bit of watering.  When setting up a nursery for Cacao, it is therefore important to consider that the young cacao seedlings require ample shading, a moist soil (but not waterlogged), a comfortable temperature and protection from storm. The sheltered nursery at Sierra Divina lets about 80% of sunlight through with an average temperature of 24 ºC, it has easy access to clean water for irrigation, and it is protected from strong wind. 



From Seed to Tree: Raising Cacao Seedlings at Sierra Divina

The raising of new Cacao trees at the nursery begins at the same time as the sowing of shade plants, such as plantains. This process is normally started in May, four to five months before the rainy season so that the young Cacao trees are properly sheltered by their forest companions once they are ready for transplanting.


Cacao seeds are selected and fermented for about three days before they are put in their nursery beds (bags or containers filled with a nourishing soil mixture). Once a day, the uncovered seeds are gently watered by one of the workers, preferably before sunset so that the seedlings are kept moist during the night. It only takes two to three weeks until the young trees begin to emerge.


The worker checks the seedlings regularly by hand and carefully removes the seed hull, in case it hasn’t fallen off, and to stimulate the growth of the plant. Once the first leaves appear, the seedlings are fed with organic fertiliser to provide them with the nutrients essential to healthy growth. Since young Cacao trees are still very sensitive to sun and predator insects, the workers also apply natural pest repellents made from chili pepper every three to eight days.


After three to five months (depending on the climate), the young trees are ready for transplanting. They are around 50cm tall when their life in the forest begins. 



One of Cacao Gardener’s guiding principles is to observe and genuinely engage with the plant and the forest at all stages, and to make adjustments based on the feedback we receive. We work at a pace that allows us to see our impact on nature and to learn from it. This has led us on a search for a sustainable alternative to plastic seedling containers. Like many other tree planting organisations and farmers, (black) polybags were used at the Sierra Divina nursery for the pilot project. These plastic bags are now replaced by biodegradable and compostable containers (“Jiffy Pellets”) made from organic materials, like coconut. Unlike plastic bags, these containers can be transplanted directly into the ground – which means no waste and less stress for the young trees. As the Sierra Divina forest continues to grow, so do we so that eventually, each element within the forest ecosystem contributes to others and receives from others to thrive.   

Protection & NOURISHMENT

TEXT & Illustration by MARLEN MATTHÄUS


A small nest for the little plants. We keep them safe and take care of the Cacao seedlings until they are big enough to be transplanted in the forest. Then the forest takes over to nurture and protect the Cacao plants.


In circle, we give life force back to Pachamama. We keep our promise to protect life on earth. This energy is passed on to the Cacao plants and radiates pure life.


The nursery also lays the foundation for the energy of future Cacao and conveys our pure intentions towards Pachamama.



Cacao grows in two directions at the same time, a deep tap root and synchronously into the sky.


A seed of hope tucked into the dark earth, a magic bean rooting shooting.

Germination is a crucial time exerting pressure as momentum builds following the impulse of unraveling, traveling. The cacao bean holds an extraordinary revelation. 


The impulse to root in and reach out are strong. Moving from the core. Instinctual, radiant, heart centred magic sends messages to both worlds. 


The threshold of these two places propels the spirit of cacao to the edge to peer out further, to reach in deeper, to dream wilder. These are the moments where wild courage takes over…


Deep in the belly of the earthen womb far below our feet the courageous roots coil through earth weaving textures and patterns to connect and bind with the under worldly realm.  


Simultaneously yearning reaching beyond the edge of darkness and graciously into the light. 




To fly is to know nothing is as it seems.


The cacao seed spreads its wings down and out. A primordial memory shaped in enchantment. 


Tap root reaching down twisting and weaving working in silence. 


The wings of connection extend out as a bridge being braided moving under and above as a conduit between worlds.  


Cacao’s great weaving connecting land and sky into its source of love invoking heart medicine journeys of possibility waiting to be found, embracing us with sloping arches of rainbow colour.



If we look close we see our own lives, like Cacao, being woven deeply inward and outward, giving and receiving, spreading wings rising and falling, as each of us are woven deeply within life’s dreaming.



This picture symbolises the strong connection between heaven and earth. A strong vertical axis filled with of circulating energy.


A nourishing home offered by Mother Earth – providing important nutrients as well as the energy and memory of the Earth. The taproot growing down deep into the ground, connecting with the wisdom of the Earth. The plant takes a firm hold and grows roots. A grounding and calming energy full of strength.


The sky and the cosmos point towards infinity. A cosmic knowledge that is transmitted to the Cacao plant. Protected by the jungle. The plants also represent the rich diversity of the jungle as well as pure life. A vibrant, light and airy energy.


For me, the picture also symbolises the possible effects of Cacao. Her energy can be light and playful. Or she can enter the body as a grounding, strengthening and balancing energy, for example.



Have you ever thought about growing a Cacao Tree at home? I have. 



In 2014 I had a source to fresh Cacao pods from Ecuador. It was such a treat to being able to eat fresh Cacao in Berlin city and at the same time study the unique properties of fresh Cacao.  People who came to visit often had the chance to try the fresh rather bitter seeds surrounded by a sweet and delicate pulp and thus get in touch with the origins of the sacred Cacao seed.


When the pods arrived there were hardly ripe. I needed to wait and feel into the right moment. To find out if a Cacao pod is ripe you press the pod gently and may feel a minimal space between the seeds and the shell. Depending on the variety this space may be smaller or a bit larger. But you can feel when the Cacao pod is ready, especially if you had pressed on a pod not ready before.


I loved sharing the Cacao magic with everyone who crossed my path. I was in Cacao heaven, I loved opening the pod and studying the bean in all its different stages. Sometimes the pulp was very white and consistent. Sometimes the pulp was more transparent and even more delicate. But always sweet. Sucking the sweet pulp you will eventually meet the naked bean. Spill it out and you'll see a unique structure on its skin, fine lines on its surface, geometry, patterns that remind  of organs such as the heart, the brain or the kidney. Sometimes a fresh seed was dark brown, sometimes pink or whitish in colour. 


Once I had a Cacao pod that was overly ripe. The seeds had started to sprout. Until then I had never thought about growing a Cacao tree, perhaps because this little yet important information was missing in Cacao Mama's world. There are foods that begin to live when placing in water - from sunflower seeds to lentils you can activate these foods and awaken them to life. After one or two days they start to sprout and turn into a living food. You cannot do this with Cacao. It came to me that you actually need fresh Cacao to grow a Cacao tree. 


So I prepared the ground. I read that you cover the seeds with little soil, as if the seed falls on the forest floor. It was in April 2014 in Berlin when I placed 19 sprouts inside the earth.


I arranged little nests of soil and placed the cacao seedling with the little white sprout towards heaven, towards the sky. Imagining that this will be the green part of the plant. I didn't realise that I planted it - upside down. What I was seeing was the root.


Cacao grows a deep tap roots first.



I watched and waited but none of my seedlings survived. I  hadn't enough material to start all over again and see where I had failed to improve. I had to admit that living in Berlin city wasn't the tropical environment supporting Cacao to grow.


Only later, when I traveled to Bali, I came across the incredibly magic way in which Cacao grows. From the seed both the roots as the plant grow in two directions - almost at the same time. The bean is the power house nourishing the newly growing Cacao baby until the little seedling is ready to shed its skin and continue its journey into the earth and towards the sky. 



IllustrationS by MARLEN MATTHÄUS


Plant a Cacao tree and help setting up an entire forest. Our initial goal is to secure 450 guardianships and beginning with the Spring Equinox 2022 nurse, establish and plant 1 hectare of Cacao forestry ecosystem with a total of 1,111 Cacao trees, 1,000 plantains and 130 oak trees that serve as mother shade trees to the Cacao. This is gonna be an exciting journey and you are invited to be part of every step from seed to Cacao tree. 


Within five years we intend to help planting altogether 11,110 Cacao trees, 10,000 plantains and 1,300 oak trees adding up to 12,410 trees on 10 hectares of land. It is our intention to seed - with every planted tree - blessings, consciousness and an environment that allows us to put our hands into the soil and feel deepest kinship with the natural world.






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