Cocoa trees grow in the cocoa belt, 5-7 degrees North and South of the equator, in hot humid and shaded areas. Left un-kept these trees can reach about 10 meters high. I have called the cocoa trees at La Granja bonsai cacao as every tree on this 20 hectare estate is pruned 3-4 times a year to a max of 2- 2.5 metres high. This is a time consuming pre-requisite for good agricultural practices. Without pruning the trees, it is impossible to identify early signs of diseases, to pollinate by hand and to graft effectively. This morning I headed into the thick forest of cocoa trees with my teacher, armed with a pair of shears and a rustic bamboo ladder.
My fingers aren't green. When I think of pruning, I think of well put together Women institute ladies with frilly aprons tending to rose bushes with white gloves. And that surely ain't me.  Im a Louboutin-stiletto-NYC-witty- conversation girl who is not very domesticated. No plant has survived in my house for more than a couple of weeks, mostly because my cat called Pink eats them. Although I am blessed with a large garden in the Kent country side, I barely set foot in it. My neighbour, out of a passion for gardening or shame for the state of my garden, is having green fingers for me. So needless to say I was a little nervous looking after grown cacao trees.
I first observed my teacher. He stopped by a tree and looked at it for a long time before hacking into it with intent. We are not talking about mini branches with a few leaves. He chopped massive pieces of the tree leaving them to rot on the floor of the plantation. But when he did so, he chose them carefully. He picked the unruly ones, the ones that were pulling the tree up but had lower healthy branches and he cut them just after the lower junctions. My tree was next. I pointed to the branches I thought ought to be cut and my teacher nodded yes or no. When it was a no, he pointed to the one I should have chosen. This was a bit more complex than I thought it would be. It felt like a Buddhist class. I had to sense which tree to cut  and do that surrounded by thick foliage with a rich biodiversity of all things living, crawling, buzzing and jumping around me. Thankfully I wore a cap the whole time as I felt at times a curtain of creepy crawlies falling down on me.  Tree by tree I continued to look, cut, look back, cut, look up, cut, look left, cut, look right and cut some more. By then I had progressed from hand shears to an extended pole fitted with very sharp blades and a make shift rope to manipulate them. In the thick foliage, with my iPod on meditation music, I lost myself totally and felt like Anne Scissorhands transforming an wild tree into a bonsai chef d’oeuvre and was gratified by a periodic “mucho bueno” from my teacher. And you know what? The most amazing part is that I loved it. I won’t do the frilly apon and rose bush any time soon but give me a jungle and a pole and I'm in!
  What I did not yet realise is that the jungle loved me back. The next morning I woke up literally covered up to my knees and elbows in mosquito bites. Turn out the little buggers who cannot be seen to the naked eye live in these trees and they did not appreciate me rearranging their furniture by pruning. Well on the positive side, it should keep me out of trouble on the dating side for a while!
Have a great green and mosquito free week
Miss Anne x

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