Not all cocoa trees are born equal. Some are fighters that deliver strength to every branch. Some are fertile and produce an abundance crop of pods. Some offer resistance to the mushrooms that claim up to 40% of the cacao crop every year. Others bear fruits with finer flavour beans.
On my second day at La Granja Luker I learnt the art of grafting. Grafting is a natural way of designing a tree for a future plentiful and healthy crop of fine cacao. Manuel was my teacher for this task. He is the king of grafting with an amazing 98% success rate.
First we selected the small branches that would be used to take the graft from. To my inexperience eyed, most rows of cacao trees looked the same. To his each row has a specific denomination and properties learnt from over 50 years of trial and error. Manuel picked a row of tree for their fine flavour and productivity. He demonstrated how to cut young branches about 20 cm long with as many little nods, potential future branches, on it as possible. Armed with about 20 of these branches, we made our way back to the nursery.
Manuel then demonstrated how to graft onto a 15 days old baby tree (see a short video of his craftsmanship on casa Luker facebook).  First with a sharp knife he cut off all the leaves but one. Then he carved a horizontal incision line about 5mm wide, about 1/3 up the stem of the baby tree. Then he carefully used the edge of his knife to peel the bark back by about 3cm. That was the easy part.
The difficult one was to make two horizontal and two vertical incisions around a nod of the donor plant and carefully remove a graft about 2mm deep. Manuel explained that he now had 20 seconds max to put the graft onto the exposed flesh of the receiving baby tree. Any longer and the graft would oxydise and die. He then wrapped a small piece of cling film to keep the donor and receiver pressed together, tied the plastic tight and proceeded with the next one.
When Manuel was grafting in front of me, it seemed straightforward: cut, peel, cut again, press and tie.Indeed he could do 900 of these away whilst chatting. My turn arrived. First attempt: I made an incision too deep in the receiver and almost cut its head. Second attempt: I was way too slow at removing the grafting piece from the branch as it would not come off.Third attempt: this time I cut the top part of the tree fully.Fourth attempt: I removed the graft successfully but let it drop on the floor which made it unsuitable.Fifth attempt: I handled the pot of the plant with both hands, making my right hand too dirty to handle the graft
This was starting to look like the operations game I used to play as a child. I could almost hear a buzzing noise each time I made a mistake. Grabbing the young plant with my left (small) hand was heavy. The best way I managed was to sit in a yoga position and wedge the tree between my crossed legs before I proceeded with the operation. Manuel watched me carefully, removing the few plants I had massacred and guided me. Within 30 minutes, I had got the hang of it and continued grafting to a very acceptable standard although time will tell how many of my designer cocoa trees have thrived.
Have an abundant week,
Miss Anne x