Cocoa beans grow on a tree called Theobroma cacao and are the base ingredient for making chocolate. The relatively small tree is native to the tropical regions of Central and South America and it thrives in moist, shady areas of the rain forest. If you live below 1,000 feet in elevation in a tropical region (USDA climate zone 10 or 11), you can grow your own chocolate. This tree requires temperatures that never drop below the upper 50's Fahrenheit, and thrives best when it receives up to 100 inches of rain a year.
Test your soil in the shady area where you plan to plant your cacao tree and adjust the pH if it is not acidic. To make your soil more acidic, add sulfur to lower the pH to around 5.0.
Dig any type of compost into your planting area and then plant your young cacao tree under a coconut palm, a stand of bananas or other tree(s) that will provide shade. If you live in a windy area, provide some protection from wind, either by planting your cacao tree behind larger trees that will protect it or by building a windbreak.
Fertilize your tree when you plant it by spreading a granular fertilizer with an N-P-K ratio of 12-12-17 or 15-15-6 on the soil in a radius about 1 foot from the trunk. Use the same fertilizer the second year, but apply it about 2 feet from the trunk. As the tree grows larger, apply fertilizer about 3 feet from the trunk once a year. Mature trees might occasionally need boron and zinc as well.
Watch for fungal diseases, such as frosty pod rot; insects such as the cocoa pod borer; and some rodents that can attack cacao trees. Harvest pods regularly and completely to help control the borer insect. Chemical control with a broad-spectrum insecticide has been reported to be effective. Treat fungal diseases with an approved fungicide.
Harvest the large pods when they become red or purple to ensure ripeness of the beans inside.
Prune your cacao tree to keep it a manageable size, which will make harvesting the cocoa beans easier. The tree can reach 45 feet tall in the wild.