Cocoa bean Shell mulch

FDA Declares Chocolate a Vegetable

Redesigns Food Plate Guidelines

April 1, 2017

The FDA in conjunction with the USDA, unveiled the newest Food Plate guidelines in a White House press conference earlier today. The change comes with a tasty addition: chocolate. Citing 401 independent studies on the compounds of chocolate, the newly appointed FDA Commissioner, nominated under President Trump, declared chocolate has met the federal guidelines for being a vegetable.

The news is of no surprise for chocolate professionals, chefs and restaurant owners, all of whom were tipped off days ahead of the press conference so they may begin to make plans for the big change to their nutrition labels and in house menus.

With new nutrition label requirements regarding fats, sugars and calories slated to be fully effective in 2018, another new requirement will be added to the latest regulations. In addition to the new Food Plate guidelines, nutrition labels will also need to include a line that clearly states if the product meets the FDA minimum requirements for chocolate consumption. The minimum guidelines have been changed to a minimum of 2% cocoa powder, paste or cocoa beans. Any product not meeting the minimum will need to add a sentence stating, “This product is not a significant source of chocolate.”

White chocolate lovers received a setback with the new regulations. The FDA made clear today that the presence of only cocoa butter without cocoa paste will not be classified as a vegetable; therefore, products featuring only cocoa butter will not meet the 2% minimum.

Restaurant owners in NYC have already begun revamping their menus to include squares of dark chocolate as a side dish to their entrees. The Killer Bee in Tribeca, known for their honey glazed pork loin with collard greens, will be adding shaved chocolate to both their cooked greens and house salads. Fool’s Gold in Manhattan’s Upper East Side is eliminating Brussels sprouts entirely to make room for their newest creation, chocolate fries with a crumbled Feta topping.

This latest news has mobilized coffee advocacy groups. A march on Washington, organized by Coffee Beans of America, is set for May 1 to protest the inclusion of cocoa beans in the government guidelines, without regard to coffee beans. The group argues that both beans grow on trees in hot climates and therefore both should be included in the newest federal guidelines. Coffee Beans of America intends to take their appeal all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.

The FDA advises Americans to begin adding more chocolate to their diet in modest amounts throughout the day, but should consult their physicians before making major changes to their diet or exercise plans.

We hope you enjoyed Part 1 of our Chocolate Origin blog series, ‘Before It Becomes Chocolate, There’s a Tree’. Now we want to take you through the steps to get from the cacao pod to the chocolate we know and love:

Harvesting

A cacao pod will begin to ripen 5-6 months after it flowers.

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Each pod contains beans, the seeds of the fruit that are shaped like a flat almond, surrounded by a sweet pulp. There are roughly 30-50 beans in a typical pod.

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These beans are what ultimately get transformed into cocoa powder or chocolate. Once the pods are ripe, they are cut down from the trees, typically with machetes or, for the higher pods, using long poles with a cutting edge. Though pods can be harvested year round there are two major harvest times: the main harvest and the mid-harvest, which falls about six months after the main harvest. Once on the ground, the pods are graded for quality and placed into piles. The pods are then opened with a machete or a wooden club by cracking the pod so that it can be split in half. The beans and pulp are scooped out quickly and either heaped in a pile on mats or banana leaves and covered, or put into a bin or box with a lid.

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When they are first removed from the pod, the beans have a white, mucus-like coating around each bean. It is sweet and yet tart. It’s a bit like a very sweet lemon and is incredibly refreshing on a hot tropical day.

Fermenting

The beans must be carefully fermented to bring out the very best flavors. Fermentation also removes tannins, which cause the astringent flavor in chocolate and making it more enjoyable for most palates. Fermentation is essential to the development of a high quality cacao bean that will be transformed into gourmet chocolate. Fermentation times from five to seven days are typical. When the fermentation is complete, the cocoa beans must be removed from the boxes or from under the banana leaves and carefully dried.

Drying

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Cocoa beans are dried after fermentation in order to reduce the moisture content from about 60% to about 7.5%. Drying must be carried out carefully to ensure that off-flavors are not developed.

Cacao beans are often dried in the sun, which can happen on tarps, mats, or patios. They are continually raked so that they will dry more evenly. The drying process can take up to a week. Artificial drying may be resorted to in countries where there is a lack of pronounced dry periods after harvesting and fermentation, such as Brazil, Ecuador and in South East Asia and sometimes in West Africa. Once dried, cacao beans can be stored for 4-5 years.

Roasting & Winnowing

When the dried cacao beans arrive at the processing plant they are first cleaned to remove any debris. Next, to bring out the chocolate flavor and color, the beans are roasted. The temperature, time and degree of moisture involved in roasting depend on the type of beans used and the sort of chocolate or product required from the process.

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When people think about chocolate making, they often overlook one important step—the winnowing process. Each cocoa bean is surrounded by a fibrous husk. When the cocoa pod is on the tree, this husk serves to protect the interior of the bean from animals that may break into the pods to eat the sweet pulp that surrounds each bean. When moist, this husk is soft and pliable, but once dry, the husk forms an almost impenetrable barrier—and one that must be removed in order to make a smooth chocolate at peak flavor. Once roasted, the beans are poured into a winnowing machine, where they’re cracked open and separated through a vacuum-powered wind vortex.

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Grinding & Conching

After winnowing, the cocoa nibs are ground with stone rollers until they become a paste known as cocoa mass or cocoa liquor. Despite the name, chocolate liquor has absolutely no alcoholic content.

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This pure, unrefined form of chocolate contains both cocoa solids (the chocolatey part!) and cocoa butter (the natural fat present in the bean). Cocoa butter can be extracted from the cocoa mass with a hydraulic press. This is useful because most chocolate makers often use extra cocoa butter to give their chocolate a smoother, glossier texture. Some confectionery manufacturers replace this extra cocoa butter with cheaper vegetable fats, and this is something you should look out for on the ingredients and try to avoid. The only fat in real chocolate is cocoa butter.

The cocoa mass is then transferred to a separate machine called a conch, where it is further refined. Many modern artisans combine the grinding and conching into a single process using a machine called a melanger. This is simply a large metal cylinder with two rotating granite wheels that grind and refine the chocolate into very small particles. It’s during this process that sugar, milk powder (for milk chocolate) and other flavourings are added to the chocolate. The conching process can take anything from a few hours to a few days and affects the chemical structure of the chocolate, as well as the particle size. This part of the process has a very big impact on the flavour notes in the finished chocolate, and deciding exactly how long to conch for is part of the chocolate maker’s skill.

Tempering & Molding

Chocolate should have a shiny finish and a good “snap” (when you break a piece!) These characteristics are created by tempering the chocolate. The tempering process is the raising and lowering of the temperature of the chocolate to form the perfect kind of crystals. If you were to let untempered chocolate cool naturally, it would be soft and crumbly and would not melt evenly on the tongue. Tempering can be done by hand, but to make the process more efficient, most chocolate makers use tempering machines that can heat large amounts of chocolate very accurately.

The final step in making a finished chocolate bar is pouring it into a mold. The melted chocolate is simply poured into plastic bar-shaped molds and agitated to remove any air bubbles. Larger chocolate makers will have machines and conveyors that deposit exactly the right amount of chocolate into each mold, but many smaller manufacturers still do this part by hand.

Tasting

Take a chocolate tour around the world with our new single origin solid chocolate bars. We’ve created a tasting sampler to compare flavors from different chocolate producing countries.

Milk Chocolate Single Origin Tasting Bars
Peru, Dominican Republic, Madagascar

Dark Chocolate Single Origin Tasting Bars
Ghana, Venezuela, Mexico

Sources: Amano Blog, Equal Exchange, International Cocoa Organization, Cocoa Runners

Contents

Mulch Materials

Hardwood

Photo by John Taylor

Made of shredded bark from hardwood trees such as maples and oaks, this sturdy mulch compacts over time so it resists blowing or washing away. Because of its staying power, hardwood mulch is ideal for sloped beds and gardens in wet climates.

Earthgro Hardwood Mulch, also at The Home Depot in selected stores, $2.59 per bag (2 cu. ft.).

Pine Bark Nuggets

Photo by John Taylor

These reddish-brown chunks of pine bark give your garden a neat, natural look. They break down more slowly than shredded materials, so they don’t need to be replenished as often. Nuggets, which can be as large as 3 inches long, work best in flat beds, where they won’t float away during a heavy rain.

Earthgro Pine Bark Nuggets, also at The Home Depot in selected stores, $2.99 per bag (2 cu. ft.).

Pine Needles

Photo by John Taylor

Also known as pine straw, long-leaf pine needles work best around acid-loving trees, shrubs, and perennials, such as Japanese maples, witch hazel, and delphiniums. The reddish-brown strands look especially natural on wooded properties. To get the most coverage, gently fluff the straw during application.

Pine needles, from thepinestrawstore.com, $69.99 per box (200 sq. ft.).

Cedar Chips

Photo by Hamilton Hedrick

These large golden-brown pieces of cedar—up to 4 inches long—have a lot of ornamental appeal and take much longer to decompose than shredded material. The cedar chips’ natural oil gives them a clean, fresh scent and deters common insect pests. Fresh cedar can rob nitrogen from soil, so be sure to use aged chips in your garden. Because cedar chips lose color fast, you may be tempted to layer them on, but as with most mulches, don’t go above a 3-inch layer.

Atlantic Horticulture Cedar Chips, also at The Home Depot, $3.78 per bag (2 cu. ft.).

Photo by John Taylor

Use wheat straw to keep vegetable gardens neat in the summer and to insulate them against the cold in the winter (when as much as a 6-inch-deep layer is a good idea). Because it contains much fewer weed seeds, straw is a better mulch than its close relative, hay. As it breaks down, straw reduces soil’s nitrogen level, so be sure to apply a nitrogen-rich fertilizer. This mulch decomposes rapidly, but is easy to obtain—you can find it at farm supply stores.

Wheat straw, from Quail Country Farms, $2.25 per bale.

Cocoa Hulls

Photo by John Taylor

Finely textured and uniform in appearance, lightweight cocoa hulls—the shells of cocoa beans— release a chocolatey scent as they decompose. Their rich brown hue darkens with age, adding contrast to your plantings. In humid climates, a harmless mold may form on the hulls. To prevent it, layer the shells no more than 1- to 1 1/2-inches thick. Be sure to look for varieties without theobromine, which can be harmful to dogs and other animals.

Blommer Cocoa Shell Mulch, from National Cocoa Shell, $5.99 per bag (2 cu. ft.).

Much in a Mulch

Photo by John Taylor

Help a beloved gardener go easy on the planet and discourage garden pests; put some tree under the tree. Eucalyptus mulch comes from a renewable resource—a fast-growing tree species found in the southeastern part of the country. The natural oils in eucalyptus mulch also emit a pleasant scent that keeps plant-chomping bugs at bay.

$3.98 per bag (2 cu.ft.); Aaction Eucalyptus Mulch, from Lowes.

Melaleuca

Photo by John Taylor

A layer of melaleuca mulch can help save the environment—and discourage termites. Melaleuca is an exotic tree species that has overtaken Florida wetlands, and to limit the problem, environmentalists have encouraged grinding the invasive trees into mulch. A study at the University of Florida shows that melaleuca resists termites better than other wood mulches. This mulch is mainly sold in Florida.

FloriMulch, from Forestry Resources, Inc.; $2.79 per bag (2 cu. ft.).

Color-Enhanced Wood

Photo by John Taylor

In response to natural wood’s characteristic fading, manufacturers have created color-enhanced mulch, from rusty reds to chocolate browns to black. The wood is treated with plant-safe, water-soluble colorants, resulting in richer hues that won’t fade as fast. If colored mulch is made from recycled wood, make sure the wood has been screened for contaminants.

1. Scott’s Nature Scapes Classic Black Mulch, also at The Home Depot in selected stores, $4.69 per bag (2 cu. ft.).

2. Seaside Chocolate Brown Mulch, from Seaside Mulch, $33.99 per cu. yd.

3. Seaside Red Mulch, from Seaside Mulch, $33.99 per cu. yd.

Wool

Photo by John Taylor

A flexible mat that’s especially good for hanging baskets, biodegradable wool mulch, made from wool-manufacturing waste, keeps plants and soil properly hydrated. The fibers allow water to pass through, but absorb excess water to prevent root rot.

1. Ewe Mulch, from Appleseed Wool Corp., $180 per 5′ x 150′ roll.

2. Woolch, from Minnesota Lamb & Wool Producers, $79.95 per 5′ x 80′ roll.

Recycled Glass

Photo by John Taylor

Like stone aggregates, pieces of tumbled glass recycled from old bottles and jars, can be used for a natural-looking mulch with textural interest. Ranging in color from soft sea glass hues to rich jewel tones, this mulch can be used over landscape fabric, a synthetic fiber blanket, to thoroughly suppress weeds. Since glass can be a hassle to move, this mulch works best with established beds, such as foundation plantings. Also, be sure to apply it in areas where it won’t be tossed around by lawn equipment.

Sea Mix, from Bedrock Industries, $3.59 per pound.

Plastics

Photo by John Taylor

Studies show that plastic mulch sheeting, which warms soil as it reflects sunlight, may promote growth in seedlings and increase the yield of fruit and vegetable crops. The sheeting comes in several colors that reflect different amounts of light to benefit specific plants. For example, the light reflected by red plastic is said to boost tomatoes and strawberries, while green plastic is formulated to stimulate melon and cucumber growth. Silver plastic has been shown to repel pesky bugs. Because plastic mulch traps water around plants, it works best in cool temperatures.

1. Red Mulch, $7.95 per 4′ x 20′ sheet.

2. Green Mulch, $6.95 per 4′ x 20′ sheet.

3. Silver Mulch, $6.95 per 4′ x 20′ sheet.

all from Territorial Seed Company

Recycled Rubber

Photo by John Taylor

Low-maintenance rubber mulch, made from recycled tires, comes in a variety of vivid and natural colors. Because it doesn’t bio-degrade, it doesn’t need to be replaced after its initial application. And because it’s not porous, a 1 1/2-inch deep layer is sufficient. Rubber is heavier than wood, so it’s less likely to blow or wash away—a plus in wind-swept areas or on slopes.

1. Rubberific Mulch, from Rubberific of Texas, $10.95 per 16 lb. bag.

2 & 3. Arnold Palmer Rubber Mulch, from The Home Depot, $10.99 per bag (2 cu. ft.).

Synthetic Straw

Photo by John Taylor

Line sun-drenched beds with synthetic straw, made from recycled polypropylene. This durable mulch is treated with UV inhibitors to retain its earthy bronze hue for years. Occasionally fluffing the strands gives the straw a fuller appearance and lengthens its lifespan.

Textraw, from Textraw, Inc., $39 per 35 lb. roll (70 sq. ft.).

Buckwheat Hulls

Photo by Hamilton Hedrick

The outer layer of buckwheat seeds, these lightweight hulls—which measure just 1 millimeter in diameter—make for a finely textured, dark brown mulch that works especially well around rose bushes. It’s also recommended for use in smaller beds or container gardens, and should be applied in a layer no more than 1 ½ inches thick. To keep the tiny hulls from blowing away, sprinkle them lightly with water on a regular basis.

Buckwheat Hulls, from The Birkett Mills, $12.90 per bag (2 cu. ft.).


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Cocoa mulch and dogs

Cocoa mulch is a by-product of cocoa production. The dark brown mulch is aesthetically and aromatically pleasing, giving the garden a rich, chocolatey scent. Since theobromine, a naturally occurring compound in chocolate, is toxic to dogs, many dog owners are concerned about the safety of cocoa mulch around their pets.

According to an article published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVM June 1, 2006 p. 1644), cocoa bean husks can contain up to 2.98 percent theobromine. The JAVM article states that “no reports of lethal toxicosis from ingesting this mulch have been filed with the ASPCA Poison Control Center this year (2006). In 2004 and 2005, 16 reports of single exposure to the mulch were received, none resulting in death.”

The ASPCA posts this comment regarding cocoa mulch on its website:
“Dogs consuming enough cocoa bean shell mulch could potentially develop signs similar to that of chocolate poisoning, including vomiting and diarrhea. In cases where very large amounts of mulch have been consumed, muscle tremors and other, more serious neurological signs could occur. To date, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center has not received any cases involving animal deaths due to cocoa mulch ingestion. One key point to remember is that some dogs, particularly those with indiscriminate eating habits, can be attracted to any organic matter. Therefore, if you have a dog with such eating habits, it is important you do not leave him unsupervised or allow him into areas where such materials are being used.”

It should be noted that processed cocoa mulch may contain much lower concentrations, and some manufacturers market cocoa mulch that is pet safe. Consumers should look for products that are tested and certified theobromine free.

This warning about the potential danger to pets posed by cocoa mulch began appearing in our inbox in May 2003.

Example:

Cocoa Mulch, which is sold by Home Depot, Foreman’s Garden Supply and other Garden supply stores, contains a lethal ingredient called “Theobromine”.

It is lethal to dogs and cats. It smells like chocolate and it really attracts dogs. They will ingest this stuff and die. Several deaths already occurred in the last 2-3 weeks. Just a word of caution — check what you are using in your gardens and be aware of what your gardeners are using in your gardens.

Theobromine is the ingredient that is used to make all chocolate — especially dark or baker’s chocolate — which is toxic to dogs.

Cocoa bean shells contain potentially toxic quantities of theobromine, a xanthine compound similar in effects to caffeine and theophylline. A dog that ingested a lethal quantity of garden mulch made from cacao bean shells developed severe convulsions and died 17 hours later. Analysis of the stomach contents and the ingested cacao bean shells revealed the presence of lethal amounts of theobromine.

Although there is at least some truth to this one, the dangers it warns about are by now somewhat outdated and exaggerated: most dogs aren’t really interested in eating cocoa mulch, some brands of that product have been reformulated to reduce or eliminate the potentially dog-dangerous substance it contains (theobromine), and we know of only one substantiated case of a pet death caused by ingestion of the substance.

(In July 2007, “Moose,” a 3-year-old Labrador belonging to a Minneapolis couple, died after eating cocoa mulch purchased at a local store. His owners had a veterinarian at the University of Minnesota perform a necropsy to determine the likely cause of death of their young and previously healthy pet. The vet found cocoa shells in Moose’s stomach and evidence of theobromine in the shells.)

Cocoa mulch, made of cacao shells, is popular with gardeners and landscapers for a number of reasons: it has an aromatic scent, it repels garden pests, it retains moisture well, and it has a rich brown color that darkens (rather than fades) over time. However, veterinarians have warned pet owners that cacao shells also naturally contain theobromine, the same ingredient that makes chocolate toxic to dogs:

“Cocoa mulch is a risk, especially to dogs,” said Dr. Larry Family of Aqueduct Animal Hospital.

Found in most home garden centers, cocoa mulch is known for its fine texture and the sweet smell the fresh mulch gives off.

But getting past the scent, Family says cocoa mulch can be dangerous if a dog starts eating it. It contains two key ingredients found in chocolate: theobromine and caffeine. Similar to eating chocolate, he says a dog that eats just a few ounces of cocoa mulch could starting having stomach problems and it could get worse if it eats more.

“As time goes on they might act restless, excited, it can produce tremors and seriously seizures,” Family explained.

“Puppies are very curious animals. So they’re going to be attracted to various things around the yard and seems to be more severe in the small breeds, and it depends on the amount they actually ingest,” Family said.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) confirms the potential effects of theobromine and caffeine on dogs:

Cocoa beans contain the stimulants caffeine and theobromine. Dogs are highly sensitive to these chemicals, called methylxanthines. In dogs, low doses of methylxanthine can cause mild gastrointestinal upset (vomiting, diarrhea, and/or abdominal pain); higher doses can cause rapid heart rate, muscle tremors, seizures, and death.

Eaten by a 50-pound dog, about 2 ounces of cocoa bean mulch may cause gastrointestinal upset; about 4.5 ounces, increased heart rate; about 5.3 ounces, seizures; and over 9 ounces, death. (In contrast, a 50-pound dog can eat up to about 7.5 ounces of milk chocolate without gastrointestinal upset and up to about a pound of milk chocolate without increased heart rate.)

According to tables we’ve examined, cocoa mulch contains 300-1200 mg. of theobromine per ounce, making cocoa mulch one of the strongest concentrations of theobromine a pet is likely to encounter in any chocolate product. However, the question of the gravity of the risk presented by this type of gardening mulch remains a matter of debate. According to Hershey‘s, for example:

It is true that studies have shown that 50% of the dogs that eat Cocoa Mulch can suffer physical harm to a variety of degrees (depending on each individual dog). However, 98% of all dogs won’t eat it.

And some of those who vend cocoa mulch note that although they’re aware of the pet warnings, they’ve never encountered a case of a dog’s being sickened by the product:

“The weird thing is, it smells like a chocolate Pop Tart. That’s the best way I can describe it. It really does have a chocolate scent to it,” explained Shane Compton of Hewitt’s Garden Center.

Compton says cocoa mulch is not that popular at his store, but says it has its regular customers who every now and then wonder about the rumors they hear and the effect it has on man’s best friend.

“There’s always stories on the Internet, but in the 30 years we’ve been here we’ve actually never heard of any body’s dog getting sick,” Compton said.

Some manufacturers of cocoa mulch (such as the Cocoa Mulch brand) now proclaim that their products are theobromine-free and pet safe. Responsible pet owners should take care in their selection of cocoa mulch brands; some might prefer to choose another form of soil enhancement for their gardens, such as cedar-based products, rather than gamble their dogs won’t be attracted to or harmed by cocoa mulch.

(Although Home Depot is named as a vendor of cocoa mulch in the example cited at the head of this page, the company told us in May 2006 that: “The Home Depot does not and will not sell mulch harmful to pets. The mulch sold by The Home Depot containing cocoa shells goes through several cleaning processes, including a high heat system in order to strip the cocoa fat from the shells without the use of any chemicals.”)

The danger of canine theobromine poisoning does not begin and end with cocoa mulch, however: chocolate in any form poses substantial risks to some pets. This most beloved of foodstuffs contains theobromine and small amounts of caffeine, both of which can sicken and even kill cats and dogs.

Chocolate’s toxicity to animals is directly related to three factors: the type of chocolate, the size of the animal, and the amount of chocolate ingested. Unsweetened baking chocolate presents the greatest danger to pets because it contains the highest amount of theobromine, approximately 390-450 mg. per ounce. White chocolate contains the least. As a general rule of thumb, one ounce of milk chocolate per pound of body weight can be lethal for dogs and cats. (Milk chocolate contains approximately 44-66 mg of theobromine per ounce.)

Theobromine affects the heart, central nervous system, and kidneys, causing nausea and vomiting, restlessness, diarrhea, muscle tremors, and increased urination. Cardiac arrhythmia and seizures are symptoms of more advanced poisoning. Other than induced vomiting, vets have no treatment or antidote for theobromine poisoning. Death can occur in 12 to 24 hours.

This type of poisoning is uncommon because it is rare that a dog, even a small dog, will eat enough chocolate to cause anything more than an upset stomach. Yet it can happen, especially if the animal gets into baking chocolate or powdered cocoa, two forms of the sweet particularly loaded with theobromine.

Do not feed chocolate to dogs or cats. If you keep a pet, do not leave chocolate lying about lest your critter help himself to it and in so doing poison himself. If your animal begins exhibiting signs of distress and you believe he might have gotten into some chocolate, call your veterinarian immediately. (It will help if you can supply information about the approximate weight of your critter, what sort of chocolate was ingested — white, milk, dark, cocoa powder, baking — and roughly how much.) But time is of the essence if such a poisoning has indeed taken place, so make the call right away.

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COCOA MULCH WARNING – FACT OR FICTION?

THE EMAIL

The following email has been received by many of us in the past:

Please tell every dog or cat owner you know. Even if you don’t have a pet, please pass this to those who do.

Over the weekend, the doting owner of two young lab mixes purchased Cocoa Mulch from Target to use in their garden. The dogs loved the way it smelled and it was advertised to keep cats away from their garden. Their dog (Calypso) decided the mulch smelled good enough to eat and devoured a large helping. She vomited a few times which was typical when she eats something new but wasn’t acting lethargic in any way. The next day, Mom woke up and took Calypso out for her morning walk . Half way through the walk, she had a seizure and died instantly.

Although the mulch had NO warnings printed on the label, upon further investigation on the company’s website,

This product is HIGHLY toxic to dogs and cats.

Cocoa Mulch is manufactured by Hershey’s, and they claim that “It is true that studies have shown that 50% of the dogs that eat Cocoa Mulch can suffer physical harm to a variety of degrees (depending on each individual dog). However, 98% of all dogs won’t eat it.”

*Snopes site gives the following information: http://www.snopes.com/critters/crusader/cocoamulch.asp *

Cocoa Mulch, which is sold by Home Depot, Foreman’s Garden Supply and other Garden supply stores contains a lethal ingredient called ‘Theobromine’. It is lethal to dogs and cats. It smells like chocolate and it really attracts dogs. They will ingest this stuff and die. Several deaths already occurred in the last 2-3 weeks.

Theobromine is in all chocolate, especially dark or baker’s chocolate which is toxic to dogs. Cocoa bean shells contain potentially toxic quantities of theobromine, a xanthine compound similar in effects to caffeine and theophylline. A dog that ingested a lethal quantity of garden mulch made from cacao bean shells developed severe convulsions and died 17 hours later. Analysis of the stomach contents and the ingested cacao bean shells revealed the presence of lethal amounts of theobromine.

If you suspect your dog may have eaten cocoa mulch, the ASPCA recommends contacting your veterinarian immediately or calling the Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435 for expert advice.

IS IT TRUE?

From Snopes:

This warning about the potential danger to pets posed by cocoa mulch began appearing in our inbox in May 2003. Unlike the majority of scary alerts spread through the Internet, there is at least some truth to this one, although we know of only one substantiated case of a pet death caused by ingestion of the substance. (in July 2007, “Moose,” a 3-year-old Labrador belonging to a Minneapolis couple, died after eating cocoa mulch purchased at a local store. His owners had a veterinarian at the University of Minnesota perform a necropsy to determine the likely cause of death of their young and previously healthy pet. The vet found cocoa shells in Moose’s stomach and evidence of theobromine in the shells.)

Veterinarians have noted that cocoa mulch contains ingredients that could pose a health risk to dogs (and other pets that might be tempted to ingest it):

“Cocoa mulch is a risk, especially to dogs, ” said Dr. Larry Family of Aqueduct Animal Hospital. Found in most home garden centers, cocoa mulch is known for its fine texture and the sweet smell the fresh mulch gives off. But Getting past the scent, Family says cocoa mulch can be dangerous if a dog starts eating it. It contains two key ingredients found in chocolate: theobromine and caffeine. Similar to eating chocolate, he says a dog that eats just a few ounces of cocoa mulch could start having stomach problems and it could get worse if it eats more.

“As time goes on they might act restless, excited, it can produce tremors and serious seizures,” Family explained. ”Puppies are very curious animals. So they’re going to be attracted to various things around the yard and seems to be more severe in the small breeds, and it depends on the amount they actually ingest, Family said.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) confirms the potential effects of theobromine and caffeine on dogs:

Cocoa beans contain the stimulants caffeine and theobromine. Dogs are highly sensitive to these chemicals, called methylxanthine. In dogs, low doses of methylxanthine can cause mild gastrointestinal upset (vomiting, diarrhea, and/or abdominal pain); higher doses can cause rapid heart rate, muscle tremors, seizures, and death.

Eaten by a 50-pound dog, about 2 ounces of cocoa mulch may cause gastrointestinal upset; about 4.5 ounces, increased heart rate; about 5.3 ounces, seizures; and over 9 ounces, death. (In contrast, a 50-pound dog can eat up to about 7.5 ounces of milk chocolate without gastrointestinal upset and up to about a pound of milk chocolate without increased heart rate.)

According to tables we’ve examined, cocoa mulch contains 300-1200 mg. of theobromine per ounce, making cocoa mulch one of the strongest concentrations of theorbrmine a pet is likely to encounter in any chocolate product. However, the question of the gravity of the risk presented by this type of gardening mulch remains a matter of debate. According to Hershey’s, for example:

It is true that studies have shown that 50% of the dogs that eat Cocoa Mulch can suffer physical harm to a variety of degrees (depending on each individual dog). However, 98% of all dogs won’t eat it.

And some of those who vend cocoa mulch note that although they’re aware of the pet warnings, they’ve never encountered a case of a dog’s being sickened by the product:

“The weird thing is, it smells like a chocolate Pop Tart. That’s the best way I can describe it. It really does have a chocolate scent to it,” explained Shane Compton of Hewitt’s Garden Center.

Compton says cocoa mulch is not that popular at his store, but says it has its regular customers who every now and then wonder about the rumors they hear and the effect it has on man’s best friend.

“There’s always stories on the Internet, but in the 30 years we’ve been here we’ve actually never heard of any body’s dog getting sick,” Compton said.

Some manufacturers of cocoa mulch (such as the Cocoa Mulch brand) now proclaim that their products are theobromine-free and pet safe. Responsible pet owners should take care in their selection of cocoa mulch brands; some might prefer to choose another form of soil enhancement for their gardens, such as cedar-based products, rather than gamble their dogs won’t be attracted to or harmed by cocoa mulch.

(Although Home Depot is…a vendor of cocoa mulch…the company told us in May 2006 that: ”The Home Depot does not and will not sell mulch harmful to pets. The mulch sold by The Home Depot containing cocoa shells goes through several cleaning processes, including a high heat system in order to strip the cocoa fat from the shells without the use of any chemicals.”)

The danger of canine theobromine poisoning does not begin and end with cocoa mulch, however; chocolate in any form poses substantial risks to some pets. This most beloved of foodstuffs contains theobromine and small amounts of caffeine, both of which can sicken and even kill cats and dogs.

Chocolate’s toxicity to animals is directly related to three factors: the type of chocolate, the size of the animal, and the amount of chocolate ingested. Unsweetened baking chocolate presents the greatest danger to pets because it contains the highest amount of theobromine, approximately 390 – 450 mg. per ounce. White chocolate contains the least. As a general rule of thumb, one ounce of milk chocolate per pound of body weight can be lethal for dogs and cats (Milk chocolate contains approximately 44-66 mg of theobromine per ounce.)

Theobromine affects the heart, central nervous system, and kidneys, causing nausea and vomiting, restlessness, diarrhea, muscle tremors, and increased urination. Cardiac arrhythmia and seizures are symptoms of more advanced poisoning. Other than induced vomiting, vets have no treatment or antidote for theobromine poisoning. Death can occur in 12 to 24 hours.

This type of poisoning is uncommon because it is rare that a dog, even a small dog, will eat enough chocolate to cause anything more than an upset stomach. Yet it can happen, especially if the animal gets into baking chocolate or powered cocoa, two forms of the sweet particularly loaded with theobromine.

Do not feed chocolate to dogs or cats. If you keep a pet, do not leave chocolate lying about lest your critter help himself to it and in so doing poison himself. If your animal begins exhibiting signs of distress and you believe he might have gotten into some chocolate, call your veterinarian immediately. (It will help if you can supply information about the approximate weight of your critter, what sort of chocolate was ingested – white, milk, dark, cocoa powder, baking – and roughly how much.) But time is of the essence if such poisoning has indeed taken place, so make the call right away.

Last updated February 24, 2009

http://www.snopes.com/critters/crusader/cocoamulch.asp

From Doctors Foster and Smith, Pet Education.com

ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center Issues Update on Cocoa Bean Shell Mulch Fertilizer Warning

October 2003 News

Retrospective study confirms potential risks to dogs.

In response to increasing reports of dogs consuming cocoa bean shell mulch fertilizer, a retrospective examination of case data collected from January 2002 to April 2003 was conducted by the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) Animal Poison Control Center. The study concluded that dogs consuming cocoa bean shell mulch fertilizer may become ill, exhibiting signs consistent with methylxanthine toxicosis, which is similar to those seen with chocolate poisonings. The data suggests the most common signs that occurred following ingestion were vomiting and muscle tremors. Although it was not possible to quantify exact oral dosage amounts, the severity of clinical signs did appear to increase with the larger amounts anecdotally reported. “Since the updated data confirms that dogs can exhibit certain clinical effects after consuming cocoa bean shell mulch fertilizer, the ASPCA advises pet owners that they should avoid using this fertilizer around unsupervised dogs, and dogs with indiscriminate eating habits,” comments Dr. Steven Hansen, Senior Vice President of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center.

The retrospective study was presented at the September 2003 North American Congress of Clinical Toxicology. The study includes six cases of dogs ingesting cocoa bean shell mulch fertilizer that were received and managed by veterinarians at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center between January 2002 and April 2003. Of the total case data collected by the center, these six were selected for further study because the final outcome of the animal’s condition was known. There was a clear observation and/or evidence of ingestion and the managing veterinarian assessed the animals’ clinical signs as having a medium to high likelihood of being related to the cocoa bean shell mulch exposure. Within the selected cases, 50% reported vomiting, 33% involved muscle tremors (the amount ingested in these cases were described as “large” or “significant”) and 17% had elevated heart rates, hyperactivity, or diarrhea. In 33% of the cases no clinical signs developed. California was the state from which more than half the cases were reported.

Cocoa bean shells are a by-product of chocolate production, and are frequently sold and used for landscaping by homeowners. Some dogs appear to find the mulch attractive and ingest varying amounts. In general, while unprocessed cocoa beans, which come from the Theobroma cacao plant, contain approximately 1-4% theobromine and 0.07-0.36% caffeine, the theobromine content of processed cocoa bean shell mulch reportedly ranges from 0.19-2.98%. Dogs are known to be very sensitive to these chemicals, called methylxanthines.

If a dog has eaten cocoa bean mulch fertilizer it is important to immediately contact a veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435. Treatment will depend on how much cocoa bean mulch a dog has eaten, when the mulch was eaten, and whether the dog is sick. Recommended care may include placing your dog under veterinary observation, inducing vomiting, and/or controlling a rapid heartbeat or seizures.

http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=0+1275&aid=3004

ASPCA News Alert April 30, 2010

Pet Poison Alert: Cocoa Bean Mulch Can Be Toxic for Dogs

If your dog likes to spend sunny days lazing in the garden, his treat-seeking nose may lead him to one danger in particular: sweet-smelling but potentially harmful cocoa bean mulch.

Many gardeners are familiar with the use of cocoa bean shells, a by-product of chocolate production, in landscaping—it’s especially popular for its attractive odor and color and eventual degradation into organic fertilizer. But many pet parents don’t realize that cocoa mulch, if eaten in large quantities, can be toxic to their furry friends.

“Dogs are attracted to the fertilizer’s sweet smell,” says Dr. Steven Hansen, ASPCA Senior Vice President of Animal Health Services, “but like chocolate, cocoa bean mulch can be too much for our canine companions.”

Ingestion of large amounts of cocoa bean mulch, which contains residual amounts of theobromine—a methylxanthine found in chocolate and known to be toxic to dogs—may cause a variety of clinical signs. These typically start with vomiting, diarrhea and elevated heart rate, and if large amounts are consumed, they may progress to hyperactivity, muscle tremors and possibly other more serious neurological signs. Treatment includes administering medical-grade activated charcoal, bringing tremors under control with cardiac monitoring and preventing further exposure.

“We advise pet parents not to use cocoa mulch in areas where dogs can be exposed unobserved, particularly dogs who have indiscriminate eating habits,” says Dr. Hansen. He further recommends that pet parents consider using a nontoxic alternative, such as shredded pine, cedar or hemlock bark. These will keep your pooch—and your garden—happy and healthy.

If you suspect your dog has ingested cocoa bean mulch, please contact a veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435. For more potential garden and lawn pet hazards, check out our Guide to Pet-Safe Gardening.

http://www.aspca.org/news/national/04-30-10.html

Hershey – Pets and Candy

Cocoa Mulch

The Hershey Company does not manufacture or market cocoa mulch. However, we periodically receive questions concerning cocoa mulch and pets.

Cocoa mulch consists of cocoa bean shells. Although not a food or a food ingredient, cocoa mulch, like chocolate products, contains naturally occurring theobromine and caffeine. As previously mentioned, animals like dogs are often sensitive to the theobromine, which can lead to toxicity and even death in some animals.

Dogs and other animals are often attracted by the pleasant aroma from cocoa shell mulch. Because it can be harmful to animals if ingested, think carefully about where you choose to apply the mulch and supervise your pets. These steps can effectively eliminate the possibility of animal consumption in a quantity sufficient to cause adverse affects. If your pet has eaten cocoa shell mulch, immediately contact your veterinarian.

http://www.hersheys.com/nutrition/pets-candy.asp

The Home Depot – Fact Check

Is mulch sold at The Home Depot harmful to pets?

The Home Depot offers various mulch options for our customers. A few contain cocoa shells and are clearly labeled as cocoa mulch. Some believe this type of mulch may pose a risk to some animals if ingested. We have received no reports of pet illness from ingestion of this product. We provide countless alternatives for our customers in this category, and stand by the quality and safety of our mulch products for use in the garden and outside the home.

Cocoa shell mulch is also known as cocoa bean mulch, cocoa bean hull mulch and cocoa mulch. When cocoa beans are roasted, the shell separates from the bean. The roasting process sterilizes the shells so that they are weed free and organic. Many gardeners enjoy the sweet smell and attractive appearance of cocoa shell mulch.

Cocoa Mulch Benefits

There are several cocoa mulch benefits to using cocoa hulls in the garden. Organic cocoa mulch, which contains nitrogen, phosphate and potash and has a pH of 5.8, adds beneficial nutrients to the soil.

Using cocoa hulls in the garden is an excellent way to increase soil vitality and is an attractive top cover for both flower beds and vegetable patches.

Cocoa bean hulls also help retain moisture in garden beds and reduce weeds organically,

eliminating the need for chemical-laden herbicides.

Problems with Cocoa Bean Hulls

While cocoa bean hulls have many benefits, there are also a few downsides to using cocoa hulls in the garden and these should be taken into consideration prior to its use.

It’s crucial not to get the mulch overly wet. When cocoa shells are too wet and not allowed to dry out between watering, pests are attracted to the moist soil and mulch. If the soil under the mulch is moist to the touch, do not water.

In hot and humid climates, cocoa shell mulch may develop a harmless mold. However, a solution of 25 percent water and 75 percent white vinegar can be sprayed on the mold.

Is Cocoa Mulch Toxic to Dogs?

Is cocoa mulch toxic to dogs? This is one of the most common questions concerning cocoa hull beans, and no cocoa hull mulch information should fail to mention its potential toxicity to dogs. Dog owners need to beware when using cocoa shell mulch that the shells do contain varying amounts of two compounds that are toxic to dogs: caffeine and theobromine.

The sweet smell of the cocoa mulch is attractive to curious dogs and could be potentially dangerous. If you have animals that have access to mulched areas in your landscape, it’s wise to consider using another non-toxic mulch instead. If your dog accidentally ingests cocoa bean hulls, call your vet immediately.

Not All Mulch is Created Equal

People go to the ends of the world searching for the relaxation, delicious food, and family fun, which seems more like a dream vacation. You can enjoy the benefits of the aforementioned activities and a lot more with a simple backyard garden. It provides an opportunity to reconnect with nature and your loved ones, it’s about time that you grab a shovel and get out to your backyard.

It might be disappointing to see unwanted weeds sprouting next to your desired plants, which are unpleasant and drives the useful resources from the soil. It’s recommended that you make use of the best mulch to protect your plants from weeds, soil erosion, and pests. However, while it is not a requirement to have mulch, most gardeners use it for the healthy growth of plants.

Why do I need mulch?

Adding mulch to your garden is more than just making them look attractive, it goes beyond that from retaining the moisture in the soil to preventing soil erosion. You don’t have to worry about pulling out weeds regularly when you add the best mulch to your garden. Furthermore, mulch comes in handy to enhance the fertility of the soil, especially, when the soil’s fertility is poor.

It might be the best idea to cover a bare patch of soil with some mulch to protect the roots from extreme temperatures and fluctuation. It’s a given that you’ll be able to preserve a lot of water when you cover the soil with mulch or any other that can get the job done for you. Mulch is the best bet to invest in when it comes to trapping adequate heat for the healthy growth of the plants.

You might be in for a surprise to see a variety of mulches available in the market, choosing the right one for your yard can be quite challenging. It’s recommended that you check the list of mulches available and learn more about its pros and cons before choosing the best type.

Here’s a variety of mulches for you to choose from for your garden.

Shredded bark or wood chips

Shredded barks and wood chips might be similar in a lot of ways, however, shredded barks are just plain barks while wood chips are chopped branches. Sometimes, wood chips can also be small bits of plants which are a better choice than shredded bark considering their efficiency to hold water.

Shredded Bark Mulch

Wood Chip Mulch

Wood chips are the best for overly dry and wet areas, as they prevent water ponding and excess moisture. It can last from one to three years in most places, which enables you to create natural looking landscape beds in flood-prone areas, slopes, and woodland settings. Wood chips are inexpensive compared to the other mulches, most of these wood chips are derived from lumber and paper industries.

It’s suggested that you go for wood chips if you wish to go for organic gardening; make sure that the wood chips don’t contain any harmful additives. Dyed wood chips might look good with the vibrant colors, but thy might not be good for the healthy growth of the plants. It’s preferable to go for the natural wood chips over the dyed varieties, however, the vegetable-based dye might not be harmful like the artificial ones.

Grass Clippings

Grass clippings come in two types – the lush green grass clippings and the dried up brown ones. The green clippings are ideal for your yard to increase the nitrogen level, which might not be the case with dried clippings. You might be surprised to find more than 25% of the nutrients to be added back to the soil which is removed from the soil when the plants grow.

Grass clippings decompose within a matter of a few weeks, making them a perfect choice for vegetable gardens. However, it’s recommended that you make sure the grass clippings are free from any herbicides or pesticides. It’s suggested that you use a thin layer of grass clippings to avoid it from stinking and rotting as they decompose.

Straw

Straw mulch looks great with its beautiful golden color, which is one of the favorites among vegetable gardeners. It works well to hold moisture and add nitrogen to your soil which is helpful for the healthy growth of your garden. Straw comes in handy to keep the excess sunlight away from your plants and regulate the soil temperature.

Using straws might not be a good option when you have rodents, rabbits, and moles around your yard. You might have to deal with a lot of weed seeds when you choose a straw, it’s suggested that you go for straws which are free from weed seeds. Straws with a lot of weed seeds might make your garden full of weeds in the spring.

Cocoa Bean Hulls

Cocoa bean hull is a woody type of mulch with a rich brown color, which is made from cocoa beans shell. Cocoa beans are ideal to repel garden pests and retain moisture of the soil. It’s good in keeping the weeds away from your garden; cocoa beans will reduce or nullify the time spent weeding your garden. Cocoa mulches add nutrients to your soil when it decomposes and works like natural fertilizers.

Use of cocoa bean is much debated by a lot of people, there are an equal amount of people who use and avoid them. You might already know that chocolate has theobromine, which is toxic to cats and dogs. It’s suggested that you avoid using cocoa mulch or go for the ones that are heat-treated to prevent the harmful effects of cocoa beans when your pets are allowed in your garden.

Lava rock

Lava rocks are lighter than the traditional stones, they make your front yard look great with their eye-catching color. It’s ideal for places which require little or no maintenance as its edges are usually sharp which might affect your hands while gardening. However, lava rocks are a onetime investment which lasts longer than the organic mulches.

Lava rocks usually absorb the heat during the day and release them at night, making it a wonderful choice for the healthy growth of the plants. It might not be an onerous task to install the lava rocks in your garden or spend much on transportation for lava rocks which are lighter than other rocks. However, it might hinder the growth of the plants when you install them over weed barriers.

Newspaper

Sometimes the most complicated issues can be sorted out with simple solutions, newspapers are one such thing which can work like an effective mulch. Newspapers block out the most of the sun’s rays from reaching the soil, it works as an effective method to control the weeds from showing up. It’s recommended that you combine any mulch, like wood chips, to double the benefits of mulch.

Newspapers might turn out to be a bane to your plants when you use the colored inks ones or the shiny and heavily colored newspapers. It’s suggested that you use only black-inked newspapers which are usually made from the soybean-oil based substance which might do no harm to your plants and soil. Newspapers are readily available at every home which is less expensive compared to other mulch.

Landscape fabric

Landscape fabrics come in sheets which creates a barrier between the upper layer of your garden soil and the weeds. It allows your plants to have a sufficient amount of water and air to pass through while keeping the weeds miles away from your garden. It might be ideal mulch when you’re concerned about short term benefits for the growth of plants and avoid the weeds.

Landscape fabrics can be expensive and time-consuming, some even complain about the difficulty involved in transferring the plants with landscape fabric. You might be taking a huge risk if you go for landscape fabrics as they drive away the earthworms which are crucial for your plant’s healthy growth. Landscape fabrics are best for melon growers which require a lot of heat, it might be a bad investment for others.

Making the best mulch choice

You might end up disappointed if you wish to find mulch that’s perfect for every climate and soil. The choice of mulches depends on a lot of criteria, like your climate, plant, soil, pets, and others. Some mulches are available free of cost while some need to be purchased from the local shop. You should get your priorities straight before purchasing mulches for your garden.

It’s recommended that you analyze the different mulches available and make a wise choice of mulches for your garden. One man’s meat is another man’s poison, it’s preferable to be cautious about the mulches which might be harmful to pets, like cocoa mulch. Make the most of mulches to keep weeds away from your garden along with many other benefits.

Frequently Asked Questions

What mulch is best for a vegetable garden?

You might not be able to find a single mulch to fit every vegetable garden, the choice of mulch for your vegetable garden depends on the type of crops you grow. Black plastic mulches seems to be better mulch for vegetable gardens which has great benefits with little or no disappointments.

How often should I apply mulch?

The frequency of applying mulches depend on the type of mulch you use, some might require frequent changing while some might last for a lifetime. You might not have to think about mulches once you have put some lava rocks as mulch, while newspapers and other mulches need frequent replacement.

Which mulch repels insects?

Plastic mulches, cocoa bean shells, straws, and plastic mulches works well to repel most of the insects from your garden.

Which mulch lasts the longest?

Lava rocks when used as mulch for your garden last for a lifetime.

Where should I go to buy mulch?

Some mulches are readily available at your home like the newspapers, while some must be purchased from the store, like plastic mulches.

When is best time to apply mulch?

Timing plays a vital role in gardening, especially, mulching your garden. You might risk the healthy growth of plants when you mulch too early. The best time to put down some mulch would be mid to late spring.

Cocoa hull is an excellent mulch and an effective seasonal fertilizer.

Catching the eye and offering incredible agronomic properties, it is the perfect mulch for any garden plant and also on your decks and balcony.

Widely used by professional landscapers, cocoa hull is considered to be high-quality mulch.

Advantages of cocoa hulls

  • Remarkably ornamental, it decorates flower beds and garden boxes.
  • Fertilizer slowly releases to the soil.
  • Weed inhibitor.
  • Wind-proof after it has been watered once.
  • Root protection against frost.

Cocoa hulls highlight the beauty of your plants thanks to their rich chocolatey color.

  • It even smells like chocolate for over a month after spreading!

Its agronomic value and its low 5.7 pH level make it the best among the fertilizer mulches.

Using cocoa hulls

Before spreading your cocoa hulls, everything must be planted.

Spread a layer more or less 2 inches thick (4 to 5 cm) and water so that the husks stick together and merge to make a water-retaining, air-circulating and fertilizer-releasing protective layer.

A few days later, thin white velvety strands appear and signal that the mulch is doing its thing.

  • The cocoa mulch is slowly molding away, releasing its nutrients.

6 to 8 months later, mix the mulch up with the soil to fertilize it even more, and repeat the mulching every year.

Cocoa hulls and cats and dogs

Take note that cocoa hulls are extremely toxic for animals such as cats and dogs. Just like chocolate, they contain theobromine.

This substance can be poisonous for animals if ingested. Consulting a veterinarian is urgent if this happens.

Smart tip about cocoa hulls

You can also mix cocoa hulls into the earth or soil mix. This will help air circulate in the ground and will reinforce fertilization!

Read also

  • Protecting your plants against the cold with mulch
  • A great diversity of plant-based mulches
  • Various mineral mulches

Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Cocoa hull mulch by Florentaise

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