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The New Vanillery has been Built and Planted

We’ve been work­ing on get­ting this new vanillery (locat­ed on the north­west cor­ner of our prop­er­ty) built for a cou­ple of years now. This bit of land was not in use, and sev­er­al very large “weed” trees were in the way and need­ed to be removed. No point in plant­i­ng under a tree you’re going to cut down, so we had to wait until we had the help we need­ed to get the trees down. The sto­ry of get­ting rid of those trees is long and con­vo­lut­ed, it took sev­er­al tries to get the job done…but thanks to lots of able help (maha­lo: Jonathan, Tim, Christopher, Freddy) and sheer per­se­ver­ance, we got it done.

Once the trees were cleared, we need­ed to deter­mine where the vanillery would go and how big it would be. After tak­ing some mea­sure­ments, we found the new vanillery was going to be 30′ x 30′ mak­ing it 1 1/2 times as big as the first vanillery. We still had some plan­ning to do, though: we want­ed to avoid some of the mis­takes we made the first time, and design it so that it would be eas­i­er to work in. Our cur­rent vanillery end­ed up hav­ing so much lush growth that it is dif­fi­cult to move around in there.

The new vanil­ery will built with bam­boo columns instead of trel­lis­es. The trel­lis­es gave us a lot of room for the plants, but not enough room for peo­ple! With the trel­lis­es, you have to walk all the way around the row to get to the next row…which is some­thing you need to do a lot. Building it on columns will allow peo­ple to walk around each plant, mak­ing it a lot eas­i­er to main­tain the vines. 

The columns also have the advan­tage of being stronger: anoth­er of the lessons we learned is that vanil­la plants are very heavy and some of our trel­lis­es snapped under the strain after 3 or 4 years of abun­dant growth had built up. Columns can sup­port a lot more weight, even after the bam­boo has weak­ened with age. When a bam­boo post gets too degrad­ed, we replace it with a new one, and this is much eas­i­er to do with a col­umn than a hor­i­zon­tal support.

Planting the Vanilla Cuttings

So, giv­en the kinds of ques­tions I’ve been get­ting from vis­i­tors to this site, many of you will be inter­est­ed to learn how vanil­la can be propagated. 

image of a vanilla cutting on a bamboo column
The vanil­la cut­ting is tied to the bam­boo with a leaf

First, you need about 3–5 feet of the grow­ing tip of the vine. It needs to be the grow­ing tip so that you are using young vig­or­ous vine for your start. The first 6–10 inch­es of the grow­ing tip are snapped off, and then start­ing at the base of the cut­ting, most of the leaves are removed. Then the cut­ting is allowed to dry out for a few days so all the parts that were cut can scab up and be pro­tect­ed from rot­ting. Vanilla has a lot of water stored in its stem, so it can be per­fect­ly viable for a long time after get­ting cut off the main plant.

Next, you pre­pare where the cut­tings are going to be plant­ed. At the base of each col­umn, we cleared a 3′ diam­e­ter cir­cle. Sheet mulched it with clean card­board (to pre­vent any weeds in the soil from sprout­ing up) and then on top of that, well com­post­ed wood chips. We give these chips a few amend­ments, Korean Natural Farming style, and then on top of that some heavy mulch like tree branch­es and leaves. They can stay like that for a long time while you’re get­ting your cut­tings ready.

Once the cut­tings are ready to go, we move the heavy mulch off of the wood chips, then lay down the cut­ting. The tip goes on the col­umn, and the rest of it goes on the ground. It does not get buried in the soil…vanilla does not grow into the soil at all. After the vine is in place, we mulch it with some­thing pro­tec­tive, yet not so dense as to smoth­er the vines. Green leafy mat­ter is good for this: it’s mois­ture retain­ing, pro­tec­tive from the sun, and fluffy enough to allow some air around the vines. Orchids like air…in fact they live off the air alone! So, when we’re encour­ag­ing growth, we make sure the vines are not smoth­ered and there is some air around the part of the vines that are going to pro­duce roots.

When the vine starts to grow, what will hap­pen first is roots will grow out of the nodes, then if things are going well, a new vine will sprout out of one of the nodes that is exposed to the light. This whole process can take a lit­tle as a month, but 2 months is not unusu­al. Once 3 to 4 months has rolled around, you’ll have new vines creep­ing up all your columns. Three years after that…your first harvest.

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Building a Vanilla Sweat Box

This arti­cle is an addi­tion to the 2‑part How to Cure Vanilla Beans article. 

A crit­i­cal stage in the cur­ing of vanil­la is the “sweat,” where the enzy­mat­ic process that devel­ops the vanillin takes place. The sweat box cre­ates an envi­ron­ment that holds the beans at the opti­mal tem­per­a­ture for this process.

In the How to Cure Vanilla Beans arti­cle, I describe how to put togeth­er an ad hoc sweat box using a cool­er and hot water bot­tles. In this arti­cle, I will describe how I built the elec­tri­cal­ly heat­ed sweat box used to han­dle larg­er quan­ti­ties of vanil­la pods.

Continue read­ing Building a Vanilla Sweat Box
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How to Cure Vanilla Beans, Part 1

I occa­sion­al­ly get ques­tions from peo­ple who are grow­ing their own vanil­la and want to know the best way to cure the beans. Getting a good cure out of your beans can be a lit­tle chal­leng­ing, but hope­ful­ly, this guide will make it easier.

It is essen­tial that vanil­la be prop­er­ly cured in order to obtain the desired aro­ma and fla­vor from your vanil­la beans. The process of cur­ing vanil­la beans is a mat­ter of sup­port­ing both the vanillin devel­op­ment and the slow dry­ing of the bean in order to pre­serve it.

Continue read­ing How to Cure Vanilla Beans, Part 1
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The Amazon Vanilla Project

Peruvian vanil­la grow­er Ashley Britton has launched a project to bring vanil­la pro­duc­tion to the Peruvian Amazon to ben­e­fit the indige­nous Awajun people.

Vanilla pom­pona has been wild­craft­ed in this part of the Amazon for a long time for local use, but with glob­al demand for real vanil­la grow­ing, this is a good time to estab­lish vanil­la pom­pona as an export prod­uct. The region suf­fered a set­back in its abil­i­ty to pro­vide a cash income when the cacao was reject­ed for too high a cad­mi­um con­tent. Ashley hopes that vanil­la, specif­i­cal­ly vanil­la extract, can sup­plant the lost cacao income.

Continue read­ing The Amazon Vanilla Project
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Pompona Vanilla from Peru

A cou­ple of months ago, I received an email from a a fel­low vanil­la grow­er in Peru named Ashley Britton. We have been exchang­ing knowl­edge and expe­ri­ences since then, and it has expand­ed my think­ing about what vanil­la is and how it can be grown.

Ashley is grow­ing vanil­la in the moun­tain­ous rain for­est region of San Martín in Northern Peru. In that area, the vanil­la orchid that is found grow­ing wild is vanil­la pom­pona, a species of vanil­la that ranges from south­ern Mexico through north­ern South America. That rep­re­sents rough­ly the same range as vanil­la plan­i­fo­lia, the main species for agri­cul­ture, which we grow here on Kauai. San Martín is known for its orchids, and they are fea­tured in the tourism of the area as well as pro­vid­ing a local agri­cul­tur­al product.

Pompona vanil­la was the first vanil­la to be record­ed by west­ern­ers and export­ed as a fla­vor­ing. It was grown com­mer­cial­ly, but was even­tu­al­ly sup­plant­ed with vanil­la plan­i­fo­lia because the lat­ter got bet­ter yields in a plan­ta­tion set­ting. Pompona vanil­la remains a wide­ly used fla­vor­ing in the regions where it grows nat­u­ral­ly: Peru and parts of south­ern Mexico. These days, it is almost com­plete­ly unknown out­side of these areas.

Continue read­ing Pompona Vanilla from Peru