Lisa and I had an incredible day of pollinating yesterday! We’re pretty sure we’ve never had so many flowers going off before. She and I pollinated 682 flowers, taking us nearly 2 hours to complete the day’s pollination.
Vanilla Flowering Variability
The number of flowers we get each year varies a lot. Like any farmer, we’ve got theories and some experience to explain the variability in the flowering of the vines.
The 2017 flowering season was big: we had many days of over 100 flowers getting pollinated, and several that approached yesterday’s totals.
The 2018 flowering season (the beans from which we are curing now) was much smaller, and at this point it looks like the crop will be a bit more than half of what we got the previous year.
The winter and spring of 2018 was stormy and wet, and the lead theory is that the cloudy, wet weather not only suppressed budding and flowering, but also affected pollination rates. We saw a lot of failed pollination that year and it’s possible the constant wetness may have interfered with what is normally a pretty sure-fire operation (90% success is typical).
This Year’s Differences
This winter/spring is by contrast much drier and sunnier, but there are other factors in play this year that may have increased the number of flowers we got.
First, this year we have Freddy, a new helper on the land, who has a knowledge of Korean Natural Farming (among many other things). He has been applying compost teas and other preparations, and the effect on everything we are growing here has been profound. Freddy is our new secret weapon, a man who is passionate about plants and hot sauce. He fits right in.
Second, I learned that vanilla farmers will often do a major prune of the new growing tips just before the first buds appear in order to stimulate bud growth. It’s not uncommon to apply a little stress to some plants to encourage flowering. It’s maybe a little voodoo, but I tried it and I certainly can’t say it hurt the production of flower buds!
So, it looks like we are in for a big year for the 2020 harvest!