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It’s the Peak of the Vanilla Flowering Season

Lisa and I spent a good part of the morn­ing out in the vanillery pol­li­nat­ing the flow­ers. We’ve been out there every morn­ing for sev­er­al weeks already, but today was dif­fer­ent. It seemed like the entire place was ablaze with the pale blos­soms: every­where you looked, flow­ers beck­oned as if to say “come taste my sweet nec­tar” but of course, we were not there for that.

Pollinating a vanil­la flower takes del­i­ca­cy, a steady hand and a famil­iar­i­ty with the anato­my of the orchid’s bloom. After a while, you can do it quick­ly, which is good, because there are sev­er­al hun­dred of them ready to go today. There’s no wait­ing for these flow­ers, they’ll be closed for busi­ness by noon…it’s like a break­fast-only restau­rant, miss it and you’ve lost your chance to eat. Each flower is only going to open once, so no excus­es, get out there and do what needs to be done!

Not that it is unpleas­ant, not at all. We’re out in nature in the qui­et morn­ing, dew sparkling in the sun. Of course the birds are singing: car­di­nals and shama clos­est by, mynas, doves and para­keets in the dis­tance. The car­di­nals are our most avid singers, they sing forth in the morn­ing and again at dusk. The shama is a bet­ter singer, if vir­tu­os­i­ty counts, but the car­di­nals are loud­er and more unctuous. 

Those car­di­nals are close by because around the vanillery we’ve plant­ed a hedge of one of our most use­ful plants, Flemingia macro­phyl­la, a nitro­gen-fix­ing mem­ber of the pea fam­i­ly that is an excel­lent source of mulch. The lit­tle pods it pro­duces are a favorite of the seed-eat­ing birds around here: white-eyes, finch­es, and of course the car­di­nals, who sing in the hedges and nois­i­ly munch on the Flemingia seeds.

The vanil­la flow­er­ing sea­son extends for about 3 months, we start in March typ­i­cal­ly, with the height of the sea­son in mid to late May. We’ll be pol­li­nat­ing strag­glers through June, although there’s less to do even if there are plen­ty of blooms because once a raceme has enough pol­li­nat­ed beans devel­op­ing, we stop pol­li­nat­ing that raceme. Over-pol­li­na­tion results in small beans, which are not of much use.

In about 9–10 months, our pol­li­nat­ed flow­ers will have become ripe vanil­la beans, ready for harvest.

15 thoughts on “It’s the Peak of the Vanilla Flowering Season

  1. What a love­ly post Roland, your vanillery sounds like a won­der­ful place to work, how nice to have bird songs to accom­pa­ny your pol­li­na­tion efforts!
    My one vanil­la vine is loaded with flow­ers this year. I have to access this huge vine by lad­der since it is grow­ing up a post on my two sto­ry home on Maui! I do love the faint smell of the flow­ers while I’m pol­lenat­ing way up there on the ladder:)
    One raceme will have as many as 25 flow­ers on it, how many flow­ers do you end up pol­lenat­ing on each raceme? I have over-done it in the past and do end up with many under-sized beans.
    Thanks to you this will be my third year grow­ing and cur­ing vanil­la beans, maha­lo for all the infor­ma­tion you have shared in your posts.

    1. Hi Anna,

      Glad to hear your vanil­la is doing so well!

      When we pol­li­nate, we lim­it the num­ber of beans to 7–9 beans per raceme. It might even be less if the vine is not strong, there’s kind­of a judge­ment call you need to make about that. Another thing to con­sid­er is to only pol­li­nate the flow­ers on the sides and bot­tom of the raceme, this encour­ages them to grow straighter. Beans that come out of the top of the raceme will grow in a curve. You can still use curved beans, but it’s nice to opti­mize for the straighter beans.

      1. Wow, that makes so much sense, thank you for the tips Roland!

  2. I’ll best it smells divine too!!

    1. It is fra­grant out there…but one of the mag­i­cal things about vanil­la is that it does­n’t smell like vanil­la until the beans are cured.

  3. Hi Roland,

    Is it pos­si­ble to pur­chase green beans at var­i­ous matu­ri­ty from your farm? I am doing a study to deter­mine if I can use an equip­ment to track down bean matu­ri­ty. I will need 1 pound for each sam­pling, pos­si­bly 2x a month until the beans are 11 months of age. Thank you.

    1. Although your study sounds very inter­est­ing, and I’d love to see the results, it’s not real­ly prac­ti­cal for me to do this for you…also, it would be expen­sive, a pound of green beans is worth well over $100!

      1. how much is a pound of ripe vanil­la bean in st Lucia

        1. You have to know the right peo­ple — not a thing you can find at the mar­ket. There’s not a lot of com­mer­cial vanil­la grow­ing in St Lucia, but there are some old­er plan­ta­tions in Soufriere and sur­round­ing areas. The Daughters of Helen also have some vanil­la that they sell every few months I believe at the Marina. My plants aren’t at that stage yet but they will be maybe next year or two!

          1. Thanks for shar­ing about vanil­la where you live and good luck with your vanil­la, Justine!

  4. Hi Roland,

    This study is very impor­tant. I can pur­chase the green beans for more than $100 per pound for this study. Please let me know how to pro­ceed. I can pro­vide you with the cred­it card to use for the pur­chase. Please email me direct­ly. Thanks!

  5. Hi Roland,

    This study is very impor­tant. I can pur­chase the green vanil­la beans for more than $100 per pound. Please let me know how to pro­ceed. Please email me direct­ly. Thanks!

  6. Hello,

    I had Vanilla Orchids Bloom in January this year on Hawaii Island. Is this normal?

    1. There are occa­sion­al out-of-sea­son flow­ers, but we’re pret­ty close to the nor­mal sea­son (March) and this year, we’re see­ing ear­ly flow­er­ing here too. I saw my first buds the last week of January and now I’m see­ing quite a few flow­er­ing buds. Flowers haven’t opened yet, but they will by the end of the month. I think that flow­ers in January is pret­ty ear­ly, but it does vary from year to year.

  7. Thanks for the great Knowledge,am in Uganda and just start­ed 2 and half year but they are flow­er­ing I did­n’t know that u do pol­li­nate few of them for bet­ter quality

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