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.