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Our First Full-Scale Flowering in the Vanillery

The vanillery is exact­ly 3 years old now. This Spring, for the first time, we’re see­ing full flow­er­ing on all the rows. This is great news for vanil­la pro­duc­tion here, our last two years have seen fair­ly small har­vests. At this rate, there may be many hun­dreds of pods in here for next win­ter’s har­vest. Having this many flow­ers does require a sig­nif­i­cant time invest­ment to get them all pol­li­nat­ed. This is the peak of the flow­er­ing cycle, and we’re see­ing 1 — 1 1/2 hours of pol­li­nat­ing each morn­ing, and that will keep up for 2 — 3 weeks. You def­i­nite­ly have to plan your morn­ing around that.

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A Natural Vanilla Nursery

In the first sea­son of fruit in the vanillery, I let a cou­ple of beans ripen nat­u­ral­ly, as I some­times do when they’re too small or over­ripe. When they ripen on the vine, they split open, turn black and even­tu­al­ly the tiny, tiny seeds come out. I guess if things are just right where those seeds fall, they will ger­mi­nate and grow into new vines. This is, in my expe­ri­ence, pret­ty unusu­al. Most of the time none of those seeds sprout, and the lit­tle vines that emerge aren’t tough like full-grown vanil­la, they’re extreme­ly del­i­cate. It would­n’t take much going wrong for that sprout to not sur­vive. Near one of the bam­boo posts in the vanillery, it looks like the con­di­tions were just… (read)

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Grading the 2016 Harvest

Took the beans out of their box today: it’s time to grade the har­vest. The last beans came off the open-air dry­ing racks two months ago, and they’ve been con­di­tion­ing in their box since then. The beans are grad­ed at this point, divid­ed into the two grades by size, mois­ture con­tent, and appear­ance. The grade A beans are bun­dled and placed in the con­di­tion­ing box for anoth­er 7 months, so there is a total of 9 months of con­di­tion­ing after the dry­ing is com­plete. The cured beans are sold to the culi­nary trade for direct use in recipes. They are brown in col­or and filled with fra­grant, oily “caviar,” the seeds and pulp of the vanil­la pod after cur­ing. This is… (read)

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We Add a Personal Weather Station

Today, we hoist­ed our Ambient Weather WS-1400IP sen­sor unit atop it’s mount­ing pole. I’ve always want­ed to keep our own local weath­er data, and with the addi­tion of this device, we are offi­cial­ly col­lect­ing data and shar­ing it on the net. We’re still work­ing out some of the details, but this is a excit­ing devel­op­ment as far as I’m con­cerned. We call the sta­tion “Queen’s Acres,” which is one of the names used for our neigh­bor­hood on the back side of Nonou Mountain near Kapaa. Our data stream is vis­i­ble on Weather Underground at KHIKAPAA19

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Peak Flowering Season 2016

This morn­ing I came across two racemes in the vanillery that had sev­en open blos­soms on each of them! This is real­ly quite unusu­al. When the vanil­la vines are real­ly grow­ing strong­ly, the flow­er­ing racemes can come out dou­ble or triple or more. Usually, the raceme is a sin­gle stalk of flow­ers with 1 — 20 flower buds on it. The buds will open usu­al­ly one at a time over a peri­od of sev­er­al weeks until they have all opened. When there is a huge amount of vital­i­ty in the vine, though, the raceme can include branch­es of racemes, mak­ing it pos­si­ble for a large num­ber of flow­ers to  sprout from a sin­gle node. This is a very good thing, because… (read)

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First Flowers 2016

Flowering took place sev­er­al weeks lat­er this year than last year. Not sure why, but there is a strong pos­si­bil­i­ty it is due to a very dry win­ter here. Meteorologists are call­ing it a drought, although it would­n’t resem­ble what most of the world calls such a thing. Last week, the rains returned, lucky us, and spring weath­er is back to it’s sog­gy nor­mal here. For us, these flow­ers mark the begin­ning of typ­i­cal­ly eight weeks of ear­­ly-morn­ing trips to the vines to do the pol­li­na­tion. Flowering in the vanillery was slow to get start­ed, but it looks like it’s going to be good. This is the first year we expect to get a decent har­vest out of it, and it’s… (read)

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New Shoots

It occurred to me today that count­ing new shoots might be a good way to mon­i­tor the flow­er­ing poten­tial of the vanillery. I was inspect­ing the vines and think­ing about ways to quan­ti­fy the suc­cess of each plant­i­ng. For each cut­ting we plant­ed, most sprout­ed one new shoot, a few more than one. Enough time has passed so that some of the orig­i­nal new shoots have thrown off new shoots them­selves. Since each node of the vanil­la plant can either grow a new shoot or flower once (if at all), it is nec­es­sary to keep the vines con­stant­ly grow­ing. Maintaining a good num­ber of grow­ing tips means more poten­tial flow­er­ing loca­tions for the next sea­son. First year vines are smooth and soft to the… (read)

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First vanilla buds of the year

While the first vanil­la pods of the sea­son are com­ing in, the first flower buds are also appear­ing. Some of these spurts of new growth will result in new vines, branch­ing off of the mature vines, but most of these will form the flow­er­ing racemes. The ear­ly spring is when a lot of new growth occurs, and the vanil­la farmer (me) watch­es with some appre­hen­sion as the flow­er­ing racemes appear (or not!) deter­min­ing the size of the new sea­son’s crop. In a week or so, the morn­ing rit­u­al of the hand pol­li­na­tion will begin. The flow­er­ing sea­son of 2014 was light for us, sev­er­al areas nev­er went to flower, so the 2015 har­vest sea­son will be small.  One of the things we’ve… (read)

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Vanilla Seedlings

Last year, I noticed a cou­ple of very small vanil­la shoots in the bed under one of my vanil­la trel­lis­es. Looking clos­er, I real­ized that these were clear­ly the almost mirac­u­lous appear­ance of vanil­la seedlings! I tried sev­er­al inter­net search­es to find out: was this com­mon, had oth­er vanil­la grow­ers report­ed this? I found no reports, noth­ing about find­ing or suc­cess­ful­ly pro­duc­ing a vanil­la seedling or that a vanil­la seed had ger­mi­nat­ed nat­u­ral­ly. All I found was that it could be done arti­fi­cial­ly using a gen­er­al tech­nique for start­ing orchid seeds called “flask­ing,” which is basi­cal­ly cre­at­ing ster­ile con­di­tions for an orchid seed to grow. And yet, here they were, 3 vanil­la seedlings that had start­ed spon­ta­neous­ly in the mulch under some of my vanil­la plants.… (read)

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