I occasionally come across new seedlings in the vanillery. We’ve written about this before, it’s something that happens spontaneously from time to time. Pods are left on the vine by accident, they ripen and drop their seeds. If the conditions are right, some of the seeds sprout.
A few weeks ago, when I was in the vanillery doing a general prune with a volunteer named Jacque, I came across several seedling deep under a dense section of vines. (Jacque is a PhD student in Plant and Environmental Sciences and while visiting the island, offered to do some volunteer work for us…and that sure was a fun and productive day!) Well, I took note of the location with the intention of moving the seedlings to pots so they can get a bit bigger before I plant them out in the new vanillery.
This is How We Pot Up the Seedlings
A vanilla seedling is a delicate little thing, but it’s going to get a lot bigger and we don’t want to disturb it while it’s growing, so we build it a place that is protected, but also has a structure it can wrap its little tendrils around. Here you can see the special pots I built for them.
We take a small plastic pot and zipstrap a sizeable stick of bamboo to it. It’s counterbalanced with a couple of large rocks in the bottom of the pot. Vanilla doesn’t need much soil, so the size of the pot and volume of soil is not too important. What is important is giving the vine a stable place to get started. There’s not a lot of vertical height to the support, that’s because when the vine has reached the top, it will be ready to get planted out.
For the soil, we fill it 3/4 full with native soil (mined in a forested area), then top that with soil from the vanillery. The thinking there is that the vanillery soil will contain compatible biota and most importantly, specific mycorrhizae essential to the vanilla roots’ uptake of nutrients.
The seedlings are placed on the soil and gently tied to the bamboo. The growing area is then covered with leafy mulch, providing a shady, moist environment for root development.
The potted seedlings are placed under a tree where the light is good, but shaded from the sun. If everything goes right, the seedlings will continue to grow and begin climbing up the bamboo support. When the plants are strong and reaching the top of the support, we put the whole thing into the vanillery without transplanting, next to a bamboo column for it to grow on. There is a picture of this at the bottom.