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The New Vanillery has been Built and Planted

We’ve been work­ing on get­ting this new vanillery (locat­ed on the north­west cor­ner of our prop­er­ty) built for a cou­ple of years now. This bit of land was not in use, and sev­er­al very large “weed” trees were in the way and need­ed to be removed. No point in plant­i­ng under a tree you’re going to cut down, so we had to wait until we had the help we need­ed to get the trees down. The sto­ry of get­ting rid of those trees is long and con­vo­lut­ed, it took sev­er­al tries to get the job done…but thanks to lots of able help (maha­lo: Jonathan, Tim, Christopher, Freddy) and sheer per­se­ver­ance, we got it done.

Once the trees were cleared, we need­ed to deter­mine where the vanillery would go and how big it would be. After tak­ing some mea­sure­ments, we found the new vanillery was going to be 30′ x 30′ mak­ing it 1 1/2 times as big as the first vanillery. We still had some plan­ning to do, though: we want­ed to avoid some of the mis­takes we made the first time, and design it so that it would be eas­i­er to work in. Our cur­rent vanillery end­ed up hav­ing so much lush growth that it is dif­fi­cult to move around in there.

The new vanil­ery will built with bam­boo columns instead of trel­lis­es. The trel­lis­es gave us a lot of room for the plants, but not enough room for peo­ple! With the trel­lis­es, you have to walk all the way around the row to get to the next row…which is some­thing you need to do a lot. Building it on columns will allow peo­ple to walk around each plant, mak­ing it a lot eas­i­er to main­tain the vines. 

The columns also have the advan­tage of being stronger: anoth­er of the lessons we learned is that vanil­la plants are very heavy and some of our trel­lis­es snapped under the strain after 3 or 4 years of abun­dant growth had built up. Columns can sup­port a lot more weight, even after the bam­boo has weak­ened with age. When a bam­boo post gets too degrad­ed, we replace it with a new one, and this is much eas­i­er to do with a col­umn than a hor­i­zon­tal support.

Planting the Vanilla Cuttings

So, giv­en the kinds of ques­tions I’ve been get­ting from vis­i­tors to this site, many of you will be inter­est­ed to learn how vanil­la can be propagated. 

image of a vanilla cutting on a bamboo column
The vanil­la cut­ting is tied to the bam­boo with a leaf

First, you need about 3–5 feet of the grow­ing tip of the vine. It needs to be the grow­ing tip so that you are using young vig­or­ous vine for your start. The first 6–10 inch­es of the grow­ing tip are snapped off, and then start­ing at the base of the cut­ting, most of the leaves are removed. Then the cut­ting is allowed to dry out for a few days so all the parts that were cut can scab up and be pro­tect­ed from rot­ting. Vanilla has a lot of water stored in its stem, so it can be per­fect­ly viable for a long time after get­ting cut off the main plant.

Next, you pre­pare where the cut­tings are going to be plant­ed. At the base of each col­umn, we cleared a 3′ diam­e­ter cir­cle. Sheet mulched it with clean card­board (to pre­vent any weeds in the soil from sprout­ing up) and then on top of that, well com­post­ed wood chips. We give these chips a few amend­ments, Korean Natural Farming style, and then on top of that some heavy mulch like tree branch­es and leaves. They can stay like that for a long time while you’re get­ting your cut­tings ready.

Once the cut­tings are ready to go, we move the heavy mulch off of the wood chips, then lay down the cut­ting. The tip goes on the col­umn, and the rest of it goes on the ground. It does not get buried in the soil…vanilla does not grow into the soil at all. After the vine is in place, we mulch it with some­thing pro­tec­tive, yet not so dense as to smoth­er the vines. Green leafy mat­ter is good for this: it’s mois­ture retain­ing, pro­tec­tive from the sun, and fluffy enough to allow some air around the vines. Orchids like air…in fact they live off the air alone! So, when we’re encour­ag­ing growth, we make sure the vines are not smoth­ered and there is some air around the part of the vines that are going to pro­duce roots.

When the vine starts to grow, what will hap­pen first is roots will grow out of the nodes, then if things are going well, a new vine will sprout out of one of the nodes that is exposed to the light. This whole process can take a lit­tle as a month, but 2 months is not unusu­al. Once 3 to 4 months has rolled around, you’ll have new vines creep­ing up all your columns. Three years after that…your first harvest.

6 thoughts on “The New Vanillery has been Built and Planted

  1. Hello Roland, I’m glad I read your post on the new loca­tion. After read­ing your expe­ri­ence with your first vanil­la loca­tion I’ll scrap the trel­lis idea I had for my space.
    Question: Does the BASE of the vanil­la plant need a lot of room to grow? We recent­ly expe­ri­enced some flood­ing in S. Florida, I’m toy­ing with the idea of attach­ing a gar­den bas­ket or a medi­um to large size pot about a foot above the ground and place the vine there to grow up the pole. My shade house is built over a small bas­ket­ball court (pre­vi­ous own­er installed) and I’m try­ing to think of a way to grow the vine while at the same time try­ing to avoid flood­ing (just in case this hap­pens again). Your thoughts? Thank you for your time.

    1. Yes, grow­ing in an ele­vat­ed con­tain­er is pos­si­ble. There is a grow­er on Hawaii island that has their vanil­la grow­ing in ele­vat­ed con­tain­ers, but I am not famil­iar with the details. The plants do not require soil, so the medi­um in the pots would prob­a­bly be some­thing like coarse­ly shred­ded coconut husks, which holds some mois­ture and pro­tects the feed­er roots, and is not too compact. 

      As to the size of the pot, I’d think 24″ would be enough, but those feed­er roots will wan­der quite some dis­tance. The grow­er I referred to uses a long ele­vat­ed con­tain­er to hold the medi­um for a whole row of plants, giv­ing the roots plen­ty of lat­er­al space. You can see the set­up in pic­tures if you do an image search for “Hawaii Vanilla Cultivation.”

      With a set­up like that, (depend­ing on rain­fall in your loca­tion) you’d prob­a­bly need some form of irri­ga­tion. I’d rec­om­mend over­head, since the air roots will also absorb moisture.

      1. Hello Roland, what is your take on cym­bid­i­um mosa­ic virus? I had two dif­fer­ent leaves test­ed one from FL the oth­er from HA (not yours) and both came back pos­i­tive. I’ve nev­er cut the vines with any tools. My vines con­tin­ue to grow so I’m won­der­ing if it will flower? I know I can’t cut the virus out do I throw out the vines? Or can I cut the tip of the vine and prop­a­gate it? I am very new to all of this, I don’t want to start off on the wrong side of this busi­ness. Thanks!

        1. Well, this is not my area of exper­tise, I’d cer­tain­ly sug­gest you con­sult one with your ques­tions. The vanil­la mosa­ic virus is pret­ty com­mon, and it can be present with­out real­ly affect­ing the plants all that much. I’ve nev­er had my plants test­ed, so they may be infect­ed too…but I don’t see the symp­toms. I have seen a much more seri­ous probem with the vanil­la necro­sis virus, that one will kill plants and needs to be aggres­siv­ley controlled.

          Keep your plants sep­a­rate so that if one devel­ops seri­ous prob­lems you can iso­late it or dis­pose of it. If you’re con­cerned about it, you get plant mate­r­i­al from oth­er sources, increas­ing the chances of hav­ing healthy plants.

          good luck!

  2. Just won­der­ing why you snap off the grow­ing tip? If you left the api­cal bud intact on a cut­ting from a mature plant, would the vine not pro­duce sooner?

    1. This is a great ques­tion, thanks.

      The rea­son for snap­ping off the grow­ing tip is to slow down the vine growth so that it will put ener­gy into flow­er­ing instead of adding length. (this is not sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly test­ed that I know of, just a com­mon prac­tice among vanil­la grow­ers) Because it is a vine, the mature part of the vine is going to be pret­ty far (3 years of growth) from the young grow­ing tips. The flow­er­ing buds are only pro­duced on the mature sec­tion of the vine, but that sec­tion does not pro­duce any oth­er new growth.

      We don’t do this to plants that are too young to flower, it’s real­ly only done on mature plants that have a lot of growth going.

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