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We’re in Peak Vanilla Flowering for the 2019 Season

Lisa and I had an incred­i­ble day of pol­li­nat­ing yes­ter­day! We’re pret­ty sure we’ve nev­er had so many flow­ers going off before. She and I pol­li­nat­ed 682 flow­ers, tak­ing us near­ly 2 hours to com­plete the day’s pollination.

This sea­son is look­ing to be our biggest yet with every col­umn of vines in the vanillery just bristling with flowers.

Vanilla Flowering Variability

The num­ber of flow­ers we get each year varies a lot. Like any farmer, we’ve got the­o­ries and some expe­ri­ence to explain the vari­abil­i­ty in the flow­er­ing of the vines. 

The 2017 flow­er­ing sea­son was big: we had many days of over 100 flow­ers get­ting pol­li­nat­ed, and sev­er­al that approached yes­ter­day’s totals.

The 2018 flow­er­ing sea­son (the beans from which we are cur­ing now) was much small­er, and at this point it looks like the crop will be a bit more than half of what we got the pre­vi­ous year.

The win­ter and spring of 2018 was stormy and wet, and the lead the­o­ry is that the cloudy, wet weath­er not only sup­pressed bud­ding and flow­er­ing, but also affect­ed pol­li­na­tion rates. We saw a lot of failed pol­li­na­tion that year and it’s pos­si­ble the con­stant wet­ness may have inter­fered with what is nor­mal­ly a pret­ty sure-fire oper­a­tion (90% suc­cess is typical).

This Year’s Differences

This winter/spring is by con­trast much dri­er and sun­nier, but there are oth­er fac­tors in play this year that may have increased the num­ber of flow­ers we got. 

First, this year we have Freddy, a new helper on the land, who has a knowl­edge of Korean Natural Farming (among many oth­er things). He has been apply­ing com­post teas and oth­er prepa­ra­tions, and the effect on every­thing we are grow­ing here has been pro­found. Freddy is our new secret weapon, a man who is pas­sion­ate about plants and hot sauce. He fits right in.

Second, I learned that vanil­la farm­ers will often do a major prune of the new grow­ing tips just before the first buds appear in order to stim­u­late bud growth. It’s not uncom­mon to apply a lit­tle stress to some plants to encour­age flow­er­ing. It’s maybe a lit­tle voodoo, but I tried it and I cer­tain­ly can’t say it hurt the pro­duc­tion of flower buds!

So, it looks like we are in for a big year for the 2020 harvest!

23 thoughts on “We’re in Peak Vanilla Flowering for the 2019 Season

  1. Good news. My name is Stephen from Uganda A vanil­la farmer. I need to know how i could induce flower pro­duc­tion with out chemicals.
    what are these prac­tices? How does Mr Freddy do it to have all these flowers?
    I need to help fel­low farm­ers here.

    Thank you

    1. Hi Stephen,

      Good to hear from a fel­low vanil­la farmer! I have heard that more farm­ers are plant­i­ng vanil­la in west Africa, this is good.

      We use only nat­ur­al meth­ods here, so get­ting the vanil­la to flower is a mat­ter of giv­ing the plants the right con­di­tions and hop­ing for the best. Last sea­son we had very few flow­ers, so that is just how it goes sometimes.

      Specifically, the three things that I know are impor­tant to get­ting the plants to flower:

      1. Light: the light lev­els must be high enough to pro­mote vig­or­ous growth. We have found that grow­ing vanil­la under a tree is usu­al­ly too dark (depends in the kind of tree), and the plants nev­er flower. We are cur­rent­ly using shade cloth of 64%, but start­ed with shade cloth of 50% and that worked very well. If you don’t use a shade house, make sure that the vanil­la is get­ting plen­ty of light, but not a lot of hot sun.

      2. Feeder roots: the vanil­la vine must have part of its length close to the ground so feed­er roots can form. Feeder roots require a lot of mulch, they do not grow into the soil, but they should be moist and shad­ed from the sun under a thick lay­er of mulch. You can tell the feed­er roots because they have a hairy appear­ance. This is how the plant gets extra mois­ture and nutri­ents, which it needs to flower and pro­duce pods.

      3. Time: it takes 3 years for the flow­ers to appear, some­times even 4 years. The vines grow con­tin­u­ous­ly, so the part of the vine that is old enough should pro­duce flow­ers. The flow­ers appear at a spe­cif­ic time of year, this will depend on your local­i­ty, oth­er vanil­la farm­ers in your region should be able to tell you when the flow­ers nor­mal­ly appear.

      Another prac­tice that you can try once you have those three things cov­ered is to prune the vines just before flow­er­ing sea­son. What we do is prune off the last 1–2 meters of the grow­ing tips. Not all of them, but most of them. How much you cut depends on how fast they are grow­ing and how many new grow­ing tips you have. The plant will then put ener­gy into flow­er­ing instead of putting on length. Be very care­ful what you cut, the old­er parts of the vine and their roots must not be cut.

      I hope this helps, and good luck. I would like to hear how it goes for you.


  2. Once a gain its my plea­sure writ­ing to you. My name is Mbusa Stephen from Uganda. first and fore most, I dear­ly and kind­ly appre­ci­ate for your pre­vi­ous advise and its doing won­ders on my farm. Thank you very much.
    how­ev­er, I am inquir­ing on what caus­es arbo­tion of flow­ers after pollination?

    you find that, out of five flow­ers pol­li­nat­ed, only 2–3 get fer­til­ized but the rest falls off.
    thank you
    Regards. Mbusa Stephen

    1. Hi Stephen,

      You can’t expect 100% suc­cess with the pol­li­na­tion, but there are a few things that in my expe­ri­ence can help increase the success.

      First, if the flow­ers are wet, pol­li­na­tion is less suc­cess­ful, so try to avoid pol­li­nat­ing just after or dur­ing rain. If it can’t be avoid­ed, you can take extra care that the pollen is deposit­ed on the recep­tor, but expect a low­er suc­cess rate.

      Second, pol­li­na­tion should take place after the flow­ers are ful­ly open in the morn­ing and before they start to close around noon. If you have to open the petals of the flower to pol­li­nate it, it prob­a­bly won’t work.

      Third, don’t “rub” the pollen into the recep­tor, just some gen­tle pres­sure that does­n’t crush the col­umn works bet­ter. The recep­tor cells are eas­i­ly dam­aged, and the pollen won’t be tak­en in if that happens.

      I think a good pol­li­na­tion rate is between 80% and 90% so you’re not doing too bad.

      Also, take care not to over-pol­li­nate, you will get many small beans if you pol­li­nate too many flowers.

      Good luck!

  3. Hello Mr. Roland, once again its my plea­sure writ­ing to you. i applied what you advised me it has worked won­ders at my farm.
    However, some farm­ers are com­plain­ing of their young vanil­la drop­ping before pollination.

    when they cut it, magots are seen in side.
    do you thing these could be fruit flies?
    have you gone through the same sce­nario over there?
    hope to read from you.
    Thank you

  4. Thank you for your direc­tion. Be blessed.

  5. Hey Mr am also glad to talk to you any one to help me at my farm flow­ers do fall even before fer­til­i­sa­tion peri­od flow­ers fall when they have just appeared I need help

    1. I don’t know what caus­es this, but there are a cou­ple of things to look at.

      Check the feed­er roots, these are the long roots that go to the sur­face of the soil. They must have a moist, pro­tect­ed place to grow. The plants may not be get­ting enough moisture.

      Also, the flower buds are very del­i­cate, easy to break off. They can be bro­ken by ani­mals or peo­ple hit­ting them, or may be even strong wind. Make sure the vines are tied down if they can be moved by the wind.

  6. Dear Roland
    My name is Alex and I’m start­ing to farm Vanilla in Sri Lanka.
    This is the first pol­li­na­tion sea­son for us and I’ve been get­ting the hang of pol­li­nat­ing the vanil­la. it took a few flow­ers but I’ve start­ed to be more suc­cess­ful with the pollination.
    I do have an issue which I am expe­ri­enc­ing that I can­not seem to find answers to. Once I’ve suc­cess­ful­ly pol­li­nat­ed a pod it begins to grow and the flower usu­al­ly stays attached for a week or so. But sev­er­al of my suc­cess­ful­ly pol­li­nat­ed pods grow for a cer­tain peri­od and the flower sud­den­ly falls off, leav­ing only a small vanil­la bean. Its almost like a delayed failed pol­li­na­tion attempt but the pods do grow.
    Do you know what may be caus­ing this? Perhaps not enough nutrients? 

    Any help or advice with this mat­ter is great­ly appreciated.

    Kind Regards

    1. Some pods will fail to grow large, this is nor­mal. One of the things we do to help pre­vent that is avoid over-pol­li­nat­ing the raceme. This means that we gen­er­al­ly only pol­li­nate 7 to 9 beans on the raceme, and over­all you should only suc­cess­ful­ly pol­li­nate about 75% of the flow­ers. This is to avoid over­load­ing the plant which can lead to a lot of small pods.

  7. Dear Roland,

    May I ask you whether there is a dif­fer­ence between the flow­er­ing and fruit­ing behav­iours and also vanil­la pod qual­i­ty of the var­ie­gat­ed vanil­la ver­sus the non-var­ie­gat­ed one which is the default in com­mer­cial plantations?

    Ask you this because some sources say to avoid plant­i­ng cer­tain var­ie­gat­ed vari­ety of Vanilla, because beans are very much less, and not fra­grant at all due to absence of vanillin , taste and smell absent. They say that var­ie­gat­ed vanil­la has a hard­er time to flower and fruit, and more infe­ri­or qual­i­ty beans. They say var­ie­gat­ed vanil­la is usu­al­ly more for orna­men­tal purposes. 

    Is it real­ly true that var­ie­gat­ed vanil­la will either not flower, flower less, or pro­duce poor­er qual­i­ty beans with much reduced vanillin ? 


    1. I have a lit­tle expe­ri­ence with var­ie­gat­ed vanil­la, and I would agree with what you’re heard. The vine I have rarely flow­ers. I did not pol­li­nate and cure the beans to see how they would turn out, so I can’t com­ment on that, but you would­n’t want to waste your time grow­ing a vine that may be reluc­tant to flower. There is a huge time invest­ment in grow­ing vanil­la for pods, takes about 4 years for the plants to mature.

      1. I am sur­prised by your men­tion- that even your non-var­ie­gat­ed vanil­la itself rarely flow­ers , let alone your var­ie­gat­ed one. I pre­sume you grow both types.

        I heard the oth­er “wild” vanil­la species like vanil­la aphyl­la and vanil­la grif­fithii flower much more eas­i­ly (even with­out stress) than vanil­la plan­i­fo­lia. Someone should look into hybri­dis­ing them to see if we can pro­duce a hybrid vanil­la species that can flower more read­i­ly and still retain the vanillin con­tent in the beans.

        As for vanil­la plan­i­fo­lia, it will , accord­ing to what I’ve heard, flower when stressed. So, there must be stress of some form applied to the plant. 


        1. I know about stress­ing the plaint to induce flow­er­ing, but we don’t do that here. The main rea­son vanil­la pro­duc­ers do this is to get year-round vanil­la pro­duc­tion. We’ve nev­er had a prob­lem get­ting our plants to flower.

          I do have a sin­gle var­ie­gat­ed vanil­la plant, some­one gave it to me as a gift, but it is not part of our vanil­la pro­duc­tion operation.

          1. Actually I com­pared one var­ie­gat­ed ver­sus one non-var­ie­gat­ed growth rates (of sim­i­lar stem thick­ness and under same con­di­tions ) and I found that my var­ie­gat­ed one grows on aver­age one new leaf per week, where­as the non-var­ie­gat­ed ful­ly-green grows on aver­age one new leaf every 2 weeks. 

            Since my var­ie­gat­ed vanil­la grows at a rate of one new leaf per week thus does not seem affect­ed by the var­ie­ga­tion so far , my hypoth­e­sis is that the chloro­phyll pig­ments were redis­trib­uted across the leaf to be con­cen­trat­ed in areas that detect stronger light inten­si­ty , and less in areas where there’s low­er light inten­si­ty cap­tured , hence it is an adapt­abil­i­ty fea­ture of the plant .

            This helps the plant to syn­the­sise and allo­cate its chloro­phyll pig­ments in the most effi­cient and pro­duc­tive man­ner , to the best of places, hence a high­ly uneven dis­tri­b­u­tion of pig­ments across the leaf blade that changes accord­ing to stimuli . 

            [[However, it is impor­tant to note that this may not apply to all var­ie­gat­ed vanil­la plan­i­fo­lia plants. ]]

            The var­ie­ga­tion that involves white var­ie­gat­ed parts will not be able to “gain and lose chloro­phyll pig­ments ” , or in more accu­rate terms “redis­trib­ute chloro­phyll pig­ments around the leaf in response to stimuli “. 

            However , yel­low­ish-style var­ie­ga­tion like in my plant will be able to “gain and lose chloro­phyll pig­ments ” , or in more accu­rate terms “redis­trib­ute chloro­phyll pig­ments around the leaf in response to stim­uli “. So yel­low­ish var­ie­ga­tion is actu­al­ly as good as , if not bet­ter than ful­ly-green leaves as com­pared to white-coloured var­ie­ga­tion which is worse off for the plant . In oth­er words , yel­low­ish var­ie­ga­tion is an adap­ta­tion trait of the plant , where­as whitish var­ie­ga­tion is less desir­able for the plant , and is more of an arti­fi­cial selec­tion by humans .

            What might be your hypothesis ?


  8. Sorry! My hypoth­e­sis Should be The oth­er way around —the chloro­phyll pig­ments were redis­trib­uted across the leaf to be con­cen­trat­ed in areas that detect low­er light inten­si­ty (like more shad­ed con­di­tions) , and less in areas where there’s high­er light inten­si­ty cap­tured (because there is a lim­it to how much light can be cap­tured and utilised by the plant —excess light ener­gy can­not be stored like unlike a man-made solar-cap­ture sys­tem) , hence it is an adapt­abil­i­ty fea­ture of the plant . 

    When put under shadier con­di­tions, the var­ie­gat­ed vanil­la leaves turned dark­er green and the green­ish pig­ment became more pro­nounced through­out the leaf.

    1. Yes, this is very inter­est­ing. Vanilla plants are def­i­nite­ly dark­er in low­er light con­di­tions. I would say the sam­ple size we’re talk­ing about (I have just one var­ie­gat­ed vine) could lead to mis­lead­ing results, so maybe there isn’t much dif­fer­ence at all. Variegation is due to the pres­ence of a virus in the plant, which was pre­sum­ably intro­duced by a vanil­la breed­er to pro­duce a dec­o­ra­tive vine. This would not have been with vanil­la pod pro­duc­tion in mind.

      Anyway, it would be inter­est­ing to hear how your cine does over time. When my var­ie­gat­ed vine pro­duced pods, they were sol­id green…I was hop­ing they would be var­ie­gat­ed as well!

      1. Thanks for your shar­ing Roland! Next time your one and only var­ie­gat­ed vine pro­duces pods again; could you please share with me your smell and taste assess­ment of the fra­grance lev­el of the pods pro­duced by it, ver­sus the pods pro­duced by a native­ly non-var­ie­gat­ed vine when you assess them in par­al­lel ? — if there is any notable dif­fer­ence? I am not sure if the virus incor­po­ra­tion that induced the var­ie­ga­tion has any notable effect on the pod qual­i­ty (of fra­grance, vanillin lev­el etc). This would be an inter­est­ing study to observe. I am not sure whether this virus incor­po­ra­tion has any unin­tend­ed /unforeseen sec­ondary effects on vanil­la pod qual­i­ty and/or quantity . 

        Thanks a lot. 


  9. Mosaic virus intro­duced to the vanil­la cause white spots of var­ie­ga­tion. But my type of var­ie­ga­tion is tints of yel­low inter­spersed with the green parts , yel­low main­ly at the cen­tre of the leaf and heav­i­ly green towards the out­er edges and sides of the leaf (not sure if it’s same as yours) , you could call it some­what a mild var­ie­ga­tion. Maybe 30% yel­low­ish, 70% green­ish (my opin­ion). (Wish I could share with you a photo. )



  10. Also, if for a start, you could share with me the fre­quen­cy of blooms for the var­ie­gat­ed one that you have ver­sus the oth­er native­ly non-var­ie­gat­ed ones , what might be the rough ratio (of dif­fer­ences) you have observed? Is the var­ie­gat­ed one marked­ly much slow­er in bloom­ing , longer to mature to flower, and flow­ers a lot less at once than the non-var­ie­gat­ed ones? E.g flow­ers on aver­age once every year or once every few years for the var­ie­gat­ed spec­i­men ver­sus flow­er­ing bi-annu­al­ly for the non-var­ie­gat­ed ones? 

    Thanks for your sharing!

    1. Hi Vincent,

      This is inter­est­ing stuff, I’m not sure how much of val­ue I can add to this, I just have the one var­ie­gat­ed vine, and it’s not in our main pro­duc­tion areas. The whole time I’ve had it, it’s flow­ered once, so we may not see it flower this year. Happy to share my casu­al obser­va­tions about this vine, but it’s real­ly not pos­si­ble to do any kind of com­par­i­son since it’s grow­ing in an area that has a lot of reg­u­lar green vines…I would­n’t be able to tease out the data on pro­duc­tion rates since I can’t sep­a­rate out the indi­vid­ual plants.

      1. Nice…“The whole time I’ve had it, it’s flow­ered once, so we may not see it flower this year” . Did you mean, from the time of matu­ri­ty, your var­ie­gat­ed vine so far flow­ered only once in a span of a few years so far? 

        What about your oth­er reg­u­lar green non-var­ie­gat­ed vines? Do they flower with­out fail once every year? 

        After all, both var­ie­gat­ed and non-var­ie­gat­ed vines have been sub­ject to the same grow­ing conditions.

        Thanks Roland!

  11. A google search says that vanil­la plan­i­fo­lia typ­i­cal­ly flow­ers once a year for a month of two. So I was won­der­ing whether your casu­al obser­va­tion of your var­ie­gat­ed vine so far may indi­cate an anom­aly (to this gen­er­al pub­lished guide­line) , for the var­ie­gat­ed vine — since you men­tioned that you may not see it flower this whole cal­en­dar year. 

    Cheers! And may you have a very hap­py new year ahead! 


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