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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!

2 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.

      –Roland

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