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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!

8 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.

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