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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!

10 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.

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