Vanilla Farming, Planting, Growing Methods

Vanilla Farming Information Guide:

Let us discuss indetail about vanilla farming today.

Introduction:

Vanilla is native to the Atlantic coast from Mexico to Brazil. Vanilla plantations have grown in large scale in Java, Mauritius, Madagascar, Tahiti, Seycheles, Zanzibar, Brazil and Jamaica and other islands of the West Indies. It is introduced to India as early as 1835. The commercial vanilla cultivation is now restricted to Wynad of Kerala and Nilgiris of Tamil Nadu. And now there is great demand for natural vanilla is on the higher side.

Vanilla belongs to the family Orchidaceae. Actually, there are 2 important species of vanilla viz. V. planifolia and V. pompano. V. planifotia plants have sessile leave of 10 to 23 cm long,oblong in shape.

Climate and Soil requirement for Vanilla Farming:

Vanilla plantations require a warm climate with frequent rains and it prefers an annual rainfall of 150-350 cm. Partially uncleared jungle lands are best for vanilla plantations. These kinds of lands are necessary to retain the natural shade provided by lofty trees which allows penetration of sunlight to the ground level and to leave the soil. Vanilla can be cultivated in varied types of soils from sandy loam to laterites.

Propagation Methods for Vanilla Farming: 

This crop is usually propagated from shoot cuttings. Select the cuttings with 18 to 24 internodes, these cuttings will flower earliera than shorter cuttings. But the length of the cuttings is to be adjusted depending on the availability of the planting material and the area to be planted. However, cuttings with less than five to six inches and shorter than 60 cm in length should be avoided when planted directly in the main field. If planning to raise for a rooted cutting in a polybag, you can use a cutting with even two nodes. Vanilla plant can also be propagated by using tissue culture methods.

The leaves of the fourth to fifth nodes from the tip are removed and the cutting is kept loosely rolled up in a cool, shaded place for two to three weeks. When the cutting forms complete root system and is ready for transplantation, the cutting must be handled very carefully. Three to four internodes at the lower end of the cutting should be placed in a shallow trench 3-4 cm deep and about 10cm wide. Use evacuated soil to fill this trench. Rainy season is the best time to for this process.

Land preparation for Vanilla Farming:

Preparing the soil for prospective pepper or vanilla plantations must consider the need to supply each vine with a support or stake to support the branches to climb. And these supports are divided into two categories non-living and living. If you are planning for non-living supports, site preparation is unaffected because it is possible to put the non-living support at any time after the soil has been cultivated by general ploughing or hole preparation, non-living supports are for example wooden stakes. In case of living supports, they must be established before taking the cuttings from the pepper or vanilla plants.

Planting Procedure in Vanilla Farming:

Vanilla trees are climbers, they need support for growing. It grows well in partial shade of about 50 percent sunlight and low branching trees with rough bark and small leaves are grown for this purpose. Some of the trees that give good support for vanilla plantation are Glyrideidai, Erythrina, Jatropha Caracas, Plumeria Alba and Casuarnaequisetifolia. The supports should be legume, so that it can enrich the soil also. The growth can be adjusted as to make them branch at a height of 120 to 150 cm, to facilitate training of the vines around the branching shoots. The spacing requirements between the plants should be 2.5 to 3 meters between rows and two meters between rows and two meters within the row making a population of 1600 to 2000 trees per hectare. If you use limbcuttings for planting, the ideal time is with the onset of rains after the summer, and it should be at least six months before planting vanilla cuttings.

The ideal time to plant, Vanilla is when the weather is not too rainy or too dry. The months of August-September are the best time for vanilla cultivation. Cuttings for planting should be collected in advance, and after removing three or four basal leaves, dipped in one per cent Bordeaux mixture and kept in shade to lose moisture for about a week.

The cuttings of the vine should be laid on the loose soil surface and covered with a thin layer of about two to three cm soil. The tip of the cutting should be kept just above the soil to prevent rotting. The growing tips should be gently tied to the support for climbing by the aerial roots.

The cuttings are covered with tall dry grass, palm fronds or with other suitable materials. In case of dry soil, a light sprinkling of water helps for early establishment of cuttings. Vanilla cuttings take four to eight weeks to strike roots and to show initial signs of growth. Vanilla is a best intercrop for coconut and arcanum plantations.

Mulching Requirements for Vanilla Farming:

Mulching is highly required for vanilla plantations, spread a dense layer of a material which is usually of vegetable origin. The mulching layer should be as durable as possible, and it also protects the soil from run-off and exposure to the sun, regulates rainfall infiltration, slows down evaporation, and restricts weed growth and is generally favorable to growth and yield since it also adds humus to the soil on decomposition. A mixture of grasses and leguminous species is a better mulch for vanilla plantations.

Training for Vanilla Farming:

When the vines of vanilla trees are permitted to grow up on a tree, the blooming capacity may reduce so long as it is growing upward. Hence, vines can grow up to 1.50 m and then trained horizontally on the branch of supports and later coiled round them. This process increases flower production in this portion of the vine.

Flowering in Vanilla Farming:

The vines start flowering in the second or third year based on the length of cuttings used due to the peculiar structure of the flower, artificial pollination by hand is the rule for fruit setting. The artificial pollination is very simple and done easily by children and women. Use a pointed bamboo splinter or pin, another is pressed against the stigma with the help of thumb and thus smearing the pollen over it. The success rate of hand pollination is 85 to 100 %. The best time for hand pollination is between 6 a.m to 1 a.m. Unfertilized flowers will drop-off within two or three days. Generally, 5 to 6 flowers per inflorescence and a total of not more than 10 to 12 inflorescences per vine should be pollinated. The excess flower buds should be pruned to permit the development of other pods. Pods will take six weeks to attain full size from fertilization, but takes 4 to 10 months to reach full maturity depending upon the climatic conditions.

Maintenance required in  Vanilla Farming:

Once the plants get established completely, the vines need constant attention. The plantations should be watched constantly, to train the vines to grow at a convenient level, and to regulate the growth of the vines and the supports, to watch for disease and pests and leaf mulching should be placed around the vines. Whatever operation done in the plantation, you should not disturb the roots, which are mainly confined to the mulch and the surface layer of soil.

In case vanilla plantations that have live support, you need to adjust the shading is linked with the correct pruning of the supports, a task, which requires care and attention. During the first year, it is enough to prune the lateral branches to obtain a sufficiently high single trunk. Further growth in height is then prevented by pruning the tree, which encourages the formation of a canopy but still provides light shade. Leucaena leucocephalais the best for this approach, as the pruning, which is left at the base of the tree, provide the soil with nitrogen-rich organic matter. For vanilla plantations, the shading provided by the living support is often inadequate.

The support trees should be pruned early to induce branching. It is best to develop an umbrella shape for the trees to give better shade and protection to the growing vines. If the trees do not drop off leaves, they are pruned before the rainy reason to allow in more sunlight. The pruned vegetation can be chopped and applied as a mulch in the plantation.

The training of the vine will show great impact on the flower production. When a vine is permitted to grown up on a tree it will rarely blossom, the rate of blooming is very less when the vines are simply growing upward. For a profitable cultural operation, the vines can grow up to a height of 1.2 to 1.5 meters and then trained horizontally on the branch of supports and later coiled round them. And the alternative method is, two bamboo splits can be tied to two adjacent support trees and can be utilized for training the vines. This method of coiling of vines will help branches to accumulate carbohydrate and other flower forming materials, beyond the bend and to induce flower production in this portion of the vine.

Harvesting and curing in Vanilla Farming:

The beans will be in dark green in color when they are immature, but when ripe yellowing commences from its distal end. It is the optimum time for harvesting the bean. If not harvested, and they are left on the vine the bean turns yellow on the remaining portion and starts splitting, giving out a small quantity of oil reddish brown in color, called the Balsam of Vanilla. And finally, they become dry, brittle and finally become scentless. There are many other artificial methods to cure vanilla. Vanillin is developed because of the enzyme action on the glucosides contained in the beans during the process of curing. Basically, curing method involves the following four stages.

  • First is, killing the vegetative life of the beans to allow the onset of enzymatic reactions.
  • Increase the temperature to promote this action and to achieve rapid drying to prevent harmful fermentation.
  • For development of different fragrant substance, Slower drying.

Conditioning of the product has been done by storing for a few months.

  • Peruvian process: Curing of the beans is done by hot water. In Peruvian process the pods are dipped in boiling water. The ends of the pods are tied and hung in the open area. These pods are dried for twenty days. And then they are coated with castor oil and afterwards tied up in bundles.
  • Guiana process: The vanilla bean pods are collected and dried in the sun till they shrivel. And then they are wiped and rubbed with olive oil. The ends of the pods are tied up to prevent splitting and then bundled.
  • Mexican process: The harvested pods are dried in shade till they shrivel. And then they are subjected to sweating. This process is carried out for two days based on the weather conditions. In case of warm weather, the pods are spread over blankets and exposed to the sun. And in the midday the blanket is covered over and bundled and left in the open for the rest of the day. And are wrapped in blankets in the night to maintain continuous fermentation and sweating. The pods should be wrapped in blankets when the climate is not too much hot. This process is repeated for 7 to 12 days till they become dark brown in color, soft and flexible. And are packed in tins and sealed. With this Mexican process yields 4.15 to 4.40 per cent of vanillin content.
  • If the weather is cloudy, the pods are bundled into bales and wrapping with woolen cloth covered with banana leaves. And they are subject to radiation of heat by maintaining the temperature of air-over at 500C for 24 hours. And they are dried to change the color. And are spread in a dry place and finally packed and sent to the market.

The desirable beans size will be 18 to25 cm long, in dark brown which are Highly aromatic, fleshy, free from mold, insects, and blemishes and somewhat oily in appearance. The vanilla beans are categorized into three grades viz. Grade-1, whole beans of minimum 11 cm length, and grade-2 and 3 will have a minimum of 8 cm length. The vanillin content of the properly cured beans more than 2.5 percent.

What yield can you expect in Vanilla Farming?:

The yield of vanilla mainly depends on the age of the vines and the method of cultivation. Normally the vines start producing pods from the third year and the yield goes on increasing till the seventh or eighth year. And after that the yield slowly starts declining till the vines are replanted after another seven to ten years.

In an acre you can plant about 1000 vanilla plants. Each plant can yield about 500 grams of green beans per year. The middle-aged plantation yield range will be 500 kg of green beans per acre. Experts recommend that first time vanilla farmers should start by growing a few plants in a small plot of land. Based on the  result they can expand the acreage.

Market for Vanilla:

The natural vanilla is mainly used for flavoring ice creams and soft drinks. Approximately 300 tons of vanilla beans is used in the USA every year. The major clients of vanilla are pharma companies and soft drink companies like Coke and Pepsi.

Total World production of vanilla beans is approximately 3000 tonnes per annum. And the international demand from vanilla is about 19,000 tonnes.

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