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What is Vanilla?
Vanilla is a perennial climber cultivated as a precious spice crop. It is a precious spice in the market like saffron. The pleasant flavour of vanilla due its natural Vanillin which makes it so valuable. The botanical name of vanilla is Vanilla plantifolia and belongs to the family Orchidaceae. The origin of vanilla is believed to be Mexico and it was introduced into India in the nineteenth century
What are the major countries and states producing vanilla?
Are there any health benefits of Vanilla?
What are the Climatic and soil requirements of vanilla cultivation?
Vanilla is adapted to a wide range of soils rich in humus and having good drainage Clayey soils and water logged areas are not suitable for the plant. It grows well in warm and humid tropical climate. An annual rainfall of 200-300 cm is required for its good growth. Ideal temperature for vanilla is 21 to 32°C is ideal. The rainfall should be well distributed for a period of 9 months. There should be a dry period of 3 months for flowering
How is vanilla Propagated in vamilla cultivation?
Vanilla is usually propagated by stem cuttings. Cuttings of 60- 120 cm length can be selected as planting material for direct planting in the field. Cuttings less than 60 cm should not be used directly for planting. These cuttings have to be rooted and raised in the nursery before planting. The stem cuttings after collection should be washed thoroughly and dipped in Bordeaux mixture 1% or copper oxychloride 0.2% for killing pathogenic fungi. The cuttings are then stored in a cool shaded place for 2-3 days for partial loss of moisture
Partial loss of moistuee is a process which enhances rooting. The cuttings can also be stored up to 10 days if required. Plants raised from mature lengthy cuttings flower early
How is Planting and after care carried out in vanilla cultuvation?
Vanilla can be raised either as monocrop or intercrop in coconut and arecanut gardens
It is usually trained on trellies or on low branching, rough barked trees like Glyricidia maculata, Plumeria alba,jack (Artocarpus heterophyllus), Erythrina spp., etc. Or on dead standards
The standards have to be planted well in advance at a spacing of 1.2-1.5 m within rows and 2.5-3.0 m between rows
Approximately 1600 to 2000 standards can be accommodated in a hectare
If dead standards are used, shade should be provided to the vines initially by planting banana or suitable plants
The vanilla plants should be allowed to trail horizontally on poles/trellies tied to trees after trailing to a height of 1.5-2.0 m or coiled around the branches so as to facilitate pollination and harvesting
Flowering will not occur as long as the vines climb upward
The shade trees should be regularly pruned to maintain a light shade
The pruned leaves and branches can be applied as mulch
Planting of cuttings should be taken up preferably during September – November in shallow pits, filled with humus and mulch
The cuttings should be planted with two nodes below the soil surface and at the rate of two cuttings per standard
Care should be taken to ensure that the basal cut end of the cutting is kept just above the surface of the soil to prevent rotting
It is advisable to provide adequate shade to the newly planted cuttings
A thick mulch of leaves should be provided immediately after planting
The cuttings sprout within 4-8 weeks.
Inter-cultivation is not generally recommended in vanilla plantations
However, occasional slashing of weeds is beneficial
Care should be taken not to disturb or damage the roots during cultural operations since they are mainly confined to the surface layer of the soil
Regular mulching combined with irrigation during summer enhances growth and yield
How is Manuring and fertilizer application in vanilla cultivation?
The quantity of fertilizers to be applied may vary based on the fertility status of the soil
However, 40-60 g of N, 20-30 g of P2O5 and 60-100 g of K2O should be given to each vine per year besides organic manures such as vermicompost, oil cakes, poultry manure, wood ash, etc
Organic manures can be applied during May-June and NPK in 2-3 splits along with leaf mulch during June-September on the topmost layer of the soil when sufficient moisture is available
As in the case of other orchids, vanilla also responds to foliar feeding. A 1% solution of 17:17:17 NPK mixture can be sprayed on the plant once a month for boosting growth and flower production
A need based spray of micronutrient mixture can also be taken up
How is pollination done in vanilla cultivation?
Vanilla usually starts flowering in the third year of planting however, it depends on the size of the original cutting used for planting
Maximum production of flowers occurs during the 7-8th year
Vanilla flowers during December to February and each flower lasts for only a day
Pinching off the top 7.5 to 10.0 cm of the vine, 6-8 months before the flowering season encourages flower production
Similarly, pruning off the older branches (which bore fruits the previous year) also encourages flower production
The flowers are borne in axillary racemes and each inflorescence consists of 15-20 flowers
The flowers are to be artificially pollinated (hand pollination) for fruit set
Since the flowers last only for a day pollination must be done on the same day
The remaining flower buds are nipped off. About 10-12 inflorescences may be pollinated in a vine
In hand pollination method, a pin or needle or small piece of pointed wood or a tooth pick is ideal to apply pollen on the stigma of the flower
The pollen of the vanilla flower is produced in a mass called pollinia, and is covered by hood or anther cap
The stigma is protected with a lip known as ‘rostellum’ or ‘labellum’
For pollination, the stamen cap is removed by a needle exposing the pollinin
Then the flap like rostellum is pushed up and the pollinia are brought into contact with the stigma
The ideal time for pollination is 6 am to 1 pm. An efficient worker can pollinate 1500-2000 flowers a day
How is Vanilla harvested form vanilla cultivation?
The beans or pods are ready for harvest 6-9 months after flowering
The beans can be considered as mature when they change from green to pale yellow
At this time, the pods may be 12-25 cm long
It is essential to harvest the pods at the right stage, as immature pods produce an inferior product and over-mature pods split during curing
The right picking stage is when the distal end of the pod turns yellow and fine yellow streaks appear on the pods
Daily picking of mature pods is essential
The pods can be harvested by cutting with a knife
How much is the expected yield from vanilla cultivation?
A good vanillery yields 300-600 kg of cured beans per hectare per year
About 6 kg of green pods produce 1 kg of cured beans
The yield of the vine declines after 12-14 years
How is Vanilla Curing done?
Green vanilla beans (pods) contain little vanillin and is odourless and flavourless
It is during curing that the beans undergo enzymatic reaction responsible for the characteristic aroma and flavour of vanilla
Curing should preferably begin immediately after harvesting, but the beans can be stored for 3-5 days
There are different methods of curing but they all consist of more or less four stages
1. Killing the beans to allow the onset of enzymatic action
2. Sweating, for raising the temperature to promote enzymatic action and enhance rapid drying for preventing fermentation
3. Slow drying for development of fragrance
4. Conditioning the product by storing for a few months in closed boxes
The important methods of curing vanilla are
Peruvian Process and
In the Mexican process, killing is done by exposing the harvested beans directly to the sun for about 5 hours, which produces the optimum percentage of vanillin content
In Bourbon process, bamboo baskets with the beans are immersed in hot water (63-65°C) for 3 minutes
After rapidly draining the water when the beans are still hot, they are kept in wooden boxes lined with blankets
The beans acquire chocolate brown colour the following day
They are then spread in the sun on dark coloured cotton covers for 3-4 hours and later rolled up to retain the heat and stored in wooden boxes
This process is repeated for 6 to 8 days, during which the beans lose some weight and become very supple
Later the beans are dried by spreading them out in wooden trays under shade in an airy location
The duration of drying varies according to the size of the beans and usually lasts for 15-20 days
Properly dried beans are kept in closed containers where the fragrance is fully developed
Finally they are graded according to size and kept in iron boxes lined with paraffin paper
Care should be taken in the early stages of drying to keep the beans straight, because curved beans are considered as inferior in quality
When properly cured and sun dried the vanilla beans will be almost black and supple enough to be bent without breaking and vanillin crystallizes over the beans
Properly cured vanilla beans contain about 2.5% vanillin
Whta is Vanillism?
Vanillism, an occupation hazard is caused by poisoning due to vanillin
Vanillism is characterized by headache, gastric trouble and rashes over the body
The sap of vanilla plant can also cause severe allergic reactions such as itching, skin rashes and inflammation
Further readings and references
Handbook of Horticulture
Rain, Patricia; Lubinsky, Pesach (2011). “Vanilla Production in Mexico”. In Odoux, Eric; Grisoni, Michel (eds.). Vanilla. USA: CRC Press. p. 336. ISBN 978-1-4200-8337-8