Thursday, April 28, 2011

Excitement of the Vanilla order

Some of you may be familiar with this picture (this greenery did appear in the post on the Red Vented Bulbul)

And this one was with the post of the Scaly Breasted Munia.

You can see the Munia making a dash for her nest at the bottom left of the above picture
But this time I am excited about that long leaf that you see in the above pictures.
Yes I am excited about the Vanilla that we grew along with the money plant.

This story starts about 3 years ago when we got two cuttings (about a meter long) one from Palai and the other from Cochin (Kerala)
I vaguely remember someone mentioning at that time that they will start flowering only after 3 years and about the fact that natural pollination will not take place.
So we just planted it along with our money plant and forgot about it.

Right enough, about three and half years later we found clusters of flower buds coming up at some specific locations.

Oh ….. . . lot of excitement. It is flowering, it is finally flowering, but what next?

So I logged on to the net and read about Vanilla pollination.
Came up with some interesting facts.
In 1518, while the Spanish Conquistador Cortez was seeking the treasures of the New World, he observed the Aztec emperor Montezuma enjoying a royal beverage of Vanilla scented chocolate. He was so impressed by this kingly drink that when he and his men returned to Europe, they took bags of cocoa and Vanilla along with the gold, silver and jewels of Montezuma's fallen empire.

For more than 300 years after its discovery by Cortez, Vanilla was produced only in its native Mexico.

Plantings were tried in many countries, but the delicate orchid never bore fruit. The mystery was not solved until 1836, when a Belgian named Charles Morren found that common insects cannot pollinate the Vanilla orchid. He observed that a tiny bee, the Melipone, which is found only in the Vanilla districts of Mexico, is uniquely equipped to bring the plant to fertilization. The bee did not survive outside Mexico.

At Madagascar's coast a former slave named Edmond Albius observed these bees very carefully and he perfected a quick and simple method of hand-pollinating which is still used to this day.
Individual flowers are to be pollinated early in the morning as soon as it opens up.

A small stick of bamboo or a toothpick is used to pollinate.

The rostellum is pushed aside and the pollen is spread from the stamen to the stigma causing contact between the two.

Once pollination takes place the flower dries but remains on the cluster. Then slowly the thin stalk behind the flower becomes thick and turns into the pod.

If the pollination is unsuccessful, the flower falls off the next day.

I read some more from different sites and watched some videos related to this and gingerly took my next step of pollination.

But the flowers were falling off……..

O ho, that is bad news. Tried for some more days but flowers kept falling off.

What is going wrong?

Went back to the net and read some more. Then I saw a video (a very badly made video by some amateur) but in that badly made video I got to see what I was doing wrong.

Both the stamen and the stigma has a small flap which has to be held open while pollinating. It was a difficult task as both the stamen and the stigma are on the same flower. Holding them and juggling the toothpick with care to be taken that the flower is not damaged in the process was a delicate task.

So I tried the new tactic and hey the flowers are not falling. In fact I some how got the vague feeling that the flowers were smiling at me.

Yahoo…… success…… the flowers are getting pollinated. (Cortez would have been proud of me)

I see now that the stalks behind the dried flowers are getting fleshy and long and developing into beans.

So we wait for the next step.

The bean stays on the vine for two months to reach its mature length before it produces any seeds, and will continue to grow on the vine for another six months until the base end of the pod begins to turn yellow. The bean is then harvested, blanched and sun dried over another two to three months, then the final conditioning stage will take up to three months before it is ready to be sold.

From start to finish, it can take 4 to 5 years to produce just one vanilla bean, thus making it one of the most labor-intensive and costliest spices in the world.

Vanilla is the second most costly natural flavoring (the first being saffron)

With whole beans costing up to $2 each, extract is much more economical and has a long life in the bottle.

Like Jim & Tracy Reddekopp from Hawai said:
Pollination is an art form and a skill though, and one that develops over time by trial and error.

Pollination can’t be replicated by a machine. In this high-speed age, it still takes human hands, human eyes, a human mind, and a human heart to turn the science of pollination into a labor of love.


Tomz said... much science behind the pollination of Vanilla? Thanks fr this article. Why din't you post the link of the reference videos? especially that poorly made one!

Daisy said...

Wow, that is exciting that you got the vanilla beans to grow, Joe. I never knew how involved it was to get them to grow. Very interesting post!

Jeannette said...

Such a fun project and great writing about your research and experimentation. I may now be prowling around looking for vanilla to grow in the greenhouse! What a lovely outdoor patio you have...may your family enjoy much time there together.

Harman said...

Wow!this waz so interesting..actually thanks for sharing this with us!

Sharmila said...

This is awesome!

Renu said...

I was a botany student and read about pollination and all but find this pollination fascinating.

Neha said...

This is interesting. Of course, you had the flowers smiling at your :)

Bikramjit said...

Lot of Science .. and i thought i was a good gardener well i AINT.. i could not do this ..

the plants look beautiful so when can you give me lessons on al this so i can do something in my garden :)


Susan Deborah said...

Hmmm. The rich vanilla is at your place now. Glad. But so much work on knowing about this. Passion sure is required in huge dosages.

Joy always,

Jacob and Lois Anne said...

First of all, thanks for stopping by Paree and for your nice comment.

Secondly, this is a fascinating post filled with stuff I knew nothing about! You should be proud of your work and perseverance! What a superb result!

Lorena G. Sims said...

I just recently learned about vanilla bean and saffron being the most expensive one. I'm so glad to learn more and actually see pictures of Vanilla. Indeed, Cortez would have been proud of you. Great Post!

Sayantani said...

Thats a beautiful post. I read the whole article and still cant believe you have grown vanilla at home. love your blog and will come back soon to read some more interesting articles. between thanks for your comment on my blog. I reall am pissed of with this theft but really dont see any good way to make things happen.

Haddock said...

@ Tomz
I tried searching for that particular video but could not locate it. But I have added the link of another one which shows the whole process in short (see discovery by Cortez above)
@ Daisy
Yes I too never knew how delicate and complicated it was, but once I got into it I was determined to see that it bears fruit)
@ Jeannette
Oh yes go for it. Its a nice feeling of having accomplished something.
@ Harman
Most welcome.
@ Sharmila
@ Renu
Would you believe - I too dabbled my hand in zoology and botany in college, but found it not my line so turned to Engineering !!
@ Neha
Maybe they had to reciprocate as I was smiling at them :-)
@ Bikramjit
Yes we all can be small gardeners if we try it out.
As for classes, I am not cut out to teach.
For me everything is trial and error method :-)
@ Susan
Rightly said, Passion is required in the right dosage.
@ Jacob & Anne
We all learn something when we stumble on it. Isn't it ?
@ Lorena
Cortez was one of my heroes when I read "Classic Comic books" in my school days. (You don't get Classic Comic books now a days)
@ Sayantani
Come to think of it, I too can't believe I did it !! You are most welcome to come back again.

Joyce Lansky said...

Beautiful plants! Such talent to make things grow. Everything I plant dies.


Sindhu said...

Very interesting. Isnt it great that the internet is now there to answer such questions and guide you along the way, good luck!

Thérèse said...

It sounds like great fun to follow the adventure of this Vanilla Plant. Bravo!
Thks for visiting Chandler a to z.

Cezar and Léia said...

Thanks for your always kind words in our blog! And also thanks for this interesting post!Love Vanilla, and your pictures are beautiful!
Léia - Bonjour Luxembourg

Keats The Sunshine Girl said...

Good luck with your vanilla plant. Interesting read.We bought some vanilla pods from Kerala as gifts and they were well received.

Joanne said...

SO cool that you're growing vanilla beans! Great post.

walk2write said...

This post quite simply made my morning great! Everything about it speaks of care and devotion. Thanks for giving us valuable insight into the art of pollination.

Will you be making your own extract?

Draffin Bears said...

How exciting to have your own vanilla beans growing. I enjoyed seeing your photographs and learning more about how they are grown.
Thank you for visiting me.

Happy week

Anonymous said...

Wow - that is very interesting. I never knew that vanilla can really only grow unassisted in Mexico! Learn something new every day, right? I would love to have a vanilla plant - it's one of my favorite flavors - but I'm sure it's too cold here. :)

Mandy said...

That's wonderful and very inspiring!
Thanks for sharing, I enjoyed the visit. :)

Enigma said...

Wow! You actually pollinated the plants by yourself! Nice! :)

And good that your efforts bore fruit! Err.. Flower! :)

Wonderful blog and wonderful clicks. Keep adding more!

And thanks for visiting my blog! :)

Cheesemakin' Mamma said...

Oh wow. This was so interesting. Vanilla is so expensive. How neat that you are able to grow your own. Blessings!

Heavenly Muse said...

three years a long period...

well bulbul is so innocent

Kelsey @ Seattle Smith's said...

Oh my, who knew!!

Kathleen From Eggs In My Pocket said...

How exciting and wonderful for you! Vanilla does require some work, but is so worth it! blessings,Kathleen

kyooty said...

These photos are beautiful the greens are so amazing. I didn't realize Vanilla was so interesting. :)

Arti said...

WOW! This is something! It is always such a wonderful feeling to see your hard work bear fruits, isn't it! You have really given your best, and I am so glad you got the right thing finally. Great photos too!
Have a lovely day :)

allie. said...

HI there - just to say thanks for visiting my South African spot.
It was a lovely surprise to hear from you.

Some beautiful pics on this post!

sangeeta said...

I was thinking of artificial pollination in the beginning and you did it ... and look at the plump beans . I never thought of getting vanilla for my garden although we have grown other orchids in the past . Shifting and other factors cause a lot of damage to them and now we have only one left which never flowered.

I am waiting for this vanilla to get mature...and yes i also feel that the flowers re smiling and those vanilla beans are winking at us.

Anonymous said...

Vanilla beans! How exciting!! i hope your produce reaches fruition. Will check in for the final ones! All the best.

Callie said...

Wow! This an amazing story and the photos are wonderful. Thank you so much for posting this... I learned so much. Hope you get to enjoy all those vanilla beans. Seems like after all that work they would cost more than 2.00 dollars apiece.

Insignia said...

so much for a vanilla! This is an eye-opener. I didnt know this was so labor intensive. Wish your plant bears the beans :)

Wonderful pictures by the way

anilkurup said...


I'm here in your Blog first time. And I must say you have taken pains and effort to write this post. Happy pollination!
Quite enlightening matters.

Indrani said...

This is educational, wonderful explanation. I am tempted to try growing one.

Canyon Girl said...

Your posts are always so different and informative. About stuff I don't know anything about, I mean. I really enjoyed this.--Inger

joanny said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
joanny said...

Very nice photo's, and an interesting botanical historic article you wrote. I appreciate your patience and perseverance in cultivating the flower to get vanilla beans, I use to raise orchids of which there are hundreds of different varieties, and each takes special care in order to produce long lasting flowers. Yes I am sure the flowers smiled back at you.

thank you for the comment on my blog.

Margaret said...

Thanks for your sweet comment on my blog. Never been to yours before, but you have quite an interesting article on the vanilla bean. I never knew it took so long to produce 1. They are expensive, but I just love vanilla. In a natural environment, would it be a specific bird that pollinates, as they seem so hard to open? Maybe a special beak?

Heavenly Housewife said...

Wonderful photos! FAscinating info on vanilla, I will now look at them in a whole new light (and appreciate them more).
*kisses* HH

Jazzy E (hivenn) said...

so lovely. x hivenn

shooting star said...

wow..nice pics of vanilla....and thanks for all the info!!!

Natacha said...

They look so exotic and beautiful!
Thank you for visiting my blog some days ago. Isn't it fun to meet people from around the world in their daily life?!

Have a nice day (I'll be back!),

Natacha (blogging from Luxembourg)

Inger-M said...

Interesting post.
Thanks for your visit and comment on my blog! :-)

Pinku said...

congrats!! on your own Vanilla beans...labour of love indeed.

Once you know how difficult it really wonders how could the term "vanilla stuff" stand for things simple or commonplace?

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

I found it so interesting that you were able to pollinate the beauitful vanilla flowers yourself.

Thanks for visiting and commenting on my blog!

Sheila @ A Postcard a Day said...

Well, I'll no longer complain about the cost of vanilla, now that I've read all this. :) The process as a whole is really most fascinating.

Casuarina said...

This is all so exciting !!! I loved the information...thanks !

Miinaa said...

Wonderful much passion and patience...Vanilla beans being pollinated on a terrace in Pune! Kudos to your efforts. thanks for sharing..

hrmit said...

It was an exhilarating read. A beautifully written description of nature's amazing bounty... The pix complimented the entire description superlatively ...