flowers and foliage vanillacultivation collectibles Orchid species asian belt


Vanilla is native of the Atlantic coast from Mexico to Brazil. It is grown on a plantation scale in Java, Mauritius, Madagascar, Tahiti, Seycheles, Zanzibar, Brazil and Jamaica and other islands of the West Indies. Malagassy Republic grows 70 to 80 per cent of the world's crop of Vanilla bean followed by Reunion. U.S.A. is the largest importer.

This spice was introduced to India as early as 1835. Its commercial cultivation in India is now restricted to Wynad of Kerala and Nilgiris of Tamil Nadu. Recently, the demand for natural vanilla is on the higher side. It is an orchid, belonging to the family Orchidaceae. There are two important species of vanilla viz. V.planifolia and V.pompana.

The former species produces short thick pods whereas the latter one has the largest pods. V.planifotia has opposite, sessile leave of 10 to 23 cm long which are oblong in shape. Climate and SoilVanilla requires a warm climate with frequent rains and prefers an annual rainfall of 150-300 cm. Partially uncleared jungle lands are ideal for establishing vanilla plantations. In such locations, it would be necessary to retain the natural shade provided by lofty trees which allows penetration of sunlight to the ground level and to leave the soil or the rich humus layer on the top undisturbed.

However, vanilla is cultivated in varied types of soils from sandy loam to laterites.PropagationThe crop is usually established by planting shoot cuttings. If possible cuttings with 18 to 24 internodes should be used as they come to flower earlier than shorter cuttings. But the length of the cuttings are to be adjusted depending on the availability of the planting material and the area to be planted. However, cuttings with less than five to sic inernodes and shorter than 60 cm in length should be avoided when planted directly in the main field.

For raising rooted cutting in polybag even two nodes cutting can be used. It can also be propagated by using tissue culture methods. However, care should be taken to use plantlets not less than 30 cm in length. 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 tow to three weeks.

When ready for insertion, the cutting must be handled very carefully. The lower three to four internodes are placed in a shallow trench 3-4 cm deep and about 10cm wide. The evacuated soil is used to loosely fill this trench.

This operation is usually carried out at the beginning of the rainy season. Land preparationPreparing the soil for prospective pepper or vanilla plantations must take into account the need to supply each vine with a support or stake upon which it can climb. Later it will be seen that these supports are divided into two categories non-living and living.

In the former, site preparation is unaffected because it is possible to put the non-living support, for example a wooden stake, in place at any time after the soil has been cultivated by general ploughing or hole preparation. Where living supports are used, these must be established before taking the cuttings from the pepper or vanilla plants.

The supports most often used for pepper are either plants which are already in the plantation or trees from original forest growth, left in place during land clearance. In the latter case, the fact that the supports are already present makes it essential that the holes at the foot of each support are made by hand.

PlantingVanilla, being a climbing vine requires support for growing. It flourishes well in partial shade of about 50 per cent sunlight and low branching trees with rough bark and small leaves are grown for this purpose. Some of the trees now being used include Glyricidia, Erythrina, Jatropha carcas, Plumeria alba and Casuarna equisetifolia. If the support selected is a legume, it will be able to enrich the soil also.

The growth of live standards is to 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 standards are planted at a spacing of 2.5 to 3 metres between rows and two metres between rows and two metres within the row making a population of 1600 to 2000 trees per hectare. In high density planting use of 1m spacing has been used to plant around 4000 vies in an acre .. but after 5 years pruning and spacing will be required. If limb cuttings are used for planting supports the ideal time is with the onset of rains after the summer, and it should be atleast six months before planting vanilla cuttings. Vanilla is generally planted at a time when the weather is not too rainy or too dry.

The months of June July, August-September are ideal 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 loose moisture for about a week. Since establishment of cuttings is almost cent per cent, planting of single cutting per support is enough.The defoliated part of the vine is laid on the loose soil surface and covered with a thin layer of about two to three cm soil. The basal tip of the cutting should be kept just above the soil to prevent rotting. The growing end is gently tied to the support for climbing by the aerial roots.

The cuttings are shaded with tall dry grass, palm fronds or with other suitable materials. In dry soil, a light sprinkling of water helps for early establishment of cuttings. It takes about four to eight weeks for the cuttings to strike roots and to show initial signs of growth. Vanilla can also be planted as an intercrop in coconut and arecanut plantations.

Mulching: This term refers to the act of spreading, on a cultivated plot, a fairly dense layer of a material which is usually, but not necessarily, of vegetable origin. This layer which should be as durable as possible, protects the soil from run-off and exposure to the sun, regulates rainfall infiltration, slows down evaporation, arrests or at least considerably restricts wed growth and is generally favourable to growth and yield since it also adds humus to the soil on decomposition.

Mulching is used on many of the species studied, and is applied in various ways. mulching of vanilla is carried out as soon as possible, after planting. A mixture of grasses and leguminous species is recommended.TrainingIf the vine is permitted to grow up on a tree, it will rarely blossom, so long as it is growing upward. Hence, vines are allowed to grow upto 1.50 m and then trained horizontally on the branch of supports and latercoiled round them.

This induces more flower production in this portion of the vineFloweringThe vines commence flowering in the second or third year depending 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 procedure involved is simple and done easily by children and women. Using a pointed bamboo splinter or pin, another is pressed against the stigma with the help of thumb and thus smearing the pollen over it. Generally 85 to 100 per cent success is obtained by hand pollination.

The ideal time for pollination is between 6 a. m to 1 a.m. Unfertilized flowers fall within two or three days. Normally 5 to 6 flowers per inflorescence and a total of not more than 10 to 12 inflorescences per vine are pollinated. The excess flower buds are nipped off to permit the development of other pods. Pods take six weeks to attain full size from fertilization but takes 4 to 10 months to reach full maturity depending upon the locations.Maintenance of plantationOnce established, the vines have to be given constant attention.

The plantation should be visited frequently to train the vines to grow at convenient level, to regulate the growth of the vines and the supports, to watch for disease and pests and to always keep leaf mulch around the vines. Any operation done in the plantation should not disturb the roots, which are mainly confined to the mulch and surface layer of soil. In vanilla plantations provided with living supports, adjusting the shading is linked with correct pruning of the supports, a task, which requires care and attention. In the first year, it is enough to prune the lateral branches so as to obtain a sufficiently high single trunk.

Further growth in height is then prevented by topping the tree, which encourages the formation of a canopy but still provides light shade. Leucaena leucocephala is very well suited to this approach, as the pruning, which is left at the base of the tree, provide the soil with nitrogen-rich organic matter.

With vanilla, the shading provided by the living support is often inadequate. It can be supplemented by planting a range of shade trees, for example, Albizzia lebbeck and Inga edulis.

When the support trees grow up, they are pruned early to induce branching. It is desirable 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 commencement of heavy rains to allow in more sunlight.

The pruned vegetation is chopped and applied as a mulch in the plantation. The way in which the vine is trained has an effect on flower production. If the vine is permitted to grown up on a tree it will rarely blossom so long as it is growing upward.

For convenience of cultural operation the vines are allowed to grow up to a height of 1.2 to 1.5 metre and then trained horizontally on the branch of supports and later coiled round them. Alternatively two bamboo splits can be tied to two adjacent support trees and can be utilized for training the vines. Coiling of vines in this manner helps to accumulate carbohydrate and other flower forming materials, beyond the bend and to induce flower production in this portion of the vine.Plant Protection :Vanilla plants are, in general, free from any major pests and disease incidence.

However, conditions leading to weakened plants by drought, lack of nutrients, too much sun, over pollination and bean production certainly favour the incidence of diseases. Environmental conditions favouring diseases are excessive moisture, prolonged rainy weather, insufficient drainage, too much shade, damage to roots and over planting of vanilla. Fungal diseases like shoot tip rot, stem and bean rot caused by Phytophthora sp. as well as immature bean dropping are sometimes noticed. Fusarium oxysporum causes another kind of stem rot. Incidence of diseases can be reduced by maintaining conditions leading to vigorous growth of vines such as adequate shade, heavy mulch especially during the dry season, moderate to light pollination, irrigation during extended dry periods, application of fertilizers and providing adequate drainage. Over crowding of vines in a single support tree also should be avoided.

The disease affected portions should be removed regularly and fungicides such as one per cent Bordeaux Mixture or 0.2 per- cent Indofil-MA5 (200 g in 100 litres of water) may be applied in a need based manner to reduce the spread of diseases. Among insect pests, a few small Lamellicorn beetles(Hopliaretusa and Saula ferruginea Grest) and an ash-gray weevil (Cratopus retuse) bite holes in the flowers and often destroys the column. In addition to these, there are a few caterpillars and certain earwigs, snails and slugs, which live on tender parts of the plant such as shoot, flower buds, immature beans etc. Grasshoppers and crabs are also found to cut growing tip of plants during the establishment stage of the plantation. Chickens, sometimes, cause considerable damage to the roots while scratching the mulch kept around the plants.

Regular surveillance and removal of pests can reduce their damage to a great extent.

Harvesting and curing

When immature, the bean is dark green in colour, but when ripe yellowing commences from its distal end. This is the optimum time for harvesting the bean. If 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 colour, called the Balsam of Vanilla. Eventually they become dry, brittle and finally become scentless. Therefore, the artificial methods are employed to cure vanilla. Vanillin is developed as a result of the enzyme action on the glucosides contained in the beans during the process of curing. Basically any curing method involves the following four stages.






Quality requirements
The primary quality determinant for cured vanilla beans is the aroma
/flavour character. Other factors of significance in quality assessment are
the general appearance, flexibility, the length and the vanillin content.
The relative importance of these various quality attributes is dependent
upon the intended end-use of the cured beans.

Traditionally, the appearance, the flexibility and size characteristics have
been of importance since there is fairly close relationship between these
factors and the aroma/flavour quality. Top quality beans are long, fleshy,
supple, very dark brown to black in colour, somewhat oily in appearance,
strongly aromatic and free from scars and blemishes. Low-quality beans are
usually hard, dry, thin, brown or reddish-brown in colour and possess a poor
aroma. The moisture content of top grade beans is high (30 to 40 per cent),
whereas it may be as little as 10 per cent in the lower grades. At one time,
the presence of a surface coating of naturally exuded vanillin crystals
('frosting') was regarded as an indicator of good quality, though this is no
longer considered so.


A number of procedures have been evolved for the curing of vanilla but they
are all characterised by four phases :

a) 'Killing' or wilting: This stops further vegetative development in the
fresh bean and initiates the onset of enzymatic reactions responsible for
the production of aroma and flavour. Killing is indicated by the development
of a brown coloration in the bean.

b) 'Sweating': This involves raising the temperature of the killed beans to
promote the desired enzymatic reactions and to provoke a first, fairly rapid
drying to prevent harmful fermentations. During this operation, the beans
acquire a deeper brown coloration and become quite supple, and the
development of an aroma becomes perceptible.

c) The third stage entails slow drying at ambient temperature, usually in
the shade, until the beans have reached about one-third of their original

d) In the final stage, known as 'conditioning', the beans are stored in
closed boxes for a period of three months or longer to permit the full
development of the desired aroma and flavour.

The two most important of the various traditional procedures for curing
vanilla beans are those of Mexico and the Indian Ocean islands producing
'Bourbon' vanilla.

Mexican curing methods
The two main traditional forms of curing employed in Mexico are the
sun-wilting and the oven-wilting procedures. The former is the oldest known
method of curing and the latter was introduced around 1850. Both methods are
still widely used by the specialist curing firms in Mexico which process the
vast bulk of the vanilla crop. The harvesting period in Mexico extends from
November to January and curing by either method takes around five to six
months before the product is ready for the market.

'Sun-wilting'- On arrival at the curing house, the fresh beans may be set
aside in a store for a few days until required and during this time the
beans start to shrivel.

The fresh beans first have their peduncles removed and are then sorted
according to their degree of maturity, size and into unsplit and split
types. This is done as the various sorts cure at different rates. Beans,
which are already beginning to darken, are removed, wiped with castor oil
and are cured separately.

The beans are killed by exposing them to the sun for a period of about five
hours on the day after sorting. The fresh beans are spread out on dark
blankets resting on a cement patio or on wooden racks. In the afternoon, the
beans become too hot to hold by hand and are then covered by the edges of
the blanket. In the mid-to late afternoon before the beans have begun to
cool, the thick ends of the beans are laid towards the center of the blanket
and rolled up. The blanket rolls are immediately taken indoors and are
placed in blanket-lined, air tight mahogany boxes to undergo their first '
sweating'. Blankets and matting are placed over the sweating boxes to
prevent loss of heat. After 12 to 24 hours, the beans are removed and
inspected. Most of the beans will have begun to acquire a dark-brown colour
indicating a good 'killing'. Beans which have retained their original green
colour or which have an uneven coloration are separated and are subjected to

Those beans, which have been properly killed, are next subjected to a
process involving periodic 'sunnings' and sweatings. 'Sunning' entails
spreading the beans on blankets and exposing them to the sun for two to
three hours during the hottest part of the day when weather conditions are
favourable. During the remaining part of the day, unless a sweating is to be
undertaken, the beans are stored indoors on wooden racks in a
well-ventilated room. There are two distinct phases to this sunning/sweating
stage. The first phase involves a fairly rapid drying in which the beans are
given 'sunnings' virtually every day and several overnight sweatings until
they become supple. This takes about five to six days. A preliminary sorting
into lots corresponding to the various grades is usually carried out at this
juncture. This is followed by further 'sunnings' and additional but less
frequent sweatings. In practice, 'sunnings' are not carried out every day in
this second phase since, apart from constraints imposed by the weather, too
rapid drying is considered to be detrimental to quality. Some 20 to 30 days
after killing, most of the beans become very supple and acquire
characteristics close to those of the final product and are ready for the
next stage of very slow drying indoors. The total number of sweatings
undertaken during the 'sunning/sweating' operation can vary between four and
Those beans, which require a large number of sunnings and sweatings
generally, provide a low-quality product.

Very slow drying indoors lasts for approximately one month and a further
sorting into grades is usually carried out during this time. The beans are
regularly inspected and those, which have achieved the requisite state of
dryness, are immediately removed from the racks for 'conditioning'. The
overall sweating and drying operation may take up to eight weeks from the
time of 'killing', according to the prevailing weather conditions. Small and
split beans are usually ready for conditioning earlier than perfect, large

Beans removed for conditioning are sorted again and are straightened by
drawing them through the fingers. This operation is also useful in that it
spreads the oil, which exudes during the curing process and gives the beans
their characteristic luster. The beans are next tied into bundles of about
fifty with black string. The bundles are wrapped in waxed paper and are
placed in waxed paper lined, metal conditioning boxes. Conditioning lasts
for at least three months and during this period the beans are regularly
inspected. Mouldy beans are removed for treatment (see later) and those,
which are not developing the required aroma may be re-subjected to 'sunnings
and sweatings'. At the end of the conditioning period, the beans are given a
final grading and are packed for shipment.

'Oven-wilting'- In this procedure, use is made of a specially constructed
brick or cement room, known as a calorifico, which serves as an autoclave.
The room measures approximately 4 x 4 x 4 metres and incorporates a
wood-fired heater, which is stoked from the outside. It is fitted with a
small access door and has wooden racks fitted along the walls.

The beans to be killed by this method are divided into piles of up to 1000
and are then rolled up in a blanket, which is finally covered with matting
to form a malleta. The malletas are moistened with water and are placed on
the shelves in the calorifico. Water is poured onto the solid floor to
maintain a high humidity, the door is closed and the heating fire is lit.

In about 12 hours, the temperature inside the calorifico reaches 60 °C.
After a further 16 hours, a temperature of 70 °C is attained and this is
maintained for another 8 hours. The malletas are removed after a total of 36
hours in the calorifico. If the temperature cannot be raised above 65 °C,
then the total period of autoclaving is extended to 48 hours.

On removal from the calorifico, the matting is quickly stripped from the
malletas and the blanket wrapped beans are placed in sweating boxes. After
24 hours, the beans are removed and inspected.

The killed beans are then subjected to repeated sunnings and sweatings, as
described above under 'Sun-wilting'. Should the weather be overcast, the
killed beans are stored on racks indoors in a well-ventilated room until
sunning is possible. However, if the weather does not improve within three
days, the batch is reprocessed through the calorifico and sweating box.

Bourbon curing method
Bourbon vanilla is the name given to the product from the former French
possessions in the Indian Ocean, which employ a curing technique first
developed on the island of Reunion, formerly known as Bourbon. Production of
Bourbon-type vanilla is now dominated by Madagascar, with the Comoro Islands
and Reunion as smaller but important sources.

The Bourbon curing technique is distinguished from those of Mexico in that
'killing' is achieved by scalding the beans in hot water and fewer sweatings
are undertaken. The Bourbon product usually has higher moisture content than
the corresponding Mexican grade and is frequently frosted. As in Mexico,
curing of vanilla is carried out by specialist firms rather than by the
vanilla growers. Slight variations in the curing technique are practiced in
the various producing islands and the following is a description of the
procedure evolved on Madagascar:

On arrival at the curing factory, the beans are sorted according to the
degree of maturity, size, and into split and unsplit types. Batches of
beans, weighing 25 to 30 kg, are loaded into openwork cylindrical baskets,
which are then plunged into containers full of hot water heated to 63 to 65
°C over a wood fire. Batches of beans, which will eventually make up the top
three qualities, are immersed for 2 to 3 minutes, while smaller and split
beans are treated for less than 2 minutes. The warm beans are rapidly
drained, wrapped in a dark cotton cloth and are placed in a cloth-lined
sweating box. After 24 hours, the beans are removed and inspected to
separate those, which have not been properly killed.

The next stage of sun-drying is carried out on a plot of dry, easily drained
ground, at some distance from roads to avoid contamination by dust. The
killed beans are spread out on dark cloths resting on slatted platforms,
constructed from bamboo and raised 70 cm above the ground. After one hour of
direct exposure to the sun, the edges of the cloth are folded over the beans
to retain the heat. The cloth-covered beans are then left for a further two
hours in the sun before the blanket is rolled up and taken indoors. This
procedure is repeated for 6 to 8 days until the beans become quite supple.

The third stage involves slow drying in the shade for a period of 2 to 3
months. The beans are spread on racks, mounted on Supports and are spaced 12
cm apart in a well-ventilated room. During this slow drying operation, the
beans are sorted regularly and those which have dried to
the requisite moisture content are immediately removed for conditioning. In
some localities in the Bourbon producing areas, where the weather is
frequently inclement during the sun-and indoor-drying periods of curing,
ovens set at 45 to 50 °C have traditionally been used.

Conditioning of the beans is carried out in a similar manner to that
described for Mexico and takes about 3 months for completion. The overall
curing process for Bourbon vanilla lasts for 5 to 8 months. The main
harvesting season in Madagascar extends from June to early October.

A modification to the traditional Bourbon curing method was devised in
Puerto Rico in the 1940s and was adopted by the vanilla co-operative at
Castaner. On arrival at the factory, the beans are sorted into split and
unsplit types and are then killed as soon as possible. Prior to killing, the
beans are wiped with a damp cloth. Scalding entails three 10-second
immersions at 30-second intervals in a water bath at 80 °C. After draining,
the beans are wrapped in a blanket and are placed in a sweating box. Killing
is followed by daily two-hour sunnings and overnight sweatings for about
seven days until the beans become supple. The next stage of indoor
air-drying is continued until the beans reach one-third of their original
weight. The beans are then bundled and conditioned in tin boxes until they
dry to one-quarter of their original weight. By contrast to Bourbon vanilla
from the Indian Ocean producers, Puerto Rican vanilla scalded at 80 °C
rarely frosts. When the weather is unsuitable for sunning, the beans are
sweated in a closed oven at 45 °C containing a pan of water.

Other methods for V. fragrans
The Guadeloupe technique entails killing by making scars with a pin along
the faces of the bean and then exposing the beans, wrapped in a blanket, to
the sun for a few hours. The pin, which should be sterilised regularly, is
fitted into a cork to protrude no more than 2 mm. After killing, the curing
process is similar to that of Mexico.

Two other methods, which tend to provide a poor-quality product, are the
'Guiana method' and the 'Peruvian process'. The' Guiana method' involves
killing the beans by placing them in the ashes of a fire until they begin to
shrivel. On removal, the beans are wiped clean, rubbed with olive oil, the
lower ends are tied with string to prevent splitting, and they are then left
to dry in the open air. In the 'Peruvian process', the beans are killed by
immersion in boiling water and are then tied at the ends and hung up in the
open air. After drying for about twenty days, the beans are lightly smeared
with castor oil and are tied in bundles a few days later.

No distinctive local method of curing appears to have been evolved in Java.
Modifications of the Mexican and Bourbon methods were commonly used but in
general less care seems to have been taken in curing and grading. The
quality of the Java product has never compared favourably with those of
Mexico or the Bourbon producers.

Curing of Tahiti vanilla
Since V. tahitensis is indehiscent, the beans are not killed artificially
but are harvested when mature. The tip of the bean turning brown
characterises this. The curing is carried out by specialist firms, which
employ a method bearing similarities to the Mexican procedure.

On receipt by the curing firms, the beans are placed in piles, which are
turned daily. Beans, which are entirely brown, indicating that vegetative
life has ceased, are removed for sweating and drying. The 'killed' beans are
spread out on blankets resting on raised, wooden racks and are exposed to
the sun for three to four hours. The warm beans are then rolled up in the
blanket and are placed in a sweating box overnight. This process is repeated
for fifteen to twenty days with progressively less frequent overnight
sweatings. Finally, the beans are left outside in layers 10 cm deep to dry
in the wind. When at the requisite state of dryness, beans are removed from
the racks and are placed in large crates.

Most beans are sorted and sold shortly after drying has been completed and
without any lengthy 'conditioning' period. The main harvest is collected
during February and March and drying is usually completed during July and
August. If the beans are kept for a long period before sale, they are stored
in tins.


Yield : The yield of vanilla varies depending upon the age of vines and the method of cultivation. Normally it starts yielding from the third year and the yield goes on increasing till the seventh or eighth year. Thereafter the yield slowly starts declining till the vines are replanted after another seven to ten years. In one acre you can plant about 3000 vanilla plants.

Each plant is expected to yield about 500-800 grams of green beans per year. Under reasonable level of management, the yield range of a middle aged plantation will be about 500 kg-1000 kgs of green beans per acre. For every 5 kgs of green beans you can get aroun 1 kgs of cured beans.

Market for Vanilla

The main application of natural vanilla is for flavouring ice creams and soft drinks. It is estimated that nearly 300 tonnes of vanilla beans is used in USA every year in the preparation of cola type drinks. The major industrial purchasers of vanilla are pharma companies and soft drink companies like Coke and Pepsi. However the fact remains that market for natural vanilla essence is today largely only confined to the West. World production of vanilla beans is approximately 3000 tonnes per annum. Madagascar provides about 50 per cent of the world supply and the rest is from Indonesia. Comoro and Reunion.papua new guinea and India. Production in Indonesia is nearly 500 tonnes. The present international demand from vanilla is about 19,000 tonnes.India has just come into the market for production. Our production last year was a meagre 60 tonnes only.

Vanilla imports are dominated by three countries- USA, France and Germany. Importers in Germany and France are suppliers to other markets especially in Europe. Europe imports generally high quality beans while USA accepts low quality beans also. There is an understanding between Bourbon vanilla producing countries viz. Madagascar, Comoro and Reunion, and importers of France and Germany in the marketing of vanilla beans.






In the ensuing pages you will find cultivation information from our grower farms located in the following places of vanilla cultivation which becomes our supply backbones.

The cultivation and processing in vanilla happens in these farms. Shown are Farms located in (1) Niligiris Biosphere- Ooty,coonoor , silent valley area-Mannarkad, Gudalur areas (2) Shimoga in Karnataka known as shimoga vanilla farms (3) Trivandrum orchid belts , Trichur and palakkad sectors (4) Pollachi and mettupalayam of coimbatore districts.

In each segment the cultivation methods and micro climate are different and we will see a variety of techniques used for cultivation.

Also shown here are our grower farms located in different countries like Myanmar, Malaysia and Mauritius, Madagascar etc.






















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