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Growing Vanilla    
 
 
Tonga vanilla beans
Tonga Vanilla beans on vine
 
 
Tonga vanilla
Support tree
 
 
Tonga vanilla
Support tree
 
 
Tonga vanilla
Shadehouse
 
 
Tonga vanilla
Coconut mulch support posts
Vanilla species - Family Orchids

Vanilla Fragrans (planifolia) comes from South America. Its beans contain 4-5% vanillin.
 

Selection and Preparation of Support tree

Vanilla is originally a forest plant and it therefore requires a similar forest environment. It must have a support tree to support its stem and to provide about 5% shade for good growth.

However, the need to continually prune these trees to provide the optimum shade makes it necessary to select the best support tree, which are quick growing, easily propagated, provide light, chequered shade and have sufficient low branches over which the vines can be trained to hang down, with a type of growth providing easy access to the vanilla, and be easily pruned when necessary.

The support tree used by Tonga Vanilla is the Physic nut, Jatropha curcas (fiki) that can be propagated by cuttings or growing rapidly from seed.
 

Selection of Planting Material

Planting material should be selected from strong healthy vines. Commercial vanilla is always propagated by cuttings. Cutting can either be terminal or mid-section of the vine. The length of the cutting is usually determined by the amount of planting material available. However it has been found that the longer the longer the cutting the quicker they establish. Other things should also be considered while making a cutting; ease of handling for transportation. Therefore it is recommended to take cuttings of approx. 3ft long with 8-12 nodes.
 

Planting of Vanilla Cuttings

Vanilla can be planted out all year, but the optimum time is during the rainy season so as to give quick root development. This is usually between October and March.
 

Fertilization

Tonga Vanilla does not use any manufactured chemicals or fertilizers in growing and curing our vanilla. All Vanilla vines are grown organically using only mulch for nutrients.
 

Training and Looping

This refers to regular burying of new shoots in the ground or the training of the vine so that it produces new roots, which will replace dead roots and give more food and vigour to the plant. After some years of looping a vanilla plant may have many rooting stems forming a thick bush instead of a singe vine.
 

Induction of Flowering

Vanilla Fragrans usually flowers only once a year over a period of about two months. Vanilla plants must be induced to flower; vanilleries that are not induced to flower give lower yields. To induce flowering, cutting of the growing tip at 9-10 month before the flowering season can do this. The support trees must also be pruned at the beginning of the flowering season to provide access to the flowers for hand pollination, to encourage flowering of new vines and to hasten the maturity of the beans.

Pollination has to be done by hand. Pollen is brought together in mass and this pollen mass is separated from the stigma by a flap: with a coconut frond you lift up the flap, to enable the pollen mass to be pressed down on the stigma. Flowers last for one day, so pollination should be done every morning, for at 2.00pm it is too late (to prevent exhaustion of the plant from heat & sun).
 

Harvesting

The time taken between flowering and harvesting in between 6 to 9 months. The pods are harvested rotationally when they are fully-grown and the tips have turned yellow, if the pods become over-ripe, they can split.

Selection of the maturity of the beans can be explained by the fact there is a wide gap between the first flower opening and the time the last flower finally opens. This can range from 1 to 5 months earlier.

The beans may be harvested by sideways pressure of the thumb at the base, and then cutting the stem with a sharp knife.
 

Processing of Vanilla

The curing process, which should begin within a week of harvesting consists of alternate sweating and drying, during which approx. 70 to 80% of the water content is lost and the typical aroma develops. Good quality cured beans should be very dark brown in color, long, flexible, oily, smooth and strongly aromatic with out defects.

The vanilla beans are scalded in hot (60 degrees C) for a few minutes then wrapped in blankets and placed in an insulated box for 24 hours. They are then spread on racks in the sun during the day and stored in an insulated container at night. This continues for two months or more to dry slowly. These beans are then conditioned in closed bins to develop the full aroma. The whole process takes from 5 to 6 months.

The beans are regularly checked, smoothed and straightened by drawing them through the fingers. At the same time, grading is done.