We are currently in vanilla pollinating season here at Kalōpā Makai Farms. What is pollinating season? It’s the time of year that the orchid flowers bloom and need to be hand pollinated in order to fruit. Vanilla bean is the fruit of the vanilla orchid flower. Unless you live in specific areas of Mexico or Argentina where the stingless melipona bee lives, then you must hand pollinate the vanilla orchid flower in order for a bean to grow. Yes, I’m serious. All vanilla grown outside this specific region of the neotropics must be hand pollinated.
So beginning in early May we started this process. The vanilla flower opens up one time on one day. So each day at about 6:00 a.m., I head down to the orchid grotto and begin the pollination process. I pollinate between 30 – 50 flowers a day. Not every flower I pollinate takes, typically because I’ve done something wrong or I’ve let the pollen fall before it’s placed in the appropriate spot. It’s not hard to do, but I’ve found being slow and steady and using reader glasses is quite helpful. How did I learn how to do this? Why youtube of course. There are a lot of tutorials out there about the process. My son did a quick video which I find extremely helpful – see link below:
This is the first year we’ve had this amount of flowers. There are hundreds. Timing was right as I’ve recently left a job I had for over 13 years to concentrate on the farm. If you don’t pollinate the flower on the day it opens, you’ve missed your chance. Morning time is the best time to do this as the flowers are most open at the start of day, and slowing begin to close as the day ends.
In the pictures above you can see some beans with decaying flowers still attached – that indicates successful pollination and you can actually see the vanilla bean growing. If you look carefully you can also see some pale stems with no flowers attached. Those were either unsuccessful attempts at pollinating a flower or flowers I missed and didn’t pollinate at all.
Pollinating the flowers is just the first step of getting a vanilla bean you can actually use. It’s a long process, and now that I have a better understanding of just what it takes to get a vanilla bean to a consumer, I truly appreciate this little bean all the more.Follow my blog