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Cultivation of vanilla in Madagascar
The best field to cultivate vanilla bean is a forest with a slight slope. This protects the vanilla from too much sun and also has sufficient drainage.
The support stake
The vanilla beans need to be supported with a stake. Stakes can be made with 1.8 m long wood sticks or small trees can also be used (coffee trees work well, for example)
There are 2 advantages to using trees : they protect the vanilla plant from too much sun, and also provide organic material which becomes natural fertilizer.
The vanilla plant is propagated using cuttings. About 150 cm (about 5 feet) is taken from an existing plant. On the cut end, the 5 first leaves are removed. The vanilla cutting is stored in a shady place for 2 weeks
Preparing the new plant
The vanilla cutting is placed, as shown in the picture, on the support stake. The cut end, where the leaves were removed, is placed in a growing medium : this medium is generally peat moss or compost (organic scrap).
Growing the vanilla plant
The vanilla plant will grow and needs to be hung on, or looped over the stake.
After a while, flowers will appear on stems. To get good quality vanilla beans, the flowers stems need to be pruned back to 8 to 15 flower stems per plant, depending on how robust the plant is.
There are no insects for natural pollination in Madagascar, so artificial pollination is needed. We use a small pin to remove the cover from the top of the pistil and the pollen is put into contact with the pistil. For each flower stem, about 10 flowers will be fertilized. The percent of successful fertilization is about 80%, so this will produce about 8 vanilla beans.
After pollination, the beans will grow. One plant will produce 100 to 120 vanilla beans.
To determine ripeness of each vanilla bean, see the above picture.
#1 : vanilla been is still green and can't be harvested.
#2 : vanilla bean is light green with a very little bit of light yellow. Vanilla bean is ready to be harvested.
#3 : vanilla bean is brown with black : too late the bean is over ripe