Vanilla is one of the popular cash crops. In Kerala, vanilla is cultivated in Idukki, Wayanad and Ernakulam. Though frequent changes in the price and diseases pose threat for vanilla farmers, it remains to be one of the prominent cash crops here.
Vanilla can be cultivated twice a year. The ideal time for planting vanilla is in May (before the onset of southwest monsoon) and from September to October (between southwest and northeast monsoons). Majority of the farmers start cultivating vanilla in Kerala during September-October.
Vanilla grows well in warm and humid places where rainfall of upto 150 mm per year occurs. Though vanilla grows in all types of soil, loam topsoil is more suitable for it.
Small saplings or stem cuttings are used for planting. Stems that have at least 15-20 internodes will bloom fast.
The length of the stem cutting can be decided as per the availability of the vines. Before planting the vines, the support trees should be planted.
The stem cutting should be planted in the soil at the bottom of the support tree.
Put some wet soil in the bottom in 3 cm thickness after planting. Top portion of the vanilla vines should be tied to the support tree.
Mulch the flowerbed with dried leaves or hay and water it moderately.
In Kerala, quickstick tree is the common support tree used for vanilla. Support trees protect vanilla vines from scorching sunlight and give it shade.
The height of the support trees should be managed in a way that make maintenance and harvesting easy.
There should be a distance of two metres between two support trees.
Vanilla plant roots and sprouts within two months. Fertilisation and irrigation are two important factors for the growth of vanilla.
Organic fertilisation is preferable. Cattle manure, green leaves, compost, groundnut cake and bone manure can be provided in different phases of growth.
Water the plants at least twice a week in four months from February to May.
Mulching is very important for vanilla cultivation. Apart from the time of planting, mulching should be done at least thrice a year.
Most of the roots of vanilla plant grow on the organic substance on top of the soil, which is why mulching is important for vanilla.
In order to avoid fungal infections, leave a little space from the vanilla stem while mulching. Take care not to move the soil from the bottom.
Vanilla will start blooming within three years of planting. It blooms once in a year. The flowers emerge from the leaf nodes. More than 20 flowers are seen in a bunch.
Manual pollination is required for vanilla. The farmers need to pollinate each flower manually on the very day they bloom.
The fruits begin to grow soon after pollination. It attains full growth within seven weeks, but can be harvested only after 9-11 months.
Vanilla fruit grows 2 cm per week. Apart from cultivating as monocrop, vanilla can be grown as a rotation crop as well.