The vanilla orchid from the rain forest of the Rio San Juan, Nicaragua
All started as a hobby around 16 year ago.
I started planting vanilla Pompona as hobby around the year 2004; an organized female group of campesinas from the village of Buena Vista offer me the cuttings to start my vanilla orchid garden.
By 2014 we had multiplied the genetics of the initial cutting and we planted the vanilla lianas using as tutor our cacao and fruit trees around the Montecristo Lodge. We used our own experimental technique combining and adapting ideas from plantation videos of Colombia, Mexico and Costa Rica.
Vanilla orchid was a keep a secret for a long time.
I started investigating vanilla orchid on the internet, I learned that I had to pollinize the flower by hand and it took me a few year to master the technique most videos available at the time were not made for learning, vanilla plantation and curing was been keep as a secret by most growers.
2016 We were seriously getting into the world of vanilla.
2016 we were seriously planting vanilla lianas on a 1/2 mazana using new wooden post as tutor. I was increasing the population of vanilla orchid from the cacao, sour soup, and mango trees, using the wooden post in between the fruits trees.
Curing the vanilla bean
While learning to plant and gown the vanilla pod, I also had to learn the curing process, in my case I used the sun drying method. Dip the vines in hot water 150-170 degrees Fahrenheit from 10 seconds to three minutes. We cured our beans s follows:
Dipping “kills” the bean, stopping growth and releasing the enzymes that begin production of vanillin, the bean’s primary flavor component.
While hot you wrap them tightly in cotton towels, storing them inside a dark, airtight container for 36 hours. These trigger the enzymes that convert cellulose and starches to vanillin and other complex components that give vanilla its beautifully subtle aroma.
Because vanilla is cured during the rainy season, the beans are kept warm by laying the rolls in the sun and returning them to their container when clouds and rain threaten. As the beans reach more ideal moisture content, they will be left in the sun open to the air during the day and rolled up at night for sweeting. Daily sun exposure is required to flavor transformation and to prevent mold on the bean. This packaging “rolling and unrolling” continues four up two month.
Drying stage begins when the bean develop aroma and reach the correct moisture,
For drying the beans are laid in the open air, alternating between sun and shade, driving out moisture. Too much sun can over-dry the beans and destroy vanillin, leaving brittle, useless sticks. The beans are closely monitored and constantly sorted by moisture content.
Workers massage each bean by hand to make sure the drying is occurring evenly. Drying usually lasts for 3 to 4 weeks, with a goal of 25-30 percent moisture content.
By now, the beans are exploding with aroma and flavor, and almost ready. They are placed in closed boxes lined with wax paper and kept there for at least a month. This preserves and enhances aroma. Beans are often shipped at this stage before conditioning is complete because this is the bean’s final form of storage.
Natural disaster (Hurricane Otto) forced us to stop our vanilla operation for a couple of years.
Hurricabe Otto made landfall in Nicaragua at peak intensity on November 24, 2016 came directly from the Rio San Juan river into Montecristo Private Reserve, and traveled along the Nicaragua–Costa Rica border, with sustained: 115 mph wind.
Hurricane Otto destroyed our lodge and our plantation in a matter of a few hours. We found our self without a good roof over our head, we loosed our solar power system, or electrical cables and water pipes were underground and got messed up badly by the roots system of the fallen trees.
In 2017 I re discover in my private natural reserve a wild vanilla orchid, the new Vanilla Planifolia Montecristo.
We now are planting both Vanilla Pompona and Vanilla Planifolia. The Pompona it easier to grow and easier to pollinate, is a more rigorous liana with bigger leaves, the pod are shaped more like a banana. The Planifolia is more delicate, with smaller leaves and flower, thus making it harder to pollinate.
The size of cutting for planting is in direct proportion to the time it takes to start producing flowers. If you start from 1 foot cutting it will take about 3 year to start flowering, if you star with a meter long cutting you will see flowers in two years.
I am experimenting by trans planting whole vanilla lianas found in the jungle, an average of 30 foot long lianas, if planted properly the will keep producing at the new location on next natural floration.