The proposed investment into the lobster farming has not happened. We have pulled the plug on the deal, after they missed a self-imposed deadline to pay the deposit. We do not believe the investor actually had any funding. We’re not sure of the motivation. It does not seem to be with bad intent. Anyway, we calculate that we need another $150,000 to take us through to harvest, and maybe $100,000 until the lobsters cover costs, so we don’t really need capital of a million. It would have speeded things up, but at a cost of substantial shareholding.
We haven’t had a dry season. It looks like this will be the third heavy wet season in a row. Now, this has happened twice before since 1950, so it is not yet time to say Climate Change. But this is continuing to wreak havoc on the global vanilla supply – Central America hasn’t had a crop for two years. But it may be that it IS change in weather patterns – which of course always happens. Therefore, we must take advantage of our position as one of the largest growers and trial different solutions. We are trying two, one involving lots of pruning and artificial support below the shade trees, and the other with training the shade trees sideways and in both growing the vanilla horizontally. This flowering season will tell us if we need to prune to create falling branches or whether this will happen automatically. We suspect we will need to prune. We are optimistic that this will overcome the excess rainfall, but we really need 6 weeks of sunshine to get them ready to flower. We are putting plenty of manure into the compost bins to increase the potassium content, to encourage flowering, and beginning to collect bones for burning to potash to increase the phosphorous for the same reason. The pH in some areas is low, around 6, so we are treating with lime to increase it.
Gardens 1-6 should see flowers this season, though 5 will have less than half in flower, because we increased the size half way through. Perhaps in total 2,000 flowering vines in line with our forecast.
Garden 20 is enormous, and continues.
Garden 21 is planted out with support trees and the first compost bin is full. Two months before we start vanilla cuttings for this garden.
Garden 22 has compost bin up and the first one filled, while the beds are ready for support trees. We are not going to plant the very bottom because of the monkeys.
Garden 23 has overtaken 22, filled compost bin and support trees in place. This is because we are doing different types of beds here.
A slight change in working practice, with everybody working on one garden at a time. This will continue until flowering time, when each garden will need daily checking and pollinating. Well, Gardens 1 to 6.
Composting is going well. We are almost ready to start testing different plants for their NPK, but we still are focusing on quantity. There are a lot of bins to fill.
It will be some time before we can confirm alternative support trees, but the very trial has started an interesting idea. We are testing all sorts of fruit trees – apple, pear, peach, plum, mango, ice cream bean, sapote, cherry, guava, butternut, macadamia nut, the list is endless! We’ve received a tentative enquiry about putting vanilla gardens in private villas. This has enlarged, to our putting in a fruit garden and managing it, with each tree planted with vanilla. The villa owner gets fruit and a share of the vanilla harvest. Still very early days, but an interesting thought!
We estimate we can buy perhaps a ton of vanilla locally, green vanilla for curing. We don’t really want that much, because it is for testing systems. It does mean that we can be very picky about buying only ripe vanilla, as most farmers harvest months too early. The price is still within reason, perhaps Rp 230,000 per kg, but with upward pressure. Of course, we cannot do this if we don’t sell enough shares in time.
Some interesting information has come to light, from a friend of the owner of the large failed plantation in Madagascar, which is why people think you cannot grow vanilla in a plantation. It turns out that the reasons for the failure were twofold. One was labour, too expensive, and the second was the criminal gangs raiding the plantation and stealing the crop. Both issues that concerned us from the beginning and we solved before we started.
This business is advancing at speed. We have received an order for 450 lobsters per week from a leading restaurant. This is 20% of what we had targeted for Bali which means we are revising our figures. Upwards. We have a further seven restaurants that have indicated they wish to order. This is without trying. What this means is that we can sell 1,000 kgs per month, at Rp 300,000 per kg.
Currently, we are not producing this much, and we are just exiting the cold period when they stopped growing and breeding. This month we found 75 females with berries (eggs) which should mean close to the 10,000 lobsters we need each month. But they won’t be ready for another 9 to 10 months.
Therefore, we are buying in young lobster from farms in Java. First delivery was a disaster, with over 25% dying on the way after high seas stopped the ferry for a day. Guaranteed delivery, so these are being replaced. Now, we are trying to send them in stages. We are buying them in at about 40g, and hope to have them up to sale weight of 100g within four months.
Do we have capacity? We are adding another 9 pools, each capable of taking at least a thousand lobster. We are creating luxury high rise apartments for them inside each pool, which increases stocking density. But getting enough food will be the problem. We are planting sweetcorn, soy, mung beans and sorghum in our new vanilla gardens, and are looking at renting land specifically for this purpose. These crops are too expensive to buy in, much cheaper to grow ourselves, especially as we make our own fertiliser:
We bought two cows, to ensure a supply of manure for our wormery.
We have two wormerys in progress in different locations. In both, we are testing different species of worms, looking at both speed of reproduction and effect on the lobsters. This latter is more complicated…
The crickets have seen a setback, with all the babies dying. We think the problem is aeration and trying without lids on the colonies. Certainly, the colonies do better without lids.
The giant morio mealworms are growing apace, but not turning into the adult beetles we need for reproduction. It can take a few months.
BSF production continues, still hampered by lack of papaya. It isn’t really the season, and our trees aren’t big enough to fruit. Those attacked by porcupine seem to be recovering.
We don’t yet know how much feed we will need, but are calculating on four times the weight of lobster. Doesn’t matter if this is too high, we can store or grow more lobster.
One interesting fact about lobsters has come to light. They are chameleons, changing colour to suit their background. Our original lobsters were raised in blue tarpaulin pools, and are bright blue. Ours are becoming sandy coloured because they are raised on concrete. Which begs two interesting questions.
1/. Should we paint the concrete blue so we are selling blue lobsters?
2/. Should we have a variety of colours, lobster rainbows? Red and gold lobster for the Chinese market? Green to confuse vegetarians?
We are in the latter stages of obtaining an IMB, a building permit, for our 18 are (1800m2) Sanding location. This will enable us to convert the top floor of the building into offices, to house our bookkeeping, sales and delivery staff. Yes, it is a fair size. The front half is devoted to vanilla processing, with room for a shop for our products – really a showcase as we are exporters. The back half we will use for breeding insects and for preparing lobster for despatch. In between the two is a building for our laboratory. One key benefit is that we will be able to move our registered office here.
One important part of our lobster farming is the data collection. Paul has been developing a daily report method that will go straight into the database and give us a live report of food in and lobsters out. This is essential, and the application is ready for preliminary testing. Of course, it won’t work perfectly at first, but it is designed to be constantly improved.
Chairman at PT Royal Spice Gardens
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