The rain is on the retreat and we are getting days of sunshine. The vanilla is responding eagerly and optimism is returning! We have solved one knotty problem and identified another serious one.
The constant rain is not good for vanilla, because it is an orchid and its roots need to dry out between soakings. This was the reason that we created the raised beds, and indeed they work. The issue was in the compost that we placed in the beds – too rich and not enough aeration. Compost helps, but perhaps the best thing is when we prune the shade trees and just leave the prunings on the roots. We add lots more stuff, of course, like limestone.
But the main thing we have done that helps is simple. Drainage ditches. Sometimes very ugly, and making it hard to work the gardens, but it works!
The main thing is that we now know how to grow vanilla in the wet. It doesn’t matter if it keeps on raining until the Ark returns, we can produce vanilla. Not with the originally forecast yields, but satisfactory never the less. We can still achieve the higher yields given good weather.
We continue to plant new gardens. We are in the process of opening Garden 25. We are planting much further apart, these days, and testing different methods, but none of the tests have advanced to the point we can use them for a new garden. I am hopeful this year that we shall have a small garden with sugar palms and another with Pakistani mulberry. Of course, we do have avocado and this year we shall have a crop. Avocado makes a good host, where we keep the vanilla at the base and let the avocados come high above.
Gardens 1- 6 have crops, with a second flush of flowers being pollinated right now. These are small gardens which is why the harvest won’t be great. Next year we shall have Gardens 10-17 giving us their first returns.
Garden 7 was our first shade house and it has not been successful. Vanilla here needs lots of light! So, we are going to take down the shade house and move it to the lobster ponds where it can be put to use.
Why are our babies disappearing? Such a terrible problem, but we have discovered the answer. We suspected something was eating them, and it was. We thought tadpoles, herons, fish. No. Dragonfly larvae.
These creatures are some of the most voracious in the world, capable of catching prey larger than itself.
We need to make the babies ponds full of food, natural food, for the young lobster. Daphnia, decaying leaves, a special algae, plankton, a cornucopia of tiny plants. Sadly, this is also paradise for dragonfly larvae. We learnt the hard way that they can clear a pond of babies.
We have saved four of our ponds full of babies by simply dredging them daily and killing any dragonfly larvae we catch. The babies are getting larger and soon can be allowed to fatten without worrying as they will be too big.
A quarter of our ponds are safe – we enclosed them in netting to protect from birds, and this works just as well to keep the dragonfly from laying their eggs in there. So, in future we are using the netted area for hatching. The only drawback is we need the full sun for warmth and plant growth.
We are experimenting with an artificial river, constant larger flow with masses of plants. In nature, a river like this can clear up most pollution within forty feet. We like it, because we think we can clear up all the defecation from the lobsters, providing them with clearer, cleaner water, while at the same time providing them with food. Yes, it will have dragonfly larvae, but we will use it for fattening so more likely the lobsters will eat them.
We were suspicious of tadpoles, of which hundreds get into the ponds. We feared that they were eating the babies, and if not for sure they competed for food. But we notice that they disappear in ponds with larger lobsters… so, we deduce that they are a good protein source!
This month we have our first order for lobster, just a small one but ideal for the numbers we have.
Turkeys are up to about 3kg at the moment. Another month to be ready.
We have a new prospectus out, which you can download from the website. You will notice that there is little change in dividend expectations, despite the setback from the weather. This is because the directors are foregoing their dividends to ensure investors get repaid on time. There are encouraging signs for next years vanilla crop, so we are hopeful of beating the estimates.
Chairman at PT Royal Spice Gardens
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