When I first started discussing vanilla with Balinese farmers, they all shook their heads sorrowfully, and muttered, ‘rotten roots.’ This is the obvious symptom of fusarium infection.
Fusarium is a fungus, every present in the soil. You cannot avoid it and it attacks and eats stressed and damaged plants. It wiped out the vanilla plantations of Bali thirty years ago after a particularly wet rainy season and its memory causes farmers to recoil from vanilla.
I found this interesting, because ad anorchid fancier I am well aware of fusarium. It is always getting into orchid collections and is simple to cure with a spray of copper sulphate. Why do the farmers not know this? Probably because they don't realise vanilla is anorchid.
Why does vanilla suffer so badly from fusarium? Well, because it is stressed. How do you stress an orchid? Simple. You over water, over fertilise and over produce it. Something all farmers will do when they think of vanilla ad a crop rather than an orchid.
We experimented with different growing methods, but always we ensured there was good drainage and each vanilla plant received its own, personal compost heap. We don't fertilise, beyond a little bat guano. We don't water. Most important, we do not pollinate every flower.
Compost is such wonderful substance. We make it simply, just putting down cuttings and covering with cocopeat. This is essentially how the forest creates loam, and is the secret to carbon capture. The tree does the capture, and allowing the leaves and branches to slowly become soil licks the carbon into the ground. Doing our bit for the planet! As the plant material breaks down, it becomes a rich ecosystem full of microorganisms. These include a very special fungus, which just happens to dine on fusarium...
This is the wettest rainy season in living memory. Far wetter than the taint season that destroyed the vanilla plantations last time.
I would love to tell you we have come through unscathed. We haven't. Many flower spikes became shoots instead. And we lost a couple of plants to fusarium.
A couple. Less than four. Pretty *** impressive.
And vindication of our growing methods.
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