The flowering season has started, and due to the poor summer, I wasn’t expecting a great deal. Nevertheless, as I reported last month, we started with a surprising burst of flowers, more than I anticipated. Of course, it promptly started raining heavily for three weeks which stopped the flowering. Now it has ceased and the sun is shining, and the vanilla is beginning to respond. Although the season will go through to February, I am not expecting a big crop because of the poor dry season. So far, we have 305 flowering vines, which should give us 6,100 beans averaging 17g each. 4 more months to go.
Two experiments came to a close this month.
First, I have a tree in my garden on which I have allowed the vanilla to run riot. Its huge! Great thick vines, all over the place. Should give us more than 10kg! And it hasn’t flowered at all. The experiment was to see if the vanilla would flower if it was big enough, without stressing. It doesn’t, or if it does, it is too big to be of commercial interest. So, now this vine is being stressed by being replanted and cut off, making dead end branches. These are what flower.
The second experiment was to counter the problem of rotting flowers in extra rain. Believing this to be too much humidity caused by trailing branches too close together, we pruned the support trees to have horizontal branches and trained the vanilla along these. The consequence of this is that the vanilla grows huge, it loves it. It grows in great loops and circles and we have no idea which vine is growing. We have no control. Further, it isn’t stressed… So, this experiment is closing as well, and we are instead going back to the traditional up and down method. We shall just avoid having the number of hanging branches that we had in the past. We had 20-25 last year, and this should have given us maybe 8kg per vine. But there were too many and they rotted. So, we shall restrict the number. We are going to mark the vines according to how many hanging branches they have. Each hanging branch should produce at least 2 flower bunches a year for around 3 years. So, 5 means we can expect 100 beans with an average weight of 17g. We shall aim for 10 hanging branches and see how that fares. This will reduce our projected yield.
However, we are also increasing the height of the shade trees. We kept them low to make it easier for the workers, but realise that an extra 50cm in height gives us much better vanilla, thicker vines and bigger fruit. This is one of several little things we do, as we constantly experiment to improve the husbandry.
This year we are expecting a small crop from gardens 1-6, while 7 and 10 have delivered a few early. Next year we should have a bigger crop from these gardens and also from Gardens 11-14. 15 isn’t due to flower, but it is doing so well after 2 years, we think it will average 5 hanging branches per vine next year.
We are doing all sorts of other experiments. One is to just have a vine tied up to the fence, no roots in the ground. This should make it think it is dying, and have no option but to make flowers and fruit quickly… An oil palm is proving a major success as a shade tree, heavily pruned, which gives me thoughts of what we could do to improve the plantations. Oil palms are hard to get, but I have a kilo of seeds coming from Kalimantan. We’ll try some more. In the meantime, we have planted ten Sugar palms which are similar, in having lots of loose bark, essentially perfect compost for the vanilla. Again, we’ll need to keep them well pruned and make sure they don’t flower. The locals cut the flower stems to collect the nectar to make arak…
In garden 23 we have a waterlogged field. So, we are digging up the raised bed, with a ditch beside each row. No brick sides.
21 has young vanilla cuttings getting ready to be planted out this month, 19 is doing very well and 17 is similar to 15 in doing really well.
18 lost a dozen plants to a landslide, very young plants so no great loss, and there was a huge landslide beside 5. Nothing was lost, but we are going to move a dozen plants to safer areas. Further down, a run off did knock two trees down.
Moving forward, the owner of the land of Garden 15 is so pleased he is giving us more land, two parcels with twice as much land. We hope this will open up more land for us.
We are also continuing to talk to farmers about creating cooperatives, where we sell their vanilla for them. It is possible we can arrange government funding for this.
The heavy rain during the month caused major landslides which not only blocked the river but caused it to run red when it was cleared after 2 weeks. We quickly put in a sump so we could circulate the water, but the amount of weed we have growing with the lobsters ensured they didn’t suffer. But we haven’t been able to assess our growth, as we cannot drain the ponds…
We had given up on the suppliers from Java, but another has approached us offering to pay for air delivery. That raises our hopes of quality so we will try them out. It does mean that we can probably not supply customers till well into next year. Our lobsters just won’t be big enough. We are breeding for size and speed of growth, but this takes time to come to fruition. Perhaps we shall offer smaller lobsters should anybody want them.
Share sales. This is causing much internal debate, part of which is how many shares should we reserve for eventual floating on the stock market. We need another $350,000 to take us through to market with the vanilla, not counting on lobster production. But other opportunities come about – we have just been offered all the machinery needed for processing ginger, for example. And I have friends who farm ginger… The international price for ginger seems high, so we are looking at potential. Should this be viable, we will need funds to proceed. How much depends on orders.
Therefore, we have agreed to raise the premium of the shares so they will now retail at Rp 2,000,000 each. This will please the existing shareholders, and also enable us to spend more money on marketing to bring in the sales and ensure we can move forward.
We are also exploring the possibilities caused by new visa requirements in Indonesia. It seems easier for a retiree to invest $100,000 in us and live off the income from the dividends, while benefit from the free visa we offer, rather than have to put $140,000 on deposit with Indonesia to guarantee their retirement visa. But we shall see. I am sure that Indonesia will either change their plans or other alternative visa solutions will be discovered. It has led to our developing a franchise style idea for lobster farms, of which we shall never have enough. Investors can provide us with enough money to build not only a farm, but also their dream house on the land. The property belongs to RSG, but the investor gets shares to that value, lives off the dividends and is able to live in the house for as long as they own the shares. When they sell the shares, they should achieve more than if they sold the house. It doesn’t have to be a lobster farm, we can also do fruit and vanilla farms in the hills. Cannot do anything by the beach, though. Vanilla doesn’t do well, and lobsters would be eaten by dragons. I kid you not! The dragons are water monitors, great big lizards that can grow to 3m long and adore lobsters… The higher up the hills, the less dragons.
Chairman at PT Royal Spice Gardens
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