Vanilla - organic cultivation with special reference to manuring
Ashwini Krishna Moorthy and Dr. Varanashi Krishna Moorthy

Vanilla, a tropical orchid vine in nature grows attached to a support plant under shade. This climber produces roots from every node, which grows attached to the support plant extending downward and spread profusely on the humus layer of the soil just under the degrading organic matter. So for successful cultivation of vanilla lot of organic matter needs to be applied.

Vanilla is grown in tropical countries but mostly consumed in European countries and North America. Today in the consuming countries, organically grown food commands higher price. In case of Vanilla, this premium is 70-100 per cent.

Varanashi Farms Adyanadka is a certified organic farm growing various plantation crops. In this farm, vanilla is successfully grown with high productivity.

Mixed farming - ecologically and economically stable: To make vanilla cultivation more sustainable it is better to grow it as a mixed crop using Glyricidia, Erythrina, arecanut, coconut, teak, casuarina, cashew nut or even natural forest trees as support/shade trees.

Semi-degraded compost-ideal: Vanilla roots need good aeration. It is a perennial crop and demands continuous supply of nutrients. So, semi-degraded and fibrous compost from coir pith/arecanut husk is ideal. These materials do not contain enough nutrients. Hence, compost has to be prepared by addition of appropriate N,P,K rich materials. For composting, any suitable method could be followed. However, VRF Method of Composting is most advanced and easy to adopt.

VRF Method of Composting: Varanashi Research Foundation has developed this method. It involves construction of 10 cm high mud bund all around preferably in shaded level space measuring, 8 m length, 1.8 m breadth and spreading the thin HMHDPE plastic sheet of 2.7 m width to form a shallow tank. Heap of 1 m height is built by spreading pre-wetted (70% moisture) biodegradable materials layer by layer (see table for recipe). Addition of a consortium of beneficial microbial culture like Varanashi Composter makes the compost microbiologically richer. The heap needs to be covered again with same kind of plastic sheet secured with pressing mud along the base and in turn to protect the sheet from UV rays covered with coconut leaves/dry grass. Turning of the material hastens the process of composting. The semi-degraded compost will be ready within 2-3 months. However, the un-turned heap, though cheaper, takes longer time for composting. Because of the plastic lining underneath as well as the top of the heap, there is (i) higher retention of nutrients; (ii) higher ratio of the composted material to the raw material and (iii) consequently; a perceptible increase in the total quantity of the nutrients recovered per unit mass of the original material.

Compost recipe for different materials (quantity in kg)
  Combination I layer II layer III layer IV layer V layer
1 Dr. L/Fr.L./W.Pl./Ag.W. 250 Dr.L./ Fr.L./ W.Pl./Ag.W. 0.5 V.C 25 O.K./250 FYM/ 125 C.D. 2.5 R.P. Repeat
2 Ar.H.+Ar.L. 250 Ar.H + Ar.L. (Mix) 0.5 V.C. 25 O.K./ 250 FYM / 125 C.D. 3.75 R.P. Repeat
3 FYM 250 FYM 0.25 V.C. 2 R.P. Repeat
4 FYM+Fr.L./Dr.L. 250 Fr.L/Dr.L. 0.5 V.C. 250 FYM 5 R.P. Repeat
5 C.P.+P.M./C.D. 250 C.P. 0.75 V.C. 125 P.M./250 C.D. Repeat
6 P.M.+Fr.L./Ag.W 250 Fr.L/Ag.W 0.75 V.C. 125 P.M. Repeat
Ar.H. : Areca husk
Ar.L.- Areca leaf
V.C. - Varanshi Composter
FYM - Farm yard Manure
C.P. - Coir pith
W.Pl.- Weed plants
Fr.L. - Forest leaves
Dr.L. - Dry leaves
O.K. - Neem/Castor cake
C.D. - Cow Dung
P.M. - Poultry Manure
Ag. W- Agricultural/ Agro-industrial wastes
R.P. - Rock Phosphate (with 18-20% P2O5 in case of higher content reduce the quantity)

Right quantity and right time of manuring: Beginning of the monsoon is most ideal time for planting vanilla. At the time of planting, about 10-15 kg of semi-degraded compost need to be applied to a thickness of 2-3 cm around the support plant having vanilla vine. Repeat the application of 15 kg in the month of September-October. In case of mature vines, 20-30 kg of compost application is to be given when the pollination of the flowers begins in February-March. The quantity of manure mentioned earlier could be reduced at low rainfall areas where the leaching loss is less. The manure could be also given in 2-3 split doses. Use of oil cakes like castor cake/neem cake also helps in boosting the growth. However, these are rich in nutrients and so the quantity should be restricted to ¼ to ½ kg per application and one or two applications per year during summer months.

Nutrient Spray boosts the growth: The aerial roots of vanilla absorb the nutrients when given as spray. Foliage also absorbs them. During summer months, nutrient spray can be given once in 7-10 days. Cow urine diluted 10 times can be sprayed alternatively or in its absence, Varanashi Biospray could be given. Biogas slurry diluted 1:4 could be used to feed the root zone once in 30-60 days. Vermi-wash, compost tea (extract) are other useful organic preparations. Manuring and nutrient spraying just before heavy rains and also after September are to be avoided in order that the plants are enabled to shift to reproductive phase.

Organic and mixed farming - Minimum pest diseases: At Varanashi Farms, the pest problems are minimum compared to other farms. Birds and other natural predators control most of the insect pests. In addition, mechanical control also needs to be practiced. For fungal problems, like Phytophthora rot during rainy season 1% Bordeaux spray is to be applied.

Organic farming is the key to sustainability: A properly planned organic farming is much cheaper and more sustainable than chemical farming. One should grow as many crops as possible and make farming nearer to forest eco-system. By such practices, the land, which has been bequeathed to us, could be profitably utilised and passed on to next generation in a sustainable condition.


  • Vanilla Beans
  • Vanilla processing and curing

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