VANILLA greenhouses across the North are about to get steamy as the seductive spice enters the flowering season.
From late next month through to November, growers such as Fiona George and Matt Allen of Broken Nose Vanilla will wake at sunrise to pollinate their vanilla crops by hand, using a flattened stick to push the male and female parts of the creamy orchid flower together.
This role is usually performed by a bee native to Mexico, which provided the country with a 300- yearlong monopoly on vanilla production until this method of artificial pollination was discovered.
“The season goes for about three months and, at the peak, we’ll do 1000 flowers each per day,” said Ms George. “It’s a lovely time of year and we really enjoy what we do, so it’s not really a chore.
“The beans take nine months to mature, so we’re picking from May to July then as soon as the beans come off, flowering starts again.”
The couple from Mirriwinni, about an hour south of Cairns, is fresh from exhibiting at one of Queensland’s biggest food festivals, Regional Flavours at Brisbane’s South Bank, which drew more than 80,000 people over the weekend.
As founding members of the Tropical North Queensland Regional Food Network – Taste Paradise – they also promoted other local produce, such as Silkwood’s Aussie Pepper.
“It’s probably the only festival I know of that really showcases regional produce from Queensland,” Ms George said.
“It’s a fantastic atmosphere for customers because it’s free, there are lots of activities for kids, there’s entertainment and well- known chefs – a lot of drawcards to bring people in.
“Over the years, the public who go there have become much more food educated, they really understand what they want and they value Australian produce.
“They’re quite appreciative of the fact it’s grown in the conditions we have – clean, pesticide- free and with a lot of love and care.”
Regional Flavours has opened many doors for Broken Nose Vanilla, whose products include locally sourced vanilla- infused tea and coffee, and are stocked by retailers throughout southeast Queensland and more recently in Melbourne.
The couple is now looking to diversify further to ensure their business’ viability into the future.
“We’ve been working with Trade and Investment Queensland on niche markets to Dubai and also privately working with some people to get into Singapore and possibly China later this year,” Ms George said.
“As a really high- value, niche product, we probably need to explore all avenues and not just rely on tourists and the local market.”
FLOWERING SEASON: Growers Fiona George and Matt Allen of Broken Nose Vanilla.