Grow vanilla bean plant

Do you like to make your own extracts? After learning how easy it is to do, it’s almost crazy not to make them yourself.

But purchasing vanilla beans can be more expensive than buying the vanilla extract from the store. They can also be challenging to find in some supermarkets.

However, you can grow your own vanilla beans and enjoy homemade vanilla extract and other delicious treats anytime you’d like.

Here’s how you grow your own vanilla:

Contents

Vanilla Plant Info

  • Hardiness Zones: 10, 11
  • Soil: Sandy loam, PH between 6.6 and 7.5, well-drained
  • Sun Exposure: Partial shade
  • Planting: Plant the cuttings in spring when the temperature is warm
  • Spacing: 6.6 feet between plants and rows
  • Depth: 1 inch
  • Best Companions: Banana, arrowroot
  • Worst Companions: Beans, peas
  • Watering: Water moderately, allow 2 to 3 inches to dry before watering again
  • Fertilizing: Fertilize with orchid fertilizer every 2 weeks during the spring and summer
  • Common Problems: Anthracnose, black rot, rust, root and stem rot, mealybugs, spider mites
  • Harvest: Harvest pods when they are at least 6 inches long, 9 to 10 months after planting

Varieties of Vanilla Beans

There are different varieties of vanilla. They each have a different flavor about them and pair better with different dishes. Here are the different options for vanilla beans:

1. Madagascar

via redstickspice.com

The Madagascar Bourbon vanilla bean is what most of us associate with the typical flavoring of vanilla. It has a sweet, classic flavor which is great for baking or using in our favorite comfort foods.

2. Mexican

via amazon.com

Mexican vanilla beans are an exciting variety. They have the smooth, classic flavor of vanilla but with an added kick of spice. It is an excellent choice for using in chocolate dishes, cinnamon-based dishes, or for barbecue sauces.

3. Indonesian

via beanilla.com

This variety of vanilla has a milder earthy flavor with an added touch of smoke. It’s a good option for baking with or for pairing with chocolate.

4. Tahitian

via thespicehouse.com

The Tahitian variety is fun. It has a fruity flavor with a hint of a cherry flavored undertone. It’s an excellent option for use in ice cream, paired with fruit, use in puddings, or for beverages.

5. Indian

via tajagroproducts.com

The Indian variety is known for having a bolder flavor. Because of the boldness, it’s a great option for being paired with chocolate.

6. Tonga

via madeintonga.com

Tonga vanilla has less spice, but more of a woody flavor to it. It’s great when paired with dishes which highlight raisins and figs.

Growing Vanilla Beans

Vanilla beans aren’t the easiest plants to grow. It’ll take trial and error on your part to figure out what works for you, as a gardener, and the changes you might need to make because of your planting zone. Here are the basics of growing a vanilla plant:

1. Purchase the Vanilla Plant

When you decide to grow vanilla beans, it’s best to purchase the plant. The reason being, vanilla plants take three to five years before they can produce pods.

It can be difficult to locate these plants locally. You can search via the internet for either vanilla bean plant or vanilla orchid. Do your research before purchase to make sure you’re getting a good product.

Also, be sure to check the plant you’re purchasing is, in fact, three to five years old. Otherwise, you’ll be waiting for years to harvest from your plant.

2. Transplant

After your plant has arrived, you’ll need to transplant it. You don’t want to choose a huge pot, but you should pick a container which is approximately two times larger than the plant itself.

When you’ve found the proper pot, fill it half full of orchid potting soil If you don’t have this particular soil, you can use half bark and half regular potting soil.

Gently place the plant in the pot and cover the roots with soil. Add a lattice or stick to support the plant. This will give it a place to climb as well since vanilla bean plants are a type of orchid and have vines.

3. Pollinate

Over time the plant will need to be pollinated. Most vanilla plants are hand pollinated, as stingless bees would usually have pollinated vanilla plants.

Unfortunately, these bees are almost extinct. For this reason, you can’t depend on the bees around your home. You’ll have to pollinate the plant yourself, or it won’t produce.

You hand pollinate by removing pollen from the female part of the plant known as the anther. You can use a toothpick to collect the pollen from this section of the plant.

You’ll apply the pollen to the male part of the plant known as the stigma. The stigma will have a shield around it which will need to be peeled back to access it.

The pollinating process is best if performed in the morning hours. When you’ve completed the process, you should begin to see pods forming within a week.

If you don’t, the process didn’t work, and you’ll have to try again. Once the pods are forming, it takes approximately nine months for them to be complete.

Caring for Your Vanilla Plant

Vanilla plants have specific needs which must be met for the plant to thrive. Here’s what you need to give your vanilla plant:

1. Water

Vanilla plants require water. You must be careful to ensure they don’t become overwatered. Be sure the top layer of the soil is moist, but don’t water to the point the entire pot of soil is soaked.

This will make the roots too wet, and they’ll rot. It’s also a good idea to gently mist the plant with water in a spray bottle every day or every other day to keep it moist enough to survive but to avoid overwatering.

2. Fertilizer

Vanilla plants should be fertilized once every two weeks but only during the spring and summer months. Be sure to use an orchid fertilizer and follow the instructions on the package.

3. Proper Environment

The most important part of caring for a vanilla plant (outside of pollination) is providing the appropriate environment. You can leave your vanilla plant in the house in a typical setting while providing water and fertilizer.

In most cases, the plant will survive and do fine as a typical house plant. The problem with this is the vanilla plant won’t bloom.

If the plant doesn’t bloom, there’s nothing to pollinate, and no vanilla pods will form. Your plant must be raised in the proper environment to encourage flowering.

The ideal location is one where the plant remains at temperatures close to or above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. They like high humidity and also bright, indirect sunlight.

This can be accomplished within a greenhouse, a sunroom, or in a warm room under grow lights. Everyone’s situation is different.

Therefore, you might have to play around to find the best location in or outside of your home to provide this environment to your vanilla plant.

Problems When Growing Vanilla

Vanilla plants have only a few pests and diseases to look for when growing them. Here’s what to keep an eye out for:

1. Root Rot

One of the most significant hardships in caring for a vanilla plant is ensuring you don’t overwater it. Because it’s a type of orchid, they prefer dry spells between watering sessions.

If the roots are too wet, they’ll rot. Keep this in mind when watering your plant or if you begin to see signs of struggle with your plant.

2. Slugs and Snails

The only pests which will try to bother your vanilla plant are snails and slugs. They like to munch on the roots and leaves of the plant.

If they’re a concern for you, consider sprinkling diatomaceous earth around the base of the plant, or coffee grounds or crushed eggshells. This should slice the pests as they crawl around your plant.

Companion Plants for the Vanilla Plant

Every plant has certain plants which they thrive when planted near. The best companions for a vanilla plant are:

  • Banana plant
  • Arrowroots

Vanilla plants also have specific plants which should be avoided. These plants are:

  • Peas
  • Beans

Harvesting Vanilla Beans

There are specific steps you’ll need to follow when harvesting your vanilla beans to ensure you can use them correctly. You should also be aware of how to store the vanilla beans properly. Here’s how you harvest and store your vanilla beans:

1. Harvest at the Proper Time

Harvesting vanilla beans are probably the easiest part of the growing process. You can use scissors or pruning shears to detach the pods from the plant.

You’ll know they’re ready for harvest when the tips of the pods begin to turn yellow.

2. Sweat the Beans

When the pods have been harvested, they’ll need to go through a process referred to as sweating. Wrap the beans in a heavy blanket or towel and leave them outside in a dry location for three to four days.

After the days have passed, check the beans. They should be a light shade of brown.

3. Sun Dry the Beans

Once the beans have sweat, it’s time to sundry them. Leave the beans in the sun for a month. When the process is complete, they should have the same texture as leather and have turned a dark brown.

When they’ve achieved this look and feel, they’re ready for storage or use.

4. Store Properly

Storing vanilla beans is simple too. They should be stored in an air-tight container in your pantry, root cellar, or basement.

The idea is to store them in an area where it’s cool, dark, and dry. Check them occasionally to make sure they’re still holding up and not developing mold.

Be sure you don’t store your vanilla beans in the refrigerator. This will cause your beans to dry out and also cause excess moisture to rise to the surface.

When this occurs, the beans will begin to mold and no longer be of any use. After more than nine months of work to raise the plant and harvest the pods, you don’t want to lose them to mold.

Well, you now know the entire process of raising vanilla beans from growing to caring, harvesting the pods, and storing them too.

Hopefully, this will give you an idea of how to raise your own vanilla beans and encourage you in this endeavor.

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Why vanilla beans are so insanely expensive – and are they worth it?

How often do you eat orchids? More often than you think, actually. Because vanilla, queen of spices, is actually the product of a tropical orchid.

Beautifully aromatic, packed with flavour and versatile enough to be added to just about any dessert, vanilla has held the coveted title of the world’s most popular spice since it was first introduced to the west in the 16th century.

It’s also one of the world’s most expensive spices (after saffron), with a single ‘A’ grade vanilla bean setting you back $10 at Australia’s Daintree Vanilla farm in far north Queensland, while an entire kilo will fetch around $1000.

Last year, world vanilla prices skyrocketed with growing demand and after problems with production in Madagascar, where about 80 per cent of the world’s natural vanilla is produced. (Most of the vanilla essence sold around the world is industrially synthesised.) Prices for Madagascan vanilla beans topped $US400 ($A540) per kilogram last year, although prices are expected to ease this year.

So why exactly does this widely used spice cost so much, and are we getting our money’s worth?

Those orchids are picky growers

Vanilla beans are the product of the world’s only fruit-producing orchid – Vanilla planifolia – and just as their domestic flowering cousins, they require specific growing conditions and plenty of care to thrive.

A tropical climate, like that of its native Mexico, is a must, as is regular fertilisation and a host plant to support itself on. But the key to a successful crop comes down to just a matter of hours on a single day of the harvest cycle. That’s how long the plant flowers for, and it’s a critical window in which the crop must be pollinated to ensure it produces beans.

In nature, this requires a visit from a melipona bee or long beaked hummingbird, but thanks to a discovery made by 12-year-old slave Edmond Albius in the 19th century, this process can now be replicated by hand.

The vanilla plant only flowers for a matter of hours and must be pollinated in that narrow window to ensure it will grow beans (iStockphoto)

Albius’ technique involves carefully inserting a toothpick (or similar sized instrument) into the flower to allow pollen from the plant’s male anther to be smeared over its female stigma which are separated by a small flap.

While Albius unfortunately never saw the riches associated with his discovery, it was instrumental in revolutionising the cultivation of vanilla plants as it allowed them to be grown across the globe without its native pollinators – the melibona bee is only found in Mexico. In other parts of the world, pollination is done by hand.

You can see the painstaking process of hand pollination in the first episode of Royal Gardens On A Plate, this Thursday on SBS and then on SBS On Demand. The show is based at England’s stunning Kew Gardens; chef Raymond Blanc, co-host Kate Humble and the experts at the gardens are building a stunning walled kitchen garden in a corner of the historic 120-hectare site. Among the many attractions at the Royal Botanic Gardens is a tropical nursery, with about 44,000 plants – including a vanilla orchid. Kate sees how hand pollination is done, while Raymond shares a technique for keeping vanilla in the fridge (because the vanilla beans eventually lose their flavour).

Everything – and that’s everything – must be done by hand

From pollinating to harvesting and a lengthy curing process, every stage of vanilla bean production needs to be completed by hand, making it one of the world’s most labour intensive crops.

Six to nine months after pollinating the vanilla plant’s flower, its green and nearly odorless beans are ready to be individually picked and begin a carefully monitored process designed to bring its natural flavours and aromas to the fore.

While still far from the dark, wrinkled and strong smelling bean we’re used to, the vanilla pods are blanched in boiling water, sweated for a couple of days and dried for weeks.

Traditionally, this curing period stretched for between five and seven months, however modern advancements and understanding of the chemical makeup of the bean have reduced this to as little as three weeks in some cases.

The beans are ready for harvest when their tips start to turn yellow (Wikimedia Commons)

The final result is a bean loaded with vanillin, vanilla’s primary flavour compound and something life-long grower and Daintree Vanilla farm owner George Gonthier believes drives up the price.

“It’s not an easy flavour to replicate ,” he tells SBS, making the market for the real stuff all the more competitive.

Prosecco ice pops with raspberry and vanilla

Vanilla and raspberry make great flavour mates in these prosecco ice pops.

And the price has only been increasing

As with any product on the market, the price of vanilla beans is dependent on supply and demand, and at the moment that heavily favours vanilla bean growers.

Mr Gonthier believes the price of his beans have more than doubled in the last couple of years, and he expects the price to rise further still as the success of the crop’s yield is dependent on specific weather conditions and 2016’s were unfavourable.

“Last year we had a very short cold and we need the cold to trigger the plant to flower,” he says. “It was also extremely hot with almost no rainfall.”

Mr Gonthier adds that while demand for the product has been steadily increasing across the globe, Madagascar – which was formerly one of the world’s largest vanilla bean producers – “has wiped out half of their supply plantation to plant coffee beans” which have a much faster turnover and therefore profit rate.

While he was getting close to $1000 per kilo for his top grade beans last year, Mr Gonthier says a chef from Dubai recently called to offer an eye-popping $1200 per kilo. However with this year’s supply uncertain, Mr Gonthier is adamant his loyalty belongs to his long-standing customers.

“We’ve had Australian businesses that have supported us from 1988 until now and we will never let them down,” he says, “especially not for the sake of $200 or $300 more a kilo”.

A vanilla bean farmer all his life, Mr Gonthier grew up on his family’s plantation on the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean, before bringing the crop to Australia in the late 1980s.

“I’ve been doing this since I was a child, now I’m 65 and I’m still doing it,” he reflects. In fact, he and his wife Josette have so much experience that between them they can pollinate 1500 flowers in the space of just four hours. “Once you’ve got the hang of it, it comes naturally,” he says, and jokes that after a lifetime of practice he can even do the delicate procedure without his glasses on.

Mr Gonthier has also been passing on his expertise to a long-term friend from the Aboriginal shire of Yarrabah, south of Cairns.

“We supplied them with knowledge, technologies and things like that,” he says, “I ask questions and every now and again I go and visit and see how things are going but I’m very impressed with what they’ve done.”

“We offered our knowledge to other growers and they said it’s too much work involved, but my answer to this is that hard work has never killed anybody!” Mr Gonthier laughs.

Vanilla syrup adds another layer of indulgence to this Pistachio cake with raspberry mascarpone.

But do vanilla beans have any interesting health benefits?

The use of vanilla dates back to ancient times when the Aztec people of Central America flavoured chocolate drinks with the aromatic beans and believed them to have an aphrodisiac quality.

These days, they are sought after for different reasons, with some companies touting them as having anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that can be used in acne treatment, as well as antioxidants to help reverse skin damage and aging.

Vanilla has even been said to be helpful in relieving nausea, anxiety and even irregular menstrual cycles, however there seems to be little research-based evidence to back any of the above claims.

What is good bang for buck however, is that good quality vanilla beans can be stored for up to four years without losing much of their potency, and once the vanilla is scraped out, pods can be stored in jars and used to flavour your sugar.

Royal Gardens On A Plate starts 8.35pm Thursday 12 January on SBS.

Lead image by jeevs sinclair via Flickr.

Spice it up Rosewater pavlovas with vanilla-roasted red fruits and toffee pistachios

Delicately flavoured with rosewater, these individual pavlovas make a divine create-your-own dessert. Those who prefer a slightly more casual approach to assembly can opt for an Eaton mess. Simply crush the pavlovas and layer the individual elements in a glass instead!

Vanilla sour cream pastry

This pastry is rich, flavoursome and dead easy to make. It has a tender, melt-in-the-mouth texture, adding a beautiful richness to fruit-based pies. Avoid using with custard-based pies, as it will be too rich, and it’s too fragile to use in free-form pies.

Stem ginger loaf with vanilla frosting

This is a very spicy cake. The frosting is really yummy — save any leftovers to spread on cupcakes or cookies.

Vanilla-scented sago cakes (cantik manis)

These simple-to-make cakes are popular in Indonesia, especially during Ramadan as part of a fast-breaking spread. Cantik means “pretty” in Bahasa and manis means “sweet”, although they are not so sweet as the name might suggest. Their prettiness comes from the deployment of pink and green dyed sago pearls, which you can easily find an Asian grocer.

Vanilla crescents (vanillekipferl)

Originating in Vienna, Austria, these vanilla sugar-coated biscuits are always made in a ‘kipfler’ or horse-shoe shape. Traditionally made at Christmas, they’re also popular in many other eastern European countries, including Germany, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and the Czech Republic. These buttery almond biscuits make a wonderful gift.

Vanilla slice

Vanilla slice seems to be one of those bakery goodies that’s always bought and never made. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to make, though… and how utterly delicious it is when you do. The trick is to make sure the pastry is well baked and a deep golden colour. Also, sandwiching it between two large oven trays means that the pastry isn’t allowed to ‘puff’ while baking, resulting in a wonderfully crisp casing for the luscious custard filling.

Vanilla milk cake with bay leaf and hazelnuts

This recipe is based on a dish that originated in medieval Europe; it has since become a popular dessert in Spain and South America and is referred to as ‘tres leches’. My version adds bay leaves and vanilla for some extra aromatics to this easy milky delight.

Everything You Need to Know to Grow Orchids Like a Boss

Orchids have a reputation for being tough-to-grow houseplants. Sure, they may require specialized potting mix and a certain amount of water to thrive, but this large, diverse group of plants includes many species that are easy to grow indoors. And in return for your efforts to provide what they need, they will reward you with their exotic-looking flowers for years to come. To help you gain confidence caring for these beautiful flowering plants, we rounded up some of our best tips for keeping them happy and healthy, including how to water orchids, how to fertilize them, and what potting mix to use.

Image zoom Peter Krumhardt

How to Water Orchids

The most common cause of death for orchids (and most houseplants) is usually overwatering. Instead of watering your plants on a strict schedule (every other day, or once a week, for example), pay attention to your orchid’s needs and how much water it uses. This can vary based on the humidity, light, air movement, and potting mix its roots are growing in.

The easy answer for when to water most orchids (including Phalaenopsis and Cattleya) is just before they go dry. It could be every few days, or even every couple of weeks depending on the orchid species and the environment in your home. The potting medium you use plays an important role in how much water your orchid needs—bark dries out quickly, while moss soaks up water and holds onto it for a long time.

To tell if it’s time for a watering, stick your finger in the potting mix, then pull it out and rub your fingers together. You should easily be able to feel if there’s any moisture. If you don’t feel any, it’s time to water your orchid, and if your fingers feel moist, check again another day. Over time, you’ll start to develop a sense of how often your orchid usually needs water, and how conditions like seasonal changes can affect the frequency. You’ll also start to develop a “feel” for how light the pot gets when the bark or moss is dry, which is another handy way to tell if your orchid needs a drink.

Watering is as simple as pouring water into the potting mix, and letting any excess drain through the bottom. Just make sure you pot your orchid in a container that has a drainage hole. It’s a lot more difficult to water plants in containers without drainage because the water can collect at the bottom, so if your pot doesn’t have a hole (or a few), consider repotting or drilling one yourself.

Editor’s Tip: Sometimes you can find clear plastic pots for sale online or at garden centers. When moss and bark are moist, you’ll see the condensation on the inside of the pot. When it’s dry, you won’t, and you’ll know it’s time to water.

How to Choose Orchid Potting Mix

Potting mix plays a huge role in how often you need to water orchids. Usually, orchids are potted in either sphagnum moss or bark chips, which both work well but need slightly different care. Moss acts like a sponge, soaking up water and taking a long time to dry out. Because it’ll hang on to moisture for a while, you can wait longer between waterings, but moss is also less forgiving if you overwater your orchid. Bark doesn’t hold much water and drains quickly, which makes it a good choice for orchids like Phalaenopsis and Cattleya that need to dry out between waterings.

Other orchids such as lady’s slipper and nun’s orchid like more dampness, and will do better if you don’t let them dry out. Moss is a good choice for these species because it’ll supply them with moisture for a longer period of time between waterings. You can also grow these water-loving orchids in fine-textured bark, but it still won’t hang on to moisture as long as moss, so you’ll have to water them more frequently.

Image zoom Step 1: Remove dead roots when repotting an orchid. Peter Krumhardt Image zoom Step 2: Place the orchid into a slightly larger pot filled with fresh bark. Peter Krumhardt

Your potting material will eventually start to decompose, especially bark. You should repot your orchids in new bark every year or two, because it won’t drain as quickly as it decomposes. Remove the orchid from the old bark (which you can toss on your compost pile!), and clip off the dead roots. You should be able to spot any dead roots right away—they’ll be dark and shriveled, compared to the firm, light-colored healthy roots. Place the orchid back in the pot (or repot it) and refill with new bark.

How to Fertilize Orchids

The American Orchid Society recommends feeding your plants regularly with a 20-20-20 fertilizer with little to no urea. Another recommendation is to fertilize with quarter-strength, water-soluble fertilizer each time you water your plant. That means use just ¼ of the amount that the label recommends, and mix it with water. You can give this mixture to your orchid on a weekly basis (though it’s better to under-fertilize than over-fertilize). Also, make sure the potting mix is a little damp before fertilizing because it can burn the roots if they’re completely dry.

Image zoom Peter Krumhardt

How Much Light Do Orchids Need?

From a plant’s perspective, houses usually have dim light, so you’ll usually have better luck with orchid varieties that tolerate low light levels. East-facing windowsills are great spots for orchids; an unscreened south-facing window can be a little too bright and hot, but a sheer curtain can add just the right amount of filtering. You can also set the orchid back from the window by a few feet so it’s not constantly in strong indirect light.

West-facing windows are usually too hot for orchids, but with some filtering (a sheer curtain again), you can sometimes make them work. We wouldn’t recommend try a north-facing window, because they’re usually just too dim for orchids to succeed.

Your orchid doesn’t have to be glued to the same spot though! If you want to use a blooming orchid as a table centerpiece or display somewhere other than a windowsill, there’s no harm in moving it. Just take it back to its spot by the window once it’s done blooming.

Image zoom Peter Krumhardt

Orchids and Humidity

Most orchids are tropical plants, but that doesn’t mean they need rain forest humidity to grow in your home. The dry atmosphere of an air-conditioned home can be challenging though, which is why a daily mist, or setting your orchids on a moist bed of gravel can help create the humidity they crave. If you decide to use gravel, just make sure the pot is sitting on top of the rocks, not nestled in them. Otherwise, moisture can seep into the pot and drown the roots over time.

Orchids might have different needs compared to most of your plants, but if you can master the basics of their care, they can be easy-care houseplants too. Since they’re unique, you can display them in fun ways too, like creating hanging planters to show off their eye-catching blooms. If you haven’t tried growing an orchid before, stick to something simple, like a moth orchid, before working your way up to fancier varieties.

How to Plant and Grow Vanilla Beans

Do you love to bake? Are you constantly running out of vanilla extract? Try growing your own vanilla beans for a fresh supply of vanilla year-round.

The vanilla bean plant is a flowering vine that is actually part of the orchid family Orchidaceae. The most common vanilla bean plant is the flat-leaved vanilla plant (V. planifolia). This vanilla plant is a native to Mexico and is where most vanilla flavoring is derived.

Vanilla plants are climbing plants that prefer high humidity and bright, indirect sunlight. They also require ample water and extremely warm temperatures. If you can provide the right growing conditions, you can grow your own vanilla at home.

Step 1 – Purchase Your Vanilla Bean Plant

You’ll need to purchase a vanilla bean plant from a reputable grower. As a vanilla plant takes 3-5 years to bloom, it doesn’t make sense to try to start a plant from seed. You can do an online search for “vanilla bean plants” or “vanilla orchids.” Or visit a local orchid grower, if there is one in your area.

Step 2 – Transplant Your Vanilla Bean Plant

Hopefully you were able to purchase a healthy vanilla bean plant that is 3-5 years old. Depending on its size, you’ll want to transplant it into a more permanent pot. Choose a pot that is slightly larger than the pot your plant arrived in. You can also use a pot that is up to two times the original pot size. However, try not to use a pot much larger than your vanilla bean plant.

Fill your pot halfway with a potting mix made for orchids. Alternatively, you can use a mixture of half bark and half general purpose potting mix.

Gently release your vanilla plant from its original pot by lightly squeezing the bottom of the pot (if it’s plastic). Be careful not to pull the plant out by its stem. If the plant comes out easily, you can simply place it in the new pot and fill to the top with soil. If the plant is root-bound, meaning there are lots of roots clumped into a ball, you’ll want to gently pull at the bottom of the root ball with your fingers. This will help to release the roots into the soil of the new pot.

Step 3 – Support Your Vanilla Bean Plant

Vanilla bean plants are climbing plants that need support. Gently push your support stake into the pot, near the base of the vine. Be careful not to nick the vine or get too close to the main roots. If your vine is large, you can use multiple stakes or a lattice frame made for climbing plants.

Step 4 – Water Your Vanilla Bean Plant

You’ll want to keep the top layer of the potting mix damp, however, you don’t want the entire pot to be soaked. You’ll also need to lightly mist the entire plant daily or every other day.

Step 5 – Create the Perfect Growing Environment

You can grow a vanilla bean plant at home. However, it won’t bloom in low light conditions. If your plant doesn’t bloom, it won’t develop vanilla bean pods.

Vanilla bean plants do best in environments with regular warm temperatures, bright indirect sunlight, and high humidity. While a greenhouse is the perfect place to grow a vanilla bean plant, you can also create that type of environment at home.

Find a room and/or sunny window that stays warm. Make sure the window has bright but filtered sunlight. If you don’t have that type of window, purchase grow lights and set up your plant and lights in a room that is warm year-round.

Step 6 – Fertilize Your Vanilla Bean Plant

You’ll want to fertilize your vanilla bean plant every two weeks during the spring and summer months. The best type of fertilizer for a vanilla bean plant is orchid fertilizer.

Step 7 – Pollinate Your Vanilla Bean Plant

Vanilla bean plants need to be pollinated in order to produce vanilla bean pods. You can hand pollinate vanilla plant flowers, however, it can be extremely difficult and may take several tries.

To pollinate a vanilla bean plant you’ll need to remove some pollen (with a toothpick) from the anther of a flower and place it on the stigma. This process is best completed mid-morning. The stigma of a vanilla bean plant is covered by a shield. You’ll need to gently peel this shield back, place the pollen along the column, and then push the shield back in place.

Should the process work, you’ll see vanilla pods start to form within one week. After 8-9 months you’ll be able to harvest your vanilla beans. If you have difficulty, do an internet search on “pollinating vanilla bean plants” and you will find more detailed information and illustrations.

Step 8 – Harvest Your Vanilla Beans

You can harvest your vanilla beans as soon as the tips begin to turn yellow. This will happen approximately 8-9 months after pollination.

You’ll need to sweat and then sun dry/cure the vanilla bean pods for about a month until they are dark brown and leathery. Sweating involves wrapping the vanilla beans in a blanket for 36-48 hours. The beans will start to develop a light brown color. After the sweating process, sun dry the vanilla beans for up to a month. When the vanilla beans turn dark brown and leathery, you are ready to store and use.

Vanilla Orchid Care – How To Grow Vanilla Orchid

True vanilla has a fragrance and flavor unmatched by cheaper extracts and is the product of an orchid pod or fruit. There are 100 species of vanilla orchid, a vine which can get up to 300 feet in length. Vanilla planifola is the scientific name for this flavoring that originated in Mexico. Vanilla orchid care is very specific and each requirement must be met exactly in order for the vine to produce fruit. Learn how to grow vanilla orchid in the home interior.

Can I Grow Vanilla Orchid?

The home grower can certainly cultivate a vanilla orchid. The easiest way to raise an orchid is to use a greenhouse or room with carefully controlled heat and light. Unfortunately, even the best care often does not result in the pods, which are the source of the vanilla flavor. The glossy green vine will still add an attractive accent to your home.

Planting Vanilla Orchid

Good orchid growers know that planting vanilla

orchid properly is the first step to a healthy plant. Choose an orchid pot with good drainage holes and fill it part way with fir bark and terrestrial orchid mixture.

Cut off the bottom one-third of the roots with a sanitized knife. Put the vanilla plant into the pot and fill the rest of the way with the fir bark mixture. You will need a stake or pole on which to train the vine.

Conditions for Growing Vanilla Orchids

The orchid is a potentially massive vine but in home cultivation the plant will likely only grow a fraction of its potential. The plant still needs special conditions to thrive. Provide temperatures of 86 F. (30 C.) in the day and 50 (10 C.) at night.

Growing vanilla orchid in a hot house is ideal but you need to add extra humidity and air circulation. The home bathroom is a good place for humidity and heat as long as you have a fan for air circulation. Medium lighting to partially shaded areas provided the best situation for vanilla orchid care.

How to Grow Vanilla Orchid

If you are very lucky your vanilla vine may bear large greenish-yellow flowers that turn into long 6-inch pods in eight to nine months. To accomplish this the plant needs food. Fertilize the orchid every two weeks with a diluted orchid fertilizer. Water the plant consistently to keep it evenly moist but allow the top two to three inches to dry out between watering.

Vanilla orchid care does require vigilance for spider mites and mealybugs. The orchid’s high moisture needs open it up to become a victim of root rot, so the plant should be repotted annually and have its roots examined. Growing vanilla orchids is a fun and challenging hobby.

Growing a Vanilla Bean Plant – The Coveted Culinary Spice

by Laurelynn Martin and Byron Martin

Vanilla, or Vanilla planifolia, is a vining orchid native to Mexico and it’s one of the most highly sought after spices in cultivation. Vanilla has become a mainstay flavoring and essence in the world of culinary and perfumes. Today, vanilla is grown mostly for commercial production in Madagascar, Reunion Island, Comoro Islands, Indonesia and Mexico.

The Aztecs first used vanilla for flavoring in cocoa. The long vanilla bean pods were dried and cured to produce its distinctive flavor. Today, the pods are sometimes used whole and the flavoring is drawn out by infusion or the pods are split and the tiny seeds are scraped out. You may have seen tiny seeds infused in creams or custard based dishes such as Crème Brûlée. Here at Logee’s, we feature an all-green Vanilla Vine (Vanilla planifolia) that produces the vanilla bean much coveted by bakers:

Tips for Growing Vanilla Plants at Home

Vanilla bean plants are climbing vines that prefer high humidity, warm temperatures and bright, indirect sunlight. Growing vanilla in your garden or greenhouse can be fun; however, a bit more effort is required than with other house plants. If you follow the suggestions below, and can provide the right growing conditions, you’ll soon be growing your own vanilla bean plants at home, too!

• Vanilla Bean – Growing Habit
The Vanilla orchid grows wild in tropical forests and comes from one of the oldest plant families (Orchidaceae). Ninety-five percent of the world’s vanilla bean trade comes from one species, Vanilla planifolia. The vine can reach up to 30 meters long and the pods form in bean-like clusters. Because the vanilla bean plant is a slow-growing vine, it needs a stake or trellis to climb on. For example, here is a vanilla bean plant growing indoors on a wooden support:

• Grown in the Jungle
Once Vanilla orchids vine up tree trunks, over time the roots will head downward to the ground and bury themselves in the loose soil and litter where they act more like a terrestrial orchid. Root hairs appear on the once smooth roots and they uptake water and food from the substrate.

• Container Grown
Vanilla plants make excellent container house plants when grown as a vine, because this type of orchid is both epiphytic and semi-terrestrial. This means it lives above the ground where its roots attach to tree trunks or other support from which it takes in water and nutrients. In growing a Vanilla vine in a pot, some support is needed for the vine to climb on and attach itself to. This can be a post or slab of wood, preferably a type that does not rot easily like cedar or cypress.

• Vanilla Bean Plant Light Requirements
Vanilla plants prefer good bright light but not hot, noonday sun. However, they won’t grow well or flower in deep shade so partial sun is what they need. If you are looking for plants that do well in the shade or with limited light, you may be interested in these low light houseplants.

• Temperature Requirements
Vanilla grows best in warm temperatures, preferably in the 70’s to 90’s. Cooler temperatures will slow down the growth. Keep temperatures above 60˙F for the most part.

• Potting Mix
It’s preferable to use sphagnum moss or coco-chip orchid medium or an orchid potting mix. All of these mixes help aerate the roots and give proper drainage.

• Watering a Vanilla Bean Plant
When watering, the support and the soil media are watered so the air roots as well as the potting mix have access to moisture. Generally, the potting mix is allowed to dry a little between waterings to help avoid root diseases.

• When to Fertilize a Vanilla Plant
Vanilla orchids benefit from regular applications of fertilizer. A balanced plant fertilizer is recommended using a dilute solution at every other watering during the summer months. Even a constant fertilizer regime (used with each watering) with dilute levels of nutrients can improve growth (use ¼ tsp/ gal of a 7-9-5 formula). Be sure to occasionally leach the potting media with clear water to avoid fertilizer salt build-up. We have also found it beneficial to supplement with Orchid Myst, a spray that is used to enhance the growth of the orchids and to prolong flowering. It contains many micro-nutrients that keep orchids healthy.

• Flowering a Vanilla Bean Plant
Once the vanilla bean plant has matured, it will begin to flower. The beautiful orchid-like flowers last one day and need to be hand pollinated to produce the vanilla bean:

Flowering the Vanilla vine takes a bit of time and patience. Although the flowers are slightly fragrant, it is the vanilla bean pod that follows flowering that is the prize. Plants that are grown in a container need a support and the vine needs to reach a height of 3-5 feet. Using a clay pot of 12 inches or more will give your orchid size, stability and also a healthy root system. Be sure to have excellent drainage with a porous potting mix and drainage hole in the bottom of the pot.

The vining stem is then tied to the support to begin its upward growth. Keep it in warm temperatures and bright light. The vine should be encouraged to climb and tied to the support as needed. Offshoots will occur, especially when there is a bend in the stem, and these should also be tied to the support. In time, the support will become covered with vines (this adds up to many feet of vine) and once they reach the top and start to hang off the support, then flowering will begin.

What initiates bloom is somewhat variable. It is thought that a dry period for a couple of months in the winter, as well as the vine reaching the top of the support and cascading off stimulates the flowering process. The blooms appear on flowering spikes that emerge at the leaf axis along the stems and many blooms will emerge from this spike over a period of weeks, usually one at a time and each flower lasts only one day. To produce vanilla beans, the flowers need to be hand pollinated, which is easily done with a toothpick.

• Disease and Insects
The greatest challenge as far as diseases and insects is root rot from over watering. Slugs and snails can also chew on roots and young leaves.

• Growing Vanilla Bean at Home – Summary
Overall, Vanilla is a rewarding, and at the same time challenging, plant to grow. Once established, vanilla bean plants can grace your gardens with their beauty for years. Cultivate your own vanilla bean plants for their aromatic and intoxicating spices, which can then be used to deliciously flavor ice cream, coffee drinks, and baked goods. But if you’re in a hurry, we recommend Perpetual Vanilla with Madagascar vanilla beans, which will enable you to make vanilla extract at home for years to come:

For more information on growing Vanilla Bean plants (Vanilla planifolia):

• See our Vanilla Bean Plants• Learn more about our Vanilla Vine Plant
• Read our book, Growing Tasty Tropical Plants in Any Home, Anywhere.
by Laurelynn Martin and Byron Martin, (Storey Publishing, 2010)
Download Our Vanilla Bean Plant PDF Care Sheet

Last Updated: June 24, 2019

The Vanilla Bean Orchid

  • Unadulterated, pure vanilla extract can be pricey. Photo by Bill HR under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
  • The vanilla bean orchid. Photo by mmmavacado under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
  • Madagascar vanilla beans will make a rich and deep-flavored vanilla extract. Photo by acfou under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
  • Provide support for the vanilla bean plant. Photo by D.Eickhoff under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.

While you’re baking cookies and cakes this holiday season, you’ll probably have vanilla extract in your hands more than once. If you’re using pure, unadulterated vanilla extract (as opposed to its copy-cat imitation vanilla extract), you just might notice the steep price, as well. If you’re holding a bottle of pure vanilla extract at a cheap price, it’s probably adulterated (not as “pure” as it should be).

So why are vanilla beans so expensive?

It may surprise you to learn that vanilla bean pods come from an orchid (which already sounds expensive). In fact, the vanilla orchid (Vanilla planifolia) is the only orchid that produces an edible fruit. It was originally discovered climbing among the trees in Mexico and was later introduced to other warm tropical and subtropical regions of the world.

It’s only one of about 100 climbing and terrestrial (land) orchids and can climb anywhere from ten to eighty feet into trees or shrubs. Vanilla orchid’s natural pollinator is a Melipona bee species that is only found in Mexico. So, for many years this was the single resource for vanilla beans.

Today, vanilla is grown commercially in Madagascar, Caribbean, Mexico, Comoro Islands, Indonesia, Hawaii, and Tahiti. The cultivation of vanilla is extremely labor-intensive. The plants themselves don’t even start producing vanilla beans until after three years. When they finally do bloom, the flowers only stay open for one day and have to be carefully pollinated within 12 hours of blooming.

To ensure pollination and the best vanilla bean flavor, each flower on every orchid is hand-pollinated. This is especially true for plants grown in areas other than Mexico where there would at least be the Melipona bees to help out.

This is harder than it sounds considering the flowers are opening every day at different times for several weeks. It takes nine full months for the seed pods to mature enough to harvest and every pod matures at a different rate. Which means, like the tedious flower pollination, workers are harvesting daily for three to four weeks at a time. Following the harvest, the seed pod curing process takes another three months. There’s simply no rushing the production of pure vanilla extract, which is why this liquid spice remains so expensive.

Growing Your Own Vanilla Bean Plant

Vanilla orchids are evergreen plants with 6 ” inch, yellow-green, fleshy foliage. Vanilla likes a neutral soil pH (6.6 – 7.5). Although you may not see a bloom on a cutting for a couple of years their blossoms show up in mid-spring to late summer — and only for one day. The tubular flowers are white, yellow or green and about 5″ inches across. If the flowers are successfully pollinated (which would have to be done by the gardener), 6″-10″ long seed pods will follow about nine months later.

Vanilla orchids prefer high humidity and should be grown in an area where nighttime temperatures don’t drop below 55 degrees, which makes gardens in USDA zones 10-11 their best bet. Bright light & filtered shade is preferred and the potting medium should be well-draining and humus-rich. Yes, you could come up with your own blend, but it’s easier to purchase a proper soil mix specific to orchids.

Keep the soil evenly moist at all times taking care not to over-water at the same time. This orchid may not like its feet to dry out between waterings, but it doesn’t want rotten roots either. During the spring and summer, lightly fertilize your vanilla bean plant every two weeks with an orchid fertilizer. Offer the vines some type of support for climbing and clinging such as a wooden trellis.

Vanilla bean plants aren’t especially hard to grow but if your outdoor climate isn’t ideal they’re well-suited to the greenhouse, as well as indoors among other houseplants.

Read What Others Are Saying:

4 Item(s)

Show per page Great vanilla orchid plant! Review by Kristen

Quality

I received my vanilla orchid plants on July 31st and as of September 1st that each have grown about 2 inches. They came very healthy and Josh’s Frogs contacted me to see how they we doing. They also answered several questions about caring for my orchids. I would definitely order from Josh’s Frogs again and again! (Posted on 9/7/2017) Great vanilla orchid plant! Review by krisstokely

Quality

I received 2 vanilla orchid plants on July 31st. As of September 1st they each have grown almost 2 inches and are doing very well! I keep them on a rack over a large pan of water in a warm room (about 80 degrees) and I spray with water at least twice daily. I’m going to transplant them soon into larger orchid pots with sphagnum moss, as they came planted in. Josh’s Frogs contacted me after they were delivered and they also answered my questions about caring for the orchids. I will totally continue to order from them! (Posted on 9/7/2017) Elegant small plant Review by Liz

Quality

This plant is elegant, easy to grow indoors and is forgiving if you forget to water.
Likes bright light and sends out shoots rather fast. (Posted on 1/29/2017) Excellent product Review by Belama

Quality

Received on time, packed well, I’m excellent condition. Doing great in my vavarium. Thank you all at Josh’s Frogs. (Posted on 2/6/2016)

4 Item(s)

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The Vanilla Orchid (family – Orchidaceae) also known as Vanilla Planifolia or Vanilla Fragrans, is a variety of vine endemic to Mexico. Vanilla is best grown as an indoor plant. The famous navigator Hernan Cortes was the first to discover and bring back the vanilla plant to Europe. Prior to his discovery, the Aztecs used vanilla to flavor a chocolate drink. Vanilla was cultivated domestically for the first time in the middle of the 19th century by Edmond Albius. Albius was a slave who lived on the French island Reunion, near Madagascar. Albius was the first to manually pollinate the vanilla flower. The flower develops into a “bean” which is used as a spice. The “Bourbon”, from Reunion Island, is well known as the most intensive and balanced variety of vanilla in the world. Madagascar was the first producer of vanilla.

Manual pollination of vanilla flowers ( Reunion Island)

Vanilla is the only orchid that can produce edible fruits. The process of converting vanilla into a spice is very long and complicated; hence, vanilla is one of the most expensive spices in the world. Pollination is only possible through manual manipulation. The pods must be blanched before drying.

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