Learning how to grow vanilla beans took a lot of time and a few flops but all in all it does help save a good bit of money. If you have looked at the price of vanilla extract recently would know how insane the prices are getting.
When compared with other plants, growing vanilla is pretty difficult. Otherwise vanilla is an excellent plant choice for those with experience growing orchids.
Other people may need a lot of time to learn it. The reward of extracting the very expensive vanilla beans from the very difficult to grow roots can be a skill to learn. We like growing plants indoors and vanilla makes a great option for this.
How to grow vanilla beans
The process of growing vanilla beans isn’t easy. Many gardeners struggle to keep vanilla alive, a common problem with orchids. Where you live determines if you can plant in your garden or have to grow in a pot.
A vanilla bean plant needs to be purchased in order to be grown. As vanilla plants need 3-5 years to reach maturity before they produce pods, they cannot be grown from seeds. The older the plant when you buy it the faster you will get your first harvest.
Unless you live in a tropical region, it may be difficult to locate these plants locally. A live vanilla bean plant can usually be found through Internet searches for vanilla or vanilla orchids. Make sure you research before purchasing to ensure you’re getting a good product that’s at least a couple of years old.
We got lucky and knew a homesteader in Florida that was selling vanilla bean plants from cuttings.
How to grow from cuttings
The best way to establish a vanilla plant or to buy a cutting is to purchase a potted version. The larger your cutting the sooner you will see your first harvest.
Large cuttings of 24 to 36 inches grow roots and bloom in just two or three years. In general, cuts that are smaller will take longer, probably between three and four years. Vanilla vines usually flower when they reach a diameter of 0.25 to 0.50 inches.
The vines should be planted at the base of a sturdy wooden trellis. They prefer habitats with plenty of air circulation and bright light, interpreted as shade. The best trees will be those that let light pass between their leaves or trellises that are shaded. The orchids require little care once they are rooted; they don’t need to be watered, pruned, or fertilized frequently.
The flowers of vanilla orchids are large and fragrant making them a great addition to your indoor potted garden. Sadly the flowers on your vanilla plant last only a day, but they will continue to bloom for about 2 months. When the plant has finished flowering, it begins producing vanilla beans.
How to grow in a pot
A vanilla plant will do fine as a typical houseplant most of the time. This has the drawback of preventing the vanilla plant from blooming.
In the absence of bloom, no vanilla pods will form. The environment in which your plant is raised must be suitable for flowering.
The temperature of your plant must remain above 60°F in order to produce more blooms. High humidity and bright, indirect sunlight are ideal for them. In most cases, this can be accomplished by keeping the plant on your porch in the summer and using a greenhouse or grow light indoors in the winter.
I find that a grow right in the bathroom where the air is humid and the small-sized room keeps it warmer than others is a great place for growing this plant in the winter, and moving outside in the summertime keeps it warm when the air conditioning kicks on.
How to pollinate your vanilla plants
Vanilla plants need to be pollinated in order to produce beans, but unfortunately, the bees that pollinate vanilla plants are almost extinct. These bees are the only ones that pollinate vanilla beans so your vanilla will not be pollinated by bees where you live, so you will need to do it yourself.
Pollinating your vanilla takes some practice, but it is a worthwhile endeavor. By hand pollinating, you remove pollen from the female part of the plant called the anther. The stigma ends in a bit of fluff at its center, which is what looks like a bit of fluff. You can collect pollen from this section of the plant using a toothpick or a very fine paintbrush.
A pollen pellet is placed on the stigma of a plant, which is the male part. There is a shield around the stigma, which needs to be peeled back gently to access it.
Ideally, the pollinating process should be performed in the early morning. Within a week of pollination, you should begin to see pods forming if your hand pollination was successful.
You will need to keep trying with the next round of blooms if you did not succeed in pollinating your vanilla plant. I suggest pollinating any blooms that pop up daily to help get as many as possible. In general, pods take about nine months to fully develop from the moment they are formed.
How to harvest vanilla beans
It is probably the easiest of all growing processes to harvest vanilla beans. Once your vanilla pods have turned yellow, use clean sheers to cut them off of the plant and begin sweating them. Ripening occurs when changes in temperature and humidity cause the bean’s enzymes to convert starch and pectin to sugars, leaving you with sweet flavorful vanilla beans.
Take your vanilla beans and dip them in water that has been heated to 150-170 degrees Fahrenheit. Dip them in the water for about 10 seconds, then wrap them in a heavy blanket before placing them in the summer sun to warm them.
The beans can be unwrapped after three to four days. After they are a light brown, you can leave them in the sun or place them in a dehydrator to dry. Once the beans are as dark brown as the vanilla beans themselves and feel and look like leather, they are ready.
Store your ripened vanilla beans in an air-tight container. To help preserve them longer you can store them in the freezer as well.