Vanilla, the stuff you use to flavor desserts and coffee, is derived from a small orchid-like plant that’s part of the Orchidaceae family. This aromatic tropical vine is not usually grown commercially in parts of the world where it’s cold (like the U.S., North of Mexico). Vanilla grows in tropical environment around the world. It’s a long-term investment and can take several years to grow, but it’s easy and could become a hobby if you’re into gardening.
There are many types of vanilla plants that are used for either the production of vanilla or for ornamental purposes. The plant, which usually comes from a cutting, has a life span of no more than twenty years. They need around 200 days to mature. Most require a lot of space, meaning they can’t be planted within a few feet of each another.
If you love foods with vanilla flavoring, but don’t know where to get high-quality vanilla, here’s a guide to the classic variety of vanilla and how to grow vanilla beans like its in their native habitat.
Quick Facts About Vanilla Beans
- Scientific name: Vanilla orchids
- Type of plant: evergreen vine
- Native to: South and Central America and the Caribbean
- Light requirement: bright light but not hot, noonday sun
- Water requirement: Consistent, distilled water
- Preferred humidity: Over 50% (optimal)
- Preferred temperature: 27 degrees Celsius
- Size upon maturity: 75 and 100 feet
- Type of native soil: light and well-draining, evenly moist soil
- pH level: between 6.0 and 7.0
- Fertilizer: Compost, green manure, biogas, slurry, vermicompost, and bone meal orchid fertilizer
- Word meaning: little pod
- Family: Orchid family
- Lifespan: approximately 10 years
- Growing season: Spring and summer
What exactly are vanilla beans?
Vanilla bean plants are perennial climbing vine that grow to a height of 10 feet or more. The plants are grown from seed, and they prefer high humidity and grow well in containers when you live in an area with a sunny climate. Vanilla beans are harvested from the plant, which is native to Central America, Mexico, and northern South America.
This plant produces green pods that are cured, fermented, and dried before being used for cooking or making perfume. The beans can be bought at specialty stores or online retailers.
Vanilla bean plants grow well in the shade, and they can be grown using regular potting soil or a specialized mix made with bark mulch. They also do well in containers and grow best if they’re kept warm.
Vanilla is a hardy plant that will thrive under ideal conditions, but it’s susceptible to various diseases and pests that can cause problems for your plant if left untreated.
The flavor of vanilla comes from the seed’s oil content. To get the best flavor from your beans, you’ll want to use them whole rather than grind them up into powder form. This means that you’ll need to cut them lengthwise before using them for baking or cooking purposes.
Cultivation and History
Vanilla is a tropical orchid that is native to Mexico and Central America. Vanilla was first discovered by Spanish explorers in Mexico who thought it was very valuable because it was used as an aphrodisiac by Aztec Indians who drank it in chocolate drinks called xocolatl (chocolate). This discovery led to its introduction into Spain in 1519 by Hernan Cortes who brought back some beans to Europe with him after conquering Mexico City in 1521.
Vanilla has also been known in Mesoamerica for thousands of years, and its use as both a flavoring and fragrance dates back to these early civilizations. It was not until the discovery of the New World by Europeans that the vanilla bean plant was taken back to Europe, where it was cultivated on a small scale.
Today, vanilla remains an important crop in French Polynesia and Madagascar; however, it is also produced in many other tropical countries, including India, Indonesia, Mexico, Tahiti, and elsewhere in the Americas.
Vanilla Plant Varieties
Today, there are more than 200 varieties of vanilla plants that are grown across different parts of the world. However, not all these varieties are used in making vanilla extract. Some are used for making perfumes while others can be eaten directly as an ingredient in desserts or drinks. Below are some common types of vanilla plants:
Mexican vanilla plants
The Mexican variety is the most common type of vanilla bean plant grown in commercial plantations. It’s also the easiest to grow at home because it can tolerate cooler temperatures than other varieties. Mexican plants have long green leaves and produce white flowers with yellow tubes that open into 4-inch long bean pods. The beans inside the pods are used to make vanilla extract and other products like ice cream, baked goods, and soaps.
Tahitian Vanilla Plant
Tahitian vanilla plants (vanilla tahitensis) are native to tropical regions of Central America and Mexico. They produce larger fruit pods than Mexican varieties but take longer to mature from seeds since they’re not self-pollinating like Bourbon varieties are. Tahitian beans are used for making premium quality extracts due to their high levels of vanillin — an aromatic compound found in all kinds of spices such as nutmeg, clove oil, and cinnamon oil.
Madagascar vanilla beans
Madagascar vanilla is the most common variety of vanilla in the world. It is grown in Madagascar and other tropical regions around the world. It is a vine that grows up to 20 feet tall and produces flowers that are pollinated by hand. The flavor of Madagascar vanilla is milder than other varieties and has a woodsy aroma.
Tonga vanilla is a dark-skinned, robust and creamy type. It has a subtle aroma like coffee and chocolate and can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. Tonga vanilla is often used in desserts because its flavor blends well with chocolate and fruits such as bananas or oranges.
The Tonga variety produces a white flower with green stripes, which is pollinated by bees. The flowers are harvested when they are still closed so they can be shipped more easily to their destination countries. The flower lasts after being pollinated and develops into a fruit pod containing hundreds of seeds (vanilla beans).
Vanilla Planifolia (Vanilla Vine) is the most popular variety of vanilla. It’s the type used in most mass-produced vanilla products. It’s also the easiest to grow in the right environment and maintain, making it a good choice for beginners. Its flowers are bright white, with a sweet fragrance. The pods are about 2 inches long and contain hundreds of seeds.
Pompona beans are considered super fruits because they contain high levels of antioxidants and other phytochemicals that can help protect your body against oxidative stress caused by free radicals. They also have anti-inflammatory properties and may be able to help fight cancer.
The Pompona plant is not an edible crop like some other varieties that grow in tropical regions around the world. It can grow up to 10 feet tall and produces white flowers with purple spots on them during its flowering season between May and September each year.
How to Grow a Vanilla Bean Plant: A Complete Guide
If you love the taste of vanilla, planting your own vanilla bean plant can be rewarding. Vanilla is a climbing orchid that needs rich soil and warm temperatures. It takes several years for a vanilla vine to bear fruit, but once it does, it will produce vanilla pods for several years.
In fact, with the right care and attention, you can grow your own vanilla bean plant in no time.
These plants are hardy to at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius), but they prefer warmth and sun. If you live in a climate that has cool days and warm nights, keep your plant outdoors during the spring and summer months. In the winter, bring it indoors if the temperature drops below 50 degrees (10 degrees C). Keep it on a sunny windowsill or in a greenhouse where there is bright filtered shade good airflow around the plant.
The vanilla orchid requires well-drained soil that is slightly acidic. You must ensure that your orchid potting mix drains well since too much water will cause root rot. A good rule of thumb is that if your potting mix feels light and fluffy when you squeeze it in your hand, it has adequate drainage properties. It’s preferable to use sphagnum moss or coco-chip orchid medium or an orchid potting mix.
Choosing small pots
To grow vanilla plants, use plastic or clay potting medium that are at least 12 inches in diameter. The size of the entire pot should depend on its height. You can also use a large container with drainage holes at the bottom of your plant that has grown tall enough to touch the light bulbs above it.
Preparing Soil for Planting
If you are using potting soil, make sure it’s fresh and free of any fungus or bacteria that could harm your plant. If you are using compost, make sure there are no insects in it before planting your vanilla bean plant.
Once you have chosen your soil, it is time to prepare it for planting! Start by removing all weeds and debris from the air roots container so that it is nice and clean. Then add some fertilizer if necessary (most soils will have enough nutrients already). You can also add some compost if needed as well.
It is a tropical orchid that requires lots of moisture, especially during the warm months. It needs to be watered every 1-2 days, depending on the temperature and high humidity level. However, it should never be overwatered as this can cause root rot.
The best time to water your plant is when the soil surface feels dry. Do not let the pot stand in water for long periods of time. If you have been away from home for more than a day, use a humidity tray to keep soil evenly moist in your home so that your plant does not dry out completely.
Vanilla bean plants require a temperature of 70° F (21° C) during the daytime and 60° F (16° C) at night to grow. If the temperature is below 60° F (16° C), the plant will not bloom or produce fruit.
When growing vanilla bean plants indoors, prune them once a year in early spring before new growth begins. Pruning helps promote new growth and allows you to shape the plant as needed. Pruning also helps prevent disease by removing any dead or diseased stems from the plant.
Vanilla beans have a shelf life of about two years if stored properly. Here are some tips for proper storage:
Storing Vanilla beans in your kitchen cupboard is not recommended as they can easily pick up odors from other spices and foods. Instead, store them in an airtight container in a cool, dark place such as a pantry or closet. Avoid storing vanilla beans near heat sources like boiling water, stoves or ovens.
You can also sun dry and store vanilla beans in the freezer to preserve their freshness for up to two years. Before freezing, mark each bean with its name and date to avoid confusion later on.
How to Plant Your Own Vanilla Orchid
If you’re interested to grow vanilla beans, there are several types available for purchase online or at nurseries specializing in tropical plants. You might also be able to find them at local farmers’ markets if there’s a tropical climate nearby where they can thrive outdoors during warmer months of the year.
- Step 1: Choose your variety. There are many different varieties of the vanilla plant. The most common and popular is the Vanilla Planifolia, Bourbon or Madagascar.
- Step 2: Decide where to plant your plant. You need a warm, humid climate to grow this plant so it’s best to live in a tropical location like Hawaii or Southern Florida.
- Step 3: Make sure you have adequate sunlight for your plant. Place it outside during morning hours. The more sunlight it gets, the better it will thrive!
- Step 4: Prepare your soil before planting your new plant. If you’re planting in a pot, make sure you water well before planting so that the soil isn’t too dry when the roots are placed in their new home!
- Step 5: Dig a hole about twice as deep as your root ball and add some compost or peat moss (if growing in an outdoor garden). Planting depth should be about 8 inches below ground level for outdoor gardens and 6 inches for indoor gardens (with containers). For outdoor gardens, place at least one foot apart from other plants for optimal growth conditions.
- Step 6: Place the root ball in each hole, and then cover it with soil. Water thoroughly after planting and again in 10 days if there is no rain.
- Step 7: Prune back any vines taller than 6 feet after reaching this height by cutting off the top half of the vine with pruning shears or scissors. This will encourage new growth at the base of the plant, which should produce vanilla beans with new leaves within a few weeks.
Tips for Growing Vanilla Plants
Growing your own vanilla plant isn’t difficult, but there are some secrets to getting them started right. Here are some tips for growing vanilla beans:
- Choose a healthy vanilla plant. Look for a plant that has no insect damage and few spots on the leaves. Don’t buy any plants that look wilted or pale in color. A healthy vanilla plant should have shiny leaves and stems and vibrant green color.
- Do not overwater your plants as this will cause rot and fungal diseases. If your soil is dry, water it sparingly so that the root system does not get damaged due to excessive moisture around the roots zone, which may lead to rotting of the roots and stem rot disease.
- Plant the rhizomes in containers first before moving them into their final location. This allows you to see how well they will grow in their new environment before making a commitment to planting them permanently.
- Choose an area with good sunlight. They need plenty of sun exposure during its growing season (which lasts about six months) so choose an area that gets indirect sunlight for at least six hours every day during summertime (May through September).
- Provide a sturdy support structure. Vanilla bean plants are woody vines that require a sturdy support structure. The most common type of support are tree trunks, bamboo pole or trellis, but you can also use a fence or other structure. The key is to provide enough space for the vines to spread out and grow unhindered.
- Remember to fertilize. Vanilla bean plants are heavy feeders, so you need to lightly fertilize them regularly. Use a balanced orchid fertilizer that includes nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (N-P-K). Apply it once a month during the growing season and once every six months during the winter months when the plant is dormant.
- Prune vanilla bean plants appropriately. Pruning is needed in order to grow vanilla beans properly. The best time to prune is when the plant is dormant in the winter. Cut back any branches that have died off or are dead. Also, remove any branches that are crossing each other or growing in an unnatural direction. This will promote better air circulation around your plant and help keep it healthy.
- Harvest the beans when they’re fully developed. These plants are hand pollinated, and the best time to harvest beans is when they’re fully developed, which means that the pods have turned black and dried out. This typically happens about four months after the flowers bloom on your plant.
How to Harvest Vanilla Beans
If you are interested in raising vanilla beans, it is important to understand the harvesting process. The key is the successful pollination of the flower. Once the plant flower, they must be hand pollinated. You hand pollinate by removing pollen from the female part of the plant known as the anther (stigma- male part). The pods must be picked at the right time and then cured properly. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to harvest beans:
- Pick the right time: The best time to pick the vanilla beans is when they are still green. You should wait until the pods begin to turn yellow (mature) before picking them, but not too old or they will get dried up. Look for when pods begin to have a dark color and no white spots or blemishes.
- Harvesting method: Harvesting vanilla beans is a very delicate process as you don’t want to damage them or break any of their parts during harvesting. Use sharp pruning shears or scissors to cut off the top of each pod with a single cut after pulling it off from its stem. You can also use a sharp knife instead of pruning shears if you prefer it that way.
- Curing method: There are a few steps to curing, which include drying, sweating, and conditioning. The first step is to dry the pods, which is done by spreading them out on trays in direct sunlight for about two weeks. Next, they are placed in boxes in dark rooms with temperatures between 75°F and 80°F for about three weeks. During this time, moisture can be seen leaving the pods and turning into dew on the sides of the boxes. This process is called sweating. Finally, after being removed from their boxes, they are sorted according to size and quality and packed into jars or tins for storage.
Pests, Diseases, and Treatment
Several natural remedies can be used to control these pests without using harmful chemicals in your garden. The first step is to identify which type of pest you’re dealing with so you know which treatment will work best for you.
Spider mites are tiny, pale spiders that feed on plant sap. They’re hard to see with the naked eye, but you can see their webs. They are most often found on the underside of leaves, but they also can be found on stems and flowers. They aren’t harmful to humans, but they are harmful to plants. They cause leaves to turn yellow or brown and eventually die.
Treatment: Remove any dead plant material from nearby plants, especially from under them where mites may congregate. You can also use spray bottle with water during hot weather (this slows down the development of eggs).
Anthracnose is a fungal disease affecting the leaf veins, causing dark spots or light brown streaks. The disease causes premature leaf drop and plant death if left untreated. The best way to control this disease is to remove infected leaves immediately, especially before they fall off the plant. The spores are spread by spores or splashing water from rain or overhead watering.
Treatment: To prevent infection, you can cover your plants with row covers or mulch in the spring until the threat of rain is over.
This is a fungal disease that can affect vanilla bean plants. The symptoms are very similar to bacterial wilt. The leaves develop dark brown spots on the upper surface, and the leaf veins become sunken. The spots eventually turn black and kill the leaf tissue. The fungus grows in the vascular tissue of the plant, which causes wilting and dieback of stems.
Treatment: No known pesticides or fungicides will cure this disease, but you can try removing infected plants and replanting them with new roots.
Prickly scale (Coccidae) is a scale insect that infests the stems and leaves of vanilla bean plants, causing yellowing, wilting and stunted growth. The scale insects secrete large amounts of honeydew as they feed on plant sap, which attracts ants that feed on it as well as protect the scales from natural enemies such as ladybugs or praying mantis eggs.
Treatment: The best way to get rid of prickly scale is by spraying your plants with horticultural oil. This kills both the insects and their eggs, but it will not prevent re-infestation. You’ll need to spray again after two weeks if you want to keep your plants healthy.
A fungal disease that appears as a whitish or greyish powdery coating on leaves and stems. It is only a problem in hot dry conditions where humidity is high, especially at a flowering time when there may be several outbreaks in succession.
Treatment: The best way to control powdery mildew is to avoid over-watering plants and maintain good air circulation around them.
Best Uses of Vanilla Orchids
Vanillas have lovely orchids that can be used for many different purposes. They are commonly used as ornamental plants in the home but have many other uses.
This plant is considered one of the most expensive spices in the world, and it’s not hard to see why. This fragrant plant has been used for centuries to add a unique flavor to food and drinks. It pairs especially well with chocolate and coffee, but you can also use it in dishes like ice cream or yogurt.
You can purchase its extract at any grocery store or online, but you can also make your homemade vanilla extract by slicing open a pod and adding it directly to your recipe of choice. Just remember that you won’t get the same quality flavor from artificial extracts as you do from real beans!
Vanilla orchids can be used as decor to add color and life to any room in your home. You can place them on windowsills, tabletops, and other surfaces around your home so they can add color to every corner of your space!
Flowers make great decorations because they’re beautiful and have many other uses! For example, you can use flowers as part of a floral arrangement or centerpiece at events like weddings or parties. You can also use flowers to decorate cakes, cupcakes, or other desserts at birthday parties!
The vanilla orchid is a very fragrant plant. It can be used as an air freshener to keep your home smelling nice and fresh. You can also grow it indoors so you don’t have to worry about it getting too cold outside during the winter. Just make sure that you have enough sunlight coming into your home, or else your plant will not be able to grow properly and may die off after a few months if you don’t take care of it properly.
Vanilla Orchids have been used as an herbicide in many places around the world. The plant contains an insecticidal substance called vanillin, which is toxic to insects but not humans. It has been used as a pesticide against ants, spiders, and other pests around the home. The plant also contains tannin, which makes it useful for tanning leather.
It has been used for centuries as an essential oil because of its relaxing properties. When used in aromatherapy treatments, real vanilla oil is known for helping people sleep better when added to their bedtime routine. You can even apply it directly onto your skin before bedtime or add it to candles or diffusers to help improve sleep quality without any negative side effects!
How long does it take for vanilla to grow?
It takes about two years to grow a vanilla plant, but there is no need to rush. It even needs up to three years old to bloom and produce pods. The plant will grow whether you are there or not, so if you have time on your hands, it can be grown in your garden.
How many beans can one plant produce?
A mature plant will produce beans around 100 pieces per year. However, the number of beans you harvest will depend on the size of your vanilla plant. For example, if you grow your vanilla bean plants from seed and allow them to mature for at least three years, then you can expect to harvest about 4-5 pods per month.
How much do vanilla plants cost?
Vanilla bean plants have an average price of $1.50 per plant. The price varies depending on the size of your order, but most people purchase one or two plants at a time.
In summary, growing vanilla still requires a lot of time and care. It is the second most expensive spice in the world due to the time and labor it takes to process the beans. While you can use its beans purchased from the store in your homemade baked goods, there is no real substitute for the wonderful flavor of its powder and extract you can produce yourself.