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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Indian variety is known for having a bolder flavor. Because of the boldness, it’s a great option for being paired with chocolate.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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
Vanilla plants also have specific plants which should be avoided. These plants are:
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
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.