Did you know that the vanilla spice we all know and love comes from an orchid? The vanilla orchid is a unique plant that is native to Mexico. The essence of vanilla is has become a favorite in the culinary world. This highly sought-after spice is commercially grown in many countries such as Indonesia, Comoro Islands, Madagascar, and of course Mexico. The Aztec people first discovered the vanilla bean and used it to flavor various dishes.
Growing your own vanilla bean can be fun but also challenging. It can take anywhere between 3 to 5 years for a vanilla orchid to produce flowers which in turn will give you the vanilla pods. The vanilla bean orchid (Vanilla planifolia) is not the easiest plant to grow for beginners. Having some experience growing and caring for orchids will go a long way.
The Pollination Process
In order to produce vanilla, you have to hand pollinate the flowers. The flowers are produced in clusters and will bloom sequentially. The vanilla flowers will open from the early morning and close by late afternoon. While the flower is open is the only opportunity you will have to successfully pollinate your plant.
Use a toothpick and gently flip the flap upwards at the tip of the flower where the pollen is. You will know within 2 to 3 weeks if the pollination was successful. When the pollinated flower begins to swell and you will see the vanilla bean beginning to form. If the pollination is not successful, it will not swell and begin to turn yellow and eventually fall off.
The vanilla orchid produces bean pods between October through March, a good quality pod must be at least 6 inches long. When the bean begins to turn yellow its time to harvest them.
The process doesn’t end at the harvesting, you will need to cure the bean to bring out the flavor and aroma we know as vanilla. The curing and processing can be quite time-consuming and take months before you reach peak flavor or a baker quality vanilla extract. Nothing compares to enjoying the fruits of your labor when you do it out of love.
Orchid plants make a beautiful kokedama and you can make one using only sphagnum moss and some string. Check out our how to make a kokedama infographic – click here