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Growing Vanilla Beans In India

Question:

Can I grow vanilla from cured beans and is the south India climate okay for growing vanilla?

Anuradha Sawant from Mumbai, India

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Answer:

Anuradha,

Vanilla beans are widely grown within a 20-degree band on either side of the equator. These are the areas where the plants are easiest to sustain. Most of Southern India has the perfect climate for growing vanilla.

Cured vanilla beans do not work well for growing vanilla plants as chemical changes occur in the beans during the drying process. The best way to grow vanilla is to start plants from cuttings.

The process from a cutting to a finished bean can take several years and is very labor intensive. This is partly because when the beans flower, they need to be hand-fertilized. The flowers for each bean only open for one day and if they are not fertilized, they close and will not open again.

Because there are only 1 or 2 insects in the world (from Mexico, I believe) that even pollinate vanilla flowers, you'll need to watch your plant closely and fertilize it by hand. Also, the plant flowers sporadically so new flowers may appear each day.

Once the plant is mature enough to develop beans, the pods grow fast on the vine but take up to 9 months to fully mature. To capture the best flavor, they need to be harvested at the precise time just as the individual pod splits. After that, they are cured for another 3 months.

Good luck!

Ellen

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