Q: I want to grow vanilla beans. How do I start?
Hardiness Zone: 11
Gaines from Juquitiba, SP, Brazil
As you probably know, growing vanilla beans is an ambitious and time-consuming task-up to three years of time can pass from planted seed to cured beans! Still, if you have the time and patience (and don't forget the handing pollinating) the rewards of growing your own beans is hard to beat. In Brazil, you're already in the right climate.
Vanilla beans belong to the Orchid family and come from several different species of perennial climbing vines. Most commercial vanilla comes from V. Planifolia, also sometimes referenced as V. frangrans. There is also a lesser-known West Indian species, V. pompona. The easiest, and fastest way to start a plant is from cuttings. The problem most people have (besides the lack of patience to see the entire process to the end) is sourcing the beans and cuttings. First you have to find them, and then you have to be able to afford them. Once you acquire them, the plant itself is not hard to get started. One source on the web that promises world - wide delivery is www.vanillaplantation.com They are based in Australia and sell beans and cuttings. They also have growing instructions on their website.
If it turns out that the long, expensive and often arduous process of growing vanilla beans is not for you, try Tonka Beans. Tonka Beans are seeds from (Dipteryx odorata), a large tree that is native to your Brazilian rainforest. I don't have much information of them, but the seeds contain coumarin, which is used in perfumes and as a vanilla-like flavoring in sweets and tobacco.
Vanilla is an attractive plant in it's own right, particularly the variegated form whether in flower or not. In Brisbane's (Australia) sub-tropical climate, They're hardy, easy to please, can be neglected and still put on astonishing growth plus they train well. Finally, turning the pods into something you can use should be an enjoyable challenge, and a lovely bonus if you succeed. I can't wait! (05/06/2006)
Vanilla is a tropical plant and will only grow well within 20 degrees of the equator. However in a heated glasshouse we grow vanilla commercially in New Zealand at 37 degrees south. We maintain minimum temps of 16 c overnight and 21 c during the day, 50% shade and 80% relative humidity. It would grow well inside providing you can maintain humidity. It also needs a wet and dry season. Growing in a controlled environment makes this easy to replicate. Without a dry season the vines won't flower. (03/08/2008)
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