Vanilla is a creeper plant from the family of Orchidaceae and kind Vanillathis grouping together a few hundred species, one of the most cultivated of which is Vanilla planifolia, originally from Mexico. It is used to produce the Vanilla bourbon, original vanilla, queen of spices. A Vanillier is therefore a Orchid, and this flexible vine can, under excellent growing conditions, reach 10 meters in height in a short time. In our latitudes, it is quite possible to cultivate vanilla to produce vanilla, but it is necessary to be able to respect in all respects the specific needs of this tropical plant, to fertilize the flowers manually, then to pay great attention to the pods after the harvest. Spotlight.
Cultivation of the Vanilla Orchid in our latitudes
A vanilla tree can be grown outside the tropical zone from which it originates, provided plant it in a pot. The ideal is to have a greenhouse, but nothing prevents you from installing it at home if you can provide it with a suitable environment. The best growing conditions for vanilla are as follows.
- A exposition East, very bright in the morning but absolutely without direct sunknowing that a light shade in the afternoon may be suitable,
- And substrate light, rich in humus, permeable (that is to say which drains naturally) and always fresh. You can use a mixture for orchids, for example, composed of:
- blond peat,
- coconut fiber,
- Pieces of pine bark and other plant debris.
- A temperature 16°C minimum and 30°C maximum,
- A atmosphere sufficiently moist as is the case in its natural environment.
Once installed in a good-sized pot with a perforated bottom, the vine must be attached to a strong vegetable fiber stake with raffia. Be careful not to overtighten the ties.
Growing a vanilla tree: 6 mistakes to avoid
To make vanilla in our latitudes, the vanilla tree must be able to prosper, benefit from an environment and perfectly adapted care so that it remains in good health. It’s absolutely essential to produce pods. It is therefore necessary to avoid certain errors if one cultivates a vanilla tree at home, namely:
- 1time mistake: plant a vanilla tree in sandy soil or in clay soil because these are substrates that it does not support,
- 2th error: leaving water in the saucer,
- 3th error: place the Vanillier in full sun or behind a window exposed to the South because this would only cause the death of the leaves,
- 4th mistake: let the substrate dry,
- 5th error: installing it in a room that is too dark, which would only prevent the Vanillier from bearing fruit,
- 6th mistake: neglecting the addition of fertilizer because this orchid needs nitrogen and mineral salts.
Do not hesitate to seek advice from a horticultural specialist when deciding to grow a vanilla tree to produce your own vanilla. Above all, it is necessary to ensure that the conditions offered to this Orchid will allow it to develop and flower.
Caring for a potted Vanilla tree in our latitudes
It is important to pay close attention to your Vanillier if you want it to produce vanilla pods. The maintenance of this plant therefore involves:
- An organic amendment to the surface of the substrate: it is welcome because the growing medium must be sufficiently fertile,
- A contribution of fertilizer for Orchid every two weeks in vaporization,
- Moderate but regular watering to always keep the substrate moist, and if possible with rainwater,
- Follow-up vaporizations with demineralized water in order to keep the atmosphere sufficiently humid.
Heat and humidity are therefore essential to vanilla.
Mandatory artificial pollination to make vanilla in our latitudes
It is absolutely essential that a vanilla flower be fertilized so that the plant can produce pods. In Mexico, this fertilization is ensured by a particular species of pollinating insect: the Central American stingless honey bee (Melipona). Or, l’melipone bee does not live in France. It is therefore necessary to intervene yourself, that is to say to resort to artificial pollination. No need for sophisticated laboratory equipment for this since it can be carried out manually.
This delicate operation which must take place the morning requires having a vigorous vanilla tree that is obviously in bloom. Let us specify here that each vanilla flower has male and female reproductive organs since it is hermaphrodite. It should be done as follows:
- Bring a needle or a toothpick,
- Seize a vanilla flower with delicacy,
- Discover the reproductive organs by tearing the labellum,
- Raise the rostellum (a kind of tongue that creates a separation between the male and female organs of the flower) with the needle or the toothpick in order to slip it under the stamen,
- Lower the cheesecloth and apply slight pressure so that the pollen either in contact with the stigma, namely the end of the pistil (or gynoecium), the role of the stigma being to capture the pollen.
So, if all goes well, the vanilla flower should be fertilized. Certainly, failure is possible and we realize it in just a few days, when the flower withers. Ideally, to multiply the chances of success, one can fertilize 5 or 6 flowers and it is recommended to eliminate the other flowers in order to hasten fruiting.
After three to four weeks, if fertilization is successful, vanilla pods form. Do not hesitate to keep only the most beautiful so that they develop better and are of better quality. Each pod reaches its maximum size in just 2 months but reaches full maturity 8 to 10 months after fertilization.
Harvest and prepare your own vanilla pods
We harvest the vanilla pods at the right time. The sign to look for is yellowing of the end of a pod about ten millimetres. This is what producers call the ” tail stage of serene ».
To obtain a vanilla of very high taste and aromatic quality, which is expected of this noble product, it is then necessary prepare the pods by following the following steps:
- L’scaldingessential to stop the vegetation process: for 3 minutes the pods are immersed in water at 64°C,
- L’parboilingcauses the pods to sweat, which then turn brown: for 14 hours, the pods are enclosed in a thick, warm cloth (plaid, blanket, etc.),
- The dryingto soften the pods by promoting the loss of the water they contain: spread out on a wooden shelf, they are exposed for several weeks to full sun (or in a warm and bright room),
- L’refining, to magnify the scent of vanilla: the pods are stored in a wooden box and checked every 3 days. Above all, they must not rot.
A Vanillier lives for a good ten years and begins to produce from the age of 3, if all the conditions are met. We can therefore cultivate several plants, and why not of different species, the most famous for producing a tasty vanilla being Vanilla planifolia (seen previously), Vanilla pom pom, Vanilla thaitensis.