How to Grow Vanilla Beans in Australia

I can’t believe that my vanilla bean orchid is out in flower again. I mean I shouldn’t be surprised as it is September, and it flowers every September. It’s just that it seems to have come around sooo quickly!

Growing Vanilla Beans in Australia
Vanilla bean flower

For those not in the know, the Vanilla Bean is produced by the Vanilla Bean orchid.

It is the only edible fruit produced by an orchid anywhere in the world. I have read a lot of blogs that say that it is difficult to grow but I have found Vanilla Beans easy to grow in Brisbane.

I find they are very easy to strike and generally a trouble-free, pest-free plant.

Growing Vanilla Beans in Australia
Vanilla bean vine in flower

The only work involved is if you want to produce vanilla beans. And why wouldn’t you? They retail for about $400 a kilo, making them the second most expensive spice in the world!

The work arises because the flowers need to be hand pollinated.

In Mexico where the Vanilla Bean is native there is a little bee, the melipona bee that pollinates the flower. Everywhere else the flowers have to be hand pollinated.

This isn’t really difficult, but it is onerous as you have a really small window of opportunity to do the pollination. This takes some practice. The best method the I have found uses a matchstick or toothpick to collect the pollen, and insert it into the stamen. I have read that you should cross pollinate the flowers, ie use pollen from one flower to pollinated another flower. I don’t do this, but still get lots of healthy beans.

Flowers need to be pollinated early morning. The flower opens at 6 am and if I haven’t pollinated it by 9am then forget it, even though the flower will still be open until about 1pm.

Growing Vanilla Beans in Australia
fresh green vanilla beans

I find that those flowers pollinated after 9am don’t seem to be successful. Even though I am fairly sure I did the pollination right!

You know you have been successful when the flower stays on the vine and slowly develops into a bean. Un-pollinated flowers drop off the vine within 2 days.

I average around 80-90 beans per year, which is around 15 percent success.

Those beans that do form then hang on the vine for about 8-9 months (see photo). After this they can be harvested and cured, which is where the real work is!

I have harvested and cured the beans with mixed success. However, as I am mainly producing for my own use, I find it just as easy to leave the beans to ripen on the vine.

The smell of vanilla as I come in my front entrance at the moment is intoxicating! It smells like a lovely vanilla cookie after you’ve been baking or a vanilla scented candle.

Growing Vanilla Beans in Australia
Fermented Vanilla beans

The vanilla bean is actually a spice. I use mine a lot in cooking, both in sweet and savoury foods.

Store a whole vanilla bean in a jar of caster sugar and use the vanilla sugar in cakes, puddings, pies and ice-creams. Whole vanilla beans can be bruised and infused in milk or cream for making ice-cream and sweet puddings.

If you want to try to grow your own vanilla beans, you will need a warm sheltered position. I have three vines. Two are growing in diffuse light under a covered pergola (laserlight). And one in about 50 percent sun, climbing an old palm stump.

As I said above, they  requiring little more than a wall, stump or trellis to grow up. Don’t get fussy about the soil. They mostly feed from air roots and none of mine are still rooted in the pots they started in! I give them as occasional foliar feed and spritz with water.

The vanilla grows easily from cuttings, with an almost 100 percent strike rate. Once they are happily growing they lose their connection with soil, so to feed them you need to apply a foliar feed. It will take a few years before they produce flowers. I have read that it takes up to 4 years before flowering, but mine produced at around two and a half years

I haven’t tried growing them in cool or temperate regions, but have read several success stories. If you want to try, I recommend a greenhouse.

Happy gardening

Rohanne, Your Personal Garden Expert


Comment

Hi Rohanne,

I just read your article about vanilla beans.

You said you left some pods ripen on the vine.  I have few pods ripening on the vine at the moment but I can’t find any info whether I can use them for cooking /baking as is or I still have to cure them.

Their smell is strong, few split and one of them oozing oily aromatic substance. Thank you for your time and help.
Kind regards,
Kris V

Hi Kris

Thank you for your enquiry regarding vanilla beans.

In answer to your question, Yes you can use the vanilla beans that have ripened on the vine without any further curing. The beans that have ripened on the vine have been cured naturally.

The only difference between vine-cured beans and beans that have been picked and hand-cured is in the amount of vanilla essence in the bean. If you want a really high quality bean, for selling then it is best to pick and cure the beans.

However for personal use I find the vine ripened beans just as good. After all that is what used to happen before “man” intervened and wanted to improve on nature!

I have had a few beans split, but none of them have oozed any liquid. I would assume that the liquid that is oozing is just vanilla essence. To be on the safe side I probably would not use this bean, but the others should be fine.

I wipe mine with a damp cloth to remove any dust and contaminants and use them normally in sweets, custards, jams etc. Congratulations on producing some beans. I have had a lot of gardeners tell them how disappointed they are that they have not been successful in producing vanilla beans.
Regards Rohanne

 

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