The vanilla orchid is the plant from which the Germans’ favorite spice, at least for desserts, is obtained. Otherwise we are quite boring and prefer pepper and salt. Vanilla as a seasoning for savory dishes is still a completely unknown application for most Germans. Orchid lovers usually (only) want to buy a vanilla orchid because it is an interesting and beautiful plant. In the following article you will learn how to plant and care for the vanilla planifolia. In addition, we explain how you can harvest your own vanilla from a vanilla orchid and use it to flavor savory dishes.
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Buy vanilla orchids
Vanilla plants are rarely sold in garden shops and sometimes also in internet auctions. If you can’t find what you’re looking for at these sources, you could turn to a botanical garden. Even orchid growers sometimes have vanilla cuttings to give away. You should be more careful with the vanilla plants that are offered in garden centers or hardware stores. These are mostly imports of whole containers that were pulled far away in tropical areas and don’t survive long here.
Plant vanilla orchids
Once you have found a strong young plant, you should put it in a plant pot with orchid soil. These are ready to buy. A mixture of soil and pine bark should also work well. In any case, the soil should be well permeable to air and have a rather crumbly structure.
Vanilla orchids are climbing plants whose individual shoots can grow to be over 15 meters long. In all likelihood, growth will remain much more restrained here, but you can still keep these orchids in a hanging basket, from which the shoots can then develop freely hanging downwards. If you don’t want that, you can plant the vanilla orchid in normal pots. Then you should also plant a plant stake, on which the shoots can climb.
The vanilla orchid can be cultivated indoors. Then you should put them and the planter in a larger pot filled with water. Thus, at least in their immediate vicinity, the humidity is increased a little.
Because the humidity is the real secret for making a vanilla orchid thrive. In its homeland, the vanilla orchid grows in a humidity level that is usually around 90 percent. And that is actually only possible if you keep them in a greenhouse. If you were to create such humidity in your living spaces, the vanilla orchid would be comfortable, but you would probably have to move out. If you own a greenhouse, you should cultivate the vanilla orchid there. These are your other claims:
- The vanilla plant is a tropical plant, it loves high temperatures.
- In summer, temperatures in the greenhouse should be fairly warm.
- If the greenhouse is really warmed up by the sun, that’s only good.
- Even in winter, the vanilla orchid likes to be kept at temperatures above 15 degrees.
- In the greenhouse you can help the vanilla orchid to achieve the desired humidity.
- It should be at least 80 percent humidity for the vanilla orchid to thrive.
- It also needs a lot of light, bright light without direct sun, in its homeland it climbs up trees.
- Only water vanilla orchids with lukewarm, lime-free water, preferably with rainwater.
- The plants need so much water during the season that there is still some moisture at the bottom of the pot.
- You can do this by adding water whenever the surface of the potting soil feels dry.
- In the growing season, the vanilla orchid gets orchid fertilizer once a month.
- In winter it takes a rest period, the watering should be reduced so that the root ball just stays moist.
- Do not fertilize vanilla orchids during the winter months
Propagation by cuttings
If you want to propagate your vanilla orchid, you can do that with cuttings. Cut a head shoot (shoot end) about 40 cm long from the vanilla plant and remove the leaves from the lower half. The bare half of the cutting is placed in a plant pot with potting soil and covered about one centimeter with soil. The half with the leaves must not hang around freely, as this would disturb root formation with every movement. It should therefore be attached to a trellis so well that the shoot lies very still in the ground.
The growing soil is now moistened and placed in a greenhouse or a polytunnel to increase the humidity. During rooting, the soil itself should not be kept too moist, it is better to spray the leaves with water more often.
The whole thing is now placed in a shady place where it is at least 25 degrees warm. Now all you have to do is keep the moisture and wait. It should take about a month for the upper shoot to show the first new shoots – a sure sign that the roots in the lower area are also beginning to grow.
Cutting cuttings is also a lifesaver if you have watered your vanilla orchid so heavily that the roots have started to rot (or allowed them to dry up, but that almost never happens to the German hobby gardener, rather the opposite). You can then certainly no longer save the whole vanilla orchid, but at least take cuttings and grow them into new orchids.
Propagation by seeds
If you read that vanilla orchids can only be propagated from cuttings, that is not entirely true: of course, vanilla orchids can also be propagated from seeds, it just means that it is extremely difficult to grow a vanilla orchid from seeds. Because the seeds should only germinate in a sterile environment and special culture media, simply sowing them should never lead to success here. Seed propagation is therefore reserved for specialists, for the hobby gardener it is definitely much easier to propagate the Vanilla planifolia by cuttings.
If you have the idea of growing Vanilla planifolia from the seeds you bought in the supermarket a while ago, it becomes “twice as impossible” to succeed:
Propagation from seeds only works with the vanilla orchid if the capsules come fresh from the tree, and definitely not with the supermarket vanilla, which is fermented (see below) and therefore no longer capable of reproduction.
Harvest vanilla pods from the orchid
If you’re looking to purchase a vanilla orchid, you’ll come across some vendors who promise no hassle harvesting of your own vanilla beans. One thing should be made very clear here: If you want to keep the vanilla orchid as a houseplant, harvesting your own vanilla pods will remain a dream. Because in order to be able to harvest vanilla beans, you would first have to make the vanilla orchid flower and then fruit. This will only work if you create a level of humidity and heat in the greenhouse that you do not want in your living space.
If you grow your vanilla orchid in a warm and humid greenhouse, a harvest is theoretically possible. But you need a lot of patience and perseverance until flowers appear. Initially, the vanilla orchid should only develop flowers and fruits if you give it more moisture than the high basic humidity in the greenhouse. So you would either have to install special humidification equipment or spray the leaves very often, and probably for several years: Vanilla orchids should only start flowering when their tendrils are about 10 meters long. That can take a few years. In the last three months before flowering, the tendrils should be allowed to hang freely (no longer bind), otherwise no buds will form. It is best to take the time before the possible flowering
If you actually get your vanilla orchid to develop bud sites, those buds won’t turn into vanilla beans on their own either. In fact, you’ve got quite an exciting time ahead of you – the flowers of the vanilla orchid only bloom for a relatively short time and only stay open for a few hours before they wither. Before they wilt, you’ll need to manage to pollinate the flowers by hand. During flowering, get up early because the flowers usually open early in the morning. But at least the yellow-green flowers bloom one after the other, so you have multiple chances for fertilization.
Then, if vanilla beans do form at some point, you would then have to harvest them in the correct half-ripe state, just before they burst open. Your harvest will only develop the typical vanilla flavor if you then subject the pods to fermentation.
As you’re probably reading this paragraph, you’ve just realized why vanilla beans aren’t exactly cheap, but if you’ve gotten this far, don’t shy away from fermenting either.
Fermentation of vanilla beans
Fermenting vanilla beans is actually not rocket science: Fermentation comes from the Latin “fermentum” = fermentation, which describes various conversion processes in which organic substances are changed by enzymes. Not only vanilla pods are fermented to make them enjoyable, but also herring or vinegar, for example.
Vanilla beans are fermented in a warm, humid environment. To ferment your vanilla beans, simply wrap them in damp towels and place those towels on a warm heater, they will stay there for a week or two. The fruits should turn brown and wrinkle, the glucoside they contain is broken down, creating vanillin. The formation of vanillin can be recognized by the appearance of white crystals.
Unusual ideas for using vanilla
Gourmet chefs swear by “oriental coffee salt”, a mixture of coffee powder, cardamom, sea salt, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, black pepper, vanilla, cinnamon and sugar. This spice mixture not only smells incredibly good, but also gives some dishes an unbelievable round-off. Try it yourself, e.g. B. on roasted dark meat, or in a hearty stew.
If you like orchids, the vanilla orchid will captivate you as a magical, albeit patience-requiring orchid. Do you cook experimentally? Then you could experiment with different stages of fermentation of your own vanilla beans and vanilla in savory dishes. If you want to get rich, grow lots of vanilla orchids. 4 grams of vanilla beans are sold at prices between 4 and 8 euros, that is between 1,000 and 2,000 euros per kilogram.