The vanilla orchid (vanilla planifolia) is an evergreen, perennial herb that is grown commercially for vanilla flavoring. The plant can grow up to 12 feet high and has showy flowers that bloom year round. They vary in color including white, cream, green and yellow. The vanilla orchid produces a seed pod that turns from green to yellow. The pods contain the vanilla beans that can take up to nine months to completely ripen for harvesting.
Plant your vanilla orchid in a container with a mix of three parts coarse grit, one part perlite, one part charcoal and three parts peat moss. This combination provides your vanilla orchid with the best drainage. The container should have a drainage hole in the bottom so the plant will not have wet feet. This can cause root rot, which will kill the orchid.
Water the orchid when the potting mix gets completely dry, usually about once per week. Water with enough water to completely saturate the soil. The excess water should drain out of the bottom of the container. Do nto allow the orchid to stay dry for too long.
Fertilize your vanilla orchid with a phosphorus fertilizer that is made specifically for orchids. Look for a 30-10-10 water-soluble fertilizer. Mix 1 tsp. of the fertilizer in a cup of water and water your orchids with the mixture once per month.
Place your orchid within 2 feet of an eastern or western window. The plant should get plenty of bright, indirect light every day for the best harvest of vanilla beans.
Harvest the fruit of the vanilla orchid when the pods turn from green to pale yellow. Place the pods in direct sunlight for approximately five hours. Wrap the pods in blankets and allow them to sweat for up to 36 days. The pods will turn black during fermentation. The vanilla beans can be finely chopped and mashed to extract the flavoring.