Originally cultivated by pre-Columbian Mesoamericans, the vanilla bean was difficult to produce outside Central America until the mid-1800s. When a slave discovered that the vanilla bean plant could be pollinated by hand, cultivation of vanilla spread all over the world. Many green thumbs attempt to grow the vanilla bean in their homes, but it can be a difficult and lengthy process. Hand-pollination and humidity are the keys to growing a vanilla bean plant.
Growing and Caring for Vanilla Bean Plants
Place the severed end of the vanilla bean plant cutting under running water. Using a sharp knife, cut the end at a 45-degree angle.
Prepare a small, water-tight container for your vanilla bean plant cutting. A clean prescription pill bottle works well. Fill the pill bottle halfway with water and add a drop of all-purpose liquid fertilizer to the water.
Place the severed end of the cutting in the water. Allow the cutting to remain in the water until the roots begin to form, about 10 days.
Plant the cutting in a small planter pot after the roots have developed. Fill the pot will a commercial all-purpose potting mix and insert the severed end of the cutting into the soil. Erect a plant support or a stake next to the cutting.
Position the pot in a humid area that is in partial shade, or approximately 50 percent light. Keep the cutting in your bathroom for humidity. Maintain temperatures of about 61 degrees F at night and 70 degrees F during the daytime.
Re-pot your vanilla bean plant as it grows. Transplant it to a larger pot about once each year so that the plant doesn’t become pot-bound. It can take up to five years for a vine to mature and bear vanilla beans.
Pollinate your vanilla bean plant by hand when the flowers develop in December. Rub the inside of the flower with a cotton swab or cotton ball. After pollinating, you should see the flowers begin to develop into long green beans.
Harvesting and Curing the Vanilla Beans
Pick off the beans gently when they are fully grown. Wrap the beans in a black cloth.
Keep the beans wrapped in the cloth or blankets at night to “sweat.” Uncover the beans during the day, allowing them to dry in the sun for at least 5 to 6 hours every day. Continue this process for two weeks.
Unwrap the beans and place them in a cool place to dry slowly. The beans turn dark brown as they cure.