Vanilla (Vanilla fragrans, Vanilla planifolia)
Vanilla, a flowering orchid vine native to Mexico. Although it's native to Mexico, now it's widely grown throughout the tropics. Madagascar and Tahiti are the world's largest producers. The vanilla orchid flower itself is scentless. When harvested, vanilla beans are green, odorless and flavorless. It takes months of curing, fermenting and drying to produce the dark brown, nearly black color and characteristic fragrance. This true vanilla requires extensive hand-processing, and is therefore expensive. The distilled oil of the bean is known either as vanillin or vanilla extract. It is also sold powdered or by the whole pod, which are used to infuse flavor into many dishes.
Agronomic Requirements for cultivation
Vanilla can be grown up to an elevation of 3000 m above sea level, in areas where temperature is between 210C to 320C with frequent rains. 2000 mm to 2500 mm well distributed annual rainfall is preferable. Vanilla flourishes well with partial shades in well drained loamy soils.
Vanilla can be established by planting shoot cuttings. The length should be 3 feet to 9 feet. About 3 leaves from the base must be removed and cuttings must be kept in a cool, shaded place for 5 to 6 days.
Vanilla being a climbing vine requires support for growing. These supports must be established atleast six months before cuttings are planted. Spacing of the pants is 8 feet x 5 feet. Planting should be undertaken when the weather is not too rainy or too dry. Single cutting is planted per support and basal end of the cutting should be kept just above the soil to prevent rotting. The growing end is gently tied to the support for climbing by the aerial roots.
Vanilla can also be planted as an intercrop with coconut and with several other perennials.
Training and Flowering
Vines are allowed to grow upward up to a convenient height of about 5 feet, and then they must be trained downward along the support. Like this again and again vines has to coiled around the support as loops. If vines are only grown upward, it'll rarely blossom. So it's essential for blossoming.
Vines commence flowering in third year. Flowers must be artificial pollination by hand for fruit set. The ideal time for pollination is about 7.00 am to 11.00 a.m.
When immature, the pods are green in colour, and when mature yellowing commence from it's far end. This is the optimum time for harvesting. Vanillin the final product of vanilla pod is produced after serious of artificial processing steps such as curing, fermenting and drying.