So if you go back about 6 months ago (you know before the world was on fire) I wrote about a vanilla farm I got the opportunity to visit while in Hawaii. They have vanilla extract making kits and of course I needed to make some. After 6 months it's time to "harvest" the first amount of vanilla from this bottle. If you need reference start with the first posting here:
After 6 months infusing, I can take 1/3 of the extract out and top it off with more vodka (or whatever hard alcohol is used) and keep brewing extract. So that's exactly what I did. This fresh vanilla extract is incredible though. It has such a strong scent compared to the beginning or any time I checked on it. It isn't as dark as store bought vanilla but I would not be surprised if many of those bottles are dyed to some degree to achieve a specific color regularly. I have yet to use the new extract but I will make note of it when I do!
Now as for the other vanilla fun, it's more so talking about the plant. At the beginning of the month I celebrated my birthday. I've never been a big fan of birthdays as a whole so did what I love to do best and just had a day of doing nothing and enjoying myself. One really great thing that came out of it this year though is a very special gift from my sister and brother-in-law, Bri and Joe. They decided to get me my very own vanilla orchid to have at home. Honestly, I almost teared up when I realized what I got. I knew vanilla was an orchid but never thought of actually having one myself. And now, as the very extra person that I am, I am a pastry chef with my own vanilla orchid to attempt to grow my own beans at home.
The process of growing vanilla is actually not as scary as I expected once I did some research. In the past I have not had any luck with orchids especially with the whole humidity thing since I was attempting them in the very dry climate of California. Since I live in Missouri now where it's a little more humid, I'm hoping that I can have a little more room to play with this new plant. Plus from what I read, vanilla is a hardy plant that can take some damage and various temperatures. It just comes into question if I can take care of it well enough to get a flower and bean from it. So let's break down the care and what I now will be doing with my new child.
Like I mentioned, vanilla is an orchid. Orchids are a little weird compared to the typical plant because of their root system. Orchids grow thicker roots that don't technically need soil. In nature the grow on things or in the top layers of the ground so rather than soil in a pot, having an orchid at home you keep with with moss and wood. Not wanting to kill my new baby I did a lot of research on how to care specifically for vanilla and the best home environment for it. I also needed a small bottle of fertilizer to feed it regularly since that is the best way to get a flower and thus a bean.
Back to the pot, I found that the best medium for the roots is a mixture of coconut chips and sphagnum moss. This is not the same as peat moss that typically has sphagnum in it! My sister, Courtney, had some peat moss that she gave me but it isn't what my orchid needed. I'll just hang onto it for other plants. I ended up ordering the coconut husks with a fertilizer but they were out of sphagnum moss so I had to find that somewhere else. I bought the most recommended fertilizer (linked below if interest) and once I knew the order would be here soon it was also time to find a forever pot....
I masked up and headed to Lowe's. I stopped using Home Depot when I learned of their political affiliations while Lowe's is super progressive and their plant sections is way better anyways. I am not being paid to say any of that. I just don't spend money at businesses that support causes that literally try to take my rights away. Now at Lowe's, I looked for a specific set up I had in mind. I wanted a plastic nursery pot for the orchid to help hold water and then a more decorative pot on the outside to make it pretty and support it from tipping over as the vines grow longer. Unfortunately I could not find any nursery pots but I did find a cool ceramic orchid pot. Just like a standard pot except there were a few holes on the sides to allow for better air circulation and let the roots grow out. Since vanilla is an orchid I figured this would be better plus the ceramic allows for moisture to evaporate better to prevent mold. With that I found a cute larger pot for it, a saucer to hold water for humidity, and as I was leaving I saw the last two packages of sphagnum moss! I grabbed one and off I went.
Back home, the package arrived a day early and I could not wait to get my vanilla in its new home! First thing I had to do was soak the coconut bark and sphagnum moss so they were moist and fully hydrated. As they soaked, I added a layer of lava rocks to the bottom of the large pot, making sure there was one in the hole at the bottom. Lava rocks are porous and will move water from the bottom tray up and around the inner pot to help create humidity while also keeping the roots from sitting in water if I water too much. Once the rocks were level and the planting medium soaked, time to plant the baby.
I started by taking the vanilla out of the original pot it was shipped in. Then I took the time to carefully remove all the moss it was already in and untangle the roots so I could see what I was working with. I have three vines. Two well established ones with amazingly thick and healthy roots and a third with a thin and long root. I mixed a little of the moss and coconut bark together to make the growing medium and filled about 1/3 of the pot. Then I placed the vines and carefully added more potting medium, filling in around them to make sure they were supported and secured. Once they were all in, I topped the pot off with only sphagnum moss. This way it has a nice finish and I can easily add water and get it to spread throughout.
The last thing I had to do before placing the small pot in the large one was place the stakes. Ideally I would use a moss pole that could hold onto moisture and help the vine grow aerial roots but that will come later. For now I used the two sticks that came with the vine, stuck them in the pot to stabilize, and used twist ties to get the three vines to attach so they won't fall. Small pot went into big one and the baby was ready to settle into their new home and get comfy. I moved a few plants around the white grow light I use for my main plants that I mostly keep indoors. In California I'd move cacti outside during the summer and now in Missouri the more tropical plants love the hot humid summers. We'll see next year when it warms up if I put the vanilla outside.
As for now, just turn the light on daily and water regularly. I'll keep water in the bottom tray for humidity and dry it out once a month. As for watering, most of what I read said keep moist so I'll just watch the top inch or two of the moss and hydrate accordingly. I will also supply a little diluted fertilizer every two weeks to keep it healthy and hopefully get a flower one day...