By Vina Medenilla
Vanilla is a versatile component that may be found in everything ranging from food to personal care products such as perfume and shampoo.
There are three vanilla species with economic importance: vanilla planifolia, vanilla tahitensis, and vanilla pompona. Among them, studies show that vanilla planifolia has the highest vanillin content, a component that contributes to the distinct scent and flavor of vanilla.
Vanilla is a climbing vine from the orchid family with a complex root system vital to its growth. It has ground roots, aerial climbing roots, and aerial epiphytic roots.
Ground roots, from its name, are roots responsible for obtaining nutrients from the ground. Aerial climbing roots, on the other hand, are roots that cling to the support trees or trellises, helping the plants to have stable growth. Then aerial epiphytic roots are roots found in between the plant nodes.
Vanilla plants thrive in a tropical and moist environment with a temperature ranging between 16 to 32 degrees Celsius. They also prefer well-draining soil with a pH level of 6-7.
Unlike other plants, they are grown above ground. Mulching is, therefore, necessary to provide them with sufficient nutrients as well as to retain their soil moisture.
Choose to grow deep-rooted support trees like kakawate or madre de cacao (Gliricidia sepium) since roots of vanilla develop atop the ground. This way, they won’t have competition in space and nutrients.
Vanilla plants do not like too much heat and shade as well. Avoid growing them in areas with waterlogged soil or with huge trees that will block their access to the sunlight.
Pruning and mulching must be performed on a regular basis until vanilla plants reach their maturity.
The distance between each plant varies depending on the growing conditions, but it is usually kept around two and three meters. For good airflow and disease prevention, the proper distance must be observed.
Depending on how much shade the support trees create, the spacing of vanilla plants may need to be adjusted.
Fungus, diseases, and pests are three common enemies when growing this orchid. To keep your plants safe and protected from these threats, make sure your tools are thoroughly sanitized as they can be a carrier of diseases. Trimmed, infected stems must also be buried in the ground away from the growing area.
It will take a total of three years for vanilla plants to bloom. It only yields flowers once a year. During this stage, the vanilla vines will measure around 20 feet tall.
It is important to note that vanilla cuttings must come from reliable sources. Aside from them being pricey due to limited supply, you wouldn’t want to spend two to three years caring for a plant only to discover it isn’t true vanilla planifolia.
Although growing vanilla plants takes time, it will be worthwhile because they can be put to good use in a lot of ways, either for commercial or personal uses.
Insights shared by Maila Vilela-Toreja of Vilela’s Farm during ATI-Calabarzon’s webinar titled, ‘Growing vanilla planifolia the organic way.’