Uganda is a landlocked country in East Africa with rolling hills and low mountains. It is believed that vanilla was first introduced to Uganda in the 1940s by British farmers.
Unlike other growing regions, vanilla grown in Uganda can be harvested twice a year, in December and in June or July, due to the country’s distinct weather patterns. Although vanilla-pollinating bees do live in Uganda, they are too few and far between to be of much use, so Ugandan beans are hand-pollinated. The beans are best picked when the ends become slightly yellow and split. Then, they go through a blanching, sweating and storing process similar to that of Madagascar.
The Vanilla beans cultivated in Uganda have a creamy tasting just like the Madagascar Bourbon, but slightly sweeter, with notes of chocolate.
Vanilla is prepared in a number of ways though am going to show you how to prepare it in the natural or organic way here in Uganda.
Major points to note while preparing vanilla beans in Uganda
It is very important for you to note that vanilla comes well after preparation when harvested mature. The vanilla beans have to be fully grown for you to get the best out it. Mature vanilla beans can have a length of an average of 15 cm. So it’s very important for you note this. So, now let’s see look at the stages involved in the process of vanilla preparation. You can choose to grade the steps as you wish but for your easy understanding, this is how I have grouped them.
Stage one of preparing vanilla beans in Uganda
The first step would be harvesting the vanilla beans from the garden or plantation. Remember what we talked about earlier that the beans have to be fully mature so as the get the best result out of your vanilla.
So, after harvesting the mature vanilla beans from your garden, the first thing you will need to do will be to lay the beans in a room on a clean tapeline. The room shouldn’t be complicated as such but it should have good ventilation with a good shelter/roof. No water leakages! The beans will be kept in that room for about five (5) days. This will lead you the next stage.
Stage two: Sorting of vanilla beans
After your vanilla has spent the five (5) days in the room as we stated above, you now have sort the beans! By sorting we mean removing the rubbish and the husks on which the pods attach to while on the plant. In this stage also you will also grade the beans by grouping the very long beans together, the short vanilla beans together and the split beans together. This will help you in the curing process as each group requires different time while curing.
Stage three: Cleaning and curing of the vanilla beans
The third stage will involve cleaning and curing the vanilla beans. By cleaning involve washing the beans with water. You pour water in three basins, the wash the beans in the first basin of water, move the beans to the second basin and lastly to the last basin. You must change the water when it gets too dirty. This is done to ensure that the beans are free of dirt and clean. It’s very important to note that the split is NOT washed as you will lose all the vanilla seeds in the process. Secondly no form of any detergent or chemical should be used while washing the vanilla beans.
After that, you will now need a sack. It can be made locally through palm leaves or polythene sacks. You will also need a barrel or locally known as a “pipa” in which you will heat the water you are going to cure the vanilla beans in. You also need a Celsius thermometer for measuring the warmth of the water in which you are going to cure the vanilla beans. The recommended temperature for curing the vanilla beans is 75 degrees Celsius and the vanilla beans should remain in the warm water for 3 minutes strictly!
The split vanilla beans are warmed for less time i.e 2 minutes. This is because the vanilla beans are already split open hence warming them for long will merely be destroying them.
Stage four: Incubation of the vanilla beans
After you have warmed vanilla beans in the hot water, you will then place the beans in a blanket, fold it properly so as to keep the warmth in the vanilla to cure the beans. You then place the vanilla beans in the blanket into the incubation box. Now, I haven’t spoken about this before but this can be a wooden box that is 7 feet long, 4 feet high and 4 feet wide. The dimensions can vary depending on the capacity of vanilla you process. But this is a good box size to start with. All the boiled vanilla beans should be placed in that box while in their blankets for two (2) full days.
Stage five: Sun drying of the vanilla beans
The next step is drying the vanilla beans. To produce the best dried vanilla beans, it’s highly recommended to dry the beans using the sun. For this process to commence, you will need clean tarpaulins or commonly known as a tundubali in Luganda on which you are going to lay the vanilla. Please note; don’t lay the vanilla on bare ground as the beans will get dirty!
You will sundry the vanilla for about 2 hours and half to 3 hours every day till the beans get dry. If you have sufficient sunlight, your vanilla beans should be drying faster. You should note that the split vanilla beans dry faster, followed by the medium size then lastly the long vanilla beans.
Stage six: Sorting the dry vanilla beans from rollers
After the beans are almost dry, they are then placed in rollers where they will complete the drying process. The dry beans are then hand-picked or sorted from the rollers. You should take out the rollers for sun drying as usual till the all the beans have properly been dried.
Stage seven: Packaging the vanilla beans
After you have properly hand-picked out the dry vanilla beans from those that are not, the next step is to sort them into bundles. Remember we stated earlier that the beans should be grouped according to size. So, in this stage you will do the grouping
The vanilla bean has very specific sun and shade requirements that benefit the environment – especially in places like Uganda, where the forest has been decimated. Cultivation of vanilla requires tutor trees for the vines to grow so it can be grown along with other crops like cacao.
Before I show you how to grow vanilla I have to give you a little warning. Vanilla is very addictive. Once you try it out, you'll never leave it alone because there are good years when you earn pretty good money. There are also years when you lose everything. This is usually due to the disease called vissarion. This disease kills the roots of the crop. However, if you do what I tell you to do, then you will not have problems with this disease.
A vanilla plant is an orchid which means it will climb other trees usually up to the top. If the tree is 30 to 40 meters tall a vanilla vine will grow to the very top of that tree. If you allow the vanilla plant to climb to the top, then you will not be able to get it down. So today you are going to learn how to plant a vanilla flag.
Planting a vanilla vine in your vanilla garden in Uganda
First you have to cut a bind. You have to make sure the line is healthy and free of disease. But before you cut any binds you have to see if there is a waxing moon or a waning moon which is just after the whole moon of course you know better than me about the effects of the moon on agriculture. If you are in a waxing moon don't touch the vanilla. But how are you going to know if it's waxing if you don't have calendars? Well, that’s simple just grab a leaf and bend it. If you're in a waxing moon the leaf will snap broken!
The waning moon is three days after the full moon and lasts for 10 days. Here the leaf does not snap when bend. The vine will take root. You will now cut off the tip of the vine since you usually lose it anyway.
After that, you need to choose a Tudor tree so the vines can grow from and climb up. The best Tudor tree is Coco. However, we other trees we use to help support the vanilla to climb up. Another very important thing to note is that vanilla doesn't grow in the soil. It grows on top of the soil. This is very important. Do not plant vanilla below the soil.
Now you will have to prepare the soil before planting the vanilla vine. Remove all the weeds and clear the surface of the soil and dig a little pearl. But how do you know which end of the vanilla vine to put up and which end to put down? Now, where the leaves connect to the vine the armpits should point up and the other end is down.
Do not plant vanilla under the soil. After that, you will need to cover the vine with dry leaves and break them up into smaller pieces. Leave the two tips of the vine uncovered. This way microbes won't get into the vine and it won't rot.