This is the first year we are getting a full harvest out of the vanillery. It’s been a good year, growth-wise, maybe even too good. The vines are growing so thickly now, it’s hard to see the beans for harvesting.
This harvest season actually began on January 3, we missed a few early ones, but on that day I harvested 3 dozen beans. It seems to be coming in much earlier this year. Last year’s first harvest was in February sometime. I can only guess that the onset of the harvest season moves around a lot.
Today’s harvest was particularly bountiful in terms of bean size. In the photo, I’m holding one of the biggest beans I’ve ever seen, 240mm in length and weighing in at 33 grams. The average length for a grade I bean is about 180mm and 17g, so that’s substantially larger than most of the large beans.
You might expect a bean like that from a Tahitian vanilla (Vanilla tahitensis) plant, but we are growing the more common Vanilla planifolia, which produces a smaller bean generally.
Vanilla bean green grades are by length: grade I is 150mm and over, grade II is 150 — 100mm, and grade III is less than 100mm. This is important because the processing is slightly different for each grade. The larger the bean, the more time it gets in the kill bath and in the sweating stage.
For the beans in this kill bath, it is the beginning of a long process: 10 days of sweating followed by 3–6 weeks of air-drying. After that, the by now shriveled and dark brown or black beans are conditioned for 9 months before they are graded and made into extract.