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Building a Vanilla Sweat Box

This arti­cle is an addi­tion to the 2‑part How to Cure Vanilla Beans article. 

A crit­i­cal stage in the cur­ing of vanil­la is the “sweat,” where the enzy­mat­ic process that devel­ops the vanillin takes place. The sweat box cre­ates an envi­ron­ment that holds the beans at the opti­mal tem­per­a­ture for this process.

In the How to Cure Vanilla Beans arti­cle, I describe how to put togeth­er an ad hoc sweat box using a cool­er and hot water bot­tles. In this arti­cle, I will describe how I built the elec­tri­cal­ly heat­ed sweat box used to han­dle larg­er quan­ti­ties of vanil­la pods.

Not Just for Vanilla

For the fer­men­ta­tion do-it-your­selfer, a box like this has many uses. Basically, what this is is an incu­ba­tor. You can set it up to hold any tem­per­a­ture above ambi­ent, so any process that requires a con­stant warm tem­per­a­ture is some­thing this box will be use­ful for.

In our house, this box gets used a lot for fer­ment­ing cacao. We have a few cacao trees, so we’re often fer­ment­ing small batch­es of beans for our own use. You could also use this box for mak­ing tem­peh or yogurt.

A Brief Disclaimer

I am not a licensed elec­tri­cian, the build instruc­tions I pro­vide here are offered on an at-your-own-risk basis if you decide to fol­low them. I’ve been using a box of this design, with the same elec­tron­ics I describe for 4 years with no prob­lems. My expe­ri­ence is that this is a safe design. Be aware of the risks of elec­tri­cal shock and fire that are always present with a project like this.

This is a very detailed arti­cle, there’s a lot of instruc­tions to fol­low. I strong­ly urge you to read it over first so you under­stand what you’re pos­si­bly get­ting your­self in to. There are a num­ber of things in the project that can be or need to be impro­vised, so going over the arti­cle will help you get some ideas for what might work using stuff you may have just lying around.

Stuff You’ll Need to Get Started

The sweat box has 3 main com­po­nents: the box itself, a rack for hold­ing the beans, and the ther­mo­sta­t­i­cal­ly-con­trolled heater.

The Box

For the box, I used a 50-quart Igloo MaxCold cool­er. This cool­er is the per­fect size, and it’s well insu­lat­ed. That will run you about $60 new, but I just used an old one I had sit­ting around. A trip to the thrift store is prob­a­bly a good way to get a cheap one.

The inter­nal dimen­sions are about 20″ x 10″ x 11″ deep, in case you’re look­ing for a sim­i­lar-sized sub­sti­tute. It’s no big deal to make a small­er one, we had a 25-quart one for a while at first.

The Rack

The almost-fin­ished rack on the workbench

The pur­pose of what I am call­ing the rack is to hold the beans away from the heat­ing ele­ments and allow air to cir­cu­late around the beans. The heat­ing ele­ments are hot enough (about 200℉) to burn if touched or melt plas­tic bags, so you will want to make sure there is some kind of bar­ri­er between the heater and the stuff you’re keep­ing warm.

Air cir­cu­la­tion helps the whole set­up be more effi­cient and pre­vents cold pockets.

I don’t go into a lot of detail on how I built the rack, it’s made out of stock alu­minum of the kind eas­i­ly found in a hard­ware store. It’s fas­tened togeth­er with pop riv­ets. I don’t real­ly expect you to go to this much trouble…you can, with some imag­i­na­tion, come up with a ready-made alter­na­tive. A plas­tic rec­tan­gu­lar stor­age bas­ket that you can find in a hard­ware store, for example.

Anything that fits into the box and keeps the beans away from the heat­ing ele­ment while allow­ing air cir­cu­la­tion will work fine. The size you’re look­ing for is about 15″ x 9 1/2″ x 10″ deep or smaller.

The Heater

This is undoubt­ed­ly the most com­plex part of the whole thing, and maybe a lit­tle daunt­ing for those who haven’t worked with elec­tron­ics before, but I’ll try to make it clear how it all goes together.

These are the parts you’ll need to build the heater (these link to a prod­uct page so you can see exact­ly what it is and pos­si­bly where to get it):

The exten­sion cords can be sal­vaged from broken/unused elec­tri­cal items: this is what I have done. The pop­si­cle sticks/tongue depres­sors are to pro­vide a thin insu­la­tor for mount­ing things that might get warm.

For tools, you’ll need a sharp util­i­ty knife, wire cut­ter and wire strip­per, and a pow­er drill with 3/8″ and 1/8″ bits.

The Container

this is a 6″ x 6″ x 4″ con­tain­er I got at a dis­count store

The plas­tic food con­tain­er is going to be our elec­tron­ic project box. The con­tain­er needs to have inter­nal dimen­sions of at least 5″ x 5″ x 4″ deep. The kind I like have snap-on sides to the lid, but any one with a secure top will do. Don’t try to use a “dis­pos­able” one, you need the heav­ier weight ones.

What we’re going to do first is drill a hole on one side of the con­tain­er, and 2 on the oppo­site side. These will be for the pow­er cord, the heater cable, and the tem­per­a­ture probe. On the 3rd side, we need to drill 2 1/8″ holes, 2″ apart for mount­ing the relay.

drilling dia­gram for the container
detail of the con­troller mount­ed into the lid of the container

On the lid of the con­tain­er, we’re going to cut a 1 3/4″ x 1 3/4″ square hole for the con­troller. Use the bot­tom of the con­troller mod­ule to draw the square on the lid with a sharpie and then cut it out with the util­i­ty knife. Use light pres­sure with mul­ti­ple pass­es to safe­ly and accu­rate­ly cut through the plas­tic. Be sure to cut on the inside of the line you drew, you don’t want the hole too big! A met­al straight edge is not a bad idea here.

Unbox the con­troller unit and insert it into the square hole so the face is on the out­side. There are two plas­tic spring clips to hold it in place.

Wiring it Up

OK, you have your con­tain­er drilled and the con­troller unit is mount­ed into the lid. Next, we wire it up. This first dia­gram gives you a big-pic­ture view of how the whole thing is wired up, so you know where all this is going.

General dia­gram of the con­trol box con­nect­ed to the cooler

Wiring the Control Box

Start by cut­ting an 12″ piece of wire off the 6′ exten­sion cord. Cut the recep­ta­cle end off, you won’t be using it.

In the wiring dia­gram (brown wire), this is the wire that con­nects the con­troller to the con­trol inputs on the relay. Split and strip the ends and con­sult­ing the cir­cuit dia­gram to see which ter­mi­nals to use, con­nect the con­troller to the relay.

Controller Box Wiring Diagram

Now thread the ther­mo­cou­ple tem­per­a­ture probe wire through it’s hole in the side of the con­tain­er. Connect the probe to the con­troller accord­ing to the cir­cuit dia­gram below.

Wiring in the Heater Power

To wire in the pow­er, take the 10′ out­door exten­sion cord and cut it so that the plug (male) end has 7′ of cord (for the pow­er cord) and the recep­ta­cle (female) end has the remain­ing 3′ of cord…this is your heater cord.

Using the util­i­ty knife, care­ful­ly strip off about 10″ of the out­er sheath of the end of each cord to expose the wires inside. Avoid cut­ting into the wires when strip­ping off the out­er sheath. How I do this is I set the util­i­ty blade to just bare­ly pro­trude from the han­dle, then make a cut along the length of the sheath, cut­ting just deep enough to go through it. Peel it back and cut it off.

Take the heater cord and cut about 6″ off of both wires, leav­ing 4″ of wire on the cord. This will give you the 2 wires you need to con­nect the pow­er to the con­troller unit.

Thread the pow­er cord and the heater cord through their respec­tive holes in the con­tain­er. Use the wire strip­per to strip 1/2″ of insu­la­tion off all the wires you just exposed, then use the wiring dia­gram and cir­cuit dia­gram to con­nect every­thing togeth­er. When insert­ing wires into the ter­mi­nals, take care to get all the wire strands into the ter­mi­nal. Use the wire nuts to con­nect the pow­er to the con­troller unit as shown in the wiring dia­gram. Pull on all the wires you just con­nect­ed to make sure they are not going to come out. Note: the pow­er con­nec­tions to the relay switch are not polar­ized, so it does­n’t mat­ter which ter­mi­nals you use.

Once you’ve got it wired, dou­ble-check all the con­nec­tions against the cir­cuit diagram. 

Using zip ties, anchor the 3 cords that go through holes in the con­tain­er: dou­ble-wrap and cinch a zip tie around the cord on the inside of the con­tain­er right where it goes through the hole. This is to keep some­thing pulling on the cord on the out­side from pulling on any­thing on the inside. The zip tie should pre­vent the cord from pulling out.

The Circuit Diagram

Mounting the Relay

The relay is mount­ed to the side of the con­tain­er. The pop­si­cle sticks (or tongue depres­sors) are used to pro­vide an insu­lat­ing pad between the relay’s met­al bot­tom and the side of the container.

The relay will build up some warmth, but not a lot, cer­tain­ly not enough to ignite wood. The wood keeps the plas­tic from pos­si­bly melting.

Cut the wood down to the width of the relay. Place the wood on the side of the con­tain­er, between the holes, then put the relay on top of that, lin­ing up the holes. If the wood cov­ers the holes, drill through the wood so the zip tie can go through the wood too. 

Use the zip tie to go though the holes in the relay and the side of the con­tain­er to anchor the relay in place with the wood sand­wiched between the relay and the side of the con­tain­er. You can see how it’s mount­ed in the pho­to below.

View of the inte­ri­or of the elec­tron­ics box. You’ll note the pow­er cord con­nec­tions do not match the instruc­tions, this is anoth­er way to do it using butt splices instead of wire nuts. The cir­cuit is exact­ly the same in both cases.

Finishing the Control Box

Now put the box togeth­er, arrang­ing the wires so that every­thing has some room in there. The wires should be loose, but if you can’t tame them, you can use some tape to hold them so they’re out of the way. Do it so that there is still enough slack in the wires so you can still open and close the box. You’ll be glad you did that lat­er. I like to put the lit­tle instruc­tion book­let for the con­troller unit in there to so that I can find it lat­er when I’ve for­got­ten how to pro­gram it.

Setting Up the Sweat Box

Now we’re going to set up the wiring in the sweat box itself.

You’ll need 4 wire nuts and the rest of the 6′ exten­sion cord for this. The cord will have more than enough length to con­nect the heat­ing ele­ments and then make it out to the con­trol box.If it seems like too much, you can cut it down.

First, you’ll need to remove the drain plug from the cool­er. On the inside, there will be a big plas­tic nut. Loosen and remove that nut: you’ll prob­a­bly need a medi­um sized pair of slip-jaw pli­ers to loosen it at first. Once the nut is off, hit the remain­ing part of the drain plug that is still pro­trud­ing into the inside of the cool­er with some­thing like a ham­mer to pop it out. It’s just held in place with a rub­ber gas­ket, there’s no glue or any­thing like that.

Now run the cut end of the exten­sion cord through the drain hole into the box so the plug end is on the out­side. Also thread the sen­sor end of the tem­per­a­ture probe into the cooler.

Use the alu­minum repair tape to tape the tem­per­a­ture probe to the inside wall of the cool­er above and to one side of the drain hole. It should be about mid­way up the side. The idea is that the heater ele­ment will be on the oth­er side so the probe is not direct­ly above the heater element.

Wiring in the Heating Elements

Connect the heat­ing ele­ments accord­ing to the dia­gram below. You will need to make a tricky lit­tle cut into the exten­sion cord about 2′ from the end: cut only one of the two wires, then tear them apart, giv­ing you two 3″ wires on one side, with the oth­er side uncut. This gives you a way to splice a heater ele­ment into the cord.

Wiring dia­gram for the inside of the sweat box

About the Heater Element Wiring

This is a side note about sup­ply­ing pow­er to the heat­ing ele­ments. In this cir­cuit, the two heat­ing ele­ments are wired in series. If you look at sim­i­lar cir­cuits, you’ll often find the heat­ing ele­ments are wired in par­al­lel. The key dif­fer­ence between the two is the volt­age that the ele­ments will get. 

If the ele­ments are wired in par­al­lel, each will get the full line volt­age. If you wire in series (you’d only do this with two iden­ti­cal ele­ments!) the volt­age will drop by half, so in this cir­cuit, each heater will get half the volt­age, or about 55 volts. 

The rea­son we’re doing this is these heat­ing ele­ments will get up to 300℉ or more at full volt­age. We don’t need that high a tem­per­a­ture, so for safe­ty, we’re run­ning the ele­ments at a low­er volt­age. At that volt­age, the ele­ments will only get to about 200℉, which is pret­ty safe as far as a con­tact burn or fire haz­ard is concerned.

The down­side is that if in the unlike­ly event one of the ele­ments blows its fuse (these ele­ments have a safe­ty fuse), the oth­er one will stop get­ting pow­er. It’s a good idea to check on the box dai­ly (you’ll be doing this any­way to cycle the beans through the dehy­dra­tor) and make sure it stays warm.

Attaching the Sweat Box Components

Once you have all the elec­tri­cal parts wired up, they need to be mount­ed so they don’t move around inside the box. In my set­up, the heat­ing ele­ments are attached to the rack I built, but you prob­a­bly won’t be doing that.

A rea­son­able and easy alter­na­tive is to use 2″ met­al “L” brack­ets of the kind found in a hard­ware store. Use zip ties to attach a pair of brack­ets to each of the heater ele­ments so that they can be attached to the side of the box as though they were sit­ting on a shelf. Use the alu­minum repair tape to tape the brack­ets to the wall of the cool­er. This is secure enough if they don’t get bumped a lot. You could use screws they give you with the brack­et if you want­ed to make them more secure.

Attaching the heater ele­ment to the side of the sweat box

Now that the heaters are both affixed into place, use strips of the alu­minum repair tape to tack the wires along the bottom/side cor­ner of the box to keep them out of the way.

On the out­side of the box, where the heater cord and tem­per­a­ture sen­sor cable come out, tape the hole up with alu­minum tape. This will keep the wires from mov­ing around and seal the box up so bugs won’t crawl in there.

Setting It Up, Turning It On

Now, you’re ready to go. The heater cord from the cool­er should be plugged into the heater plug on the con­trol box. Check the wiring again to make sure it’s cor­rect, then plu­g­in the con­trol box in.

The tem­per­a­ture con­troller will go through a test cycle and then set­tle down. There are a lot of set­tings with this device, but for the most part, you can leave it as it is with the fac­to­ry set­tings. The instruc­tions book­let is writ­ten in bro­ken English, but it can be fol­lowed. One of the set­tings you may want to change is the C/F set­ting depend­ing on the units you’re com­fort­able with.

Setting the tem­per­a­ture is pret­ty easy, just press the blue AT but­ton and one of the green num­bers will flash. Use the AT but­ton to select a dig­it, and the green up/down but­tons to set the tem­per­a­ture. For sweat­ing, we use 115℉.

Once you have the green num­ber set to your tar­get tem­per­a­ture, press the yel­low “set” but­ton to accept the change. The red “out1” light should come on, mean­ing the relay is ener­gized. There should be a red light on the relay indi­cat­ing it is allow­ing cur­rent to flow to the heaters. You should feel some warmth com­ing from the heater ele­ments if you put your hand over one.

The top red num­bers tell the cur­rent tem­per­a­ture read­ing from the probe.

These tem­per­a­ture con­troller mod­ules (com­mon­ly known as a PID con­troller) can be a bit tem­pera­men­tal, but I won’t go into too much detail here. These units are wide­ly used by hob­by­ist home brew­ers, so there is a lot of help out there if you do some inter­net search­ing using “TA4 PID” in your search terms. That’s what I do if things are not work­ing as they should.

Have fun build­ing this! If you’ve got ques­tions, use the com­ment form below.

49 thoughts on “Building a Vanilla Sweat Box

  1. This is awe­some Roland, thank you for the excel­lent detailed instruc­tions. Will start gath­er­ing the parts and hope­ful­ly have a sweat box for the next bean har­vest. I’ll let you know how it goes.

    1. Great, Anna! We look for­ward to hear­ing about it.

      1. Thank you. One alter­nate sug­ges­tion to heater. Use an incan­des­cent bulb/s of high­er wattage. Safer. In addi­tion, you can con­nect a small FAN (take from PC UPS) for cir­cu­la­tion to give uni­form temperature. 

        I had ear­li­er build a sim­i­lar set­up to test elec­tron­ic cir­cuits at ele­vat­ed temperatures.

        1. Thanks very much for your com­ments! My orig­i­nal sweat box used a light bulb as a heat source, the ceram­ic heaters are more com­pact and I think safer since the sur­face tem­per­a­ture is low­er than a light bulb and it is eas­i­er to avoid any­thing touch­ing them. The fan is a nice touch, but I have not found that to be necessary.

  2. Great tuto­r­i­al, Roland, thank you. Your oth­er tuto­ri­als on how to process the beans helped us to suc­cess­ful­ly sweat and dry our small amount of beans. They are con­di­tion­ing togeth­er now. 

    Our vanil­la vine start­ed blos­som­ing last week and we have been pol­li­nat­ing 1–3 flow­ers a day. With an expect­ed much high­er rate of suc­cess­ful pol­li­na­tion this year, your sweat box tuto­r­i­al is per­fect. Thanks again for tak­ing the time pro­vid­ing these tutorials.

    1. Just curi­ous as to what is a good suc­cess­ful pol­li­na­tion ratio?
      For me, last year was pathet­ic. This year is bet­ter (about 40%)

      1. You should be able to get to 80%, that is what we’re aver­ag­ing here. Some things we have learned:

        • Pollination does­n’t work as well in the rain when the flow­ers are wet, wait for the flow­ers to dry a lit­tle if you can
        • don’t “rub” the pollen in or squeeze it too hard, it just needs to con­tact the col­umn under the flap
        • pol­li­nate in the mid-morn­ing, just after the blooms open, but before they start to close after noon
        • use a very thin imple­ment to pol­li­nate: we use the long thorn from a thorny palm, we find a tooth­pick is too big
    2. Thanks, I’m hap­py to share what I’ve learned with oth­er vanil­la growers!

  3. Thanks for this. I was think­ing of doing a sweat box like yours before i saw your site. Never got there, just used small­er cool­ers. Another heat­ing idea is a Radiant Heat Panel, they use them for rep­tiles with ther­mostats.. I live on the west side and my orchids just start­ing flow­er­ing 2 days ago. I only have a few vines but end­ed up with 35 beans last year and 29 to fin­ish. I have all B qual­i­ty, I’m to impa­tient. Haha I cant wait to read your oth­er articles.

    1. Thanks, good tip on the radi­ant heat pan­el, I’ll take a look at that.

  4. Had a sim­i­lar expe­ri­ence where beans fell off vine with­in 2 months of pol­li­nat­ing last year. This year, I pol­li­nat­ed all flow­ers on the raceme, and only a few fell off so far (3months). I think the fail­ing, falling beans are based upon the matu­ri­ty of the vine, and the num­bers of flow­ers pol­li­nat­ed. I believe the plant can­not feed ALL of the beans if rel­a­tive­ly young. How many flow­ers on the raceme should be pollinated?

    1. This is a real­ly good ques­tion and I have to explain this to peo­ple who are help­ing with the pol­li­na­tion here. The first thing I explain is how to tell if a flower was suc­cess­ful­ly pol­li­nat­ed, which you can tell on the next day. Then we go with a rule of 5–7 beans per raceme. Once it has reached that num­ber, we stop pol­li­nat­ing it. You can tell from the size of the beans that are already form­ing how strong the raceme is, and a strong raceme can sup­port more beans. 

      A relat­ed dis­cus­sion hap­pens around the posi­tion of the flower on the raceme, which affects the shape of the fin­ished bean. Since we are not pol­li­nat­ing all of them, we try to choose to pol­li­nate a flower that is a favor­able posi­tion for bean formation.

      We’ve had a lot of expe­ri­ence with over-pol­li­nat­ing here, but I’ve nev­er seen the vine drop beans. We just end up with a lot of tiny beans. I will often break off pol­li­nat­ed flow­ers or small beans if I think the raceme is full and the beans won’t get big enough.

      So, I’m not real­ly sure about the cause of the dropped beans, we’re not real­ly see­ing that here. One thing you may want to check for is the con­di­tion of the vine itself. For exam­ple, if the feed­er roots are dam­aged, the vine may not be able to sup­port bean for­ma­tion. If you’re grow­ing in pots, it’s a good idea to make sure the feed­er roots are in the mulch where they can absorb moisture.

  5. Roland, no need to do the research on the rep­tile heat pad for ter­rar­i­ums. They do not pro­vide the amount of heat need­ed (104 degrees max), and will nev­er heat a cool­er the way your sweat box will to the required 115 degrees. I live in south Florida (Keys-zone 11). Perfect tem­per­a­ture, humid­i­ty, and rain/ dry spell to suc­cess­ful­ly grow v.planifolia.

    1. Zone 11 is per­fect. Good luck with your vanil­la grow­ing, and I appre­ci­ate your questions!

  6. I am Gerald O’Nneil from Papua New Guinea.My peo­ple plant alot of vanil­la and I am hap­py to read some of your comments.
    We don’t have buy­ers of our vanil­la and don’t know if you can help get some buy­ers for us

    1. Hi Gerald,

      Thank you for con­tact­ing us! Several months ago, I was con­tact­ed through this forum by a grow­er in Papua New Guinea. They were also look­ing for ways to sell their vanil­la, and I tried to help, but I got nowhere. I just don’t have the right con­tacts. I found one dis­trib­u­tor there Intec Vanilla Niugini Limited, they can be con­tact­ed by email at [email protected]. They look very pro­fes­sion­al, but I don’t know much about them. 

      Good Luck, I wish I had more to offer.

    2. Hi Gerald
      I am in England and we buy Vanilla feel free to con­tact me to dis­cuss sale/purchase of your vanil­la if you would like.
      you can con­tact me on [email protected] to start with.
      best wishes

  7. Hi Roland !
    We are just start­ing to plant vanil­la here in Sabah (North Borneo), Malaysia. Your arti­cle has been a won­der­ful source for us, espe­cial­ly the post har­vest cur­ing methods.

    I am won­der­ing if we can use tem­per­a­ture con­trolled food dis­play warmer as sweat box, as the tem­per­a­ture inside would be bet­ter con­trolled. Or maybe we should just use a tem­per­a­ture con­trolled dehy­dra­tor with fan on.

    Your thought would be a great help.

    Thanks & cheers.

    1. Hi Mokhtar,

      Always good to hear from anoth­er vanil­la grower!

      For the sweat box, as long as it will hold the right tem­per­a­ture, your food dis­play will work fine. The dehy­dra­tor won’t work (I know this from expe­ri­ence) because the fan will dry the beans too quick­ly, even though they are in plas­tic bags. The sweat box must be moist and warm, so that the beans retain mois­ture dur­ing the sweat­ing process.

      Good luck with your project!

      1. Thanks very much for your reply Roland..
        Hope to keep in touch.
        Cheers !

  8. Hi, Roland!

    Thanks for shar­ing all your knowl­edge with us.

    Do you know about any kind of equip­ment that can be used to mesure the lev­el of the bean mois­ture? Something spe­cif­ic or that can be used as that? I’m hav­ing a real­ly hard time know­ing when is the time to move between cur­ing fas­es since I’m deal­ing with Pompona here in Brazil.


    1. Hi Gustavo,

      I know it can be tricky, but here is the method I use and it will apply to you as well. First, you need to know the mois­ture con­tent of a green pod. For plan­i­fo­lia, it is 80%, it’s prob­a­bly the same for pom­pona. This will be hard to find because pom­pona is not well stud­ied scientifically.

      So, if you know the weight of a pod when it is green, and you know the mois­ture con­tent, then you can always cal­cu­late the mois­ture con­tent based on the weight of the pod. Take sev­er­al green pods, label them so you know which is which, then weigh them, mak­ing a note of the weight for each one. Now, as they dry, you weigh them and when they get to the right mois­ture con­tent, you will know what that feels like. After that, you can do it by feel. This is how vanil­la cur­ers do it, it’s by experience.

      Here is how to cal­cu­late the mois­ture con­tent of a pod:

      Green pod mois­ture lev­el is 80% (you know this from pub­lished values)
      If your green pod is 10g, you know that the dry weight is 2g and the water weight is 8g.
      As the bean dries, only the water weight will change.
      So, your 10g green bean dried to 30% will weigh 3g. 3g — 2g (dry weight) = 1g. 1g is 30% of 3g.

      This is not exact, but it is good enough to learn what the dif­fer­ent mois­ture lev­els feel like.

      1. I see.

        Just for ref­er­ence, would you say it’s time to start the con­di­tion­ing for this bean:

        It has the dried apri­cot con­sis­tence that you say and the col­or is like a dark brown. Do I have to wait until they are black or they will get dark­er dur­ing the conditioning?

        Thanks again.

        1. Looks pret­ty ready. And the col­or looks good too. I would not expect it to change much as it con­di­tions. Whether you get the col­or to black or not depends on sev­er­al things, but most­ly the ripeness of the bean when it’s har­vest­ed. A riper bean will give a dark­er col­or. As long as it’s not “woody” (light brown) you’re good.

  9. […] Use a sweat box.  A great DIY option for build­ing a sweat­box is pro­vid­ed by Kaua’i’s The Vanillery. […]

  10. Can this be scaled up to say fridge sized, with a water bath which has its tem­per­a­ture con­trolled by a PID con­troller, with a small aquar­i­um pump to cir­cu­late the water? Is humid­i­ty a con­cern in this process?

    1. Yes, I’m sure it can. I like your fridge idea. This is some­thing I am going to have to fig­ure out in the next few years as we begin to scale up. Humidity is not an issue at all, in fact, with the excep­tion of dry­ing the beans, more humid­i­ty is helpful.

  11. Hello, I just picked about 50 beans from a vanil­la vine here in New Caledonia. I’m think­ing of using my dehy­dra­tor to sweat the beans. I have a big dehy­dra­tor with tem­per­a­ture set­tings and I’m going to remove most of the trays and place the beans in sealed con­tain­ers. That way they won’t be dried by the fans. I would real­ly appre­ci­ate your thoughts on this. Thanks.

    1. Hi Annabella, con­grat­u­la­tions on your harvest.

      Your plan sounds like it will work. I would sug­gest you don’t skip the “kill” where you place the beans in 150ºF water for 3 min­utes. This is nec­es­sary to ini­ti­ate the fla­vor devel­op­ment. After the first few days, take them out of the con­tain­ers for an hour of dry time reg­u­lar­ly so they don’t begin to fer­ment or rot. After 2–3 weeks, take them out and dry them as slow­ly as possible.

  12. Hi Roland,
    Greg here in Ft Myers Fl. We sur­vived Ian with very lit­tle dam­age. We brought plants into the patio area. We are help­ing locals as much as we can with donations.
    After pol­li­nat­ing 337 flow­ers my vines have real­ly done well, not sure just how many beans are on my vines +/- 175 or so. We’re start­ing to see yel­low tips some crack­ing so I am pick­ing them and freez­ing for now.
    I’m going to make a sweat box, I just ordered all the parts…
    How many beans would you be able to put in at one time?
    Thanks for all the knowl­edge and expe­ri­ence to help some of us new grow­ers. My vines were giv­en to me three years ago and did flower two times before I got them…they are my babies now lol.

    1. Sounds like things are going well with your vanil­la. There is real­ly only a prac­ti­cal lim­it to the amount of beans you can sweat: you’ll be able to sweat them all at once (and you should if you can) giv­en that your box is large enough. When we sweat, the beans go into 1‑gallon zip­per bags, and each one will have 1–2 lbs. of beans. It helps to keep the beans all going the samw way in the bag, you can get then in and out eas­i­er that way, and they will stay nice and straight as they cure.

      1. Hello again Roland Greg here, I just fin­ished the sweat box,it seems to work pret­ty good on the first test. However the temp is set at 115 but the temp probe is only show­ing 50.1 or so…I have an inferred ther­mome­ter that reads like 116 to 117 or so, and that is with the first place­ment of the probe down low away from the elements.I taped the probe to the lid of the Igloo Cube and does­n’t seam to change…I thought maybe it is read­ing in Celsius??When I open the lid and shoot the temp with the inferred gun it is dead on 115.2. Any thoughts? Plus, you do put the beans in sealed bags to sweat them right? This sys­tem seams to be work­ing very nice­ly, and thanks again for the easy to fab up design.

      2. Roland, after check­ing the con­troller instruc­tions it say’s it does read in celcius…

        1. Yeah that makes sense…and you did right to check it with oth­er ther­mome­ters, always a good idea to cross-check.

          The bags the beans are in should be sealed, yes. I use ziplock bags for that. Makes it easy to take them out for the dai­ly trip to the dehy­dra­tor. Actually does­n’t have to be every day, but on a reg­u­lar basis to keep things from rotting.

          1. Hi Roland, Greg here, I have 157 beans to process.I’m switch­ing to a larg­er cool­er. A friend gave me an Igloo Extreme Marine cooler…it’s huge!! My ques­tion, since this IS the first large har­vest. After all the beans are har­vest­ed what kind of prun­ing or main­te­nance is best for the vines?? I watered and feed them and will prune soon. Thanks in advance!! Would love to send a few pictures.

          2. Hi Greg,

            That’s great, I hope your cur­ing goes well.

            Pruning and main­te­nance is pret­ty light until (and unless) the plants get very large. We did­n’t prune for years because at first, you want to build up as much length on the vines as pos­si­ble. So this means that the main­te­nance will most­ly be train­ing the vines, keep­ing them grow­ing where you want them. This has to be done on a reg­u­lar basis, at least once a month to avoid hav­ing to move vines that have firm­ly estab­lished them­selves where you don’t want them.

            If you’re going for the long haul in increas­ing your pro­duc­tion, you will want to make sure your sup­ports can han­dle the weight and bulk of the vines as they mature. We real­ly under­sti­mat­ed how that would go and end­ed up hav­ing to change our sup­port sys­tem sev­er­al years in because the weight of the vines was break­ing our trellises.

            Training the vines is essen­tial­ly let­ting them run in loops: over the top and then down to the ground, and then up again. This encour­ages the feed­er roots to get estab­lished and keeps things com­pact while you are get­ting more vine length.

            We prune often now, because once you get to a cer­tain point in the growth (like over 5 grow­ing tips on a vine) you want to be care­ful not to let the new growth shade out the old growth…that will result in decreased flowering.

            Pruning is not trau­mat­ic to a healthy plant, it will bud out with a new vine just below the cut with­in sev­er­al weeks. If the plant is just get­ting start­ed, how­ev­er, it’s best to just let it run and build length. If you’ve got pret­ty vig­or­ous growth and you want to take a cut­ting, that won’t be a big set­back to the plant.

          3. Hello again Roland, the sweat­ing is going good. Most of the beans are soft and pli­able how­ev­er about a third of the har­vest may have been picked a bit ear­ly but are soft­en­ing up. My ques­tion is should I con­tin­ue the sweat­ing for the ones that are not as soft as the oth­ers?? I mas­sage them every­day between sweat box and dehy­dra­tor and has real­ly helped soft­en them. Thanks again for all your help…the sweat box has done a won­der­ful job!!

          4. Hi Greg,

            The big rea­son not to har­vest ear­ly is that the sug­ar con­tent of the beans will be low­er, and since the vanillin comes from the com­plex sug­ars in a ripe bean, you’ll get a low­er vanillin con­tent in an unripe bean. They will cure up the same, as long as they are not too unripe. If a bean looks dull after the sweat, then it migh be too unripe to be any good. This is because a byprod­uct of the vanillin devel­op­ment is glu­cose, which coats the out­side of the bean and makes it shiny.

            We don’t usu­al­ly run into this prob­lem, but in prac­tice, we go ahead and cure all the beans and dry them. Then at the end of the process when we’re grad­ing the beans, we take out any beans that have a dull appearance.

            You can con­tin­ue sweat­ing, there’s no harm in it, but it won’t help much if the prob­lem is the bean was too unripe to cure properly.

  13. Hey Roland Greg again, sor­ry to both­er you again but for­got to ask you about remov­ing the racemes after the final har­vest?? I think the beans are going to be fine. I hope the plant flow­ers again this year/soon??
    Thanks again,
    Greg Trokey

    1. Hi Greg,

      We used to leave the racemes on the plant after all the beans have been har­vest­ed off of it, but now we cut them off because I found they were vul­ner­a­ble to insects. I have not seen any evi­dence that this prac­tice stim­u­lates flowering.

      Vanilla nor­mal­ly flow­ers only once per year. I’ve heard there are prac­tices that can make a vine flower out of sea­son, but I don’t know about that and we would­n’t do that anyway…it works bet­ter for us if all the vines are on the same schedule.

      1. Hi Roland,
        I removed racemes and found a few beans that I missed…
        We live on a small lake with lots of birds, Squirrels,Iguanas, a Gator or two, also Rats are always near water so I’m going to set up my sweat box as a dry­ing facil­i­ty with a small fan light­ly mov­ing air in the area. Do you think this can work? Other than a fly or a mos­qui­to get­ting into the house they will be pro­tect­ed from poten­tial pests. Your thoughts on this plan? Thx so much for all your help, I’ve learned a great deal from my friend in Hawaii.

        1. Sounds work­able. The impor­tant thing about air dry­ing is keep­ing it away from sources of mois­ture, so if it is out­doors, it should be as far from the ground as pos­si­ble, and away from large plants or trees. If it is indoors, that is usu­al­ly dri­er than out­side. Air move­ment is crit­i­cal, so the fan is impor­tant. The one thing I’d be care­ful of is you don’t want the beans to cool down too much dur­ing the sweat process, so putting them some­place warm while they are on their dry cycle is a good idea. We use an elec­tric dehy­dra­tor for that so every­thing stays pret­ty wram, about 115°F, like thw sweat box.

          1. The sweat cycle is completed…18 days. I was going to turn off the heat­ing ele­ments and use the rack inside the cool­er with the lid half way open and the fan across the room mov­ing air toward the box…the air move­ment is light but mov­ing, no heat at this point??

          2. OK, I see…yes, that could work, air­flow is real­ly what is get­ting the dry­ing done, espe­cial­ly in a humid cli­mate, so if you got that hap­pen­ing, you should be good. Be pre­pared for it to take a long time, 6 or more weeks.

  14. Thanks Roland, I will not for­get this.
    They seam to be doing good, the house is air con­di­tioned so 0 mois­ture in this house. I will keep an eye out for them dry­ing out to much as that’s what AC does is take the mois­ture OUT of the air. I just want to make it thru this time and will be much more at ease on the next year and a half of ” Love for Vanilla” !! lol
    Greg Trokey

    1. Hi Roland,
      After almost two weeks of dry­ing I’m not sure when and what the next step will be. Some of the small­er beans are dry­ing out and should be removed.Most are get­ting soft and pli­able. What should be the clue that they are ready to store, and do they need to go into vac­u­um packed pack­ages or??
      Thank you,
      Greg Trokey

      1. I know it can be dif­fi­cult to deter­mine when the beans are dry enough. What I look for is a soft but firm feel­ing inside the bean when I gen­tly squeeze it. If it feels slip­pery or goopy inside, it’s too wet still. For the usabil­i­ty of the bean it is bet­ter to be on the dry side. Also, depends on the size of the bean, small beans should be dri­er than large beans because they just don’t have has much stuff inside. A too-dry bean is still quite usable for extract, but a too wet bean might go sour. It’s your larg­er beans that you want to keep soft because these are the ones you’ll want to be able to scrape the caviar out of.

        In humid out­door con­di­tions, it can take up to 10 weeks to ful­ly dry a large bean, and medi­um size beans will need about 6, so it’s OK that it’s tak­ing a long time. Your con­di­tions will of course be dif­fer­ent, indoors is a lot dri­er, for instance, and it will go quick­er there.

        As the beans get dry enough, col­lect them in a plas­tic bag for con­di­tion­ing. Conditioning is the aging process we use to fin­ish the beans. We do that for at least 3 months. Once the con­di­tiong is done, the beans are grad­ed. We don’t vac­u­um pack beans until we are retail­ing them, and we don’t vac­u­um-pack for long-term stor­age, we find it dis­torts the shape of the beans. Beans that are get­ting con­di­tioned or stored are in a plas­tic weath­er proof tote, this is to pre­vent off fla­vors and smells in the envi­ron­ment from taint­ing the beans.

  15. Thank you very much for this new infor­ma­tion. It’s new to me. We Sustainable con­cepts SARL, a com­pa­ny work­ing close­ly with an asso­ci­a­tion of small scale farm­ers in Madagascar and we are look­ing a new way mod­ern cur­ing process in order to get the best beans this season. 

    We until now pro­cess­ing our beans the tra­di­tion­nal way. 


    1. I’m hap­py to hear you found the infor­ma­tion use­ful. It was nec­ssary for us to deveop a dif­fer­ent way to cure the vanil­la because the weath­er here does­n’t allow us to cure in the sun. It’s not warm enough or sun­ny enough for that dur­ing the har­vest season.

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