Meet the Producer

By Jennifer Kent

THE purchase of a beautiful hinterland property with a bonus ‘hot house’ full of beautiful vanilla vines led to the development of Ginger and Glen MacPherson’s Vanilla Vine Sunshine Coast. GC&M News caught up with Ginger to find out a little more about the labour-intensive niche industry of vanilla bean (vanilla planifolia) farming.

How did you get started in growing vanilla vines?

We moved to the area about three and a half years ago and along with the property came what we call the “hot house” which was full of vanilla vines.

We didn’t know anything about growing vanilla when we started so our first year was a year of learning and a lot of dedication. We really put a lot of love into the crop at the beginning and it has paid off over the years with last year being our best year yet. It was a great opportunity to start a business that wasn’t yet there.

What’s involved in farming vanilla beans? How are they grown?

It’s quite a process, which begins in November – that’s our really busy month. The beans grow on a vine, and vanilla flowers flower just once a year during November between the hours of 6-11am. During that month we hand pollinate each flower using a toothpick and it, hopefully, will go on to produce a bean. Some days we may have 20 flowers open up, other days it could be 2,000 – so it’s all hands on deck for those few weeks.

It’s hard to say how many flowers we would pollinate overall during that month, around 20,000 perhaps, but not all of those flowers may produce beans; Nine months later, in August, our picking season begins.

What’s next in the process?

Beans are green on the vine and start to turn yellow as they ripen, which is when they’re harvested. We then start the drying process. Once picked, beans are dipped in 65 degree Celsius water for a few minutes before being transferred to a sweat box for 48 hours, which is where they turn their brown colour. They’re then moved outside onto drying racks which are placed in the sun every day for about a month. The size of the bean may alter the drying time, so some may take weeks, some a lot longer.

Tell us about your products and where we can get our hands on them

We sell the beans as a whole, which beautifully complement other spices and foods. In additional to vanilla beans, we also sell vanilla sugar, vanilla syrup, vanilla powder, vanilla scrubs, and vanilla salt. We sell vine cuttings to those interested in growing their own vanilla vines.

Along with our vanilla, we also have a coffee plantation where we produce Mount Mellum Gold Coffee Beans.

All our products are available by contacting us directly through our website or on 0404 451 665. We also frequent a number of local markets, so keep your eye out.