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Whats the first thing you think of when you hear Vanilla…By Jim Reddekopp

It’s funny to think back for the first time I heard about vanilla. It had to be the thought of ice cream is as far back as I can remember. When I was a kid you would be out on Kawaihai in Hawaii Kai street playing and you would hear the music of the ice cream truck. We would have just enough time to run into the house and find loose change and then run out and stop him before he passed. My favorite, an orange dreamsicle that was filled with vanilla ice cream.

Then I think back more recently, perhaps twenty years ago when I heard my in-laws talking about orchids and how vanilla was an orchid? It seemed so strange that vanilla of all things came from an orchid. But something that night triggered something in my brain and woke up the next morning to find out everything there is to know about this strange vanilla orchid. This was well before Google and You Tube and what I found was that there wasn’t much out there in the world that was written about vanilla, why?

I have never been to the spice rack at our local market before my wife and I got married. But there I was, sent to the grocery store on an errand to find everything my wife had written on the list. I had come back a couple of times, saying “I couldn’t find any” but, had been taught to ask for help. I started to learn about nutmeg, cinnamon, different peppers, cardamon,  allspice, coriander and vanilla. I couldn’t believe the price, how could anything be that expensive?  20 years later of growing vanilla I have come to learn just about everything there is to know and why it has become the second most expensive spice after saffron.

When, I first  started to find out where I could by vanilla cuttings it was really difficult to find. Someone told me the knew someone, who knew someone else that had some for sale. I never gave up, I was so driven to find plants that I could start to grow. I really felt determine that vanilla had potential to grow in Hawaii and that I could raise my family doing it. The first plants I found came from Liz at the Lyon Arboretum which is situated in the very back of Manoa Valley on the island of Oahu.

Lyon Arboretum Botanical Garden 001

I am not sure of the origin of the vanilla vines that I purchase here but the selling price was $1. per node (leaf). I bought 73 nodes that day and took it too our home in Kailua to begin my vanilla journey. I took the vine and cut it into segments with two nodes which made about 37 plants. I then cut the bottom node and let it sit for a couple of days. Using promix at the time and placed the bottom node over a four inch pot and covered the node I had cut with promix leaving the cut end of the vine exposed. Then I met someone who would change my life forever…Mr. Tom Kadooka. 

I’ve got more to share in my next blog…where you will meet my sensei and vanilla’s own Mr. Miyage!