Vanilla and Turmeric Rise up as Greenhouse Herbs on the Grow

Herbs are commonplace in greenhouses, but some have only entered the market in recent years. Vanilla and turmeric are on the rise as greenhouse-grown crops, due to years of research and looking for the most profitable market for these products. Dr. Alan Chambers, Assistant Professor in the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida, says it has been challenging to grow vanilla because there is a prevalence of sterile plants.


Growers have also tried to grow the wrong species, he says, noting that there are only two varieties of vanilla that are approved for food use as vanilla extract. There are also disease problems, such as “silent viruses” that take nutrition from the plants without showing any disease symptoms.

Chambers’ research team has found a number of diverse, bean-producing vanilla plants with no diseases. They partner with growers in South Florida and help them cultivate clean planting material, which comes from commercial propagators near Orlando, FL.

Brian and Shelley Fehrenbacher, owners of Fallen Oak Farms and Tampa Greenhouses in Valrico, FL, collaborated with the University of Florida to be a test site for growing organic, premium vanilla. Shelley says they are fulfilling a need for the high demand of organic vanilla in the health food industry, as well as essential oil and aromatherapy market.

“You have to make sure that you’re getting pure vanilla. You can’t just go to the farmers’ market and get vanilla orchids,” Shelley Fehrenbacher says. “You have to do your due diligence and make sure it comes from a reputable grower and is pure vanilla. Our premium vanilla orchids are Vanilla plantifolia. Not all orchids labeled vanilla will give you vanilla beans.”

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Dr. Paul Fisher, Professor and Extension Specialist in the Environmental Horticulture Department at the University of Florida, says most growers who are growing ginger and turmeric for food produce it in fields, high tunnels, or shade structures to reduce costs. However, he says growing ginger and turmeric as container crops for home gardeners is “a very realistic proposition in a greenhouse.”

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