Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

parker basket thumb
Princeton, MAINE USA

Friday, November 17, 2006

China’s Oil Seed and Oil Seed Painter

A major exporter of rapeseed, China has developed new oil rich strains, and an artist discovers its “Yellow Magic” around the globe.


Tourists photograph a field of rape

near Qinghai Lake, China, August 2006

Photo: People’s Daily

What’s more versatile than egg yolk, and just as yellow?

Brassica napus Linnaeus, or rapeseed, a mustard relative with the color to prove it. When it blooms around China’s Qinghai Lake, the tourists and the bees are out in force.

Richard Restell’s piece in That’s Beijing describes the buzz and bustle in western China when the rapeseed fields flower. “In the doorway an elderly lady is busy removing royal jelly from the cells of a comb, while several yards away Zhang Chen busily inspects the hives, removing the trays one by one and glancing over them with a professional eye. ‘I have been coming here for ten years and each year business improves,’ he says, ‘but competition is increasing and the lakeshore area is becoming quite crowded.’ Glancing along the highway it is clear that Zhang is right, the hives of other beekeepers are discernable in the distance, row upon row of industrious activity, the sky a multitude of little zipping black dots above a sea of yellow.”

Rapeseed isn’t widely cultivated in the U.S., but neighbor Canada grows about 4 million acres. The pressed oil makes an ingredient of margarine and shortening, and “rape produces nectar sufficiently to be considered a better honey plant than white or red clover (Hammer 1966). The nectar can be seen glistening in the bottom of the flower all day, and a colony of honey bees may store 15 to 33 pounds of honey per day (Palmer 1959). ” The plant has fed livestock for many centuries, too.

China, India, Canada and Europe are the world’s biggest producers, with China stretching its lead. In September, the Ministry of Agriculture announced its ag scientists had developed a new strain of rapeseed with the highest oil content ever: 54.72%. This comes as welcome news for the biodiesel business and its supporters. Next year’s International Rapeseed Congress, the 12th such gathering, will take place in Wuhan, China, March 26-30. Sounds like prime flower time.

image“Yellow Palace”: Jiulongpu, Quijing

Painting:  Daniel Chieh

A very different kind of Human Flower Project involving rapeseed is the work of Daniel Chieh, who traveled to ten countries painting rapeseed in bloom. Chieh has found and captured the yellow fields in the U.S. (Arkansas), Ireland, Canada and throughout China, including Qinghai. Chieh was once a big omlet of high-tech industry but gave it up to travel and pursue his art.

“What is success?” he—like Allen Toussaint—asks. “When I’m young, I always think that success is being rich, owning a large house, having a stable job and so on. However, after experiencing hardships, now I have begun to realize that success is a kind of proficiency, a kind of capacity to grasp the good in the ordinary things of life, the imperceptible, and the capacity to feel appreciation.”

After his “yellow” year painting rapeseed (2002-2003), Chieh went on to investigate white (cranes), black-green (rivers) and purple-blue (the sky). In 2007, he’ll explore red (old towns). Daniel, may we recommend Smithville, Texas, preferably in April: no rapeseed here that we know of but lots of sweet old red brick buildings on Main St. and, if we’re all lucky, bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, primrose, winecups, and prickly poppy all around the edges of town.

Posted by Julie on 11/17 at 03:44 PM
Art & MediaCookingEcologyScienceTravelPermalink

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Girl Gangs and Gardening

A group of Austin women breaks bread and ground.


Carole Goltze’s “Secret Garden” cake

served to the Divas of the Dirt

September 2006, Austin, TX

Photo: Shelley Wood, Austin American-Statesman

We admit to a certain squeamishness about women’s groups. Is this self-hatred?  Probably.

There are other considerations, though: an aversion to high-pitched voices (Renee Fleming not included),  growing up with brothers only, thirteen years in an all-girls’ school….

But truth is when it comes time to ask for human help, we lean on other women. Why? Because they come through and usually don’t hold it over your head (or some other anatomical part) for eternity.

Julie Bonnin’s story in today’s Austin American-Statesman features a gang of mutual leaners who garden and socialize together under the name Divas of the Dirt. They meet monthly to tackle a gardening project for one of their seven members, meanwhile catching up on each other’s lives and enjoying the lucky garden-owner’s hospitality: i.e. breakfast and lunch.

imageDivas of the Dirt, Austin, Texas: from left, Diane Goode, Sue Boatman, Macky Barrow, Ellen Grimmett, Carole Goltze, (kneeling) Shanda Sansing and Kathy Kloba

Photo: Amber Novak, Austin American-Statesman

“The focus of our group isn’t on achieving specific results,” says “Diva” Kathy Kloba (a.k.a. The Transplantable Rose). “We’re not just free labor for each other. We want the fun and companionship as much as we want the gardening help.”

At a women’s only gathering last weekend, we took part in a “volunteer swap” and offered gardening assistance to someone we met there. We’ll see if she takes us up on the offer and, if she does, how “fun” that turns out to be.

Forty years ago, women tended to gather in “garden clubs” with a different air about them: more leisurely noblesse, less grunt. Gradually, these established groups, too, have been changing their focus from “beautification” (which today has non-feminist overtones of triviality) to “serious” endeavors like conservation. The same social currents have eroded the old day lily, orchid and daffodil societies. Instead of “African violet fanciers”  we have the can-do brassiness of Divas—the cult of “loveliness” supplanted by “attitude.” Below changing styles, though, one can see the simple act of mutual help—a necessity—running like the root of bamboo. That’s worth a crock-pot of social discomfort.

Kloba says that Dirt-Divadom is “like hanging out with the cool kids. It’s like I’m on the cheerleading squad.” Oh Kathy, we wish you hadn’t said that….shades of the Louisville Collegiate School for Girls. And we never did master the splits.

Posted by Julie on 11/16 at 02:12 PM
Culture & SocietyGardening & LandscapeSecular CustomsPermalink

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Iran’s Saffron Ambitions

With 96% of the world market, Iran’s spice industry is still struggling.


Iranian saffron

Photo: The Poster

Enough about the Iranian nuclear program. What this country really needs is a saffron strategy, a plan for turning its position as the world’s #1 spice-crocus grower into profits for Iranian people.

Iran now produces 96% of the world’s saffron, and both output and demand are on the rise. Iran Mania reports “Ten years ago a mere 32 tonnes of saffron was exported from Iran while last year 200 tonnes went abroad out of a total output of 230 tonnes, bringing in 100 million dollars worth of revenue.”

To produce one pound of saffron takes 75,000 crocus sativus linneaus blooms; the flower stigmas dry into crinkly orange-yellow particles, fragrant and savory, and one of the most costly spices in the world. 

A near monopoly, high prices, and a growing market would seem the perfect formula for bulging pockets, but not so. Iran is stuck in a production-only mode and fails to benefit from the wider margins that accrue to packagers.

“’If we sold in packaging, the Europeans would make less of a profit,’ said Mohammad Hossein Meshkani, head of Iran’s saffron cooperatives…”If we stop selling in bulk we can make a profit here and export it. But there should be a national will for it. It is not something that can only come from me.’”

In other words, Iran needs a coherent saffron policy. People here have been growing and harvesting crocus stigma for 3000 years but the packing industry is new; it needs government’s kick-start.

imageWomen in Iran remove the stigmas

from crocus flowers, for saffron

Photo: AFP via Iran Mania

The Iran Mania article gives an interesting look at Torbat-e Heydarieh’s autumn market, where nearly 800,000 growers, pickers, threaders (who remove the stigmas) and traders hustle for the two month season. This is a tough year. Drought in Iran has lowered the 2006 saffron yield.  There are old competitors, like Kashmir, and new ones, too—upstarts Greece, Italy and Spain have been vying for a bigger share of global sales.

Last month, Iran hosted a saffron symposium in Mashhad, where an international group of experts gathered to discuss biotechnology, trade, and packaging, too.

Something tells us that the women hired to pull the stigmas out of crocus flowers aren’t striking it rich (actually, women workers seem to power the few existing packaging factories, too). Even so, Iranian producers are looking warily to the east. Iranian crocus seed, they say, has been smuggled into neighboring Afghanistan. Water is more plentiful there, and labor even cheaper.


Posted by Julie on 11/15 at 02:36 PM
CookingCut-Flower TradePermalink

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Lathering Flowers

Carvers of Thailand whittle roses to bathe with.


Soap flowers

Photos: via Damn Funny Pictures

Put away your rubber ducky. This calls for a swan.

Our cousin Barbie sent along some knockout pictures of soap flowers that have been slipping through cyberspace.  These clearly aren’t molded soaps but hand-carved chrysanthemums and hydrangeas. Our best guess is that they were made in Thailand, apparently the capitol of this fragrant handicraft.

imageSoap hydrangea

Wiki describes two-types of soap flowers: modeled out of paste and turned out on lathes. But these whittled ones are far more interesting than eithe rof those. Check out this full-length video that Indradeep Biswas made on the streets of Chiang Mai. Great close-up of the carving and white blossom, but where’s the face of the human maker?

There are several businesses selling soap flowers out of Hawaii and China. This Thai company trades in both “add-a-petal” blossoms and carved ones, including sunflowers, orchids, even whole flower baskets and soap topiaries.

Do you have a bath-resistent tyke around the house? Hand that child a soap sunflower and watch the ablutions begin.



Posted by Julie on 11/14 at 01:21 PM
Art & MediaPermalink
Page 3 of 6 pages  < 1 2 3 4 5 >  Last ›