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Thursday, March 20

In A Nutmeg

Deconstructed Nutmeg
You may be familiar with those nutmegs shaking loosely in their tough outer casing. Or maybe you are further convenienced in having packaged powdered nutmeg. Nutmeg has both culinary and medicinal purposes. However there is more over the surface of the nutmeg story.

I encountered a colleague at an agricultural conference and one of his first comments was that he had assumed that I was a national of Grenada from my then Twitter cover photo of nutmeg. Contrary to those who would be so inclined, nutmeg is also grown in Saint Lucia and other Caribbean islands. Interestingly, according to this FAO source, nutmeg was first planted in the West Indies in Saint Vincent in 1802.

Most intriguing to me, is that there are female and male nutmeg trees. Further, it is only the female plant that is capable of producing fruit. This blog effectively captures my sentiments on this subject:
"Just imagine the shock of a nutmeg farmer when he realises that the plant that he has been watering, pampering is a useless male plant!"
This begs the question: How does one identify a female plant before it gets to the flowering stage??? Complicated and costly DNA analysis is out of reach to the small-scale farmer and definitely out of my reach too! 
I recently purchased a propagated plant which I was promised has a 75% chance of flowering. It has planted it out and I patiently await the approximated 5 years to maturity. However to increase these odds, I will plant a few more to add keep my lone plant company. This source suggests that for the home garden the plants be spaced 10m apart. Wish me luck!

Nutmeg tree photo being photobombed by coconut palms
Nutmeg fruits on tree branches

Did you know that the nutmeg on the tree is encased in fleshy rounded fruit? When ripe, this bursts into halves to reveal the oval shaped nutmeg outer casing. On this casing is a red,lace-like membrane called mace or aril. Mace also has spice properties. They can be used in the same recipes that you would the nutmeg itself to add another dimension of flavour. The shell is then cracked to obtain the nutmeg seed.

Close up of nutmeg fruit

Nutmeg aflame-I am hot about nutmeg and it is hot about me too

While the nutmeg seed is a commercial product, I have yet to see mace on local supermarket shelves. An older generation birdie told me that the best fruit jams are made with mace for spice and I make it my duty to source them directly from the farmer. As with all things, there can be no substitute for freshness!

Tuesday, March 18

A Lesson in Grafting

Generally, flowering trees reproduce by seed. However, when flowers are cross-pollinated, the seed that develops in the fruit after fertilization contains genetic properties from two different plants. Therefore, the tree that develops when the new tree develops will not exhibit the same traits as the parent plant. Grafting provides a solution to the dilemma of how to get the exact tastiness, texture, firmness and other preferred traits replicated for future enjoyment. As you can imagine, grafted plants are the choice of the farmers.

Today I am fortunate to witness, refresh and broaden my knowledge on the process of grafting fruit trees. The subjects today are cocoa trees. 

1. The scion selections are prepared: The top is wrapped with a strip of plastic; The end to be fitted into the stock is trimmed into a wedge shape. It is important that the scion must be about the same size of the stock: not too big and not smaller.

Skilled hands

 2. Stocks are neatly cut off.

 3. A cleft is made down the middle of the stock.

4. The scions are inserted into the stock

5. The graft union is securely wrapped with another strip of plastic. This is meant to prevent water entry and prevent the growth of fungus. The new growth of the graft will gradually stretch and break through the plastic strips.

The finished product!
It is an optional step to spray around the completed graft union with the fungicide, Kocide for added measure. Growth progress is checked in fifteen (15) days.

Other tree crops which are propagated by the grafting method are mangoes and citrus.

Additional Source:

Sunday, March 9

A Berry Good Time

Once upon a time...

Those classical words draw us into storybook adventures of characters in a time long, long ago in settings that are out of this world. The adventure that is my life began in a rural community. In younger days my cousin, sister and I would accompany our grandfather to the "Countyside"-a place more agriculturally prime than the rural community where we resided, a place of rocky uphill footpaths which were inaccessible by motor vehicles. Thus, the trip there was by foot. The hour-long walk required starting before dawn. The early morning coolness made the distance more tolerable. All good tales are marked by journeys; even more so the ones that take place in the half light.

One of the unique features of this trip was the berries that grew in the "Countryside". They flourish in the lower temperatures at this high altitude. "Brambles" is a very English word that I first encountered in childhood books by Enid Blyton. These berries grew on prickly, wildly growing bushes. 

Saint Lucia's Wild Raspberry

These berries are called Wild Raspberries (Scientific Name: Rubus idaeus). Today the berries have a place on the "Fruits of Saint Lucia Chart" sponsored by First Citizens Investment Services. The initiative is a production of Nasser Khan for Trinidad and Tobago, but has been adapted for Saint Lucia. The chart was launched last year on January 29. According to the article:
"The initiative [...] aims to familiarise students and residents alike with the variety of local fruits, vegetables and herbs which are available on the island. This is in an effort to help foster consumption of locally grown foods and help reduce the country's food bill"
 As these berries are so tiny and so sensitive to the environment, I do not believe that they strong candidates for food security. But they are excellent for biodiversity and should be conserved as an indigenous Saint Lucian plant.

The berries were photographed at Deraches, Fond St. Jacques, Soufriere.

Wednesday, March 5

Your Cup of Tea- Panadol

"Weeds are flowers, too, once you get to know them" quotes A.A. Milne, author of childhood literature Winnie the Pooh. It is easy to pass this wildly growing bush as a weed. However, this apparent weed is the useful Panadol Plant.

Panadol-Spreading Succulent Herb

"Panadol" with active ingredient paracetamol, has become a household name as a brand of pharmaceutic pain relievers. The active ingredients of pharmaceuticals are plant derived. However, I have found not yet found any information that the "Panadol" brand is derived from the panadol plant. But what a fortunate coincidence if it were!
Pain relief purposes are the same for both plant and drug. According to this source it is also used to treat tooth and gum disease.
Panadol upclose

A low spreading herb in the mint family, the scent is nothing light and refreshing like peppermint or basil. This smells like medicine. Older folk say that the more odious the scent, the better for the body. One whiff of this herb is sufficient to heal. At the imagined taste of the actual brewed leaves, you will instantly begin to imagine yourself well. Suddenly, you are not sick enough for medicine. Alas, that excuse does not work well when you are in the care of parents.
Panadol grows well in full sunlight

As if it was not enough to learn that Panadol is a plant, it was awesome to observe the beautiful flowers that the plant produces.

Panadol Plant Flowers

The photos in this post were shot at Soufriere, Saint Lucia.

Additional sources:
Panadol Plant