Sunday, August 9, 2009

Castor Bean

What is the weird, outstanding plant you find randomly placed within the basil and chiles in the Tierra Vegetable farm field?

This is a Castor Bean plant, the basis of castor oil products. It is also very interesting to look at. The first time I wandered around the Tierra fields to take a tour of my vegetables I saw an entire crop of these monstrously large plants that look something like cotton or okra to a food grower like myself. I was warned that they were poisonous and hence kept my distance. Their intended purpose was to combat gophers and other ground dwelling mammals from eating such valuable roots and tubers like carrots, potatoes, etc...

Follow this link to read in detail about history, uses and growing information of the castor bean plant if you feel like learning more.

While once grown intentionally to use as a potential pest deterrant, the plant has since been proven useless when Tierra attempted to grow sweet potatoes one season, castor beans inter-mixed with the tuber-setting vines. The crop was demolished, despite the integrated pest management effot.

These days, the castor bean has reached weed status on the farm, or a volunteer plant in a more optimistic perspective. Apparently they re-seed themselves quite readily. You may observe one in the Ancho/Poblano region of the chiles and right out front in the basil. I'm responsible for the one in the basil to some extent. When out weeding these beds earlier in the summer, I weeded one away (the definition of weed equals only plants that are out of place, undesireable in a particular location no matter what they may be) at Wayne's request, but then a few minutes later Lee came along and asked me to leave one. I listened to them both, followed instructions and here is the result. It is true they do crowd out and dominate other surrounding plants, but they are also quite striking and unique to look at. I hope that answers questions for a few of you. Look, but don't touch or taste. The plants are quite toxic occording to all literature I'm able to pull up.

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