Amazing Mother Nature……. Witnessing the process of cycle of creation with naked eye!

If I tell that one can witness the entire process of cycle creation (including death) with our naked eye in the span of 8 hours, without a camera, how many would agree with me? Probably None… have I gone bonkers?  Well I am indeed nuts… but over Mother Nature… the most beautiful lady in the entire universe.. I don’t mean the bikini clad size 34-32-36 inch…. Hmmmm… She is a mystery which we mortals cannot understand in our life time. By the time we learn to love and try to understand her, unfortunately it will be time for us to kick the bucket. Anyways if we look around and if we have patience, Mother Nature has provided us with a chance to witness everything… only we have to learn to put two into two together. We all agree that God almighty is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient, no gender. God is beyond any attributes of form, colour, shape, yet is the most compassionate, full of love, kindest of kindest, friendliest of friendliest, beautifullest of the beautifullest, most merciful, etc., etc., left to one’s own vocabulary of imagination. Yet we cannot see, smell or feel God because our antenna is not tuned properly. God is not limited or belong to one individual but we all the entire creation in the universe belongs to God almighty. God is something only you can experienced…. Perhaps a highly evolved soul can see or hear god… since I don’t have any friends or family in that ranking I really can’t tell how it works!!

However it’s very easy to see God in our day to day life. We can see God with the beautiful things all around us like the trees, flower, different living beings including us the perfect machinery ever created, the melody, as only a beautiful entity like God is capable of creating such vast beauty. We can smell the beautiful fragrance through flowers, leaves, etc. We can see the power in the form of earth quake, flood, the sun, moon, river, ocean, each and everything. When we think of god in general always look up… may be mentally picturing a place beyond human imagination as we are not even capable of comprehending the existence of such a place. Our physical powers are limited and we cannot even stretch our hand beyond 6 to 6.5 feet on our own… even if we jump!! And our mental power is limited to picture only what we know or seen or heard!! Going back to basic, god almighty has manifested to make us bird brains understand in the form of Mother Nature. She is the God with attributes. Without her donation, tolerance, patience we cannot survive in this world. She nurtures us from birth to death and when we are dead again she accepts us… no matter who we are. She also has mechanism to teach us everything provided we are willing to learn… it is said that you can take a horse to water but can’t make it drink… so inspite of the presence if we are not willing to understand then we cannot simply say that it is not there.

So what is that the cycle of creation I am talking about… well you have to see my next blog… when I first saw it years ago I was in middle school but it took all these years for me to understand the beauty of it… (And now I’m officially a grandmother as of 09/10/2013!!)

I dedicate this article to the entire female species of the universe whom I consider the manifestation of Mother Nature  in a lesser form…… the one who is capable of playing a major role in creation and nurturing the living being. perhaps the only certainty after birth and death…..

Food for thought…… Happy Super Mother’s Day! (1/3)

I’m grateful to all my readers who have been my inspiration and have crossed more than two thousand two hundred views! And to add to it, me a budding blogger received a pleasant mail from Mr.Blake, the Black Ivory Moghul himself! (See the comment on that article!)

Going to take a break from coffee and do a bit of philosophy. I have a short series of articles where I’ve tried to blend Mother Nature with Prayer, Humanity, and Violence. The last one is a short story.

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If a picture speaks thousand words, Mother Nature speaks infinitely to those who want to see or listen. This was the two hibiscus flowers (Dasavala poo or Chembarathi) on the same plant in my home garden on the morning of Saturday, Sept 29th 2013. This exquisite translucent white flower species (delicate/silky/supple like baby’s butt) is not a hybrid but a native variety hence no human influence. The plant is around 20 years old & bears white flowers most of the time. Rarely, you can see a touch of pink here & there but I’ve never seen a perfect blend like this before!!

To summarize the way I look at: The white part of the flower is the God almighty, the pink in different hues symbolizing us human beings (& perhaps our religions), blending in perfect harmony. Mother Nature is telling us that if all the religions (& humanity) are like beautiful precious pearls, GOD almighty is the thread that holds the pearls together in a beautiful string. While a string of pearl is cherished / admired by everyone, a single pearl just sits in the vault of a miser waiting for its chance to see the daylight once in a blue moon!! IMG_4815

Prayer is the most powerful tool on earth & mass prayer can send vibrations far & wide if it is done for peace. In the time of crisis the first thought that comes to any normal mind is the prayer. No matter the colour, creed or religion, prayer is a prayer, for the very spark of life that makes us alive is the spark from God almighty which is common in any creation. Let us pray in unison, stand together to help us in Conserving/Preserving mother of all mothers, our Super Mother. Drawing the strength from God & peaceful mind (from payer) let us work towards our goal.

On the contrary Violence is against the laws of nature no matter in any form. Animals kill to eat not for pleasure/fun & once their stomach is full they wait till the next meal to kill again. Animal killing is to balance the nature but human violence is the dark side of humanity & to fulfill the rotten egos & psyche of individuals. Violence from a disturbed mind is as bad as an atom bomb. Atom bomb when dropped is not selective on who it kills, but cause massive destruction to the entire creation.

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Then again just pray & do nothing is also not sufficient. Mahatma Gandhi aptly said that, acts of kindness to a single heart are better than a thousand heads in payer. Sympathy & its big sister Empathy are the back bone of humanity. Unfortunately we humans come together only at the time of crisis, otherwise it’s my way or highway!! Be it a large crisis or an individual crisis, human reaction is the same. Be it the Westgate Mall in capital city like Nairobi or a small University town like Bloomington (Indiana) or any small office in the Middle East, every one opens their heart & mind & willing to do anything possible. May be in any form/kind – blood, prayer, food, anything at all….. This shows that humanity is not extinct after all. I SALUTE THOSE WHO STAND UP AT THE TIME OF CRISIS & SHOW THEIR TRUE BEAUTIFUL COLOURS. However, not only during the crisis but also in normal or happier times we should learn to live in harmony with Mother Nature & the entire creation. Even though we don’t realize, everything in Mother Nature is inter-connected. We may not be related but we can verily relate to one another.

Preserving Mother Nature is nothing but saving ourselves & our future generation in return. Sadly, because of our ignorance & selfishness, knowingly/unknowingly we have been using, misusing & abusing her, as if sucking out juice from the sugarcane. Time is running out, we don’t have all the time to make each & every mistake & learn from it. High time we join hands & work for the welfare of the world. Let us learn from the past mistakes… & act now. Let us learn to live in harmony & coherence. We can do it & we should do it… The trillion dollar question is, should we wait for the bigger crisis or disaster to come together? How much time do we really have remaining? Clock is ticking… like the time bomb….

The What, How and Why of Vanilla

I was at my cousin & best friend Prema’s house during the first week of Jan ‘13, sipping my piping hot coffee and enjoying the beautiful pristine surroundings & the crisp fresh air. The chirping birds, the colourful lotus in the pond, far away cry of peacocks & mist filled tranquil surrounding, always fills me up with calm & peace. On every visit there, I feel as if I’m seeing everything for the first time!!

All of a sudden, I could hear some commotion nearby under the pomegranate tree & saw both Prema & her husband Dr. Ashok busy doing something by the trunk of the tree. Curiosity dragged me there & I got the chance to witness the unique way of artificial pollination of vanilla. In my previous visit there, I had the privilege of clicking the wonderful pictures of the vine, buds, flower & beans of vanilla with the help of Prema’s niece Muth. When I showed the pictures to my friends & colleagues, practically everyone had no knowledge what so ever about how vanilla comes & asked me such questions which I had no answers too. I decided to ask Dr. Ashok who is a treasure house of knowledge on plants with a wealth of firsthand experiences. Upon my request as always Ashok patiently explained me the whole process briefly in layman’s terms. I believe that an experienced knowledge is better than the book knowledge!!

History

Vanilla is the fruit of an orchid vine (I am sure most of you did not know that!), which grows in the form of a bean pod. It is said that Vanilla (botanical name: Vanilla planifolia) originated in Mexico with the Totonaco Indians, (it always amazes me is to how without any modern technology our forefathers understood the mysteries of Mother Nature?) who were conquered by the Aztecs who, in turn, were conquered by Hernando Cortez. Vanilla is pollinated by the Melipone bee in Mexico. Along with other plunder, Cortez took cacao beans & vanilla pods back to Spain. But he forgot to carry the bees!! He couldn’t conquer the beeeeeeeeezzz!!! 😀

Today, Vanilla grown in all regions in the tropical belts & currently Madagascar is the largest producer.

There are three main bean varieties, Mexican, Madagascar and Tahitian. Mexican beans are mellow and smooth with spicy, woody fragrance. Madagascar beans called Bourbon bean after the former name of Reunion Ile Bourbon are long and slender have thick, oily skin with a very rich taste and smell. It contains numerous tiny seed with strong aroma. Tahitian beans are plump, short and high in oil content. The skin is thinner, contains fewer seed and the aroma is fruity and floral somewhere between licorice, cherry and prunes. Natural vanilla extracted from high quality beans is the second most expensive spice after saffron. Natural vanilla extract is a mixture of several hundred different compounds in addition to primary compound vanillin.

In Madagascar, it is supposed to be pollinated by humming birds which is endemic to Madagascar. In Kodagu a very small percentage of pollination is done through ants & moths which come to drink the nectar at night. another variety of vanilla not much known is found in Andhra Pradesh, India, which does not have leaves & grows from node to node zigzag (may be one day I will post some pictures). Vanilla is the only orchid that produces an edible fruit known to man. Like other orchids’ seeds, vanilla seeds will not germinate without the presence of certain mycorrhizal fungi. Hence the creeper is reproduced by planting the cuttings which already contain the fungi.

Planting

First a section of the vine with 6 or more leaf nodes, which has aerial roots growing opposite each leaf, is removed. The two lower leaves are removed, & lower area is buried in loose soil at the base of a central support. Vanilla climbs up an existing tree (a tutor), pole, or on any other support.  It can be grown in a plantation on trees or poles, or in an enclosed greenhouse, in increasing orders of productivity. The more the roots the creeper has, healthier the creeper is. So around the support, the creeper is planted almost bringing the creeper into a whole circle so that the creeper produces more roots. The remaining upper roots will cling to the support, & often growing down into the soil. The creeper needs 30% sun & 70% shade. Not much water is required and a spray (fogging) system is ideal. While planting make sure there is enough room to approach the creeper particularly for hand pollination. Its growth environment is referred to as its terroir & it includes not only the adjacent plants, but also the climatic conditions. Flowering season could be longer depending upon the care given the creeper & the terroir.

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Pollination

Growing vanilla is laborious especially because of the artificial pollination by hand. The vanilla flower lasts just about one day.In 1836, botanist Charles Morren by chance witnessed the black bees pollinating the vanilla flower & began experimenting with hand pollination. However, in 1841, a 12-year-old slave named Edmond Albius on Reunion developed a simple & efficient artificial hand-pollination method which is still used today. Vanilla flowers are hermaphroditic & carry both male (anther) & female (stigma) organs; however, to avoid self-pollination, a membrane (a petal) separates those organs. So manually the membrane is lifted with a bamboo sliver (thinner than toothpick), then, using the thumb, transferred the pollinia from the anther to the stigma. The flower, self-pollinated, will then produce a fruit. You will not know if the pollination is successful or not in about a week. If after a week the petals falls off that means the pollination is not successful. If the petals remains intact even after a week, that indicates that the pollination is successful & the beans will grow.

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Maintenance

Between flower & plucking the pod it takes around 6 months. Neither the green pods nor the flowers have the flavor or odor of vanilla. The nodes which once yielded beans will not yield again. After harvesting of the bean you have to prune the creeper. When there is no rain (in Feb) you have to stress the plant by not irrigating them. Nip the tip of the vine so that the nutrients are used for the growth of the creeper. When you nip the creeper, new nod which grow is usually thicker & healthier than the original one!! Then if you irrigate, the nutrients are used for flowering.

Beans

When the beans are light yellow it is ready to pick (over ripping can cause the beans to split). The whole bunch may not be ready at the same time. Hence collection of the bean is arduous. Once plucked, put the beans in 60 degree temperature water between 5 to 10 minutes depending upon the size of the bean to arrest the processes of the living plant tissues. Remove from the water & keep it in a shade wrapped air tight in a woolen blanket to let the bean sweat. Next day (i.e. after 24 hours) dry it in sun for 2 to 3 hours. Once hot remove from sun, wrap again in woolen blanket & keep in shade for sweating. Repeat the ritual for 3 days & from 4th day shade dry till it is almost dried. It is important to massage the bean from one end to other to distribute the fluid inside evenly. This also makes the bean straight. To test the right curing, try to wrap the bean around your finger which should coil easily. Also if the curing is proper, vanillin crystals will form on the skin of the pod.  Cured vanilla pods contain approximately 2% by dry weight vanillin. On cured pods of high quality, relatively pure vanillin may be visible as a white dust or frost (what looks like sugar crystals) on the exterior of the pod. Almost the same methodology is used in large scale production. Beans of 6 inches & above, the bean is considered ‘A’ grade. Once dried the bean is dark brown in colour. After processing wrap 1 kg (around 60 beans) with butter paper & stack them in an air tight wooden box. Beans should be kept in a tightly-closed container in a refrigerated area. It should also be kept tightly-sealed, in a cool, dry place away from sun & heat.  This way you can preserve it for years together. Pure vanilla extract has an indefinite shelf-life, & actually improves with age like a fine wine or liquor.

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The end result!

It’s hard to describe the highly valued flavour of Vanilla as different people describes it in different way like, pure, spicy, delicate floral, creamy, spicy, woody & fruity. It brings happy mood to majority of the people but there are very few who practically hates it!! (I did a small survey involving more than half a dozen different nationalities and got very varied responses from everyone!). Both natural & artificial vanilla is used for flavouring in baking, chocolate, ice creams, perfumes, creams, etc. Some use vanilla powder (ground vanilla beans) & others use whole vanilla beans. These whole beans can be rinsed after use, thoroughly dried, & stored for reuse. For maximum effect, people tend to cut the bean in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and use them. Instead of wasting the skin, powder them and mix with sugar so that you can flavor your coffee and tea with vanilla.

Artificial vanilla flavoring is a solution of pure vanillin, usually made either from guaiacol or from lignin, a constituent of wood, a byproduct of the pulp industry. Semi-synthetic vanillin is derived from the eugenol found in clove oil. However, today most synthetic vanillin is synthesized in a 2-step process from the petrochemical precursors guaiacol & glyoxvlic acid!! Bet most of you did not know that most of the vanilla you taste is petrochemical!