Thursday, March 27, 2008

a very different kind of garden

A few days ago I went to Santa María Coyotepec which is famous for the black pottery that is sold all over Mexico. But off a dirt lane is another kind of garden, a garden where insects are not only encouraged but raised and harvested. Here you can learn about the lifecycle of the cochineal beetle and how it attaches itself to and feeds off of a type of nopal cactus, and how this beetle is harvested and used to dye the rugs made in Teotitlán del Valle. This dye is also used even today in some of the foods and beverages you may be eating, if you see the ingredient called carmine on the label, you are eating a dried, ground up insect,the Grana cochinilla fina, known as cochineal. This carmine red has been used for thousands of years as color for textiles, feathers, paper, and colonial murals.
When the Spanish arrived they quickly discovered the world wanted this brillant red and it created great wealth, it became the third source of wealth in Mexico after gold and silver. Many of the elaborate gold encursted interiors of the churches are the result of the revenue from the cochineal, of course, as usual the Indians were exploited as labor and did not benefit directly from the cochineal. When synthetic dyes were invented the use of this dye world wide fell but the rug weavers continued to use this dye, and I have read that in the past few years the use of this dye is increasing, so check your food, toothpaste etc. labels for carmine!
in the pictures you can see the almost fungus like look of the beetles growing and feeding on the nopal cactus, in the other photo you can see the small woven containers in which the beetles are placed in the egg laying part of their cycle, this woven container is then put onto a fresh nopal leaf and the beetles leave to begin the cycle anew. The first picture is a close up of the insects, if you click and open for a full size view, you might be able to discern the insects.

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