TODAY WE ARE TALKING ABOUT A DISAPPEARING TEXTILE CROP, ESPARTO
Crops not intended for direct consumption as food are seldom discussed. There are a few if we think about it: cotton, tobacco, hemp, flax, albardín … and the one we are talking about today, esparto . A crop that in Spain enjoyed a relatively good time, which later went into decline with the appearance of synthetic fibers. Let’s see its “cultivation” and uses.
HISTORICAL USE OF ESPARTO
If we think about what is made of esparto that may currently be in use, it is most likely that we will fall on the sole of the well-known espadrilles. In fact, there are places in Spain like Murcia, where they are called esparteñas and I say that the name will not come from Sparta, if not from the esparto of their soles.
Esparto rope is another of the uses that are still in force today. I still have a spool of esparto rope around the house. If we delve a little into the word esparto, we will see that it comes from the Latin, spartum , whose meaning is neither more nor less than string. And the name will come from afar, because there is historical evidence of the use of this natural fiber by ancient Rome.
Since then, thanks to the resistance of such fiber, it has been used from sweeping brooms to naval cordage . One of its qualities was its resistance to abrasion and deterioration caused by sea water, which we all know can do anything if it corrodes.
A curious use in Spain until the appearance of more modern materials was in the mussel rafts on the Galician coasts. I do not know if today it will continue to be used depending on what cases, although it does not seem likely.
Another of its uses was for paper pulp and of very good quality. Its cultivation on a relatively large scale in Spain was mainly used for this purpose in the paper industry. It peaked between the years in the 1950s.
From that point, its cultivation went into decline until today, where almost all (if not all) the esparto grass produced in Spain is precisely in the Region of Murcia, mentioned above.
And of course, we must not forget everything related to basketry, baskets, bags of those with which races are made 😉.
IN CASE SOMEONE MISSES THE IDEA OF GROWING ESPARTO IN THEIR GARDEN …
The hardness of its fiber comes from its Spartan rusticity (worth the expression), since it has an arid steppe climate and extreme conditions, masterfully adapting to limit its water consumption until the rainiest times of the year (if any). ).
It manages to reabsorb all the photosynthetic pigments, its leaves roll up, protecting itself from high radiation and reducing its evaporation to the maximum. It also influences this process that all its leaves are born from a single point or foot, helping the plant to better conserve the little humidity existing at the base.
TEMPERATURES AND RADIATION
As we have already mentioned, extreme. From -15ºC (young plants are more susceptible to frost) to heats worthy of melting the desert itself. It grows in full sun . If your idea is to give it shade, you will be wrong since it does not grow in the shade.
It is a love-hate relationship that you have with the sun. On the one hand it needs it to the maximum and when the sun decides to go extreme, the esparto “goes into dormancy” until further notice.
SOIL AND WATER
Its resistance to the lack of water is exemplary so it is one of those plants that if you do not want to water beyond what the sky provides, nothing will happen. It supports poorly drained soils, yes, even quite limestone. As can be seen, it is the antithesis of the forest floor.
It can develop in more nourished soils improving its growth (although not too much). What should never be lacking is a model drainage. The ponding is its end. It is not that it is not very tolerant, no, it directly kills the plant.
ESPARTO CULTIVATION KEYS
- The seeds usually have a not very high germination power. Not more than half of the seeds germinate and later, of those that germinate, in the field they also do not withstand a high percentage, mainly due to the very harsh weather conditions to which they are subjected, adult plants withstand them well. Young women are much more sensitive and not too many come to fruition. This is a curious fact considering the rusticity once the plant is established.
- Once established, esparto grass can be harvested for decades. It is a very long-lived plant that can be in “production” for more than 40 years.
- Right now, with the burning of agricultural and forestry residues increasingly in doubt and controlled, it would be difficult to burn an esparto field, but it is true that by burning it at the end of its cycle, the plant sprouts from its ashes and would enter another cycle. production renewed.
- Fertilization and subscriber. Here is a logical loophole. It is so rustic «what for?
COLLECTION AND DRYING OF ESPARTO
Harvesting is relatively simple and takes place during practically the last 4 months of the year, preferably when there is no rain. The leaves are pulled off the foot, thus respecting the stem of the plant in which leaves will come out again.
We have already said that this cycle can be in production for 40 long years without ruining the plant. Collecting it is hard and requires manual tools to do so. I leave you a small article with which I have come across that speaks precisely of the collection of esparto in the area of Murcia and Albacete and how the craft of espartero has been disappearing.
Drying was done naturally in the sun and depending on its final color, it had to be left for a few days, up to 3 or 4 weeks in order to whiten it. Another way was cooked esparto. It was left in water soaking for 2 or 3 weeks and then the aforementioned drying was carried out.
In this last way it was possible to separate the fiber to be able to spin it later.