Sunday, June 24, 2012

Commercial uses of Castor Beans

I was surprised today to find 8 [make that 12 -- I keep finding more] very healthy-looking castor bean plants growing near the site of a pear tree I had to dig up and move to the San Antonio garden last year, after it had been defoliated twice by grasshoppers here in the country. I planted the castor bean tree next to the pear tree, hoping that maybe the castor bean would discourage the hoppers or maybe even kill some of them. Although the hoppers did nibble on the castor bean leaves, they didn't seem to be terribly fond of them. Didn't seem to discourage them at all from ripping into the pear tree. I have seen no evidence that any part of the castor bean tree is poisonous to grasshoppers, but the hoppers might have gone elsewhere to be sick and die.

You can see some hopper damage to the leaves in the photo I just took, but I've never seen a castor bean tree completely defoliated or even seriously damaged.

I had no idea castor bean trees could survive so well in dry, sandy soil. It's been about a month since there was any significant rainfall here, and I've seen potted castor bean plants go all droopy if I wait too long between waterings. It's very strange -- everything I can find on the Web about castor bean trees says the have shallow roots, and I've observed the same thing when I pull them up (in my garden in San Antonio, they tend to be a bit overly fecund). This article [An Assessment of Alternative Perennials For Use in Agriforestry Systems of Smallholder Famers] says that castor plants are drought resistant. Maybe they store water in their trunks and stems?

A 1937 article in St. Petersburg FL Independent says that grasshoppers love to eat castor bean leaves and die after eating them. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=ZuNPAAAAIBAJ&sjid=M1UDAAAAIBAJ&pg=3470%2C286829

If only!

There's an article on the same page of the newspaper about a guy who moved into a condemned lower east side apartment in NYC and rented out rooms for 5 cents per day. In addition to the space, the tenants received firewood and candles. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=ZuNPAAAAIBAJ&sjid=M1UDAAAAIBAJ&pg=4921%2C286509

Here's an article about the various commercial uses of castor beans:
http://nceed.com/Spilling_the_Beans.pdf

It says the main use of castor bean oil is in making nylon. Castor oil is also used as a component of lithium grease and other types of grease; as a component of plastic polymers; and corrosion inhibitors. Researchers in Israel are working on selectively breeding castor bean plants for the production of bio-fuel from the oil. Castor bean oil is ideal becuase:


  • it is soluble in alcohol, and does not require heat to be transformed into fuel 
  • Oil makes up about 50% of the weight of the castor seeds  
  • The castor-oil plant is easy to grow and drought- resistant
  • The castor bean can be grown on marginal lands, which are not usable for food production
  • The castor plant can be adapted to large scale mechanized production  

Castor oil certainly makes a LOT more sense than corn oil for making fuel. 



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