Flowers Show That Somebody Cares
BY AWAKE! CORRESPONDENT IN COLOMBIA
A fascinated toddler gathers a bunch of buttercups into her chubby fist and runs to Mommy with her precious find. At a roadside stand, a loving husband picks out a dozen roses for his wife, to show her how much he cares. An appreciative son phones the neighborhood florist for freshly cut pompons to brighten his mother’s day. A devoted housewife places a multicolored bouquet of carnations atop her supermarket shopping cart. They will add the final touch to her tastefully decorated home.
FLOWERS warm the hearts of young and old alike. They are a splendid means of conveying the sentiment “Somebody cares.” A Spanish proverb states: “Whoever is not grateful for a rose will not be grateful for anything.” (Quien no agradece una rosa, no agradecerá ninguna cosa.)
Flower sales are booming as never before. In this age of rapid air transport, flowers can now be grown far from the shops, supermarkets, and roadside stands where they captivate the eyes of passersby. Time magazine stated that the flower industry is “growing fast and changing even faster: more and more of the production is coming from the southern hemisphere—largely from Colombia, which has become the second largest exporter after Holland.”
Plastic-Covered Greenhouses and Artificial Lakes
With over 25 years in the business, Colombia leads the world in the export of carnations, while rating second in overall flower sales. In 1964 a university student in California, U.S.A., made a computer study to determine locations with the optimum environment for year-round flower cultivation. He found that the climate and altitude of the upland basin on which Bogotá is situated, just north of the equator and nearly 9,000 feet up in the Andes Mountains, had ideal conditions.
The surprisingly green savanna of Santa Fe de Bogotá, where 92 percent of Colombia’s export floriculture is located, is peppered with artificial lakes and plastic-covered greenhouses. Inside these wood- or metal-framed structures, a carefully controlled springtime environment nurtures millions of carnations, pompons, roses, chrysanthemums, alstroemerias, and many other varieties, soon to be cut and packed for shipment to North America, Europe, and Asia.
The ideal temperature for the cultivation of flowers ranges between 65 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit [18° and 20°C.], the usual year-round daytime temperature on the savanna. Here, rainwater abounds, the soil is rich, and low-paid manual labor is available. During the night, temperatures may drop to near freezing and occasionally to a frosty 29 degrees Fahrenheit [-2°C.]. Smudge pots, high-wattage light bulbs, or sprinklers protect against the cold. The light bulbs also serve to extend daylight hours, thus keeping certain plants awake and hastening their growth.
Production Programmed Well in Advance
Over 120,000 workers in Colombia are involved in some phase of the flower industry. Among them are many of Jehovah’s Witnesses who live in communities scattered over the savanna. Benito Quintana, a Christian elder in one of the congregations at Facatativá, works as production supervisor at a nursery. He explains: “Months in advance, we have to program production to meet seasonal demands of the market. Mother plants for carnations are imported from Holland or Italy, pompons from Florida. Women cut the little shoots carefully, planting them in banked rows in a warm greenhouse where they are watered by a cloudlike mist until they take root. Pompons take 12 days at 20 to 35 degrees Celsius (68° to 95°F.), with two extra hours of light during the night. Carnations take 23 days at a temperature of between 15 and 25 degrees Celsius (59° to 77°F.), with no light at night. Then we transfer the little plants to beds in other greenhouses where they are enriched with nutrients, fumigated, and watered till they flower, six months later for carnations and three months for pompons.”
Hard Work in High Season
When cutting time arrives, it is the women who do the work best, preferably without gloves and with thoroughly clean hands. Machines are not capable of judging the degree the buds have opened or the straightness of the stems, factors that determine the quality of the flower.
Judith Corredor, from Facatativá, explains: “Women have the patience and the tender touch as well as the speed and the skill that are required. When we enter the greenhouses at daybreak,” Judith continues, “the savanna is often covered with fog; it can be very cold, even down to freezing. Many of the girls wear scarves. During the day it warms up, sometimes getting into the 90’s [over 32°C.]. It is hard work, especially in high season when we are rushed and have to work overtime.”
A Colorful and Fragrant Message
After being cut, the flowers are taken to a special room where there is plenty of air and light. Here, women select and classify them according to the quality of the blooms and the straightness, thickness, and length of the stems. Then the flowers are wrapped in clear plastic, 25 to the bunch, ready for packing. Only the best are chosen for export.
Men pack the flowers in special corrugated cardboard boxes bearing the nursery’s name—carnations, 24 bunches to the box. Benito’s brother, Alejandro Quintana, who works in packing, says: “We have to work fast, since flowers are among the most perishable of all crops. Our company has two pumps that suck the warm air out of the boxes, 112 boxes at a time, while forcing cold air in for two hours, thus lowering the temperature of the flowers to a few degrees above freezing. Then the holes in the boxes are sealed, and the flowers are kept in cold storage until they are loaded into trucks for transport to the airport.”
At Bogotá’s El Dorado International Airport, the flowers go through export inspections and are then placed in cold-storage facilities for a few hours until the merchandise is loaded on big jet planes to be transported to distribution points overseas. Within just a few days, these flowers will be opening their petals in homes, offices, sickrooms, and elsewhere, conveying the colorful and fragrant message that somebody cares.
One Who Really Cares
Nearly everywhere we go on earth, we find flowers for our enjoyment. They are found high in the mountains at the edges of snowfields and glaciers, in the woods and meadows, alongside streams and rivers, down by the seashore, and even in hot, dry deserts. Flowers have been here since long before man made his appearance on earth. Botanists assert that ‘flowering plants are the basis for all animal and human life. Without them, animals and man could not exist.’
With insight, King Solomon declared: ‘God has made everything pretty in its time.’ (Ecclesiastes 3:11) This includes God’s gift of flowers in all their variety and splendor. From time immemorial they have warmed the hearts of young and old alike. Indeed, God really cares!
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To Make Flowers Last Longer
• Cut the stems on a slant under water before placing flowers in a vase. Drops of water adhering to the tips of the stems will keep air from entering and thus blocking future intake of water and nutrients.
• GeoMundo magazine quotes Colombian horticulturists as saying that an aspirin tablet, a teaspoonful of sugar, or a little cola added to the water will keep flowers fresh longer. Change the water every two or three days, using fresh water that is room temperature, although warm water can be used to make buds open more quickly.
• Slightly wilted blooms can often be revived by submerging the stems in hot water for ten minutes while sprinkling the petals with cool water. Keep flowers away from sources of heat, away from drafts, and out of direct sunlight.