Category Archives: Alternative Farming

Lady and the Plow

My husband decided that he’s going to do some sharecropping again this year. He hasn’t the past few years because it’s really a lot of work and little gain. But, since we have these animals to feed during the dry season, it helps to have a small stockpile of fodder to hold us over.

The rainy season doesn’t officially start until the third week of June. This year, being 2020 the year of unpredictability and all, we’ve already had several light showers of rain in May–which hardly ever happens. So most of the farmers have been out barbechando (readying up) the fields. 

My husband tried to get a guy with a tractor to plow the area he had permission to plant on. It has lain fallow for about 5 years. The tractor guy did one row and called it quits. He said it was too rocky and he didn’t want to damage his equipment. 

So then he tried to get another guy who has two horses to plow up the field. That guy said he was too busy with his own fields to hire out. 

Now, we’ve plowed before. Fiona and our previous horses Red and Beauty, have done excellent work. However, my husband sold the plow. Actually, he sold the plow three times, after buying it back twice. Currently, we have no plow. So he rented one from a neighbor for the week for 200 pesos. 

He hitched Lady up to the plow and away they went. My husband was absolutely delighted with her performance. In fact, he was so delighted, he set her up a new stall in the back yard. She has more space, isn’t together with the goats so Jolina isn’t jumping in her food dish, and can be entertained by Fred and George’s gladiator antics. 

Unfortunately, she stripped the guayaba tree of its leaves overnight and keeps knocking over the rain barrel. She also has been biting the wood on the bars around her corral. My husband was worried that she had a vitamin deficiency or some other issue, but when I looked it up, most experts believe horses bite the wood of their enclosures because they are bored. We all know that Lady is too smart for her own good. Remember how she kept opening the door for the goats?

Lady’s new area doesn’t have a gate yet, just those bars that you have to slide all the way out for her to come out. My husband keeps saying he’ll get to it, but he’s got other things on his plate at the moment. He went on a caminata (community horse ride) last week to Los Amoles (and brought us home a cold) and is going on another one this week (and will probably bring us home another virus). As a result of his “busy-ness” none of the quarantine projects are finished yet, including Lady’s new stall. (Can you tell I’m just a tad bit annoyed?)

Anyway, it rained this week, so some seeds went into the ground. We’ll see how Tlaloc treats us in La Yacata this year!

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The Gardening & Sustainable Living Bundle and The Foraging Course

Ultimate Bundles has put together an excellent resource this year with the Gardening & Sustainable Living Bundle. Originally, I thought it might be a little late in the growing season for some of the information, but with snow in May in a good section of the U.S., the growing season has just been moved forward a bit.

I know I’m worried about my family’s food supply in the upcoming months and have doubled my kitchen garden this year. I’m trying more container gardening and raised beds in our new little “greenhouse” area (which I’ll talk about once it is finally finished). I’ve planted melons, blue corn, peas, beans, squash, cilantro, chiles, tomatoes, and cucumbers. My husband says I’ve gone overboard. What can I say?

So since I’m trying some new techniques I was delighted to see some of the gems the Gardening & Sustainable Living Bundle contained when I ordered it last week.

The Gardening & Sustainable Living Bundle eCourses

First, let’s start with the eCourses. I’ve enrolled in From clove to stove: How to grow garlic by Tracy Lynn, Raised Bed Mini-Bundle: Plan, Build, Fill, Grow and Harvest from your own raised bed by Jill McSheehy and The Art of Sourdough by Victoria Pruett and can’t WAIT to get started!

In addition to these courses, there are several outstanding downloadable planners and guides as well as a canning recipe booklet. Then there are the 29 eBooks, which I must admit are my FAVORITE part of these Ultimate Bundles.

What's inside Herbs & Essential Oils Super Bundle

The Gardening & Sustainable Living Bundle is an incredible value on its own, but if you purchase it this week, you will ALSO get the chance to purchase the 2019 Herbs & Essential Oils Bundle with my eBook Exploring Traditional Herbal Remedies in Mexico included! This is the very LAST time the 2019 Herbs & Essential Oils Bundle will be offered through Ultimate Bundles, so don’t miss out.

Join us in The Foraging Course for just $39!

Herbal Academy is also offering a course that can increase your food stockpiles in these uncertain times. Enrollment for The Foraging Course begins now with the class start date of June 1. During the Early Bird Registration, this online five-lesson course is just $39.

We forage a good section of our food supply every year, including mushrooms in the rainy season, tunas and cactus in the dry, along with a number of other wild edibles found in La Yacata. If you want to take more control over your food sources, then this is an excellent class to begin with.

In The Foraging Course, you’ll

  • Discover commonly foraged edibles and wild herbs in class with 24 in-depth plant monographs
  • Use your harvest in 48 recipes including herbal preparations for your apothecary as well as nutritious and delicious breakfast, lunch, dinners, and (certainly not last!) desserts
  • Get to know plants up-close and personally in Herbal Academy’s guided videos

So once again, you can get The Gardening & Sustainable Living Bundle that includes 6 courses, 21 eBooks, 5 Planners and Printables  and you can enroll in The Foraging Course from Herbal Academy for just $39 from now until May 31st. All of these options can help you choose healthier options going forward as we negotiate the new post-virus realities, so what are you waiting for?

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Beans, Beans, the Magical Fruit from Mexico

Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L) are a staple food in Mexico, right up there with corn. They are part of the traditional trio-planting of Las Tres Hermanas (the three sisters). The exact number of bean types varies from expert to expert, however, most agree that there are at least 200 different edible bean types in Mexico. Archaeologists believe that beans were cultivated in Mexico approximately seven thousand years ago and their propagation spread worldwide. 

In Mexico, the earliest signs of bean cultivation have been dated to sometime before 2500 BP. Evidence has been found and carbon dated in the Tehuacan valley at Coxcatlan. Other evidence of this plant’s domestication has been found in Tamaulipas at Romer’s and Valenzuela’s Caves near Ocampo dating back to 1300 BP and in the Oaxaca Valley at Guila Naquitz which dates to 2100 BP. 

Beans were given as tribute from the nations that the ancient Aztecs ruled. Specific payment amounts were recorded in the Codex Mendoza. Beans were sometimes ground into flour for a paste or mixed with corn to make masa. 

The type of bean preferred depends on the region. Black beans are eaten often in Mexico City and the states of Mexico, Oaxaca, Veracruz, Chiapas, Campeche, Yucatan, and Quintana Roo. The central states are particularly fond of Peruano and Flor de Mayo and they are served in Michoacan, Jalisco, Zacatecas, and San Luis Potosi. Pinto beans are most often the bean of choice in the northern states. 

In Mexico, you can buy bagged beans from most stores or in bulk from the places that sell seeds or vegetables. If you get your beans already bagged, the opacity of the bag indicates its age. Newer bags are clear, older ones are more opaque. If you buy your beans from the seed dealer or fruteria, shiny beans are fresher. Older beans smell somewhat nutty. 

Dry beans will keep nearly indefinitely if they are stored in a cool, dry place. Their flavor and nutritive value degrade over time. Furthermore, cooking times for older beans are longer. 

Frijoles de la olla are beans cooked the first time while refried beans are warmed-over beans. Traditionally, beans are first cooked in a clay pot and many still prefer their beans prepared in this way. You can also cook beans in a cast iron pot and get an extra dose of iron with a dash of metal flavoring. Beans cooked in cast iron take about 2 ½ hours. Either the clay or cast iron pot can be used over the open flame. 

If you are going the modern way and using a stove, I find enamel pots are excellent bean cooking recipients. Beans cooked with this type of vessel take longer, between three and four hours. Stainless steel pots also work well and will take 2 ½ to 3 hours for proper bean consistency to develop.

Most Mexican cooks do not take the time to soak beans the night before. They are sifted through thoroughly, however. Any chaff, stones, broken and wrinkled beans are discarded. The acceptable beans are rinsed and then added to a pot of boiling water. 

I add an onion, a few garlic cloves and one chile pepper for seasoning.  My sister-in-law likes to add a sprig of fresh epazote (wormseed) or a few avocado leaves as well. Salt is added towards the end of the cooking cycle about 30 minutes before they are ready. To test for doneness, the bean should be soft like a potato when you smash between your fingertips. If it is still hard, cook longer. 

Frijoles de la olla are often served sort of like a soup. I like to garnish the dish with fresh cilantro and onion and use bolillo (rolls) to sop up the juice. 

When refrying beans, heat the oil or manteca (lard) until it is sizzling hot. Add the amount of beans you wish to fry plus about one cup of bean broth. Once the beans start to boil, reduce the temperature to simmer. When they are soft, mash them with a spoon. 

You can add a whole chile for flavoring, just remove it before smashing. If you want to add onion, sautee the pieces before adding the beans. We sometimes add chicharron (crackling) or chorizo (sausage) to the refried beans as they are cooking for a different flavor. 

Refried beans can be served in taquitos, tostadas, or as a meal accompaniment. You can top them with pico de gallo, cheese or sour cream. Served on toasted bolillo and topped with crumbly cheese it becomes a delicious snack. 

Cooked beans will keep refrigerated up to 5 to 7 days. You’ll know when they’ve gone bad, believe me. 

You might find these types of beans among others in your local market:

Alubias (green beans), ayocote café (brown runner beans), ayocote negro (black runner beans), ayocote morado (purple runner beans), vaquita (Calypso beans), vaquita roja (red and white bean), habas (broad beans), bayos gordo, moro, pinto (pinto beans), flor de Mayo, negros (black beans), garbanzo (chick pea), mantequilla (butter beans), Peruano, sangre de toro (kidney beans), amarillo, alberjón, rosa crema, habichuela, tapajeño

Beans are quite nutritious. One cup of cooked beans will provide anywhere between 9 and 13 grams of fiber, which in turn can help lower cholesterol. Beans are also high in complex carbohydrates, folate, iron, and protein.  

However, let the eater beware. Many types of beans contain oligosaccharides which produce gas as a byproduct as it is being digested. Draining the beans the beans were cooked in can reduce the amount of gas eruptions for some people. 

Fray Bernardino de Sahagún recorded in the Florentine Codex a variety of medicinal applications for beans used by the Aztecs. The juice of ayocote beans (P. coccineus) was used to treat swollen eyes. The roots (cimatl) of this plant were prescribed as a parasite cleanse. The root of the Phaseolus maculatus (cocolmex) was used as a medicine and to ferment tesgüino.

Beans are still used medicinally in Mexico. In the area where I live (Guanajuato and Michoacán) raw beans are used as a headache cure. The bean is rubbed between the temples. I suppose it works by activating pressure points. 

In other areas of Mexico, beans are eaten, boiled without salt, for 40 days in the event of stomach pains or some other internal issue. Bean juice is thought to promote milk production in lactating mothers, cure amenorrhea and female sterility. It’s sometimes used as a treatment for empacho (indigestion) and externally for hives. 

While there isn’t any medical evidence that supports these traditional uses, beans do have medicinal value. Including beans as part of a regular diet inhibits certain types of cancerous growths. The bean pod of P. Vulgaris, P. coccineus and P. lunatus and their juices are also effective diuretics and have some value in improving kidney function, and reducing gout inflammation, urinary tract infections, and edema. Beans have been shown to work at reducing glucose levels and in the treatment of high cholesterol and obesity. Mexican beans specifically are a good source of antioxidants

The traditional medicinal dosage recipes I found are as follows:

As an infusion, bean juice is made from five grams of green bean pods, allowing it to steep for 15 minutes in 250 ml of boiled water. The pods are then filtered out. The patient can drink up to two cups a day.

As a decoction, seven grams of green bean pods are added to 300 ml of boiling water which is then boiled another 4 minutes before being strained. Up to three cups per day can be drunk. 

In the treatment of diabetes, a tablespoon of dried black bean pods (Phaseolus vulgaris) are added to a half-liter of water and boiled for three minutes. The concoction is strained and the patient can drink up to 3 cups a day.

For edema, a tablespoon of dried bean pods (Phaseoli pericarpium) is added to water and boiled for three minutes. This mixture is drunk twice a day. Rheumatism is treated with a tablespoon of dried pods added a cup of boiling water. Allow it to steep for 10 minutes then strain. One cup of freshly prepared bean pod tea can be had between meals, several times a day. 

For wounds, bean juice from cooked red or black beans is ingested as much as a person can drink per day. The wounds themselves are also washed with bean juice as it does have antibacterial properties

Whether you decide to dose yourself with some bean tea or just add regular servings of beans to your diet, eating beans is good for your health. In this epoch of global climate change, it is also reassuring to know that several types of beans native to Mexico are extremely drought resistant. So rest assured, there’ll be beans enough at my house if you come to visit!

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