Tag Archives: Farming in Mexico

Lifelong Learning

Welcome to the August 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Life Learners

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have talked about how they continue learning throughout life and inspire their children to do the same.

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ghandi-quote-lent-2015

Although I graduated nearly 15 years ago, my education is not finished. In fact, I would say that I’ve learned more since finishing formal schooling than I ever did in school. My husband never had the opportunity to attend school for any length of time, so nearly all his knowledge, which is considerable, has been self-taught. The idea of life-long learning is an important concept for our family.

jimrohnmotivationalquote

Business learning

For a time, I ran my own online business selling children’s organic and homemade items. There was so much to learn. Things like product presentation, taxes, establishing a customer base, web design, networking, marketing, and Ebay were not new to me in theory, but in practice…well that’s a whole different story. What I didn’t realize at the time is that the things I learned in the 18 months or so that I ran my hobby business were just a taste of things to come. Like kindergarten to the business world.

I closed my business when we made the move to Mexico, 9 years ago. Since then, we have “failed” at a number of businesses here. Although for the most part, they were not profitable monetarily, we did learn quite a bit in the process and therefore, don’t consider these ventures a waste of time. The businesses we have failed at include a produce truck, taco stand, clothing store, bread baking endeavor, tire repair shop, bricklaying, ranching, farming, gardening, essay writing, and blogging to name a few. Currently, my husband and I have steady employment, part-time employees, part-time owners. I run my own Saturday school and afternoon tutoring sessions but also work for a private elementary school during the week.  My husband maintains our mini-ranch and sharecropping endeavors in the mornings and is the maintenance man for the same school in the afternoons. Being gainfully employed doesn’t mean that we’ve stopped looking for ways to expand our knowledge base. Recently I was asked to write essays for a Business English course. (See Failing at your own business–University courses) Not only did it pay well, but I learned quite a bit about Business English which I have now incorporated into my Saturday classes, teaching interested students how to write memos and other office documents. My husband was also offered a part-time position at a liquor store. He comes home eager to share what he learned about types of alcohol, inventory processes, and delivery systems.

So how does this impact our son?  He told me just the other day that he’s decided he’s not going to work for anyone else but be his own boss.  Entrepreneur in training I’d say. (Making a Living Without a Job, revised edition: Winning Ways for Creating Work That You Love)

cultural learning

Cultural Learning

Besides learning how to make a living, I’ve had to learn how to navigate a different culture since moving to Mexico. This includes not only learning new vocabulary but also learning how things are done. I know that I’m far from proficient, but I think I’ve made some progress. I accredit my minuscule advancement to my willingness to make a lot of mistakes and ask endless questions. Who would have thought I’d have to relearn how to bury a person (See Mass and Burial–Mexican Style) or how to shop for groceries?  How about learning how to wash clothes in the stream?  Or how to buy land?

natural

Natural Learning

As a family, we look for opportunities to learn about our natural surroundings on day-trip adventures.  I’ve recently discovered iNaturalist. Now I can upload all those photos of pretty flowers, and someone somewhere will identify them for me. From there, I can research how the local natural world might be useful (See Natural healing) now that my two main sources of Mexican home remedies, my mother-in-law and my husband’s grandmother, have died.  I’ve learned how to make a tea for stomachaches, use aloe to aid in wound healing, dry feverfew and use agave.  I have so much more to learn!

caves

Cave exploration outside of Cerano, GTO.

Learning in the next generation

Because of our family philosophy, we encourage independent learning of our now 13-year-old son. He wanted to learn how to play soccer, we made sure that became a reality A few months ago, he asked if there were any teachers that I knew that could teach him Portuguese. I asked the Worldschoolers group on FB and was referred to Duolingo. My son has been regularly progressing through the beginning Portuguese course online. He uses it to chat with Brazilian Minecraft players. (See Hey Parents. What Minecraft is doing to your kids is kind of surprising) He thinks he might learn Vulcan after he finishes the Portuguese course.

His most recent interest is in learning how to make Youtube videos. It isn’t an easy thing by any means and one that neither his father nor I can help much with. When an opportunity presented itself for him to make a video of his life (See What is it like to be a kid in your family? ) we purchased an inexpensive mini-camcorder and together made a video that his grandma in the United States is proud of! See it here!

bike repair

Our attitude has always been, if you don’t know how to do something, learn! No one is going to do it for you. Skills that my son has learned at our side include bricklaying, cooking, bicycle repair, and gardening.

planting

However, we fully realize that my son needs more opportunities for learning than we can provide him. With this is mind, he attends the local middle school, where not only does his Spanish continue to improve, but he also is learning quite a bit about carpentry. So far he’s made a clothing rack and lidded box, quite useful items actually.

We continually stress that even if he is soon to finish his formal schooling, there is no limit to the things he could learn. “I don’t know” is not an acceptable answer in our home. Is it in yours?

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • The Financial Advice That Saved My Marriage — Shortly after they got married, Emily at Natural Parents Network and her husband visited a financial planner. Many of the goals and priorities they set back then are now irrelevant, but one has stuck with them through all of the employment changes, out-of-state-moves, and child bearing: allowances.
  • Lifelong Learning — Survivor at Surviving Mexico–Adventures and Disasters writes about how her family’s philosophy of life-long learning has aided them.
  • Inspiring Children to be Lifelong Learners — Donna from Eco-Mothering discusses the reasons behind her family’s educational choices for their daughter, including a wish list for a lifetime of learning.
  • Always Learning — Kellie at Our Mindful Life loves learning, and lately she’s undertaken a special project that her family has been enjoying sharing with her.
  • We’re all unschoolers — Lauren at Hobo Mama embraces the joy in learning for its own sake, and wants to pass that along to her sons as she homeschools.
  • My children, my teachers Stoneageparent shares how becoming a parent has opened doors into learning for her and her family, through home education and forest school.
  • Never Stop Learning — Holly at Leaves of Lavender discusses her belief that some of the most important things she knows now are things she’s learned since finishing “formal” schooling.
  • Learning is a Lifelong Adventure — Learning has changed over time for Life Breath Present, and she is more excited and interested now than ever before.
  • Facebook: The Modern Forum — Dionna at Code Name: Mama explains why Facebook is today’s forum – a place where people from all walks of life can meet to discuss philosophies, debate ideas, and share information.
  • 10 Ways to Learn from Everyday Life (Inspired by my Life in Japan) — Erin at And Now, for Something Completely Different offers tips she learned while living in Japan to help you learn from everyday life.

 

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Failing at your own business–Sharecropping

For the past few years, we have been sharecropping on a neighbor’s hectare (acre). It involves working 2-3 hours daily from the summer planting season in June until the fall harvest in November. (See Forcibly Green)

My husband waits to plant until the middle of June just to ensure the rains would remain steady because we have no way to irrigate the field. It’s a crucial decision in the life of a sharecropper. Plant too early and the corn sprouts wither. Plant too late and frost kills off the crop before harvest. We’ve had mixed results. Some years, there have been bumper crops. Others, the plants are puny and low producing.

barbechando

The first step is barbechando the area to be planted.

The first step is readying the field called barbechando. Fiona was an essential component there, pulling the plow up and over the old corn rows. She does 5-10 rows per day. When the soil is suitably mixed, she starts at the beginning again making rows. Nearly straight is just as good as totally straight. The plants don’t seem to know the difference and grow anyway.

plowing with fiona

Making the rows.

We plant in the tres hermanas (See Planting with the tres hermanas) style. Corn, beans, and squash are planted and tended together. Once the corn has sprouted about knee-high, Fiona takes another swing through the rows. Any maiz coyote (non-ear producing corn) is pulled out, and the regular corn plants in their rows are thinned out, although not aggressively.  Some sections need to be replanted.  Mice and birds really like organic seed corn.

thinning

Thinning out and replanting.

The rainy season ensures that the non-edible plants grow faster than the edible ones. To keep the edible plants from being choked to death, it’s necessary to arrancar (pull out from the roots) the invaders. As soon as the weeding is done through once, it’s time to start back at the beginning again.

working in the field

A nice morning for working in the field.

If the corn starts to yellow, we throw abono (fertilizer) around the roots. This is usually a one-day project, sometimes two if we get a late start on the first day.

As the crops ripen, we enjoy the steady stream of bounty. My husband makes a delicious squash, tomato and onion dish. Corn is boiled in its leaves or roasted over the open flame. Beans can be cooked fresh from the vine or spread out to dry for later.

corn

A day in the fields removing the dried corn ears from the stalks.

Let the planter beware! The drive-by harvesters flock to La Yacata about this time. Unlike crows, mice, and squirrels, the drive-by harvester is not put off by scarecrows or lines of plastic bottles swaying in the wind. We send out extra patrols, dando la vuelta to check the borders of our crops several times a day until all the fresh produce is in.

toros

These drying stacks are called toros.

Once the corn has dried, we cut and stack it in toros (stacks). This is when the sharecropper pays his dues. We had a la tercia (a third) contract For every 3 stacks the field produces, one stack goes to the owner of the hectare. The owner and the sharecropper walk through the stacks together while the owner indicates which stacks he will accept as payment.

bringing it home

Bringing it home.

Once the crop is divided, it’s in the best interest of the sharecropper to remove his stacks as soon as possible, either by having the molinero (shredder) come or just restacking them in another area for further drying. Remember, the concept of ownership is more open here in Mexico. We’ve had entire stacks of drying corn stolen in the night. We could file a police report I suppose, but when have the cops here ever looked out for anyone’s interests but their own?

fiona

Fiona saddled up for an afternoon ride.

This year, my husband decided not to plant. He was so determined not to plant that he sold Fiona. I opposed the sale. Fiona is a good worker. She earns her keep. She is placid and gentle when not working, unlike Joey I also prefer her lady-like steps to Beauty‘s mountainous stride when riding. But he was not to be gainsaid. (See Reducing the herds) and away she went.

moliendo rastrojo

Moliendo rastrojo. Milling the corn stalks for animal fodder.

Even without planting ourselves, we should be able to get enough rastrojo (dry corn stalks without the corn) from neighbors. A 7 x 20 lot size sells for less than $100 pesos. Entire hectares can be purchased after the harvest. We’ve done this before. My husband makes the deal, and when the owner says it’s ready to be picked up, he goes with the truck and brings it back to stack next to our house. When we have enough, he calls in the molinero, and we bag it up for winter feed. Instead of a June-November work season, our gathering work takes about a week in late November.

I am not about to give up on fresh, organic goodness even though we aren’t sharecropping. So this year, I’ve been trying my hand at container gardening. (See Failing at Container Gardening).

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Old MacDonald’s Farm

All of a sudden we have so many animals that I feel more like the Old Woman in the Shoe than Old MacDonald. And the thing is, we made some drastic reduction in December, so theoretically we should have fewer animals, not more.

shadow

Shadow at nearly 2 years

Joey

Joey at 7 months

Old MacDonald had some horses

Although we exchanged Beauty for the wood to put on the roof (See Up On the Roof that Almost Wasn’t), we still have Shadow and Joey, two of Beauty’s babies (See Beauty’s Babies). Shadow will be two years old this summer and has begun her heat cycles. We are not interested in breeding her yet. The thing is that Joey, as young as he is, gets all bothersome during these heat cycles. As both horses are housed together, this is a wee bit of a problem. I keep after my husband to put the wall he has had planned for ever so long up, but it hasn’t happened yet.

plowing with Fiona

Old MacDonald had a donkey

We still have ol’ Fiona, although my husband threatens to sell her every few weeks. I argue against it. For one, she does all the plowing at present as the horses are not yet trained. Secondly, when we go on our family horse trips, I ride Fiona, disregarding the opinions of onlookers. She is a dainty walker, not a roller coaster ride like Beauty was, and so much closer to the ground. I am also campaigning for her to have a stall, at least during the rainy season. She so hates to get wet. That too is on my husband’s list of projects. (See Donkey races in La Yacata)

mischief makers

Mischief makers

Old MacDonald had some goats

We sold several goats in December to finish paying for the roof. But lo and behold in February, our remaining goats multiplied. (See Birth and Death) In a little over a week, our herd went from 8 chivas (nanny goats) and one chivo (macho goat) to 20. Well, it is the Year of the Goat according to the Chinese calendar, so I guess we should have seen it coming. (See Goat Genetics)

Jill and Mary

Jill has the dark face and Mary is the white sheep in front.

Old MacDonald had some sheep

Even though Flaca and Panzas kicked the bucket (See Birth and Death), we still had little Jack. He refused to associate himself with any of the kids, although he had many to choose from. We thought it best to get him a little companion, as sheep are never solitary creatures. So now, Jack and Jill frolic merrily up the feed trough. (See Separating the sheep and the goats)  And Mary, whose fleece is white as snow, is right behind them.

chickens

Multi-racial chickens, Jack and Brownie

Old MacDonald had some chickens

We have had chickens since the beginning, and I’m ok with that as long as they stay out of my garden. There are periods that we have more than one rooster and the morning ode to dawn is a little more than I can bear. Then I start in on how we don’t want a Palenque (a fighting rooster ranch), and it’s time for chicken soup. (See Why did the chicken cross the road) The number of our hens vary, and as my husband is all about bulikos (speckled), he likes to try for genetic variety in our flock. Just this week, we discovered we have a culeca (broody) hen, and that means peeps before too long!

turkey

Meet the Turkeys!

Old MacDonald had some turkeys

One day out in the field that we share-crop, my husband found a turkey–just out of the blue. He snuck up on it and pounced. With a wing clip, Mr. Turkey joined our barnyard critters. He didn’t much like the kids at first and kept pecking at them. We were concerned he might peck out an eye. I think he thought of them as interlopers. He eventually stopped when the sheer number of kids overwhelmed him.

We then found him a Mrs. Turkey and the newly wedded pair couldn’t be happier. Both are a little young for egg production, but we have hopes. The funny thing is the coloring. Mr. Turkey is bluish, and Mrs. Turkey is pinkish–talk about gender coding!

rabbit

Kinda looks like Thumper!

Old MacDonald had some

We’ve kept rabbits before and always found them light maintenance and reasonably profitable. (See Waskely Wabbits) So when my husband was offered four adult females for $100 pesos, he jumped at the offer. They are currently free-range rabbits, which means my backyard garden is on hold. I think I may have to do a container garden on the roof as rabbits just won’t be contained.

kitten

AWW!

Old MacDonald had some cats

We’ve had at least one cat since moving to Mexico. We even brought our cat with us from the U.S. However, our neighbors have caused the premature deaths of many of our cats with a random distribution of rat poison. (See 101 Perritos)

Licorice, aka Lickie, has had 3 litters, but this is the first time any of the kittens have survived.  This time, she presented us with three little kittens, Lickie 2, Devil 2 (who looks like our adopted rescue kitten Devil) and Sancha.  There’s a joke here.  To be “el hijo de Sancho” means the child is the result of someone other than the husband.  Lickie 2 looks like her mom.  Devil 2 looks like Devil.  But Sancha, well, she looked like the neighbor’s tom cat.  We put Sancha up for adoption, so that cut the engorda de gatos (cat fattening business) down to 4.

My husband, who isn’t a big fan of cats generally has changed his opinion. Our cats are excellent mousers. As we have quite a bit of dried food to make it through until the rainy season for all of our grazers, there are mice. The cats have been doing a bang-up job of keeping the rodent population to a minimum. I’m a little concerned about the rabbits, though. Baby bunnies look an awfully lot like baby mice after all.

chokis

Chokis and Fiona

Old MacDonald had a dog, and Chokis was his name-O

We’ve had a number of puppies and dogs in residence during our 9 years in Mexico. (See 101 Perritos) Our current canine pal is Chokis. My husband has moved him outside the gated community of animals, but he is as faithful as…well a dog. He sleeps next to Fiona right in front of the house and is so pleased to see us pull up on the moto that he pees himself. Talk about puppy love! He does a great job of letting us know when someone passes (as does Fiona).

cow

How now brown cow–uh–bull?

Old MacDonald had a cow

My husband has had a bee in his bonnet for about a year wanting a becerro (cow). I have been opposed to this idea just because we honestly don’t have room. The spacing challenge didn’t dismay him in the least. Finally, he broke down and bought his brother’s year old bull for 3 goats and $3000 pesos. He presented it to me as a rescue mission. He bought the bovine because B didn’t take proper care of him. It’s itty bitty living space was knee deep in mud and poop. Well, the deal was already done, whether or not I approved and so now we have a cow, or rather a bull. The plan is to engordar (fatten) him up and sell him full grown for meat. We tend to get extremely attached to our animals so we will see if that happens or not. Let’s call him Toro

E-I-E-I-O

If you think that this doesn’t seem like many animals for a farm, remember our entire property measures 14 meters x 20 meters, with almost half of that being our house. The multitude does provide plenty of home-grown fun, though. Take a look at some of the chivitos (goats) playing ring around the rosy with Jack.  However, I’m not sure that Jack likes it all that much.

See the video here!

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Alternative Farming–Gleaning

maiz-sorgo-leviticus

November is harvest month in central México. The corn has been stacked to dry, and the squash piled high. The winter crop, garbanzo(chickpeas), has been planted and if the rains hold off, by now, it should be about 3 inches high.

But the harvesting isn’t done. Maiz sorgo is also ready to bring in. This grain plant is a favorite of chickens and pigs. (See Miss Piggy didn’t bring home the bacon). It isn’t a crop we plant since humans don’t typically eat it, so we have to obtain it through other means.

thresher sideTherefore last Sunday, we headed towards Cerano to see what we could see. And lo and behold, there was the maquina (thresher) mowing through the fields of maiz sorgo. My husband excitedly pulled off the road and leaped out with his costales (grain sacks) and machete.

thresher dumpingHe asked the people in the fields if he could apepinar (glean). It is a courtesy to ask, but nearly never is it denied. Gleaning, if you aren’t already familiar with the term, consists of collecting the fallen crops that la maquina (thresher) didn’t get. It isn’t difficult, but it is tiring going up and down the rows looking for leftovers. The trick is knowing where the thresher is going next to be one of the first to stake your claim.

gleaning

We followed la maquina (thresher) for a few hours and came home with 4-5 costales (sacks) of maiz sorgo. Not too shabby, but certainly not enough to last all winter.

threshing

The next step is to thresh the grain heads so that the little seeds can be stored better. This involves some heavy stick beating. After that, we give the chaff to the goats and scoop the seeds into a barrel. If there is enough, we take the seeds to the molinero (miller) and have it ground to dust. If there isn’t, we feed it as is to the chickens as part of their homemade “scratch” (grain mixture).

Being a gatherer isn’t such an onerous life as you might think and an important part of our harvest.

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