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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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).