Tag Archives: planting in Mexico

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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Let’s talk about food in La Yacata

Our whole purpose in living in off-grid rural Mexico is to become self-reliant. After 9 years of slow progress, we still aren’t there yet. But we are closer than we were.

ears-of-green-corn

Our microcosm provides us with regular food stuff. We grow corn, beans and squash ever year in the traditional way on sharecropped land. (See Las tres hermanas) Our non-GMO organic corn not only provides year-round foods for our animals but also allows for equally healthy tortillas–the very foundation of Mexican cuisine. My sister-in-law runs a tortilleria (See Failing at your own business–Tortilleria), so I am relieved of this very time-consuming task. Corn is also used in tamales, pozole and a plethora of other traditional dishes.

tamal

Corn and lime boiling in preparation for milling for tortillas.

We also grow garbanzo (chickpeas) after the corn growing season is finished.  It makes for a nice snack, either raw or steamed, with the added benefit that the entire plant is eagerly consumed by our grazing animals.  Fiona, the donkey, is especially fond of garbanzo.

garbanzo

Steamed garbanzos

Our organically fed animals also provide us with delicious foodstuff. From our small herd of goats, we have daily milk and occasional meat. The milk we don’t drink right away is pastured right on the stove for later. We use it for creamy hot chocolate or honey-dripped oatmeal. The honey is from a local organic hive and delicious!

pasturizing milk

As we don’t have refrigeration, we dry our leftover meat into jerky strips. The dried meat theoretically should last several weeks. However, it rarely does due to the presence of a pre-teen, always ravenous, boy.

drying goat meat

Our chickens, ducks, and turkeys provide us with daily eggs and occasional meat as well. Just as with the goats, this means butchering. My husband has had years of practice at this and, therefore, our animals do not suffer needlessly.

butchering

We also keep rabbits and have recently added sheep to our backyard barnyard. Both provide occasional meat. (See Waskely Wabbits and Old MacDonald’s Farm). I’m hoping that our sheep will give us wool and perhaps milk later on as well. But as we haven’t had much success with sheep herding (See Birth and Death) it remains to be seen if that will actually happen or not.

full of tunas

Tunas are not hard to find after the rainy season.

La Yacata provides food, free of charge, for us as well. Cactus fruit is abundant towards the end of the rainy season. It’s not unusual for us to spend an afternoon foraging for pitayas (See Picking Pitayas) or tunas (See Picking tunas) or harvesting nopales (cactus leaves)(See Harvesting Cactus) for dinner.

feverfew

Feverfew

Tea can be made from hojas (leaves) or roots of a variety of naturally available plants. (See Feverfew tea and Lentejilla). Wild mushrooms are also found aplenty during the rainy season.

acebuche

Acebuche berries

Mesquite trees provide a chewy sweet treat for a snack. Acebuche trees have tart red berries that can be eaten right off the tree or made into a refreshing drink. Even the grass is edible. Quelite can be boiled like spinach.  (See Women in the Revolution–Marcelina)

chirimoya

Cherimoya fruit

We have moras (blackberries), chirimoya, guayaba, limones (lemons) and durazno (peach) in season in our own garden. We anxiously awaiting fruit from our granada and nispero trees this year. Our orange tree up and died last year, so it looks like no oranges this year. I hope to do some container gardening as well. Backyard gardening hasn’t been very successful with our free range chickens and rabbits out and about.

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