Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Pests In The Fields

This worm and hundreds of thousands of its friends can ruin a whole crop. 

They get right in the heart of the growing plant.

These are the birds that the pajareros try to scare away from the growing crops.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Recipe For A Construction Acavamiento

A high-up colado being mixed on the street, and carried up to the fourth floor.

For our last big colado we planned a sort of manly party. We wanted it to be festive, as it was the last big construction task here at our house, and the colado was an historic one, on top of a fourth-floor room. 

The colado was to have started at 5:30 a.m., but not even the maestros were here then. However we were on the move before 4:30 in the morning.. We had full barrels of water where they were not needed, and zero barrels where they were  needed. 

We dumped buckets of water into barrels on the ground, from under the tejavan on the second floor. It felt rather festive, and personally, I felt slightly hysterical and silly.

About 6:45 a.m. I could hear the first sounds of shoveling in the still-dark street. The  workers seemed to have an air of excited energy, because they all knew there was to be “breakfast” served after the work. Our nephew Luis, a practiced butcher and large-scale cook had offered to make a Caldo De Carpa. This soup has well-known restorative properties, and is often served for la cruda, or hangover.
Luis, the cook
Sara, who didn't really look quite this "together" on this day, as she had locked herself out of her house, and arrived here by bus the night before, without her overnight things, because - well, I have her spare key.

While Chon stayed to manage the work crew (and play DJ for them) Luis and I went to a nearby town with Sara, our wonderful niece. Luis had set up a fogon, a little rigged up brick fireplace.

for twenty-some hungry people:
In a 50-liter pot with boiling water, put
2 kilos of tomatoes, halved
1 kilo white onions, halved
2 kilos potatoes, in large chunks
a generous handful of chiles de arbol
2 kilos (a very large head) of cabbage, chopped in big chunks
1 kilo chayote, quartered
1 kilo joconoistle, peeled
1 fist-sized can of chipotle chiles
1 liter of tomato paste
a handful of salt
8 kilos (that’s a lot) of carp, in fourths
when the fish is almost done, throw in two or three handfuls of cilantro
We served 60 large rolls that all disappeared. We had purchased 2 kilos of tortillas that were pretty much ignored. There were also 24 large family-sized beers, and 4 liters of tequila.

I had noticed that Luis was pretty quiet while we were shopping  for provisions; he later confessed that he had never actually made the caldo before. He and Sara and I were stepping pretty lively for a while, chopping vegetables,  because the colado was finished about an hour earlier than we had thought. But the workers seemed satisfied to sit around in circles and I didn’t hear many complaints about the wait.

There were many rough handshakes and heartfelt thank-yous when the workers left around two p.m.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


Young, developing milo (sorghum) seed head.

Birds are a major cause of crop yield loss. Enormous flocks of blackbirds pass through central Mexico on their way north this time of year, leaving destruction behind. 

Many farmers who plant milo use plants that yield “bitter” seeds that the birds don’t like. 

But some don’t use this kind of seed, and all the fields are subject to bird damage. Here farmers hire pajareros to protect their fields. The tools of the human scare crows are shotguns with special loads, long whips, and voices. They shout “Aijo, yaijo.” crack their whips while striding around the field, and if they have them, shooting  their shotguns. The sounds start about daylight, and go on all day. This is the time of year for the pajareros to work. They earn good wages, and their voices and sounds of their tools color each  day.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


La Canicula is a period of time during the year; June 20 through August 20. Historically, it is a period astrologically dominated by Sirius, the Dog Star. It is traditionally the hottest time of the year. Wikipedia says that the duration occilates between four and seven weeks, the “dog days”. In times past, this was an astologically beneficial time to begin to build a house or a church. 

If you talk to un anciano in Mexico, at least in this area, and you get around to talking about the weather (probably right away!), you will hear that the times are changing - “Como han cambiado los tiempos,” says Socorro. She doesn’t mean only that customs have changed, but that the weather is changing as well. El Tiempo De Los Aguas, the rainy season, used to be from some time in June through August, but now the rain comes later, (because of the greenhouse effect?), as well as the effects of La Canicula. It’s a rather ugly-sounding word to me, and some of its effects are ugly, as well.
One year when we visited here during La Canicula there were many little worms in the orange tree and the lime tree. Worms are a symptom of La Canicula. This year some baby swallows hatched in our portål were killed by small orange worms, only last week. Also last week, after the official end of La Canicula, we had to “treat” our fields for green worms that were eating the sworls of the milo.  This is very frustrating to see, and costly to treat. 

We have had several days of rain now, at the beginning of September. Oh, with what anxiety we awaited the rains, because of our “modest” investment in seed, weed killer and fertilizer of about $4,000 for our 26 acres. And now that the milo has passed its initial danger of not sprouting, or dying of lack of water, now the rainy season is here. 

Some days it is too wet to spray the weeds or the worms that are showing their destructive power in the fields. 

 This is NOT a worm, but a friendly praying mantis (you may call it a preying mantis).

There were several local Catholic masses pleading for rain, and now that it is here, some of the old people are tired of it. We supersticiously try not to send the rains away with our wishes or curses.  Because of our construction efforts, we seem to spend an inordinate amount of time sweeping water off the roof, and wishing that our workers could move just a little faster.

Sunday, September 4, 2011


Well, when we looked for worms in our milo fields, we found some. It just seemed to me that there weren't that many. But we met up with some other farmers out there, and they looked. They left a message at our house: Worms! Worms! They can destroy the whole crop! Danger!.

Again, some workers found us. (Don Andres and Peña are working somewhere else right now.) Two brothers with farming equipment offered to work for us. We went to visit their machine yard, and drank an obligatory shot of tequila. They offered to bring an enormous tank of water to the fields, and their own experienced selves, to spray a foliar fertilizer and insecticide. We bought the prescribed bottles, and took them to the fields this morning. They showed up with a heavy truck, a very large tank of water in the back, and their spray rigs. They had one with a gas motor, and two that work with hand pumps.

Wondering about their names? Mechin, Monstro, and Chino. I think Mechin (sounds a little like Machine) is the older brother, maybe in his thirties, and then there's Monstro, who from his nickname you'd think he had some feature, difficult to overlook, that would make him look somehow monstrous. You'd be wrong, though, because he has a baby face and a quick smile. Their cousin Chino was the third team member. (Curly hair is called chino, and if you guessed that he has very curly hair, you'd be right). The three of them filled their tanks and sprayed our two fields in about three hours (not three days like the time it took for dry fertilizer and weed-killer).

The early morning was cold. The workers got very, very wet right away. Their pant-legs were wet. Their shoes were wet. They wore bandannas over their faces.  They mixed the liquids quickly and moved fast down the furrows. We were home right after eleven.

There was rain in the evening. The skies are so beautiful here in Guanajuato.