Category Archives: farming in Mexico


I love the pointillistic effect of a Blackberry in poor light!

We have been here in Mexico off and on for over a year, and I thought a general examination might be in order.
I am happy here. There is really nothing I miss about California life., with the exception of a few wonderful people, and hot water. The bathing water that the family here calls “calientita” is really not even warmer than my skin.
My job as a high school choral teacher was stressful. Each year when I began the year I wished I was not aware of how much hard work was ahead of me. My work here is enjoyable. I like caring for our house. I never considered myself a good housekeeper, but the daily sweeping and mopping of floors is not unpleasant. The frequency means that there really isn’t a lot of dirt. It’s quick and everything smells good afterwards. I’m trying to enjoy dusting as well.
I still don’t cook here – Chon’s sister does that. Since I like to cook, that has been a minus, but still, there is a definite ease of life when you only have to heat up food when it’s dinner time. After we return from Los Angeles we are going to refresh the kitchen with new tile floors and paint, and we intend to do our own cooking when that is finished; we are sending the small stove (with NO oven) to Chon’s sister’s house, and starting with our own electric oven that has been languishing in the patio (it’s 220 v, and, well, nobody has 220 here) or a new gas stove /oven. But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here. In a check-up do you get to include future plans?
I don’t have many friends, but I think that might change when I am more fluent in Spanish. And about that – it is slowly becoming more easy to have conversations, although I have occasional brain farts when I can’t remember very common words. Maybe that will never change – happens in English, too!
Since inquiring minds want to know, food and household items are LOTS lower in price than in the US. Medicines are rather expensive, but the doctor care I have experienced is efficient,excdellent, and inexpensive. For most people here, it seems expensive, but compared to the California health care I am familiar with, it’s very low-cost. A doctor’s visit is less than $40. A brief, efficient, and very state-of-the-art hospital visit for Chon’s sister to remove gall-stones was completed in about three hours, and cost about $1,500. Really.
Food/groceries are good, and inexpensive.
Mattresses cost about a third of what they cost in the US.

We harvested our fields last month, and made about a 50% return on our investment in seed, tractor work, and labor, and we are opening a savings account to keep the money we made for next year’s farming expenses (it costs a lot to plant and fertilize).
Our garden was a success, but will be much better next year. We were casual in our seeding, and the result was overcrowding. We got a great harvest of zucchini (and lots and lots memorable meals with zucchini flowers). The poblano chile plants, now freed from the shade of the sprawling tomato plants, have now set on tiny chiles. if we don’t get a killing frost, who knows! Chiles in January?
Here in central Mexico the weather is temperate. That doesn’t mean that it is warm all the time. Lately it has been quite chilly, with temperatures dipping well into the 30’s some nights. When we brought clothing here, I was told to bring sweaters. Now in December, I’m glad that I did.
We created some space – a new bedroom and bathroom for Chon’s mother (the old bath is outdoors and down a step, making it difficult for her to navigate). 
We have a new studio for practice and recording. And a stage on top of our garage, for performances. (Years ago we began a tradition of performing for the town. Come see us on New Year’s Eve!)

Does he look like a guitar god?


We finally got the registration papers for our large truck. We use it mostly for band equipment. It took months to get this task done.  There are a bewildering number of laws and rules about importing  cars to Mexico. The truck qualified, but it evidently had some customization that was difficult to explain, or get cleared, or – something. Now, though, it is legal, and has Mexican license plates. 
We have driven many, many miles without trouble. When you cross state lines, however, you may well be stopped by federales, local police, or soldiers. We had an unpleasant experience in Nayarit when federales inspected our PT Cruiser and announced that they had found a marijuana seed in the back. They were insulting and a little scary while they kept us there for about half an hour. They pretended to be insulted when Chon offered to pay them for their trouble, but one of them took some large bills from the travel money we had with us.
Another time when we were stopped by some troops the young soldiers were very happy to accept a mordida although they took it hurriedly so that their superior officer did not see them; probably they didn’t want to share!
Driving here is – different. In general, the rules and laws are the same as the ones we all know and love. But the signs are different, and I don’t mean because they are in Spanish. They are placed differently; not regularized in placement, or color, or lettering. Sometimes you must make a turn before a sign, and sometimes quite a way after the sign. It can be a challenge to find signs for street names. Glorietas (or round-abouts) are a little scary at first, but then they begin to make sense. Just keep to the center of the circle if you are going all the way around, and to the outside lane if you are going to turn right. Many large cities have removed glorietas and replaced them with signal lights.
I can’t give myself a high mark in this, but it is improving. Here’s an example: if I were at my home in California and a visitor was seated on my couch, I would go sit next to them to show I was happy they were there, and that I wanted to visit and be sociable. Here, in Mexico though, if someone is visiting and I go to sit with them, in a few minutes they get up and go. A territorial thing? (Sometimes useful!)
I think this was quite random, but that’s what I can think of right now for my checkup, and I’m just going to quit.


When you are need of workers, you don’t need to do much – they will find you. When we were in our fields struggling to control the Johnson grass, several men came to offer their services.

The first one was Peña. He came on his bicycle, and after the customary catching-up and joking around, he slid into a conversation about the farming. Peña is a very short man. he is not a Little Person, but he is really very short. He demonstrated how he would spray our weeds for us, walking around and miming holding a sprayer in his hand. Chon and Peña were friends long ago, and Peña’s nickname comes from a talented soccer player on the Mexican team years ago.

Soon another guy came on his bike, with his little boy on the handlebars. He was interested in the work, but he mostly walked about hunting for worms (plaga) on our mIlo plants.  It seemed as though he wanted to bring our spirits down, or maybe just to show off his ability to find problems.

A day or so later, another guy came bicycling out to us. He was Don Andres. He looked like the friend-turned-enemy bad guy in an old western. He got right to the point – he wanted work. He needed work, and he was the guy to do the work. Instead of hiring a tractor to spray our weeds (it was absolutely necessary – they were growing faster than the milo), we hired Peña and Don Andres. From our point of view, it was a good move. The tractor would have finished the spraying job in a half-day. It took the two men nearly two weeks. But, we figured, we were investing money in the town, and not in a big-time farmer and his equipment. As the days went by, we were impressed by the work the two men did.

Now we are patrones, and every morning we go to the fields to manage our little crew of misfits. For days and days we filled and hauled barrels of water to the fields for the weed spray, stirred and mixed the spray. The for two more weeks we took 100-pound bags of ammonium sulfate granules and place them strategically in the field so the workers didn’t have to go too far to fill up their bags (called morrales). Being a patron (or a patrona) means you have peones working for you. That’s a word I’m having to learn to be comfortable with. But the peones are comfortable with it, even sort of bragging about their years as peones.

Chon is really good about deciding where each person should work, and about giving authority to some. He has to be very diplomatic. Right now Peña the very short man, is working with Don Andres, the man with a limp. Peña seems to sort of look out for Don Andres, filling his morro for him, and adjusts his own faster, steady pace to Don Andres’. You can see the two of them trudging along together, Don Andres’ head bobbing, and Peña floating along smoothly. There are some benefits in working the fields that just can’t be described in words.

The other two workers are brothers. The older one, Jose Santos, is called El Hombre Lobo because he has a rather hairy face, with a short full beard. I don’t know his brother’s name. They worked together in another part of the field. But then we had to tell the two brothers not to come – the 10 bags of fertilizer we were expecting yesterday did not arrive, and we drove to the business about 8 miles away to see why. Their delivery truck had broken down, and there were several anxious, angry farmers there. Anyway, this morning we took the seven bags we had out to Peña and Don Andres. They are working now.

The fertilizer should arrive shortly for tomorrow, and the brothers may show up to throw some today. They seem to prefer to start work at a later hour anyway.

Here at the house, the two bricklayers are getting ready for a big colado. The tejaban is up, with all its pieces fitted together. Tomorrow they will put a comparatively thin layer of cement on the top. We are hiring twenty-some guys, selected for their various strengths. The ones who are strong enough (they seem to be the most irritating to the rest of the workers) are put to work on the bottom, where the work is the heaviest. Chon hopes the hard work will keep them busy enough not to piss off everybody else. Short little Peña is working too, (he’ll make 50 pesos more than if he were working in the fields) and this morning he said he’s a little nervous about it because he’s so short, and most of the other guys are young (they call them nuevos when they are young) and strong. Don Andres will work with the fertilizer. The guy in charge of the colado says Don Andres just wouldn’t make it through to the end.

For the colado we have to do our part as patrones – we have to fill the water barrels today, before the water goes off at 1:15. There are three barrels to fill, plus the heavy tank we use for our baths. We have to supply beer, lots of it, usually served about half-way through the work. Chon says the workers are coming at 5 o’clock in the morning! That means I have to get the truck with the load of fertilizer out of the parking yard because there will be ladders and other things blocking the driveway.

So in a little while we are going to town. We will try to see the lawyer, who wasn’t there when we went two days ago, and buy a carton of large beers, and get a contract printed, signed and mailed to the property manager of our rental house in California. He had lots of bad news for us. Besides the new paint and carpet, there are major plumbing problems: the bathtub leaks into the living room below. The pan in the shower is weak and wobbly, and the downstairs toilet is cracked and un-useable. When it rains it pours. Hope it rains here in the next few days – there is a saint festival in the little town on the other side of the road, and they say it ALWAYS rains on August 7th, the day of their fiesta.

Playing With Johnson Grass

If you have done any farming in the US, you know what it is. Even if you don’t realize it, you’ve seen it – big clumps of grass with plumy seed heads in the summer. This is healthy young Johnson grass – no seeds yet.

We walk to La Tabla Grande (each field has a name here!) with a borrowed shovel. Maybe it’s a spade – it’s the only shovel around here that isn’t a flat for-shoveling-gravel one. It’s about 6 inches wide, and maybe 20 inches long. The sun is shining and it promises to be hot. But, oh, it’s so beautiful here walking along the tops of the fields. Green and blue and brown and green and blue and brown. Hills and fields with houses in the distance. A bright red bird.
We pass one field that looks like all weeds. It’s been replanted, but it looks awful, although the little plants are visible in their rows. We pass another one that there is much speculation about. The owner is famous for using and over-using chemicals. They say he has spend over 50,000 dollars, not pesos, on his lands. So far. Some fields look “clean” and healthy, some have puny plants.
Chiggers can be a problem, and it’s not fun to think about them. It’s also not fun to think about how many times people have said “You can’t get rid of Johnson grass, but you can try to control it.” 
We start digging the Johnson grass that has invaded the edge of our field. It’s tall and in clumps, and it grows all the way to the bottom end of the field. Here’s how we do it. The person lucky enough to be doing the digging digs close to the clump of grass. Since the blade of the spade is so long, you have to raise your leg pretty high, then really put your weight on the top edge of the spade, and send it as deep as you can into the ground. The person lucky enough not to be doing the digging picks up the big clump – it’s hard and sticky, like a huge, heavy black wad of gum, then bangs it on the ground (not very effective) or the knee or leg (effective, but increasingly painful). Then the grass with a little bit of sticky dirt still on it gets heaved onto the road.
In one spot where the grass is thickest, Chon decides to dig deeper, because he is sure there are more roots down there. He uncovers what he calls a nest of roots. It’s thick and knotted, and it’s about a foot and a half under the surface. He digs down further and finds more roots. They are very thick, about as thick as a child’s finger, and very white with pretty pink streaks. They look frighteningly healthy. He digs some more, and he’s about two and a half feet down now. There are more. We leave them for another day. Later someone tells us the roots can go down two meters. I don’t believe it.

We do this for two hours. We didn’t think to bring water or food. Ni modo. Next time.
We are returning to the house. Chon sits down on a rock to rest, but I keep plodding along, thinking about chiggers in the grass around the rock. Soon I see that he is up, and cutting across the furrows in the field, and he’ll soon be ahead of me if I don’t walk faster. I’m a little ahead and he asks “My Friend, are you tired?”  
He says he’s tired too, and if he had to run for some reason, he’d have to think hard about it first. He puts the spade across his shoulders and hangs his arms over the handle. He says it feels like he’s carrying his arms on his shoulders. He is.
At the house we eat tamales and zucchini flowers cooked with onion and tomatoes, feeling  happy.

Something to meditate on – they look good enough to eat, don’t they? Cows love ’em.