Category Archives: small commercial farming in Mexico

Just Another Day – Rancho Life

Just as we finished the afternoon fertilizer work it started to rain, which couldn’t have been better timing to dissolve the fertilizer granules so the plants can use it.

This is the sort of thing that makes people say jokingly, with a little bit of caution in their eyes, that we have a pact with the devil. How else could we have started off so well 5 seasons ago, and continue to do well when we’re only musicians?


Manotas, Beto’s male dog, seems to think he belongs here. He’s out sitting next to our pickup (which we left in the street because I don’t want to get wet in the rain moving it) and Chon says “We have to give him something. He’s cold”.

And I say “Do you want a dog or something?”


“He’s just fine. If he really gets cold he’ll go to his real home.”

I’m trying not to love the two black and white litter mates.

So Much To Relate! Harvesting and Planting!

Here’s the condensed version.


We harvested our wheat. There was concomitant drama: parts of some of the fields weren’t mature and the grain elevator owner asked us to wait four days, causing several days of stress and worry:   Would it rain? Would the wind knock it all down? Skimming over the days of stress and wonder, it all turned out fine. We didn’t have a magnificent harvest, but it turned out to be quite respectable after four long days of hot and dusty harvesting.


We had had to delay our planting dates because of other, more pressing personal and human problems, but that’s a story for another day.


As immediately after the wheat harvest as we could, we began our corn planting, hiring a nephew to drive the tractor, using our brand-new planter-seeder. IMG_3328

Torn between planting an established and famous strain of hybrid corn seed, and a brand new type, we ended up using mostly Cimarron, an expensive seed we bought from a new dealer, the daughter of a local friend. Until we ran out. That caused us to scramble to order more, with delays and not-exactly-the-truth finessing by the dealer. We ended up ordering a new hybrid from a trusted dealer who even delivered the seed and loaded it into our pickup so that we could rush out to the last two fields to finish the planting before the rains came.

IMG_3365Planting usually results in long, long days, even though the work isn’t too taxing. The guys that are hired for loading have lots of waiting before they move into action, loading the canisters of the seeder with seed and fertilizer. Often one worker helps the other load bags weighing up to 100 pounds onto his shoulder, whereupon he walks to the tractor carrying it, and dumps the contents of the bag into its canister.IMG_3364

There are minimum half-hour waiting times. There were some unexpected problems (aren’t there always?). Some parts – nuts and bolts things – got lost, and we found out to our chagrin how much the tractor company charges for replacements. Since they weren’t available anyway, at least not locally, we made substitutes.

And the cycle starts over – instead of hoping that it won’t rain and ruin the crop or the planting, now we’re hopefully watching the skies for clouds to coax the baby corn plants out of the ground.

Las Cabañuelas

Cabañuelas translation:
wild weather forecasts (Latin America); first rains that fall in the summer (Andes); first 12 days of the year (used to predict the weather) (Mexico)
It’s lovely in our part of Mexico right now – we are enjoying a short rainy season called cavañuelas that sometimes occurs during the winter months. It is a bona fide rainfall as well for farmers, who take the opportunity to plant a bonus crop of garbanzos. Whether they receive a real crop, with beans, or only grow the plants until they die a dusty death, the plants are good for the soil when they get disced into the ground. So, while old people complain about the cool air, the farmers are taking advantage of the moisture.
We have been investigating planting garbanzos. Our two fields were deeply ploughed last month, so the ground is perfect; clean and soft and wet. TOO wet for tractors, so we thought of seeding by hand. The price of the seed varies from place to place, and type to type – who knew there were so many kinds of garbanzos?
Garbanzos make a popular snack. You can buy a smallish plastic bag of garbanzos right here on our little street, in front of the school, with or without chile sauce on them. They are simply fresh round, green chick peas in their shells, so it takes a small amount of concentration to eat the delicious little things. You don’t just pop a handful in your mouth. But that is only one type of garbanzo.
Garbanzos are also well-loved by many animals. If the garbanzos you grow do not pass the flowering stage, or you need to harvest the plants early, the whole plants can be ground for an excellent feed for cattle, pigs, or goats and sheep.
The seed ranges in price (around here in central Mexico, anyway) from 15 pesos a kilo to 25 pesos a kilo. That makes for  quite costly seed. Some types I have heard mentioned are garbanza (for people), garbanzo cal, garbanzo puerquero (for pigs).
A big advantage is the plants do not require close monitoring. No herbicides or pesticides are necessary.
However, you must monitor your fields because of human predators! Since the crop is so popular with people and animals, you must expect that people will come to cut the plants and carry them away in large sacks. Since there are many people in our little town and nearby ranchos who need supplements to their meager incomes, the illicit cutting and ensuing thievery is rampant, and can make a big difference in the size of the harvest. We are not sure that we want to be on the protect-your-crops and punish-the-thieves side of things. Although the harvest is pretty much a sure thing, we are still thinking it over…


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.


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.


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.