“Uncle Gito” as I like to call him (my brother-in-law), fumigando el monte in our backyard. Crazy son of a gun planted cornstalks almost up to our door.


Right after the rains begin, all over El Salvador one can see men sporting “fumigación” gear.  The “agricultors” wear a big plastic jug like a backpack, with a pump and hose attached, to spray insecticide and kill weeds and growth to prepare their crops for planting.

My father in law explained the process to me, as I did not understand if it was good or bad for it to rain right after the fumigación.  He says if it rains right after you fumigate, it helps with the “quemando” (burning) of the “monte” (weeds).  He said one chemical is so powerful, it is “criminal” – almost illegal – you have to wear a bandana on your face or it will poison you while you spray it.  He said its name, and it was something like alcitran, or alcatran.  Sounds almost like Alcatraz.  I think I’ll stay away from it if I ever decide to fumigate monte.

After you kill the weeds by “quemando el monte con fumigación” (burning the weeds with the weed killer/planticide) you are ready to plant.


Each year around this time, an army of pink and green shirts marches home from the fields to eat a late lunch at the end of their workday.   Yesterday (May 17) and the day before, my husband and the rest of the crew returned home with big rose colored spots on their shirts, rose on their trousers, and all over their hands.  They each carried a long stick they were using to pierce the earth before laying the hot pink maize seed in it.  It’s colored because it has been pre-treated with chemicals like fertilizer and insect-kill.  There are pink seeds and green ones, and I was told they are different treatments.  It’s government subsidy maize for planting, and nearly all farmers I know of out here are eligible to receive it.  The color also helps people to know, visually that it’s treated seed, so they don’t mix it up with harvested maize and cook it.  A couple years back a news story many people in El Salvador will probably remember came out.  A family was so poor and hungry they tried to wash the government maize as best they could and used it for food, and sadly, two of their children died.   Today’s “siembra” (planting) crew consisted of my husband, two brothers-in-law, my nephew, and 76 year old father-in-law.  My father in law Cletro is in better shape than 90% of the office tubbies my own age.  He could have given Jack LaLanne* a run for his money.


This is the final part of the start-up cycle for the maize crop.  Abono is fertilizer, and farmers here walk around with a sachel on their waist and spread fertilizer onto their crops by hand.   Thinking about how so much is mechanized back home with giant machines, it’s amazing to see how much is done here by hand.  There are probably farmers here with large fields who do work with large machinery, but since labor is so cheap – around $8 a day for a farm hand, it might be a toss up between the machine and the man.

“Agricultors” will repeat both fumigacion and abono at various points during the growing season, as need sees fit.


Another Spanish word to add to the list:  Sequia, which means drought.  We too, are having a drought this year in El Salvador, but maybe not as bad as the one they’re having in the United States.   From my observation it’s been quite bad (and I’m typing this entry from May in on July 25, so can say it’s been spotty with rain until now).  It was raining right around the time of the siembra, but did not stay steady.   From there it would go three, sometimes four or five days without raining.   That’s not a good way to start a crop.  It’s gotten a bit better in the past few weeks, sometimes going two or three days without rain, but it’s still quite dry.   Gito, my brother-in-law, planted the milpa (cornfield) with all enthusiasm, but probably a bit too early for the weather conditions.   The idea was to be able to have two crops and harvests this year.  With two crops, you may end up with dryness at the beginning of the first crop, and soggy wetness towards the end of the second crop.  But it’s often a crapshoot, and this year is definitely an anomaly because it should be raining almost every night and it’s not.  So the price of maize that went back down to a comfortable place after it skyrocketed in late 2010/early 2011 will probably come back up again this year, too.   Many of the crops are already “jodidos” (screwed) but  there’s always a chance of a second crop – let’s see what happens for the remainder of the rainy season.

 >> Note: this post is from a journal entry written on May 18th, 2012.

* I just read the bio of Jack Lallane on Wiki.  An incredible guy, he lived to be 96 years old, and did his regular 2 hour workout routine until one week before he died.  It looks like he was practicing a modified version of the raw food diet, which has become popular in the last several years.


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  1. I asked my husband why the corn here wasn’t “as good” as the corn back in MI. I’m used to that sweet delicious crunchy and crisp corn that cracks and echoes as you bite it with all that great butter and salt. I was looking for that same type of thing when his mom offered me an elote, but the corn was bland with just lime and salt (i sure miss my butter) and it was soft. It was like eating a mushy apple compared to that crisp one. He explained to me that just like in apples (as there are baking apples and apples good for eating) it’s the same for corn. Some varieties go for eating like our sweet corn and other varieties are best for making masa. This sounds so logical, but it was like an epiphany for me.

    We grow corn every year in our garden in MI and have always tried to plant it a the same time his Dad does so we can have something else to talk about….”So, how’s the milpa?” 😉

    And whatever that pesticide stuff they spray is– it STINKS! I can smell it from inside the house and i know when someone is outside spraying the plants from 50 yards away!!!

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