The second best time is now."
(Sent to me by Anita, a friend in San Antonio)
When we bought the ranch nine years ago, the first thing Stew and I did was put a fence around it. We'd been warned that property lines in rural Mexico could be fluid and contentious and that it was a good idea to put up a fence before the ink on the property survey even dried.
That was the first, and maybe the most important, step we've taken in our campaign to restore our three hectares to what they might have been like before man—and his goats, sheep, cattle, burros and other animals—ran roughshod over it and denuded the land almost down to bedrock.
|The "Mexican Eagle" is actually a|
falcon and its proper name is
It covers the entire ranch except for about an acre on which our house and surrounding garden sit. Rabbits, snakes, rats, roadrunners and various birds—including Mexican eagles hovering overhead—seem to enjoy the new landscape.
We then used the native rocks to build small terraces, like necklaces delineating the gardens that would come later, to help keep the soil from washing downhill during heavy rains.
|One of our three Michoacán pines, which|
weren't supposed to grow around here.
It's hard to picture that once, before the arrival of the plundering Spaniards, the hills around us were dense oak forests. Félix, who climbed those hills as a child says there are few huge oaks still standing and the occasional scampering deer.
Our experience as arborists being so brief and confounding, it's hard to suggest any rules to anyone attempting what we have tried to do.
One would be to buy large trees, two or three meters high, and dig ample holes—with a backhoe— twice the diameter of the root balls, and then backfill with good black soil mixed with compost. Planting spindly saplings in skimpy holes is largely a waste of time.
Yet contradicting this rule, and most any other rules of tree-planting, there seem to be an equal number of exceptions.
|Félix' allée, which he created from seedlings|
from the Trueno tree in our front yard.
Not one to waste any plant material no matter how insignificant, Félix set out to collect the tiny seedlings from under the tree and nurture them into scraggly foot-high trees. He then planted them along the driveway creating an allée of truenos now about two meters tall.
On the other hand, just yesterday we had to dig up two Sycamores, of good size and properly planted, that died after two seasons. We replaced them with two Boxelder maples (Acer negundo), to join another one we planted a couple of years ago and seems to be doing very well.
|The peach tree and the smaller mesquite came out|
of nowhere—we didn't plant them. The peach produced
about twenty five peaches this year.
Our biggest success story is a trio of Michoacán pines (Pinus Devoniana) that we were warned would never make it in our dry climate. They are thriving, the long droopy needles dancing in the breeze.
One customer called Australian pine (Casuarina Equisetifolia), with long needles that seem to whistle when blown by the wind, has survived but not really prospered.
Two winners are the Greggi pines (Pinus Greggii), a dozen of which we bought from an abandoned Christmas tree farm down the road and are doing fine, and eight to ten cedars that seem to be happy also.
|One of three olives, two arbiquina variety and|
one mission. They have produced
three olives—one each.
Three Jacarandas have died during our windy and dry winters.
This is but a small selection of hits-and-misses from our campaign to restore trees to our land. Other winners are three fresnos (ash trees); several peach trees; mesquites; a magnolia (thriving); olives (growing but no signs of olives); two walnuts (very slow growing); four cypresses; three Chinese elms; an orchid tree plus an aster that has quadrupled in size since his arrival five or six years ago.
|One of the two new Boxelders, memorializing my mom|
and Félix's grandmom. Behind them are one of many
cedar trees at the ranch.
Regardless of our tree-planting batting average, when I walk around the ranch I cannot help but be gratified with our efforts. The land isn't barren any more, and the thickening forest provides a natural privacy barriers from any future neighbors.
We can think of this mini forest as our legacy to Mexico and also to our forebears.
I told Félix I wanted to dedicate the two new Boxelders, one to my mom, Georgina, and one to Julia, his recently deceased grandmother.
|Félix preparing the memorial stones.|
We hope Julia and Georgina look after these trees from Upstairs and make them prosper.
N.B. If there are any readers who really know their trees, or want to help out with our forestry efforts, feel free to leave comments below.