Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Is it tequila-brewing time? Nah.

Quiotes are us: The huge stalks of the
tequila agaves appear suddenly, and
just as quickly shrivel up and vanish. 
Succulents do weird things, particularly when they decide to flower and set fruit, and none is weirder—or more impressive—than the display of the tequila agave or Agave tequilana, if you want to get botanical about it. It starts out looking like a common wild agave, with blueish, spiky leaves but given time, the proper soil and moisture, it can grow up to five feet high and the same in diameter.

We planted four in a rock garden against the stone wall of our back terrace maybe eight years ago and until this year they behaved rather demurely, keeping a rounded, architectural shape. Then early this spring each put up a massive stalk, about eight inches in diameter, that kept growing, I could swear, at a rate of six inches a day. I wish I'd had a time-lapse video camera to capture this astonishing growth spurt.

The best part came when the stalks reached about twelve feet and began putting out candelabra-type branches covered with yellow flowers. A neighbor last year saved one of the larger stalks, spray-painted it white and used it as Christmas tree on his front yard.
Three of the four agaves abutting our
back terrace. The fourth didn't put up a
stalk and remained.
Bees were certainly impressed with the showy agave stalks, called quiotes in the local indigenous language, and for several weeks buzzed around the surprise bounty of flowers. The bees systematically worked their way from the bottom up as more flowers appeared.

In fact, Félix and Stew have checked our three beehives and predict a bumper crop of honey in the fall, certainly good news compared to the meager production of the past two years. I haven't asked the bees, but I have to believe the agave flower extravaganza stimulated their production of honey.

Then this week, the flower show was over and they were replaced by substantial elongated seed pods that dangled from the branches like ornaments on a Christmas tree. The wind loosened the seedpods and carried them all over, including our terrace, where we found several dozen scattered on the flagstone. Some undoubtedly blew over the ground several feet in every direction, and a lucky few will germinate and produce the next crop of tequila agaves.

The spent flowers and
subsequent seed pods
of the tequila agave.
And that's it. The whole plant, its elongated leaves, the stalk and everything with it will shrivel up and die. Kaput. I've planted other tequila agaves in the ranch but they don't seem nearly as rambunctious as the ones against the terrace. Other varieties of agave put up similar stalks but the mother plant survives. 

At the end of the tequila agave's life cycle, the tequila-making part of the show would start, using the pineapple-shape core at the bottom that kept the whole plant together and is now crushed, cooked, fermented and distilled. When grown commercially, the agave leaves are chopped off, and the center core harvested, long before the huge sprouts appear.

Félix, mano-a-mano with the
massive core of one tequila
agave, which weighed about
twenty-five pounds. 
No, we're not going there. Stew and I don't drink alcohol and besides we don't have the equipment to process agave pulp. Also, the agaves we have here are probably not Don Julio-grade and would produce stuff more suitable for lawnmower fuel than even passable booze.

On the internet I found several supposed culinary uses for the agave plants, particularly the massive stalks. But we're not going there either. Recently it seems as if life is become too short to undertake any more agricultural or cooking projects or experiments. Collecting and bottling honey and keeping a vegetable garden going are enough of a chore already.

My apologies to disappointed readers who expected some free tequila: Go buy your own. But call me in the fall and I'll sell you some honey.
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