Tentative summer gardening forecast: Tomato downpours with frequent gazpachos

On Saturday we returned from San Antonio, and it felt not a second too soon. For the five days we were there daily high temperatures hovered around the low 100s and were aggravated by the drought that’s engulfed the southwestern U.S. and the northern states of Mexico for months, if not years. I feared we’d find the same situation in San Miguel, where seasonal rains were three or four weeks behind  schedule.

When Aztec gods are smiling

Quite the opposite, happily. The weather here is cool, with highs in the low 80s, and on Monday and Tuesday, Tlaloc, the usually gruff Aztec god of rain, cracked a smile and we had about two inches of rain.

It’s too early to say if the rain might save four or five surviving but comatose evergreens stricken by a still mysterious pandemic that, for sure, already has killed another five or six mature and beautiful pine trees and cedars.

It seems, though, that spraying with a wide-spectrum insecticide, applications of fertilizer, and now a soaking rain, may have at least saved the four Michoacán pines, my favorite trees in the ranch, and stemmed the spread of the disease. We’ll just have to wait another month or six weeks for a definitive verdict.

Despite such bad news, this year’s vegetables in the raised beds and in another enclosed area at one corner of the ranch are putting on a dazzling show. But one must not gloat too soon, because the yearly armies of grasshoppers, grubs, mites, cutworms, earwigs and other marauders haven’t arrived yet.

We have bell peppers, cucumbers, zucchinis, sweet peas, carrots, radishes, beans and six or seven stunted plants of Illinois sweet corn. I’m giving up on sweet corn, even though our friend John, much to our mortification, grows it successfully in his small vegetable plot not far away. We also have several pots of strawberries that the birds seem to enjoy thoroughly. Must look for netting in the basement.
One of three strawberry pots

One gardening aside is that our new gardener Ulises, who lives in a ranch on the other side of San Miguel with his wife and mom and dad, brought us a half dozen ears of corn. The kernels were mostly white with some purple ones, which made me even more suspicious because I’ve never liked Mexican corn to begin with.

Alas, Stew steamed the ears of corn, and we slathered mayonnaise, salt and Tajín chili powder, and to my surprise they were delicious. The kernels were unusually large and plump and a bit chewy, but the flavor was terrific.

But it’s the tomatoes, perhaps encouraged by the rain and cool temperatures that have taken off. I’ve counted about 15 plants of six different varieties, including Black Krim Heirlooms, my favorite. I had to stake and prune some of them already, this early in the season.

It’s raining tomatoes, hallelujah. Or so I hope.

A bumper crop of tomatoes is something to really celebrate because the only variety sold in Mexico, in addition to grape tomatoes occasionally, is “jitomate bola,” that looks like a plum tomato and is reliably tasteless.

The mystery of why other varieties of tomatoes are not sold here needs to be investigated. As is why some Mexico-grown produce sold at grocery stores in Texas is far better quality than what we get at our local La Comer and grown within spitting distance of San Miguel.

Or why, oh why, can’t we find juicy, softball-size peaches from Fredericksburg, Texas here, next to the apples we get from Washington state, thousands miles farther north.

The debacle with the sick evergreens hasn’t dampened my desire to plant more trees around the ranch. I have first to determine which varieties of cedars and pines are susceptible to the “plaga” that killed their siblings, and what trees to put in their place.

For the time being I’ve replaced a six-foot-tall dead cedar outside the office window with a good-size magnolia. Looking at a dead tree so close to the house made me sad and angry.

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