An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter of September 8, 2008
issued from Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula

DOÑA MARTA'S BACKYARD

DOÑA MARTA'S BACKYARD

Back in 28 de Junio, Chiapas I showed you the sweeping, arid, somewhat austere view I enjoyed each morning as I campfired my morning stew. Here I have the same sooty kettle dangling from a rope held up by a tripod, but my view is completely different, shown above.

I've annotated that picture to highlight something special about the scene. That is, it really is an "edible backyard."

The Guaya at the upper left is TALISIA OLIVAEFORMIS of the Soapberry Family, the Sapindaceae. Around June it produces a small, yellowish, drupe-like fruit with orangish, acidy, pleasant-tasting flesh. Despite each fruit having much more seed than flesh, the tree was very popular with the ancient Maya, and today in villages like this is still much planted, maybe more from tradition than because people really cherish the scant eating.

Bitter Oranges are large, warty oranges mostly green when they're ripe. They're less bitter than acid. People make something like sweetened lemonade with them.

Spanish Plums, genus SPONDIUS, of the Cashew/ Poison-Ivy Family, we've run into before, back in Querétaro, so I have stories and nice pictures of them at http://www.backyardnature.net/q/spondias.htm.

You probably know about the other fruit trees in the picture, but possibly "pumpkin/squash" leaves you wondering. Orange, Halloween-type pumpkins aren't traditionally grown here, nor are yellow crookneck summer squash or zucchinis, but we do have many kinds of closely related pumpkin/squash/gourd fruits. Many traditional American fruit types in this group possess a hard rind like a gourd, but sweet, yellow or orange flesh, like a pumpkin. The one in the picture is still green and growing, about the size of the wandering chicken in the picture, so we'll see what it matures into.

That wandering chicken itself is an important part of the picture, for it picks caterpillars and bugs off plants and distributes nitrogen and other nutrients throughout the system in its randomly dispersed droppings. Peacocks, turkeys, and sheep round out the wandering, foraging and pooping population. Most nights a big, white, humpbacked Zebu bull is tied beneath the Guaya, and he leaves a lot of nutrients there himself. During the day he's tied out in the scrub.

Soil here is very thin to absent. Most of the surface beneath the herbage in the picture is naked limestone rock. Things are planted in the limestone's cracks and crevices. I suspect that during henequen-plantation days much of what soil there was eroded away. The soil situation out in the scrub isn't much better. Really it's amazing that things survive so well on such thin soil.