The ants. They bite so hard and itch so much and their bites swell so big, and the worst thing is that they are everywhere. I have never seen anthills so huge, with little soldiers spewing in and out at a constant, rapid pace. There were brown ants in the garden who could cut huge chunks off leaves and march with them into their ever-growing fortress. They formed long lines, holding leaves carefully above their heads, and we followed them to the anthills to dump coffee grounds on their heads. And poison, outside the garden. Then there are the black ants, who don’t seem to do so much damage to the plants, but they bite any human that comes near.
My first experience with them was a few weeks ago, when I put my hand right into an anthill that was covered by dirt because we’d been raking the area to transplant. There were five to ten bites on my hand and wrist, and they swelled up that night, so Seidy made me soak them in hot salt water to take out the venom. These ants can climb onto my shoes and up my legs faster than I can believe, and today my fellow workers had a laugh as I stripped off my shoes and socks and ran away through the mud after stepping in another hidden anthill. I shook off the ants and rinsed off my feet and legs to make sure they’d all gone, but the bites were already there and swollen. I changed into different boots, and these only helped the ants to find new places on my legs to bite when I returned to the garden. While the ants are a nuisance, they aren’t as terrible as our mortal enemy in the garden, which takes the form of a worm called the cortador.
This worm lives underground, but near the soil surface near a plant. It can singlehandedly kill as many plants as it wants as it moves down a row, cutting plants one by one. All that remains are wilting leaves scattered on the ground next to a bare stem. These worms can do some serious damage, and they eat everything. For this reason, whenever we see any sign of them, we dig to find the culprit still hiding somewhere belowground. We take them outside the garden to kill them so that their eggs don’t disperse among the plants.
There were shiny blue beetles that infected the beans but didn’t do much damage, and there are giant, giant dark purple grasshoppers that live here but thankfully haven’t caused problems so far. Besides insects, there are a number of nice weeds that come to stay.
Purslane, which I recognized from New York, is an edible succulent that likes the conditions of the garden a lot—it’s almost everywhere. Sorel, or tartweed, is another edible weed that has shown up. My favorite weed here is dormolina, which is a plant that has the ability to close its leaves when touched. I touch every specimen I see, to watch the plant “sleep” (its name comes from the Spanish word dormir, the verb to sleep).
In another pest category, there is a white fungus on the cabbage, which is not so fun. It was produced by organic matter in the soil that hadn’t finished decomposing, but after organic spray treatments, the new leaves look healthy and strong.
In fact, despite all the pests that we’ve encountered and battled, the plants are healthier and stronger than ever. The zucchini and beans are both flowering, the lettuce is ready for harvest, the radishes have formed babies, everything is thriving. More transplants will be ready soon, as we’ve sown peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers in flats. It’s all been going so fast, and it feels good to know we’ll have baby plants to put in the ground as we harvest for the first time.
I am now about halfway through my time here, and I still have so much to look forward to.