Some countries specialize in heavy industry and some in service industries. Some are tourist destinations. Still others mix and match all of the above to make a living. Paraguay is none of the above. This is an agricultural country, a primary producer at the heart of the global economic ecosystem. It grows things from the earth.
Many countries have a significant population of farmers (throughout Latin America referred to as campesinos), but few places are as saturated with agrarian culture as Paraguay. The countryside, the campo, is everywhere. The markets of all major cities—even the capital, Asunción—fill to bursting on a daily basis with goods fresh from the fields just a few kilometers down the rickety highways. Indigenous people peddle herbs and remedies freshly picked from the forest at every street corner of seemingly the entire country. Roosters can be heard calling in the early morning hours, even in the center of Asunción. This is a country of growers and farmers, a culture of soil mystics and weather soothsayers.
Paraguayan land is immensely fertile. Sometimes it seems as if everything imaginable grows here, and with an accelerated, almost supernatural velocity. The ground of this country, into which the roots of Paraguay are firmly sunk, is sediment from the mighty Andes. These soils have precipitated from the heights the South American spine, depositing their nutrients and their blessings along endless pastures and gently rolling hills. The country is green, showing its blood-red soils only when the thick carpet of forest has been cleared away.
There are some parts of the countryside that seem so flat that one can literally detect the curvature of the Earth as it extends toward the panoramic horizon. Other parts are mountainous corridors, rudely partitioned by rising spires of rock covered in forest. Then there is the dry, hot immensity of the Chaco desert, worked for centuries by Mennonite farmers who have coaxed and worked the parched earth into a brilliant, almost unbelievable amount of life. In the riparian lowlands, seasonal flooding converts vast stretches of grasslands into temporary marshes, sometimes feeling like temporary oceans with floating islands of rushes and reeds and flocks of ibis and egrets.
There are so few people here—only 6 million in a country roughly the size of California. There is just so much space to be had, or space to be left, space where things are still growing and decaying and re-growing at a pace that is matched in few places on Earth. And that is what earns this country the pride of sitting at the heart of the South American continent. —Mario Machado
The kumanda yvyra’i (“little bean trees” in Guaraní, the local dialect) I planted last summer as a living fence and green manure have finally begun to flower. They are quite large now and are really helping to keep the berms surrounding my gardens from washing away. Not only are they leguminous (and therefore, replenish the soil with nitrogen) but they can also be used for animal forage, firewood, shade, and human consumption. The beans are delicious and beautifully colored—pictures will be soon to come. I will likely let these few plants go to seed and use this year’s haul to plant some more in my garden or field for the next season. —Mario Machado
My garden has really taken off in the past few weeks. The relatively mild summer helped by keeping the frost away even if it also meant significantly less and unpredictable rainfall. The vegetables I planted came up with varying success. Squash, Swiss chard, onions, green onions, tomatoes, beets, carrots and peppers are all on their way, slowly but surely, to becoming delicious meal items in the next few weeks or months.
I have added several things on the technical side of my garden in order to help with future production. First, using recycled wood and brick, I constructed a worm bin (above), called lombricultura in Spanish. With an underlying bed of dry, leafy material and kitchen scraps for food, California red worms can produce wonderful organic fertilizer in the form of worm castings. These castings are rich in nutrients that are readily available for absorption by plant roots. In a month or so I should have excellent organic fertilizer to add to my plants.
Also, to increase the diversity of my garden, I have planted several banana plants and a line of pineapples along the outside fence. These will grow and produce fruit in about a year or so, but in the meantime, the flowering fruit trees will help attract bees. And thorny pineapple plants work wonders against curious chickens.
I was experiencing some problems with erosion during large storms and watched several of my meticulously formed raised beds wash away. To prevent this I have used old soda and wine bottles, as well as scrap wood, to create more permanent sides for the beds. So far this seems to have helped hold the soil in place. —Mario Machado