November 2010


Most of the long range weather predictions I have read point to a drier and warmer winter season than normal.  The effect of La Nina combined possibly with the warmer North Atlantic and Pacific waters could make for as little as 67% of normal winter precipitation.  Of course weathermen are notorious for getting it wrong, but still we can be prepared if they happen to be correct.   The 3 items of concern to our new trees are:

  1. Water and or drying
  2. Trunk protection
  3. Root protection

 

Water – Normally an apple tree in Central New Mexico doesn’t require any additional water between leaf drop and budding (approximately November through March). There generally is enough rain and snow to keep them in good shape. This however applies to an established and older tree, not one that has been recently planted. One thing to remember is that even when a tree looks dormant above ground the roots can still be growing below ground.  If the soil temperature is 45 degrees F or higher at the root depth (usually 12-18”) then the tree’s roots are still growing.  This is especially true with mulched trees which will help insulate the ground from cold and temperature extremes.  Also roots will only grow and form in damp soil, they will not seek out water as is often thought.  Strong root growth is what we are after to have maximum quality tree growth next year.  We will need to supplement water this winter if your tree does not get enough rain/snow and it doesn’t slowly soak into the soil.  How much is up to your specific site and microclimate.  If your tree is located in a dry and windy area without any mulch or cover you will need to monitor it closer than if it is well mulched and in a shady area. In general once a month should prove to be more than sufficient.  We want to supply about 10 gallons of water to the root zone per 1 inch of trunk diameter at a watering.

 Mulch – The best thing you can do is give your trees a 6-10” layer of organic mulch to at least a 3’ diameter around the young tree.  The first 12-18” diameter will be the active root zone. This layer of mulch will buffer the extreme swings in winter temperatures we have and also preserve the moisture in the soil.  Without moisture in the soil bacterial and other biological activity will be halted.  Also by mulching heavily we can extend the root growing season until later in the year. At the same time we are developing a more healthy, biologically active soil through organic material decomposition in the future root zone area.

 Trunk Protection – Our high altitude with less filtering of the suns rays through the atmosphere, the lower winter sun to the south, and our abundance of sunny winter days can cause heating on the trunks of trees, causing some cells to become somewhat active (de-acclimated to cold).  At night when the temperature can drop well below freezing the heated trunk cells will freeze and burst. This damage of the bark on the south and southwest side of tree trunks is called sunscald, frost cracks, or southwest disease. Young thin barked trees should have the trunks shaded on the south and southwest side or they can be wrapped using the tree trunk wrap found in garden centers. The trunks should be shaded or wrapped from November through early April. Alternatively the trunks can be painted with a mixture of 50% white latex paint and water though this is not an approved organic approach. Make sure to never use oil based or spray paints only diluted latex paints if you choose this method.  The white color reflects the suns rays and keeps the trunk cooler helping to prevent the sunscald.

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This will be the last in the series of posts on melons (I think I am hearing a huge sigh of relief from the audience!) As a wrap up, I want to dispel some of the things we were told about growing melons before we started by some people in the business.

Myth #1 – You can’t grow good melons in New Mexico (it is too hot, It is too cold, too short of season etc.)

As you have seen if you read any of the previous posts, you can grow good melons here in the East Mountains without any special extra effort. The big thing (like many fruit types) is finding the correct variety that does well in our unique climate. By “good” we mean better than what you could buy at the grocery store because after all isn’t that why we are growing them? We hope we can save you some disappointment, time and money by listing the types that did well for us and also the types not to waste the time on.

Myth #2 – You must use plastic to grow melons.

We did not use plastic at all on any melons we grew.  That isn’t to say it might not be beneficial it’s just that we wanted to trial them like most people would grow them. I think plastic would shorten the days to maturity by holding in some of the heat lost at night (it worked well on chilies and tomatoes for us). And it certainly would help with weeds growing in the bed.

Myth #3 – Melons can’t be grown on a trellis or you must support their weight if you do.

Absolutely 100% false.  We grew out 7 varieties of melon on trellis and they performed very well.  The fruit is cleaner and doesn’t have the “dead” spot it has when resting on the ground.  It also prevents them from sitting in water if by a dripper or in a depression after a rain. As for supporting them, we didn’t use any type of sling or support for any we grew.  Our largest was 7 lbs and almost volleyball size and we didn’t lose any dropping off even with our high winds.  The vine gets tough enough and develops a sturdy stem when the melon develops not requiring support.

Myth #4 – Open pollinated or heirloom varieties are better.

Some may be, some not.  This statement isn’t a complete truism.  The best 2 types we grew were both hybrids but we also grew some op and heirloom that were good.

Myth #5 – Melons must be transplanted, not direct seeded.

If you sprout and grow you melons indoors in jiffy pots or the like, 2 weeks is about the longest you should go before transplanting them out into the garden.  I think the 2 week gain is offset by the delay of transplant shock and therefore we direct seeded all of our melons and they had plenty of time to develop.

Myth #6 – Follow the days to maturity guide in the catalog.

As a relative guide they seem pretty accurate, but the actual days to maturity was 20-25% longer than published. Note to that some companies list days to maturity from direct seed and others assume you are transplanting.  Even taking this into account and with virtually every type of vegetable we grew this year not just melons, we had to add 20 – 25% to the time listed.  A 65 day bean took 80 days and on down the line.  Our fall crops which we planted in August were much closer to the catalogs.  I believe that in the spring and early summer the heat gains made during the day are lost by the cool nights resulting in a lower average 24 hour temperature than we assume it to be. Or in other words less heat units than say a normally cooler climate that with a low elevation doesn’t change much from day to night temperatures.

Lets hear from you so we can expand the knowledge base of growing varieties in the East Mountains. 

Our list of varieties and our opinions 

If you can only grow 1 type , try one of these (not in any order)

  1. Sivan F1 Hybrid Melon
  2. PMR Delicious  51 Melon
  3. Arava F1 Hybrid Melon

If you have room to grow more, try one of these

  1. Ein Dor
  2. Yellow Canary Melon
  3. Sleeping Beauty

 Don’t waste the space on it

  1. Kiwano
  2. Banana Melon
  3. Pike Melon
  4. Sakatas Sweet
  5. Casaba- Golden Beauty
  6. Corrales
  7. Ojo Caliente
  8. Santo Domingo
  9. San Juan

 In the good old days (late 60’s and 70’s) the Red Delicious apple was considered the peak of perfection in an apple variety. We couldn’t wait for them to come out in the fall at the grocery store and get our share.  They were crisp, crunchy and extremely juicy dripping all over your face as you dug into one and the sweet flavor with a hint of tart was a perfect sugar to sub-acid balance.  Rarely did we stop at eating just one.  But something changed along the way and over the years.

 Many of our customers have said they did not want to grow Red Delicious as a tree variety, describing it as mealy, mushy, and bland with a bitter skin.  This certainly isn’t the Red Delicious of my childhood.  What has happened to it?  After receiving a growers catalog this week I think I know what has caused the decline in the Red Delicious. This catalog is an offering of trees to commercial apple orchardists. The bulk of the commercial trees are sold to growers from about 6 nurseries nationwide.  These companies do not sell direct to the consumer and cater to orchards planting hundreds to even thousands of trees at a time.  These growers sell their product wholesale to the shipper/packer.  He then grades, stores and packages them to be distributed to produce wholesalers and the large grocery chains. 

 Of the 10 kinds offered as “Premier Apple Varieties” there was a distinct pattern.  Of these 10 kinds, 9 were ”improved” sports of the original variety. 8 were promoted as an improvement in color over the standard, 1 was a much faster to ripen Fuji type (fujis require a long season) and 1, Honeycrisp was described as the original. The regular section of their catalog contained another 37 varieties of which 23 were “improved” from the original type, usually focusing on better color, deeper color, earlier color and some on shape.  A few stressed higher productivity due to spur type tree or earlier ripening. Out of these 33 ‘improved’ varieties not a single one promoted better taste, texture or nutrition.

 I think we need only to look at the “Apple Supply Chain” to see why this is.  The Grower is trying to satisfy his customer, the Distributor. The Distributor is trying to satisfy his customer, the Grocery Chain Store.  The grocery store is trying to satisfy his customer the Consumer.  The end consumer (us) may want flavor but he can’t tell that at the store when purchasing.  Naturally he goes for full red color (thinking it to be riper than an apple with striping), a high gloss and firm to the touch with a dense weight.   The grocery store wants an apple that is consistent, both in size and appearance and availability along with a good shelf life (minimal bruising from handling by customers and longer storage in the store).  Taste doesn’t really enter into this formula.

 The grower wants an apple that will have full color as soon as possible since he is picking it at an unripened stage. The more of his crop that is fully colored the less passes or harvests he will have to do in that orchard and therefore less picking costs (read higher profit).  The redder the apple with deeper color the higher the grade (Washington Extra Fancy) and therefore the better price for his apples. The packer/shipper wants a denser apple since he is buying by volume (boxload) but selling by weight, often 10 lb bags. An unripened apple is harder and therefore bruises less and ships better with less losses (read higher profit).  The packer needs an apple than can be stored in a no oxygen environment for up to a year and then immediately ripened with the addition of ethylene gas, so it must already be colored.

 Improvements of a specific type often come at the expense of something else.  Since flavor or taste never enters the equation above the so-called improvement of better color may have come at the loss of flavor quality.  The bottom line here is the apple being sold today as Red Delicious is not the same apple as we bought in the good old days. A Google search shows 42 patented sports or mutations of Red Delicious.  No doubt these are what is now being sold through the stores as our old favorite.

 It seems that probably the only way to bring back that original flavor to your table is to grow your own and ensure that you are growing an original Red Delicious and not one of the newer “improved” varieties. As a side note, this same catalog offered 4 “improved” varieties of Fuji and 3 “improved” varieties of Gala.  I am convinced we can expect those apples to also deteriorate in quality at the supermarkets in the years to come and are probably already seeing this now.

 After writing this article I was researching the history of the Red Delicious and found this article in the Washington Post.  It basically summarizes that the hypothesis I proposed above is indeed fact.

 Why the Red Delicious No Longer Is

Decades of Makeovers Alter Apple to Its Core