July 2012


As we start our third growing season at Road’s End Farm it is time to write about some of our observations and results with the many types of fruiting plants that we grow.  As you know our mission is to develop and promote varieties that are suited to culture in the central New Mexico mountains and similar locales.  We want you to be successful by helping you choose varieties that will profitably produce for you.  Our method is simple in that we take our best educated guess from years of growing, listening to others experiences and add some of the latest varieties to the mix.  We then grow these and see which do best or in some cases do poorly.

Of course results may vary depending on the care, location, microclimate etc. that you give a certain plant.  In those cases we will make recommendations for location and culture.  Our plantings are not babied as you might do at home. They are planted in the field with no shade and treated as a commercial crop would be.  In many cases the planting stock we have purchased has been very small, maybe suitable for a 4” container or was a 4-6” bare root plant.  Such is the way of dealing with new or rare varieties, they just may not be available in a size we would prefer.  Often is the time we felt a larger plant would have survived or thrived whereas the smaller one could not adapt. We will discuss these possibilities as we go through our series of posts.

For those of you more detail oriented, the soil ph at our farm is 8.2 which is considered very alkaline.  Our water comes from fractured limestone and also has a high ph and is very “hard”.  February 2010 recorded minus 34f and summer 2011 recorded a high of 102f.   Most research on “hardiness” of plants is focused on the coldest temperature they can live with and very little research has been done on the warmest temperature they can take.  When we make selections to trial we find ourselves choosing from varieties that may do well in the upper great plains or in Russia’s colder areas. In the case of heat we will discuss it when it applies.  I hope to be able to cover at least 1 fruit type a week in an informal and unscientific manner, but this time of year is always short on “spare writing” time so don’t hold me to it.

Last week we were able to pick black currants from our 3 small bushes.  They are about 18” high and 24” across and yielded about 2 cups per plant. Since this was their first bearing year we were really looking forward to seeing the flavor and what we could do with them.  Black currants fall into the group of “super fruits” having 5 times the vitamin C of oranges by weight, twice the potassium of bananas and twice the antioxidants of blueberries.  This combination has an anti-inflammatory impact, reducing the effects of arthritis.  It’s antioxidant action has been shown to prevent cancer. The anthocyanins, flavenoids and potassium are what gives these currants a strong flavor according to literature.  So far, so good.

The first noticeable thing is the smell.  After collection it was noted that they had a very strong odor to say the least. It took a while to pin it down but we finally all agreed the closest description would be “fermented cat urine”!  Needless to say we had to draw straws to see who got to taste test the fresh berries.  These had a very strong musky flavor, not quite sour, maybe a little astringent. A hint of grape skins came through.  Definitely these were not a pick and eat variety.  Since they are a connoisseur’s delight in Europe and widely prized there, we decided to try to make jelly and see if the Europeans were idiots or if they were on to something.

We used a simple jelly recipe and boiled the berries first to soften them.  When boiling, the smell changed from” feline “ to “fruity”.  Good thing or we would never be allowed in the kitchen again! We then strained and extracted the juice through some cheesecloth. The taste was now better but extremely strong.  A little water was added to dilute the concentrate and we started adding sugar to check what was right.  We weren’t scientific, just guessing at volumes and weights.  In the end we estimated it took about 25% more sugar than the recipe called for and we thought we added enough pectin to make up for the extra water.

After we were finished it did not “Jell”.  It was more like a thick syrup. Putting in the fridge to set up did not really change the consistency.  But onto the flavor: I can best describe it as a very strong grape jelly flavor with subtle spices added.  It is absolutely tremendous and a welcome change from the norm. So I will spread a thin amount on toast or scones, lift up my little pinky and ooh and aah like the elite do as I indulge in this rare taste treat!

Commercial apples are sprayed anywhere from 10 to as many as 25 times in a growing season to bring that picture perfect fruit to market.  They are sprayed with toxic chemicals for prevention of early fungus, scab and viral disease, often sprayed with antibiotics to prevent fireblight and other bacterial infections, sprayed to promote thinning of the small apples, sprayed for control of coddling moth and other pests and on and on.  They are harvested green, put in cold storage and then given ethylene gas to promote artificial ripening. Many people will tell you just to wash them before you eat them or peel the skin off before eating (where most of the nutrients are) and you will get rid of any chemical residues.  I have a hard time believing that all these chemicals when combined and added up are really safe for us.

So what is an organic grower to do?  In many ways we are lucky to be inNew Mexico as most of the disease issues of fruits are related and cultivated in humid climates.  Our dry air and high UV is a natural inhibitor to many disease problems. Cedar apple rust and scab, 2 of the biggest problems are not found inNew Mexico.

The two largest pest issues (aside from birds and rodents) are the apple coddling moth and the apple maggot.   The apple maggot is just being found in a few counties in New Mexico and has not yet reached critical levels.  While you could use an “organic” pesticide such as rotenone, it is still a highly toxic poison. As with most pesticides they are non selective and will kill off beneficial insects as well as the “bad guys”

At this point we have adopted two solutions.  One is the use of a product named “Surround”

Made from modified kaolin clay, Surround® t is sprayed on as a liquid, which evaporates leaving a protective powdery film on the surfaces of

After spraying with Surround

leaves, stems and fruit. It controls a long list of insect pests on vegetables, fruit trees, ornamentals and more and is OMRI Listed for use in organic production. It is mixed about 2 cups per gallon of water and can be applied with a hand sprayer if you only want to do a few trees, or with a standard chemical sprayer for more.  Recommended application is 2 “coats” the second shortly after the first has dried.  It will need to be reapplied during the season as strong rains may wash it off.

Surround® works to protect plants and deter insects in three specific ways:

1.) Tiny particles of the kaolin clay attach to insects when they contact it, agitating and repelling them and possibly clogging their breathing pores.

2.) Even if the particles do NOT attach to their bodies, the insects find the coated plant/ fruit unsuitable for feeding and egg-laying. It just doesn’t look like a red apple any more! It is also thought that the light reflection from the white surface disorients the coddling moth especially.

3.) The protective white film cools plants by up to 15° Fahrenheit, which can help to reduce heat and water stress. Many fruits show improved color, smoothness and size with less russet, dropping, sunburn and cracking.  This in turn makes a stronger and healthier fruit and tree.

The second strategy is the use of apple maggot control bags.  These are a small bag that can be put over your apple and easily held on with a rubber band.  They are from a material similar to panty hose and stretch as the apple grows.  They allow sunlight, and water penetration and can be reused.  This is an effective barrier control method, preventing insects from laying eggs in the apples.  They also have an effect on birds which now ignore them.   Applying apple maggot control bags.

Both strategies should be started when your apples are about nickel size.