PO Box 2458, Tijeras NM 87059

Mountain Gardens--finding success with plants for the high desert and East Mountains of New Mexico

Friday, October 26, 2012

North American Fruit Explorers--NAFEX

We're pretty excited--a local NAFEX member is trying to form a southwest fruit group, and we've been invited to the first meeting.  Trying to produce fruit can be a mysterious, frustrating experience, especially when you're seemingly growing in a vacuum--no one out there to help, to encourage, to answer questions. That's why we joined NAFEX some years ago.

The North American Fruit Explorers was founded 45 years ago for that very purpose--to expand knowledge. Today there are thousands of members from across the country, Canada and farther. Anyone is welcome from the rankest (the closest you ever came to planting an apple was accidentally swallowing a seed) amateur to the most erudite pomologist. The annual membership fee is nominal--$19. And if you're serious about growing fruit, any fruit, there is no other place where you have access to so many experienced people so willing to share information.

Today, everything is available online, a far cry from the days when member's letters were exchanged in a round robin system by USPS. Members can access archived Pomona's, the quarterly magazine. Pomona is a compilation of articles, interest group postings, and even excerpts from books (usually by members). I just finished the Fall issue which included articles on apple grafting, jujubes, growing wolfberries, and an excerpt from Grow Fruit Naturally... by Lee Reich. Every issue is full of reports on how members are doing with whatever cultivar they hope to grow in their particular backyard. And there are lots of professionals reporting too, commercial orchardists, and university researchers. (Lots of folks had a tough couple of years, so we didn't feel so bad about our poor half dead trees.) And this is all nuts and bolts, no pie-eyed generalities (or very few).

There are interest groups for all the usual suspects--apples, peaches, pears--and some unusual ones. There is a huge amount of interest in fruits like autumn olive, hawthorn, honeylocust, chestnut, pawpaw, persimmon and haskap (lonicera caerulea) among others. (Some of the groups are in need of chairs--the primary requirement is "interest in the fruit...and desire to learn more about it.")

There is an annual conference--Ohio in 2013. We haven't made it yet, but are hoping to. This year's was in Saskatoon and in addition to the many talks, attendees toured local growers and the research facilities at the U of SK.

I get 2 or 3 emails a day from the listserv, and the topics cover a wildly diverse amount of material, usually about fruit, but occasionally chickens or something else will pop in--most everything has some relevance. Weather always, apple butter recipes, and what better fertilizer than well composted poultry manure?!

There are other perks too--access to seed, or scions or bud wood for grafting, The Fruit Grafter's Handbook is available to members as a pdf download.

NAFEX is a wonderful resource, especially for those fairly new to growing. And it helped the fellow hoping to found a local fruit growers group find us.

Information about joining NAFEX can be found at nafex.org

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Autumn Leaves & the Native Big Tooth Maple

 We took a few hours off and drove up to 4th of July Canyon to see the changing leaves that give the canyon its name. The fireworks were in full swing, coloring the landscape with deepest reds, delicate pinks and translucent yellows, to bright golds and oranges. Amazing how one tree can have so many expressions. When it colors, the leaves take on a tissue thin appearance, very soft and appealing.

The big tooth maple, acer grandidentatum, is a native New Mexican. It grows in moist canyons at higher elevations, but can be persuaded to come down. It's a nice choice for rain gardens; put it in a shallow bowl that captures run off from the roof or hillsides. It's an understory tree, but seems to be more robust in full sun. It's a sugar maple too, and can be tapped for syrup where the weather remains cooler.

 The cottonwood is another favorite change artist; the deep yellow truly glows, and the leaf color persists quite a while. The mountain alder turns a more prosaic yellow, pretty, but every leaf falls overnight at the first hard freeze. It can be tapped too, but mine have really suffered in the last two years of drought, losing a third of their mass. We'll need to clean out the dead wood soon.

 Aspens, of course, have beautiful gold fall color, especially at the highest elevations. At lower levels, they can be kind of sickly unless they get regular moisture. In ABQ they can sucker from one end of the yard to the other--best planted where there's a lot of space.

A native vine that can be relied upon for a burst of reddest reds, Virginia creeper was strutting its stuff in the canyon, too. It's also great at lower elevations, beautiful right now in ABQ. It has pretty berries too, relished by wildlife.

It took me a while to appreciate the oaks. The Gambel and Burr oaks we have up here seemed scrubby and dull after the live oaks of the deep south. But these oaks have many valuable assets--wildlife cover and forage, windbreaks (the leaves often remain all winter even after they turn brown) and screens. They hold soil on steep slopes. We were so fortunate that the wildfires several years ago stopped just short of 4th of July Canyon. As we drove in, the hillsides were daggered with the charred remains of the Ponderosas that had covered them, and beneath, a carpet of oak, already two and three feet tall, coloring the hills with red, brown, orange, and every subtle tint in between.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Old Gardens

In the last few months, at least three popular magazines have showcased Monticello, Jefferson's Virginia plantation. As someone married to a Virginia boy, I've visited Monticello several times, falling in love with it each time; it's an important part of our nation's history, it's beautiful in it's own right, and the vegetable gardens are an inspiration. But we have a little known piece of history right here in New Mexico, that is equally deserving of a little publicity.

A generation before Jefferson leveled his mountaintop, the first buildings were going up at El Rancho de las Golandrinas here in New Mexico. Just south of Santa Fe, the ranch of the swallows became an important way station, a paraje, along the Camino Real, and today is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Like Monticello, it's a beautiful place to visit, the only living history museum in the state, and the Fall Harvest Festival is one of the best times to go.

Fall blooming chamisa in front of the arbor
 Re-enactors skillfully recreate the day to day activities of Spanish New Mexicans in the early 1700's. Tortillas are baked in hornos, wool is washed with yucca soap, the smithy is full of sound and fury, ladies in sweeping skirts thunder by on silver decked horses. The original buildings of the ranch were restored and the site opened as a museum in 1972. Other historic buildings have been relocated to Las Golandrinas, and add to the fullness of the experience.

the grain mill
Water made Las Golandrinas possible, the springs still flowing today with enough strength to power a grain mill, one of the most fascinating parts of the visit. A smaller mill is new since our last visit, and held the kids in thrall, as wheat dropped onto the mill stone and emerged as flour.

the acequia
the mill pond
 Some of the oldest still functioning acequias, irrigation ditches, are here still carrying water to the mills and the fields where pumpkins, millet and other crops were being harvested.

The grains were prepared as they would have been in the 18th century; enormous round loaves of bread came out of cast iron cauldrons suspended over wood fires. They smelled wonderful, and the men dressed up in soldiers' uniforms were obviously enjoying their lunches.

There are orchards here too, and children lined up to press apples for cider. We had to pull our grandson away from this one, after he enthusiastically began testing the 'samples.' A vineyard offers grapes, and smaller kids got to climb into a little 'foot powered' press. The boy declined, but our granddaughter loved it. No samples of the wine, though.

The cider press

Feeding hungry soldiers

the herbalist
The dye pot

Herbs and native plants were vitally important to the early Spanish, and were used as seasonings, dyes, and medicines. There were a number of activities showing how they were used. Ladies in the hot sun in the church courtyard spun and embroidered, others prepared dyes and dipped wool yarns that dryed to vibrant colors.

In the afternoon, dancers and musicians entertained the crowds with  Spanish folk dances and colorful, twirling costumes, one more example of the unique cultural heritage of New Mexico.

It was a beautiful October day, sunny and breezy, towering trees taking on their autumn colors and giving blessed shade, flowing water never far away. It's easy to see what made New Mexico so attractive to our earliest colonists, and what makes it 'enchanted' even today.

Yarns dyed with cocchineal

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

State Fair, Flowers & Windmills

We made time this year to visit the State Fair. Haven't had time in the last several years, but always enjoy it. It should come as no surprise that I spend 90% of my visit inspecting flower beds and containers, and greening (as in with envy) over the vegetables and fruits entered in the agricultural exhibits. I always look at my pumpkins with a touch of chagrin after seeing the 800 to 1000 pound wonders sporting their blue ribbons. This year's biggest pumpkin was grown in Nob Hill!

We checked out the 4-H Exhibits, the products of New Mexico (the cattle ranchers went all out this year!), and the county displays. In addition to all the pecans, sheep, and peppers in the cases, I counted 14 windmills (I notice them now--our's is kind of iconic). Windmills have been vital to ranchers and farmers here for over a hundred years. Given our wind, that's no surprise. In the 1890's they were high tech, probably second only to the hose in revolutionizing agriculture.
In the wool shop, we watched volunteers weave, card and dye wool. They were using snakeweed for the color yellow. They use many native plants for dyes. In the photo, a yellow batch has been overdyed in indigo, and turns green, then blue, oxidizing in the air as we watched. Mesmerizing.

We saw some beautiful handicrafts. There were some amazing quilts--I bought raffle tickets for the balloon fiesta themed quilt in the photo.

We rode not one ride--not the ferris wheel, or the tilt-a-whirl, or the bungy thing-a-ma-jig. Wink ate curley fries, a hot dog, a corn dog, ice cream, TWO fried twinkies, and about a gallon of lemonade. Aly and I were more modest in consumption.