view from Mesa Winds Farm at sunrise
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Orchards 2008

Postharvest reflections

Sophia and her crew stacking and covering our just delivered packing boxes.

We purchased a 8x10 cooler just before peach harvest from Revolution Brewing, a Paonia nanobrewery that needed more patron space. That helped us keep our peaches and apples at peak postharvest quality.

Still we need more work getting our fruit to the customer in the best shape and quality possible.

Wink has agreed to create a MWF fruit grading system to help customers understand Mesa Winds Farm rules — and help us ensure consistent quality in our fruit packing. We will publish Wink's standards for ourselves and our customers in time for next year harvests.

One excellent regulation, COOL short for Country Of Origin Labeling which went into effect September 30 after years of so-called self-regulation will level the playing field. Fruits and vegetables with thousands of food miles, wear and nutrient degradation (but cheaper due to lower costs of production in foreign countries) cannot hide on the shelves among US produce.

It's also rumored that food safety laws and requirements will become effective sometime next year. This can help local producers if bureaucratic admin isn't a big nightmare or expense.

More and more, it's the fortunate eater that knows who's growing their food!

Fruit timing, market lessons

Since the micro irrigation wasn't completed, we managed water the same way as previously. We mowed, sprayed for codling moths, put out the pheromone ties and waited for the fruit to ripen. Maybe we operated on autopilot — not a good idea.

What seemed to be "late" fruit readiness to us was actually fruit ripening "on time." The past two years, peaches ripened a couple weeks early due to earlier warmer spring temperatures which felt "normal" to us. We were slow notifying our customers that our fruit would be later than last year. We were too slow lining up new customers for our bigger harvest.

A bountifully peach crop in the Northwest arrived on the scene before Colorado peaches were ready and drove down the price. The market was close to saturation with cheap fruit when Colorado peaches were ready. Yes, Colorado peaches are the best. Yes, they are very desirable. Yes, we weren't able to sell all our peaches in spite of that!

Peach growers in Palisade whose fruit ripens before ours left fruit on the tree since it wouldn't pay to harvest! The sheriff intervened when a grower pulled up near to a farm stand and started selling peaches at below wholesale out of his semi!

Jerry Mills, a grower and columnist for Fruit Growers News who has farmed in Missouri for most of his 80+ years faced the same thing with his apple crop. He said he wasn't going to dump his apples on the market just to lower the price for all the other farmers. I have to say that the free market does not always work (duh). It leads to waste and financial insecurity and discouragement for producers, sometimes even bankruptcy. Our food growing systems need some work and we hope to see that with the new administration.- M

Predator prey relationship

We found a beautiful predator prey relationship on this tree in our orchard. Wooly aphids are an orchard pest that can get out of hand. The lacewing attaches her eggs underneath the apple leaf next to a wooly apple aphid colony.The lacewing larvae penetrate the sticky covering and devour the aphids. Lacewings are the farmers friend.

Western Kingbird fledglings

In June, whenever we'd start down the row of Goldens, two squawking parent birds shot over the trees performing like circus acrobats. They were entertaining but obviously upset so we avoided them whenever we could. We were photographing salt damage on the apples when Max spotted the fledglings. They vacated shortly afterwards.

Sweet cherries in the hoophouse

Two of our star guests gave Max a "Big Save" by helping weed one morning.

2008 is the "second leaf" or second year for our indoor cherry trees. We haven't needed to put the plastic cover on the high tunnel hoop house frames, but will probably do so this winter. The space between the two rows were planted last year with melons, this year with potatoes.

We hope that we get a few cherries next summer. We are using Spanish Bush pruning on Mazzard rootstock and so far the trees look good.

Grafting apple trees in April

We traded our spare Kabota hood for scion wood. Wink knew he'd been lugging around this big piece of metal for 30 years for some reason. We asked our neighbor, Kevin Kropp of First Fruits Orchards for a demonstration since he's an expert. We could have grafted one tree with more than one variety of apple, but since we'd prepped about 100 trees, no need to double up.

Wink, Laura, Anno and Max were soon following Kevin's example which we show in the photos below.

Cutting scion wood when the bark "slips" in the spring.

Scion wood must wedge firmly between sapwood and bark of limb.

Grafting clay "glues" bark and helps seal out air.

Where a scaffold is missing, side grafts to trunk are possible.

Side graft with clay.

Special something Kevin does: stretchy electrical tape all around the amputation and sliced bark.

Our limb is looking like a real amputee now!

Grafting paint seals all open wounds, tape, and top end of scion wood.

Final tree, leader and 4 scaffolds.

If the graft takes, in a few weeks new leaves of a different apple variety appear.

Grafts are susceptible to wind damage and bumps. We don't know what happened to this graft but it's a reminder that grafts need reinforcement as they grow.

Deer damage: our biggest pests are deer — and that's in spite of deer fencing. The pressure of too many deer on Rogers Mesa makes them determined to become orchard bums, as farmers call them.


These are our oldest apples trees, Golden Delicious that are 60+ years, in December before pruning. Roll over this link to see what they look like in June!

Beginning in December orchardists begin pruning their apple trees. Peach and grape pruning waits until early spring. Peach pruning, those little wounds, causes the tree to bud earlier than it would otherwise endangering fruit set. Grapes are the opposite: pruning causes them to delay bud break which could hurt fruit flavor due to a shorter growing season.

If we wait too long to start pruning, that work pushes other farm work back and there's a saying in the valley, "Once you get behind, you can't catch up for the entire season."

Salvador is our main man when it comes to pruning. He's been guiding the trees-to-be for most of their lives and his.

Last fall, this cherry tree was chewed by sheep. Gordon demonstrates the technique of creating a bridge with small watersprout branches removed from higher on the tree. The bridge is so nutrients can flow again.


We decided to graft about 100 of our apples trees this spring and had our eye on Honeycrisps™ because our neighbors have plenty of that scion wood. However it's a licensed apple and they aren't sublicensed to sell it to us. Therefore, we decided to wait on that variety until the license expires November 09.

The apples of our eye might be heirloom varieties available through Tooley's Trees in Truchas, NM. He has red-fleshed crabs, hard cider apples, and many other varieties that might be suitable in our climate and market.

We met Gordon Tooley at the New Mexico Organic Farming Conference in Albuquerque. A pruning speaker mentioned she'd heard there was going to be a "bridge graft" performed somewhere after the conference.

This tantalizing lead (what's a bridge graft? orchard demo?), typical of the way rumors waft through a large body of people, spun me on my heels when I spotted bare root trees leaning against a table. Could this be a clue?

We remained in Albuquerque overnight at the Adobe and Roses Bed and Breakfast, which lived up to its romantic name delightfully, to watch Gordon display his talents with the damaged trees. We plan to visit his tree nursery in Truchas and bring scion wood back with us.

Gordon grows his stock organically, specifically to soils and climate similar to ours on Rogers Mesa. His nursery is located on the highroad between Santa Fe and Taos, at 7960'.

In the meantime, all apples but the two rows we plan to graft have been pruned and are ready for next season's blossom. More good news: the bees have made a few tentative trips from their hives and appear to have survived the winter.

Two cuts are made below and above the damage, the small branch whittled to follow its curve and connect flush with the trunk. Gordon works his way around the tree, inserting two pieces per cut, and securing just so with twine and/or tack.

When the tree has been circled with grafts, the wounds are covered with a combo of bees wax and turpentine. Gordon makes this look easy with the power of his concentration and experience. For us neophytes he recommended the recently reissued Grafters Handbook.
Peaches showing healthy red branches
Peaches showing healthy red branches.


The orchards look like they're sleeping, but quite a bit is happening to the trees. Exactly what isn't completely understood — somewhat similar to my winter dreams — doubtless we're all preparing for spring, or should be.

January 15, 16, & 17 is the Western Colorado Horticultural Society Annual Convention in Grand Junction. Wink and I are planning to go. We always get our imagination sparked up and that usually leads to better farming practices. One of the topics this year is "Taking the 'Art' out of pruning" so we're going to hold off on our own pruning until we hear what Ted DeJong has to say.

We're also installing a new irrigation system this year so lucky for us, there's a speaker discussing "Orchard irrigation principles."

We're grateful that winter is here, so trees and we can dream quietly for a spell. - M

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