Friday, November 15, 2013

November Field Trip--Tooley's Orchard

Dwight  in front of the grafting greenhouse
A dozen of us converged on Gordon Tooley's Trees in November for the opportunity to tour his nursery/orchard, and explore his growing experience. You can read a thousand books, but nothing fires interest in growing fruit like witnessing someone else's success.

Gordon and Margaret grow on about ten acres near Truchas NM at almost 8,000 feet (there goes my last excuse!). The site is beautiful, and worth the trip even if you have zero interest in plants (not the case with our covetous group). The mountains were tipped with the first snows of the season, but the day was perfect, warm and sunny. We started with lunch which always mellows us, and may contribute to the way we stretch a one hour walk into three!

Gordon does most of his own grafting, and the first year bench grafts go into the ground in nursery rows, all dug by hand, underplanted with clovers, native lupine, native grasses and beneficials. The cardinal rule of holistic orcharding is "no bare soil." Gordon and Margaret plant seed every year, and by returning organic material to the soil, the dirt is loose and moisture retentive. Amazing to see 10 plus acres in New Mexico covered lushly with grasses and desirable natives drawing no more water than the spillover from the irrigated rows of fruit trees.

Michael Phillips' holistic orcharding books have been influential, and Gordon follows many of the principles of biodynamic growing as well including using fermented sprays of nettle and comfrey on his plants and soil. He has switched from the ubiquitous black plastic pots to growing bags--they have a fibrous lining that prevents circling, and keep roots much healthier. Instead of spraying pesticides, he uses ipm practices--a pheromone laced plastic ring helps keep coddling moth down, interrupting their breeding. Bats, bluebirds, bees, and native beneficials are unpaid but vital workers. Annual applications of humates feeds the soil.

Gordon has a strong interest in heirloom varieties, and travels the state gathering scionwood for grafting, helping growers revitalize old plantings, and ensuring that new hybrids like the Tijeras Sweet he donated to our auction aren't lost. Some of the heirlooms listed in his catalog for next year are Ashmead's Kernel, Baldwin, Cherry Pearmain, and Winter Red Flesh (the one I brought home) among others.

The slow food movement has spurred cider making, and Gordon has a number of apples perfect for cider including Brown Snout--and is adding new ones. We were treated to a hard cider tasting with intern Martha sharing tips about the ciders donated by enthusiast, Bill Lyon.

Gordon also offers apricots, pears, cherries, plums, currant, rhubarb, and elderberry. He has a nice selection of native and adapted trees and shrubs that are well suited to NM growing conditions. The eglantine rose was all but hidden by the red hips! I was really tempted by the hawthorns but space did not permit.

Gordon also grows bramble fruit, and has just put up a new hoophouse for that purpose. At their altitude, the berries are just hitting full production when freezing begins. The protection of the hoop will allow them to extend their season by some weeks. I have been toying with using one of our empty hoops for the same purpose--definitely more exciting than micro-greens.

Tooley's sells both wholesale and retail. Their season resumes in April, Friday-Sunday (during the week by appt.) There is more info at the website,, and you can request a catalog by calling 505-689-2400.

We drove back to Cedar Crest, and were welcomed by the smell of homemade soup and bread, ending our meeting as it began, with a meal. Thank you Pat!

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