Saturday, 05 October 2013 17:12

When It's Apple Picking Time Down In Tesuque

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My father must have had a secret fantasy to be a farmer because, in 1956, he moved our growing family from our ancestral home on La Vereda to a two-story adobe house in the middle of a Tesuque orchard.  For my brother and me it was a mixed blessing.  On the one hand, we could roam among the hills and arroyos, fish in the Tesuque River and the ponds and hang out with people like woodcarver Andy Anderson and saddle maker Slim Green.  On the other hand, we were expected to be the hired farmhands.  And the pay wasn’t much.

The Tesuque Valley then was primarily agricultural.  There were numerous orchards, truck gardens, a chicken and egg ranch and a dairy within walking distance of our home.  Both sides of the river were irrigated by a series of acequias and the amount of water one received was based on how much property you had to water.  In our case, we had about an acre of fruit trees around the house and another acre of trees up the lane behind the house.  This was a mature orchard, consisting of 3 different varieties of apples, a cherry tree, some pear and plum trees, a few apricot trees and quite a few peach trees.  We soon learned that one didn’t just water and wait until fall to reap the harvest.  There was always something to be done during the summer months, and my brother and I did a lot of it.  Our house included all of the tools necessary to maintain the orchard.  Shovels and hoes for cleaning out the ditches, 12 foot tall folding ladders, pruning saws, devices to grasp the highest fruit, picking bags and bushel baskets.  In the late spring we pruned out all of the dead branches and cleaned the ditches.  Once that was done, the irrigating began.

Our acequia water allotment was for 2 hours twice a week.  You walked up to the main ditch, closed the big gate and opened the gate that sent the water to our place.  You then opened a series of small gates, one at a time, and flooded everything.  When the 2 hours had passed, you walked back up to the main ditch, closed the small gate and opened the big gate to send the water down to the next user.  The timing was essential because, if you were late starting you would lose that water, and, if you were late finishing and sending the water on down, your neighbor would be at your doorstep.  All of this seemed like a pretty fun job except for one thing.  Our allotted 2 hours were from 3:00 AM to 5:00 AM.  My dad thought that this would be a good way to teach my brother and me responsibility (not to mention allowing him to sleep,) so he showed us how to do the job once, bought us an alarm clock and some flashlights, and wished us luck.  I hated that job.

The fall, however, was magical.  It was like living in the middle of the Garden of Eden.  The whole Valley smelled like apples and there was fruit hanging everywhere.  We ate it all day long – apples, pears, peaches, apricots, cherries and plums.  My mom made countless jars of apricot and peach jam, applesauce and pies.  But there was still far more fruit than the family could use, so back to work we went, picking the rest of the fruit.  We had picking bags, which were made of canvas with an open bottom.  They were worn on the front of your chest and the bottom was folded up and fastened with a clip.  After the bag was full (about a bushel) the bottom was unclipped and the fruit was dumped into a basket.  These were not used for peaches, as the fruit was too soft and would bruise in the bag.  Peaches were picked by hand, one at a time, and deposited in the baskets.

In the 1950s, many of the orchards and gardens sold their produce by the side of the road.  My dad agreed to let my brother and me keep the proceeds of whatever we sold, so one Saturday we took a few baskets of fruit, a couple of folding chairs and a small table out to the side of the road and waited for customers.  To our great surprise, they came and stopped.  The going rate for fruit was two dollars per bushel for apples and five dollars per bushel for peaches.  We had about 5 bushels of peaches, which sold out immediately.  The 20 bushels of apples took longer, but by the end of the day they were gone and we had the princely sum of sixty-five dollars.  This was an enormous amount of money for 2 boys in the 1950s and we decided that all of the work was worthwhile.  Had we taken the time to calculate the amount of labor, we would have discovered that we probably made less than ten cents an hour.

We discovered another use for apples that was much more fun.  By poking an apple on the end of a 3 foot long stick, one could hold the other end and throw the apple a long way.  A really long way.  It was an apple atlatl and we began having apple wars.  When we tired of this, we began launching them toward a neighbor’s metal roofed house about 100 yards behind us.  It took her a while to figure out what was clanging on her roof and, when she did, my parents were not amused.

Today, Tesuque is all estates and galleries.  There are still a few producing orchards (the apples in the photo above came from the orchard that is across the street from our old house.)  And the roadside stands are long gone.


--Mike Lord

Read 2431 times Last modified on Thursday, 24 October 2013 01:01
Mike Lord

4th generation Santa Fe Gringo.


  • Comment Link Mike Lord Sunday, 06 October 2013 19:31 posted by Mike Lord

    Thanks, Ed. I think I can answer all of your questions. Our house was the Stedman house 3 houses north of El Nido, on the same side of the road. We rented the house from Myrtle Stedman, who had a big ranch about 2 miles north, just before the ponds. The Melvin's store was a regular hangout where we could buy sodas, candy and popsicles - not to mention .22 bullets. Mr. Melvin was a sweet, sweet man. I knew Mrs. Dunkens, but we were closer to Melvins so that's where we went. Also knew Mr. Easterday, the Bells and the Beatys. Spent a lot of time at the ponds and once, when they were draining them, we shot a 4 foot long carp with my .22 and dragged it home. The Williams Egg Ranch (now Shidoni) was the ranch in my story. We couldn't have had a better place to be boys.

  • Comment Link ed Saiz Sunday, 06 October 2013 05:09 posted by ed Saiz

    Mike; your story is great, especially since that's where I grew up
    I am still trying to figure out exactly where you lived. Do you remember "Williams Ranch?" Is that the egg ranch in your story?
    Do you remember the Stedmans ranch? The Melvins store/gas station/grocery store? (now a restaurant) Mrs Dunkens, who had
    a store & Post Office? and finally what about Mr. Easterday?, Did you know him? My friends and I would take a salt shaker from home and climb an apple tree, while they were still green, sit up
    in the tree and eat until we couldn't eat any more, then often
    sneak down to where the Pueblo Indians had the big ponds and
    go swimming. A splendid story that brings back good memories.
    Thank You Mike.

  • Comment Link Arthur Scott Saturday, 05 October 2013 18:40 posted by Arthur Scott

    Great story, man! A lemonade stand supermarket.

  • Comment Link Jim Baca Saturday, 05 October 2013 18:09 posted by Jim Baca

    Thanks, Mike for the great story!

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