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Effort Under Way to Save Apple Varieties

(Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2002 -- CropChoice news) -- ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- Wanted, alive: Old-growth apple trees.

Ron Walser and Estevan Arellano are trying to track down the gnarled old-timers whose family trees date back to Spanish colonial times.

They want to ensure the survival of heirloom apples -- and other old-time fruits and vegetables that have become acclimated to New Mexico -- for future generations.

``Some of these old varieties of apples had some excellent qualities that are going to be lost if we don't preserve them,'' said Walser, a New Mexico State University horticulturist and fruit specialist at Alcalde.

``They are disease-resistant, insect-resistant, drought-resistant, and just the qualities of the apples themselves -- processing, eating and storage,'' he said.

Walser, Arellano and others are searching for heirloom orchards along the Camino Real -- the colonial Spanish road that ran from Santa Fe to central Mexico.

Arellano, who has a 2 1/2-acre orchard in Embudo on land his family received under a 1725 Spanish land grant, said saving New Mexico's old-line fruits and vegetables is important for the state's cultural heritage.

Most orchards in northern New Mexico are not producing, and Arellano worries that water rights could be in jeopardy.

``A lot of people have cut down orchards to make room for mobile homes. We have to show people that, while maybe you can't live completely off the land, that maybe you can make some extra income,'' he said.

Arellano is working with New Mexico State's Sustainable Agricultural Research Center at Alcalde to plant a colonial heritage orchard on a 2-acre plot behind the Embudo Valley Library in Dixon.

Root stocks are being ordered and should be planted by next spring. Then, workers will begin collecting bud wood and grafting the wood from old trees around the state onto the root stocks.

Walser, Arellano and their team plan to plant 50 apple root stock trees on the library plot. Each root stock will be able to take grafts from several different varieties. They also plan to plant 10 apricot root stock trees.

There may be more than 100 different heirloom fruit varieties along the Camino Real, including some from Spanish colonial days, Walser said. He said he has identified about 15 different varieties so far.

One tree, on the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, is probably more than 100 years old and appears to be planted from a seed that has its roots in Spain, Walser said.

``It's an excellent quality yellow apple. The tree is growing about 100 yards away from a stream. It's never had any care or anything,'' he said. ``It must be a good tree for its area.''

Three other trees at the monument produce small, hard, tart apples ``which would indicate they are an old apple cider variety,'' Walser said.

He said he has found a tree in Abiquiu and another in the Cloudcroft area -- both Starking delicious varieties -- that originated in Iowa.

A reddish Baldwin apple growing in the Hondo area can trace its lineage back to a chance seedling in Wilmington, Mass., in 1740, Walser said.

A tree in Santa Fe is bearing a sort of russeted, golden delicious apple that appears to be a Grimes golden, he said.

``It originated in West Virginia prior to 1800. Actually, I think that this Grimes golden is one of the parents of the modern golden delicious,'' Walser said.

Growers are interested in propagating old, hardy varieties, he said.

``They're starting to develop a pretty good niche market for them,'' Walser said.

Arellano said he has started growing about 25 different heirloom varieties of apples on his land.

``I think cider is such a huge market that we haven't even tapped,'' he said.

New Mexico State University's College of Agriculture and Home Economics: http://cahe.nmsu.edu/news |