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Our first garden here. Mesquites in horse pasture are now pistachioes.

Our little farm started out when we bought one acre in Catalina, next to the Rulaja Arabian horse ranch, in 1975.  I was looking around at the trees and the mountains, and Wayne was picking up the soil and checking out its texture and fertility.   Before long we had a 50 by 100 foot vegetable garden, and a freezer full of corn and cauliflower.  Several years down the road the horse ranch sold some of its property, and we had 5 more acres.  This was the start of the pistachio orchard. 

We put in the well in 1979, and started hundreds of pistachio seedlings, 300 of which were planted... a whole orchard of two inch trees!  For that story, see The Pistachio Orchard below.  In time the horse ranch sold some more land, and we had 5 more acres.  We would grow corn, melons, acorn squash, even lettuce and green onions in large quantities just trying to see what would sell and how we could sell it.  What we couldn't sell went to the Food Bank.  Meanwhile we'd made use of the tree bowls around the young pistachios and planted asparagus. 

We sold seedless watermelons on the corner of Golder Ranch and Oracle before anyone ever saw them in the stores, and even before Bashas moved to Tucson, nevermind to that corner.  We went to the Tanque Verde Swap Meet when it was still on Tanque Verde and Grant Rd. and sold produce.  We sold to a "middle woman" who sold our asparagus at the St. Phillips Plaza farmer's market.  We sold at the farmer's market downtown in the parking lot of the B&B. 

Finally we started selling right from the house, "Fresh Local" corn and asparagus, with a series of cardboard box signs leading the way.  That felt as temporary as it sounds, so we laid low for a few years and figured out how to really do this right.  Of course that took money, but in time Wayne and Jesse put up a shed, and we had a shed painting party.  The dogs and rabbits told us we had to fence in the annual crops, so we did. 

In the summer of 2002 we opened "Our Garden" as a pick your own.  It didn't take long to see we'd be more efficient by selling out of the garden shed, thus protecting vegetable crops and guests from injuring each other.  We grew more tomatoes to try to keep up with the demands of the birds, and eventually enclosed those tomatoes with netting to try to keep up with the demands of the people.  We also generally net the grapes and peaches, but sometimes open them up to pick your own when we just can't keep up with the birds. 

When Jesse took over from his dad he continued to expand the planting, and decided to stay open year round.  He started growing greens in the winter and covering with frost cloth, something we just did not have time for originally.  Now he's noticing the need for more time too, and is balancing that with a little winter time off and more volunteers.  He also initiated harvesting enough of the pistachio crop to be able to offer them for sale.  And now coming up soon we'll have a Face Book page.  Who knew!

Wow, I just updated this page a bit and am realizing we've about added another paragraph to our history already.  No wonder I feel older!

When the old Troy Built was new (and Wayne was too)

The Pistachio Orchard

People keep showing great interest in the pistachios, and not just in eating them.  This 4 acre orchard was what got the ball rolling some 25 years ago.  Wayne had been in grad school at the U of A, in horticulture, and doing his thesis on pistachio cultivation when the opportunity to buy 5 acres from our neighbor, Rulaja, came up.  Finally the thesis gave in to the orchard.. he's just a doing kind of guy, and had had enough of school by then, ready to learn on the job. 

That whole orchard was put in with only a rented Ditch Witch to trench for irrigation lines, and our old Troy Built rototiller.  We started hundreds of pistachio seeds, bought from a grower in AZ.  These little guys were transplanted in over 300 sites.  After a couple years the ones who survived were ready for budding.  The ones who weren't were replaced, and we are still replacing trees to this day for various reasons.

Once the trees had grown enough, we planted asparagus around each of them.  Each tree had a border to contain its water, a tree well, and we made use of that border with the asparagus.  This is the asparagus we sold at St. Phillips Plaza, downtown at a Farmer's Market, and from the house with the cardboard signs.  It really hit home when we realized we were paying our kids more to harvest the asparagus than we were making selling it!  That is the reality of agribusiness in the US today.

So those tree seedlings are the rootstocks, the variety of pistachio whose root system will do the best in these growing conditions.  When you come to our gate, if you look left you will see 2 of these unbudded rootstock varieties fully grown.  They are huge and beautiful, low maintenance and low water use trees.  The buds that are slipped into the bark of the rootstocks are the varieties that give the best nuts for eating. Once in the orchard you will see how different in appearance these trees are.  The only similarity to the rootstock variety is the rougher bark at the bottom, and that line marks where the tree was budded.

They generally give a heavy crop on alternate years, and 2007 should be one of those.  The nuts ripen in the fall, and harvesting means knocking them out of the trees with a piece of PVC pipe.  (The big boys use tree shaking machines.)  They fall onto a tarp and are collected and previously they were taken to our processing table, where we would rub the husks off.  Now we are "mechanized" with a commercial potato peeler for the husking.  This has to be done within 24 hours, and then we sun dry them.  They can be rinsed in a brine solution and seasoned, and dried again, or can be eaten as is, my favorite way.  If there are any left I store them in the freezer.

View from our house toward future site of Our Garden. That's a horse leaning over the fence.

nuts still in their husks

We had our first 2 harvests with friends Sept. 28 and 30, 2004.  I had started taking down names and phone numbers of the people who kept asking about harvesting, and we ended up with 2 small groups, just right for testing the waters, five of us the first day (including Jesse and myself), and ten the second day.  We know we won't be set up to sell the nuts in our stand for several years, as there are so many other projects that need attention, but this gave some of you a chance to try the nuts and experiment with your own seasonings and with drying or roasting.  And now these people can spread the word that as a non-mechanized project this is extremely labor intensive!  But it felt like a barn raising party (w/o the beer, etc, but maybe Michael can fix that one this year....) so now I'm thinking  nevermind the dehusking machine, we just need more tarps and a couple more dehusking tables so we can handle 3 times as many people!  THANKS to everyone who participated in our first fumbling effort.  You have continued to raise the good vibes of this place.

PS~ Almost 10 years later Jesse decided that buying a commercial potato peeler (AKA dehusking machine) was easier than organizing crews of people, and he has managed to produce nuts for sale when the crops allow.  Now the experimentation involves seasoning- to salt or not to salt, and how much?

The first pistachio crew, Sept. 2004

Jesse started work at an early age.

Contact us at ourgardencatalina@gmail.com