After four years at our old property, it finally occured to us to wonder:
Why is there only a single, lonely old apple tree here, hanging by its exposed roots to the banks of the irrigation ditch?
And why, in four years, have we never seen an apple on this tree?
Why do none of our nearby neighbors have fruit trees, either?
This place should have been a homesteader's dream. There have been people living here for centuries -- we've found pottery
shards all over in the soil, pieces of micaceous clay pots stained with Pueblo designs. The Spanish settled this area in the
Up and down the valleys all around Northern New Mexico, there are old homesteads with old fruit trees.
Why not here?
We finally figured it out: Because cold sinks.
In 2001, Kristen (who was working at a newspaper in Santa Fe at the time) moved all by herself-- well, OK, with 2 dogs
and a handful of chickens -- to this 23-acre property in a small village in southern Taos County, New Mexico. Her
intent at the time: To farm echinacea and some other medicinal herbs.
Kristen and Avrum were 0ff-and-On dating at the time -- they once broke up over a rotten orange, according to Nikolai's
Family Mythology. But eventually, after much emotional ruckus, they got married on Sept. 14, 2002. Kristen got pregnant
with Ella several days later.
Avrum and Nik moved up here that year, and Ella came along, followed shortly by Silas. Avrum's mom joined us the week
Ella was born. Thus began the life of Boxcar Farm.
It started with garlic. Avrum and his mother had been growing specialty garlics down in Torrance County for several
years, developing a beautiful display and fashion of braiding.
But over the last three years, the farm has evolved from a simple garlic business to something much more
elaborate. An entire acre is under cultivation (nevermind if our definiton of "under cultivation" is "plowed so the weeds
have more room to grow").
We have a small nursery business growing high-altitude vegetable starts. Also, we have put in trials of several strawberry
varieties (if you haven't tasted a home-grown strawberry in a while, you ought to see if you can find some-- they are infinitely
better than storebought). We have planted nearly 100 peony bushes, 2,000 square feet of sunflowers, a cut flower
garden, thousands of onions, rhubarb, asparagus, and some open-pollinated heirloom pumpkins in really funky shades of green
and white. We sell herbs, both medicinal and culinary, and we're working on cool-climate veggie crops like specialty lettuces
(arugula, etc) and root crops such as carrots and beets.
The problem: 65-degree temperature swings.
After four springs at our old farm, it became increasingly obvious that we couldn't grow things there because our spring
nights were brutal. We're at the very bottom of a valley, with high ridges on both sides-- our property was the last one before
the creek dumps into a deep canyon. Ask a meteorologist: Cold really does sink. The canyon was a funnel for the
cold coming off the 13,000 foot mountain peaks above us -- our 65-year-old neighbor, who has lived there since birth,
called it a "weather siphon."
In spring, we'd get slammed -- night after night -- with really hard frosts. Even rhubarb (one of the most cold-hardy
of all perennials) hates it there. We had several July frosts wipe out entire pumpkin crops.
Meanwhile, friends with gardens at 9,000 feet -- uphill -- had good crops of things we dared not even try. They
had fruit -- plums, apricots, cherries, peaches. We had a single, gnarly old apple tree with no apples.
Of the four springs we were there, our lilac bush only fully bloomed once -- because bizarre frosts in mid-May kill the
Right after a 22-degree June 6 frost in 2005, we got exasparated, and, on one of those larks we probably
should never have followed, went out to look at some properties for sale in the general area. We thought: Let's go higher.
The first afternoon, Kristen found the new place, despite exceedingly bad directions from the real estate agent.
The next day, we all met the agent out at the new property so we could see inside the new "house" (which really was more of
a mud shack). As it turned out, she didn't have the right key to the place, so we started looking for a window that wasn't
locked. We found one, and Avrum was holding it open so Kristen could crawl in. There on the window ledge: a garlic press.
Hmmm. A good omen.
A local contractor has estimated it will take $50,000 to make the place functional and liveable. That's not money we
had. But we were willing to take the risk. Surely the money will turn up, somehow. Someday.
Our new farm is gorgeous-- 26 irrigated acres with a streambed, giant oaks and junipers, plus 6 acres of hillside with
ponderosa pine and other shrubs. There are dozens and dozens of old fruit trees, some wild raspberries and gooseberries, and
gigantic old poplar trees. There is plenty of water, including an acequia fed by a mountain spring. Less than a mile up an
old rutted road, there is a creek that comes out of the high mountains.
And the best thing of all: There's fruit on the trees.