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Hidden orchard welcomes visitors


Butterflies, bees, families, teachers and artists are all welcome at U-Pick Mesilla Valley Apples off Shalem Colony Trail, where the apple trees are currently in full bloom.

Orchard manager LuAnne Burke wants people to visit and enjoy the orchard in its full glory. If they have a little extra time to paint blooms with pollen or pick up some of the sticks fallen between trees, she would be grateful too, but mostly she would like to share the wonder of nature and life.

Burke owns Apple of Joy and leases the apple orchard from the Burke family trust. The orchard is called U-Pick Mesilla Valley Apples and the home-bakery that supports the orchard is called Apple of Joy Home-Bakery, also known as Pom de Joie.

“I called the orchard on Facebook ‘U-Pick Mesilla Valley Apples’ because most people did not know we existed,” Burke said. “They only thought of apples growing in the mountains of New Mexico.”

She said the core function of the business is to provide a green place where families and individuals can experience the healing joys of being in nature and creating lasting memories and having fun. It is also to provide health to the community by offering an affordable way to be together in nature and do an activity together that is free from commercialism. It is a way to build experiences and enjoy “tasty, yummy apples that are healthy and free of artificial fungicides usually seen on store apples,” Burke said.

The area we live in, especially for people from El Paso, does not offer many opportunities to be outside in a lush, green environment, Burke said.

“Many people live in apartments or do not have a lot of green grass around them,” she said. “During the growing season, the orchard is lush and green. It is an oasis for the eyes and soul.”

Burke said from a young child gleefully exclaiming, “Apple… tree…apple” and reaching out to touch an apple to older children learning about pollination, the apple orchard offers children a real way to learn.

“I want to educate kids and people about pollination, and I want to invite teachers to do a Zoom class out there,” Burke said. “That way the kids can see the way we pollinate apples and see the teachers even paint pollen on an apple and we can follow that blossom and see if it creates an apple or not.”

Because most of the trees in the orchard are red delicious, they must be pollenated from a different variety. Red delicious are a sterile variety, Burke said, while some other varieties are self-pollinating. And at her orchard, there are a few other varieties that can contribute the pollen needed for bees to spread, but she supplements by purchasing more and paints it on the blooms.

“Unfortunately, if you have cross pollinators that don’t have blossoms, there is only a pretty short window of time to get it done,” she said. “Red delicious require pollination from another variety, or the blossoms blow away and there won’t be any apples.”

So, Burke is out in the orchard painting with pollen. She said she sees the blossom as a catcher’s mitt, she aims for the center of the flower and hopes the bees will catch the pollen and spread it to even more flowers by the wind.

“I learned in social work that you can either spend time trying to jump in and save people drowning in the river or you can build a bridge and prevent people from falling in the river,” she said. “Although it is simple and small, I have seen that this apple orchard can build a bridge. It can help families that are struggling to communicate. I have seen teenagers and parents walk into the orchard where it was so tense between them, the air could be cut with a knife. And then, walking out they were joking and laughing together. It can be a place where people of all ages can build experiences together.”

The farm is located off Shalem Colony Trail, where Burke bakes in her permitted home-based kitchen and delivers or sells at Mesilla’s farmer’s and craft market.

Orchard visits are available by appointment.

“We want to provide a place for people to enjoy the orchard and beautiful open space we have but also do it in a safe manner,” she said. “People can sponsor a tree to help us pay for expensive pruning so we can remove diseased branches in the winter and plant new trees in the spring. By appointment, they can visit the orchard and see the seasons changing. They can take photos and bring a picnic.”

Burke said Las Cruces apples are extra tasty because the city elevation is high and there is a wide fluctuation in temperature.

“It makes the perfect apple,” she said. “The fluctuation makes the sugar go up and down in the apple and you get layers of flavor instead of just one note.”

Anyone interested in the apple orchard or interested in ordering a fresh-baked pie or apple cake can call 575-523-7437 or email applepieplease@gmail.com.