What is Pistachio Tree Ranch?
A fully integrated pistachio operation of approximately 12,000 trees planted on 94 acres of desert land near Alamogordo, New Mexico. Seedlings are grown, bud-grafted, planted, and nourished for twenty years or more before maturing into production that lasts for hundreds of years. Here, at Pistachio Tree Ranch, the nuts are harvested in late August through mid-September, processed, sorted, and stored under refrigeration while waiting roasting and salting, packaging and sales throughout these United States.
Fourteen acres of grapes form another fully integrated operation. Many varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer and Chenin Blac are grown, processed and developed into award winning wines in Arena Blanca Winery. Grapes and nuts!! A wonderful combination that responds excellently to the knowledgeable hands of Timothy and the old man, Tom.
The two families live on and work the farm. Ten employees package and handle retail sales out of the farm’s two retail outlets, McGinn’s Country Stores, distinguished by all-log construction and bright blue roofs.
Processing sheds, cool-room harvest storage shed, retail stores within miles of the western town of Alamogordo and the winery all form points of interest for arranged tours…111 acres of what hard work, help from the good Lord and our customer’s support have produced.
When did Pistachio Tree Ranch start?
In 1976, Tom made a trip into the southern area of New Mexico to visit the small town of Alamogordo. An older brother of Tom (then 47 years of age) stationed at the Holloman AFB near Alamogordo and the White Sands National Park, suggested that Tom and family come out and visit. The family did so and found small pistachio groves thriving in the hot, very dry climate. Government weather records indicated that Iran, the largest producer of pistachios in the world, and Alamogordo weather was near identical. A Harvey Widner (or some spelling to that effect) had planted small groves of pistachio trees in the Tularosa Basin and the nut trees thrived, confirming the weather support for growing pistachios.
Tom convinced his wife that a dream could be realized, purchased desert acreage and then returned to New Jersey to continue managing the production of Thomas’ English Muffins in Totowa. Finally, too excited to hold the dream back, Tom, his wife, and young son, Timothy, left New Jersey in 1981 to take up being farmers. Two wells, drilled down 336 feet had been accomplished in 1979 and 1980. A next-door neighbor, contracted as ‘manager’, planted the first 10 acres with FFA resources. The water at Pistachio Tree Ranch is 3000 ppm of calcium and magnesium salts…the pistachio thrives on the salinity. Reverse osmosis equipment is used to produce drinking water.
It was slow, demanding, and fiscal hardship for the next ten years. A total of 39 acres were finally planted, and the rest of the desert land to the north of the small farm had been purchased. The farm would become the state’s largest contiguous planting of pistachio groves. It took much labor of love to achieve the development of the farm.
Tim, graduating from New Mexico State University and marrying a young lady, became an equal partner with his father in the 111-acre adventure. Planting of acres with home grown pistachio seedlings is a long process and only completed in 1999. Grape acreage was added in the early eighties. Grapes now amount to 14 acres of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon (Gold Medal winner two years in a row), Gewurztraminer, Zinfandel and Merlot are additional major varieties.
Pistachio Nut Facts:
Harvested once a year, normally in September, the varieties, Joley and Kerman, produce about 15 pounds per tree of saleable nuts. On one acre, there are 133 female and 18 male trees spaced at 17ft. by 17ft., just wide enough to allow the tree shaking equipment to easily go through the groves. The female produces the clusters of nuts. The male tree produces pollen. The pollen is ‘wind blown’ over to the ready, young female clusters in April—the fertilizing process. Bee pollination does not exist in pistachio groves.
The pistachio tree has been known to produce forever…there is history dating back 5000 years to the time of the Queen of Sheba and later, to Cleopatra, of orchards that still exist in Turkey, Iran and a few other areas of what was called ‘The Persian Empire.
The shaker equipment, in late August or early September, places an arm with a clamp at the base of the female tree. The shaker causes it to vibrate for 10 seconds or so, catching the mature nuts in a canopy that conveys the harvest into a field bin.
The field bin is removed from the shaker equipment, and hauled to a processing shed where the outer skin, a pale strawberry color at maturity, is removed. The nut is floated in tanks of water to separate out the developed nut from the hollow nuts…”hollows’ quantities vary year by year and can be as much as 30% of the harvest.
The removal of the skin can find that up to 85% of the developed nuts are split. A natural occurrence when the ovary or nut outgrows the shell causing it to split.
Both the closed shell and open shell nuts are dried to 5% meat moisture over 20 hours in gas dryers, and then stored in bins in a cool room at 50 degrees Fahrenheit to maintain quality of flavor and freshness.
As buying demands arise, the in-shell split nuts are roasted and salted (lightly) and packaged in a variety of sizes. Flavoring of the in-shell splits with Red Chili, Green Chili, Garlic, Lemon-Lime or just as ‘naturals’ was first developed by growers in California. However, each grower has his or her secret recipes.
The closed shell is split apart with special equipment invented by Tom. The nutmeats are roasted, salted, or not salted if so ordered, and flavored just as the in-shell splits.
The New Mexico high desert grown pistachios have a special flavor as thousands of consumers across these United States are well aware of and write to Tom and Tim of their praise. Very low priced and less flavorful pistachio nuts sold in the discount stores actually encourage sales of New Mexico grown nuts…the flavor, with God’s help and an altitude of 4500 feet, like mountain-grown coffee from Colombia and Costa Rica, makes it a much sought-after pistachio to consume.
Today, the McGinn family is tired, but very proud to offer a premium pistachio product, pistachio candies, and award winning wines to all who want the ‘best’ and at reasonable pricing.