by Diane Young
Apple in Spanish is manzana. I was recently enjoying some apple strudel a la mode at Petra’s in La Penita when I wondered if apples grow in Mexico. “Ja, sure, I live in Mexico, so I buy Mexican apples,” and she handed me one. It was greenish-yellow, like a cousin of a Golden Delicious, a bit bigger on one side than the other with a small bruise. It would never have passed muster in the produce section of an American supermarket. It looked nothing like the apples I see in Don Pedro–identical Galas or Braeburns in size, shape, color, and Pledge-shiny, with peel-off stickers bearing scanner codes and variety names.
I took the apple with me to eat later. It was crisp with a delicious flavor. Hmmm. So I did some digging.
Growing apples in Mexico is a challenge. While labor is cheap, growing conditions are terrible. The high deserts of Chihuahua aren’t cold enough long enough in the winter, so sometimes the trees don’t get enough chillin’ time. Without enough cold dormancy, the trees don’t know when or how to bloom properly, resulting in iffy harvests.
You’d think the apple orchards in the Sierra Madre Mountains would look similar to the orchards in Vermont or Alberta. Wrong. The orchards are on pancake-flat dry valleys with the mountains off in the distance.
However, these desert valleys are still cold in the spring, so wind machines, oil heaters and irrigation systems have to be used in the orchards. The next obstacle is that there really isn’t much water in Mexico. The shortage of water is a constant issue when you get away from the cities. Many small villages have only one common well or water spigot for all to share.
When the water supply fails, orchards die quickly. California growers have experienced that financial heartbreak, ending in cutting down their dead trees to sell for firewood. An abandoned Mexican orchard of dead ghost trees in a dusty valley doesn’t look like an abandoned, weed-choked and overgrown green orchard in Ontario or Michigan. These can be rejuvenated in a year with a good clean-up, pruning, fertilizing and spraying for insects and plant disease like mildew.
One notion is that Mexican growers should give up on the uphill struggle of growing apples and stick to the fruit crops that grow well in their area. But according to the FRUIT GROWERS’ NEWS, Mexican apple growers are still pushing ahead. They’re planting new root stocks more compatible with their growing conditions, redesigning their orchards, learning new techniques and striving to grow apples for a market that is bigger than their capacity to fill. An ambitious plan,so they’re hoping American growers won’t undercut their expanding markets by flooding Mexico with lower priced apples. But hopefully tensions have eased between U.S. and Mexican growers, as a more cooperative spirit develops. But regardless of where they are grown, apples in Mexico are expensive.
Manzana strudel, anyone?
Mexico is 30th on the list of apple producing countries with under 400,000 tonnes. The main global producers are (thanks Wikipedia for this chart):
Canada comes in at 35th with under 300,000