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Daily Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Living off the Land

June 23, 1998

Cantaloupes touch entire community

Feature Writer
From a purely economic stand-point, nothing happens until
the sale is made. But, oh, the distance traveled once the
cantaloupes begin to roll! During the cantaloupe season most
every citizen of Pecos, Texas, is affected one way or
another by its economic impact.

Two months before the harvest begins, Trey Miller,
cantaloupe salesman for Pecos Cantaloupe Sheds, Inc., begins
long hours on the telephone and long trips on the road
making contact with the volume buyers of the locally grown

"It's not so much selling the cantaloupes as it is
satisfying the customer," says Miller.

Predicting the exact time the cantaloupes will mature is
essential to the marketing effort. Chain stores prepare
their advertising a month in advance, and the cantaloupes
have to be in the store on the day the ad hits.

"Meeting the demand can be a big problem for us sometimes,
because everybody wants to be first," Miller said. "We have
no scientific way of knowing when the melons will be ready
to come off. It's a wild guess at best, but we have to be

When the melons do come off, and the hundreds of workers
descend on the Pecos community, good things begin to happen

Dudley Montgomery, President of Security State Bank in
Pecos, said, "The cantaloupe crop creates a much needed cash
flow during the summer months which is a slow time of year."

Migrant farm laborers play a vital role in supplying the
necessary labor to harvest the melons from the fields. When
they move on, they will have left a large portion of their
wages behind in the retail stores of Pecos.

Truckers occupy motel rooms, buy fuel locally, and eat in
Pecos restaurants.

Many local residents use the cantaloupe harvest as a catch
up time for family funds. The part-time jobs available in
the sheds are a boon to many under-employed families.

"In Pecos, the cantaloupes are a very positive influence
during the summer months," says Bruce Duston, President and
CEO of First National Bank. "This year's crop looks good,
and we are anticipating a good season. Bank deposits will
increase, and this is always a plus for the community as a
whole," Duston says.

Pecos cantaloupes are widely accepted by consumers. They
create an economic impact on the Pecos community. This
generates a certain amount of civic pride and support from
the town.

Pecos Mayor, Dot Stafford, said, "Pecos cantaloupes are a
unique commodity. No one else can grow 'em, and they are
certainly among the world's finest."

Mayor Stafford is the daughter of former cantaloupe farmer,
A.R. Elliott. She says, "I was raised on a cantaloupe farm."

Stafford also said that no municipal money is used in the
promotion of Pecos cantaloupes. However, the Mayor and City
Council are happy to accommodate such things as the "Night
In Old Pecos Cantaloupe Festival" by closing streets,
re-routing traffic, and crowd control.

Local super market manager, Sammy Villareal, says, "La
Tienda likes Pecos cantaloupes because they are consistent
in size and quality. Also, they are vine ripened, as opposed
to those shipped green from other areas. Any year, they
out-sell melons from other areas two-to-one."

Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, Tom Rivera, said,
"The cantaloupe has been a major product of this area for
many years. It put Pecos on the map."

The Pecos Chamber of Commerce annually sponsors the "Night
In Old Pecos Cantaloupe Festival." The Chamber Women's
Division produces the "Little Miss Cantaloupe Pageant" each

Rivera points to the cantaloupe as "...a vital agricultural
component in Reeves County. We feature it in the community
brochure, and always include cantaloupe info in all our
mail-outs," says Rivera.

"Even in the wintertime, we get a lot of inquiries on the
PecoSweet Cantaloupe. It contributes to our tourist trade,"
he said.

You don't grow 'em? Ship 'em? Sell 'em?

Chances are you enjoy a cool slice of 'em on a hot summer
day. And you, too, are a part of the economic impact.

Horses quarantined on Balmorhea ranch

Staff Writer
Nestled in a tree-lined, spring-fed oasis, the town of
Balmorhea sits at the foot of a chain of rolling hills that
work their way into the Barilla and Davis mountain ranges of
West Texas. The town prides itself as the home of one of the
world's largest spring-fed swimming pools, but the discovery
of vesicular stomatitis - a viral infection similar in
appearance to foot-and-mouth disease - in some area horses
and the Texas Animal Health Commission's subsequent
quarantine of all livestock at the Rockin' K Ranch may lend
the town some unsolicited and undesired attention.

Chris Cook, a 16-year-old high school student, was checking
up on the horses at the family's 246-acre ranch in southeast
Balmorhea when he noticed that "Whiskey" - a chestnut mare -
had a swollen nose and lips. His first suspicion was of
snake bite, which often reveals itself by swelling. Then he
saw the speckled Appaloosa's bottom lip hanging as well.

Unfortunately, snakebite is not as rare in West Texas as
some ranchers would hope. Cook recalled the family dog that
had been struck by a rattler a year ago and a horse bitten
several years before that.

"I looked for (bite) marks and they didn't have any," said
Cook, confessing he thought it "weird" that both horses were
displaying the same signs.

He ran home and woke up his grandfather, Pecos Cook, and
told him about the horses. When the two returned to examine
the horses they spotted the open sore inside Whiskey's
mouth, which smelled, as the younger Cook would say, "like
it was dead."

Pecos Cook agreed with his grandson that both horses had
probably been bitten by a rattlesnake and visited the local
veterinarian, Dr. Ronald Box, in Pecos. As Box would later
say, "I assumed he could recognize snakebite and gave him
antibiotics and cortizone." Several days passed and the
treatments weren't working, more lesions and blisters began
to appear on the two horses.

Chris and his younger siblings, Chance, 14, and Amber, 10,
decided to take the horses north to Pecos for Dr. Box to see.

Thirty-seven miles and 10,000 head of cattle in two feed
lots, one dairy and numerous strung-out parcels of ranch
land separate Pecos from neighboring Balmorhea (not to
mention a number of dust-swept gullies with names like Toyah
Creek), but the trailer of infected horses didn't make it
that far. Just a few miles from the Rockin' K, north of
Interstate 10, the trailer got a flat tire.

Chris called his grandfather, a trucker on the return leg
from a trip to El Paso, and was told to go back home.

"He told me that he was close to Pecos and would stop in on
Dr. Box," said Chris.

As fate would have it, Dr. Box had already planned to be
close to Balmorhea that day performing fertility tests on

"God works in mysterious ways," said Pecos Cook, after
finding out it was a contagious disease affecting his
horses. "Don't worry about not getting to town," he told his
son. "Don't worry about the flat. This is the way God made
it so (the disease) didn't spread."

As Chris Cook recalled, Box looked at the horses and told
the pair, "This ain't snakebite."

"I told them that it could be vesicular stomatitis - a
reportable disease - but I couldn't be sure without lab
tests," said Box.

That is when Chris, who spends much of his time at the
ranch feeding the livestock, keeping the water troughs full
and inspecting the hundreds of acres of fence line atop his
horse, admittedly started "hoping it was only snakebite . .
. instead of something worse."

The Cook family had reason to install a fresh, untreated
pine gate, contructed months previous, at the entrance to
the Rockin' K after hearing Box's speculation. Intended at
first to merely dissuade drivers from turning around at the
ranch, the gate came to mean something else, it became a
symbol of the quarantine.

Box contacted the Texas Animal Health Commission and the
blood tests were performed. The blood samples, returned from
the lab in Aimes, Iowa, within two weeks, proved positive
for vesicular stomatitis, a rare viral infection that mainly
affects cattle, horses and pigs.

"This is a disease that you cover for about ten minutes in
vet school and think you will never see," said Box.

All seven horses had detectable levels of the disease, but
only the original four showed any external signs of the
infection. The TAHC advised the family to keep the four
blistered horses one pen away from the other three.

"They told us not to tell anyone," said Chris Cook of the
TAHC. "They didn't want to cause a panic."

Since there is no approved vaccine for VS in horses, a
quarantine was placed on the Rockin' K Ranch on Saturday,
June 17. The seven horses and 15 head of cattle must remain
on the ranch and not mix with any surrounding livestock.

The hope is that the virus will run its course and
disappear. According to TAHC officials, the quarantine will
last for 30 days beyond the disappearance of the lesions.
Meanwhile, Kentucky is likely to bar all livestock from the
state until the quarantine is lifted, and the state's
international export market is sure to suffer from the VS
outbreak in Balmorhea.

"This year, Kentucky has already embargoed livestock from
New Mexico, because of that state's two cases of VS," said
Dr. Max Coats, assistant state veterinarian for TAHC.
"Undoubtedly, Kentucky livestock officials will also
prohibit Texas livestock from entering their state for a
specific period of time. Other states may also institute
restrictions, so producers should contact either their
veterinarian or the state of destination for instructions
before shipping any species of livestock out of state."

Viral Stomatitis made appearances in the southwest in New
Mexico, Arizona and Colorado in 1985 and again in 1995. Its
clinical signs closely mirror those of foot-and-mouth
disease, a foreign livestock disease with the potential to
cause devastating losses in U.S. livestock populations.

The disease primarily affects livestock by causing
blister-like lesions in the mouth, tongue, lips, nostrils,
feet and teats. These lesions may swell and break, leaving
painful ulcers that, only in less than 5 percent of cases,
end in death from malnutrition. The infection can cause
animals to drop weight because of the pain of eating and

Outbreaks can also be debilitating to dairy industries,
where the infected animals are unable to be milked. Most
affected animals recover in about two weeks.

Humans, who may also contact VS by handling affected
animals, display flu-like symptoms when infected, including
fever, headache, muscle ache and general malaise.

Although it is not known what starts the VS outbreaks,
scientists do know that black flies carry the virus. In some
cases, insect control measures have been used to prevent the
spread of the disease.

Looking across the succession of four wooden pens which
house the seven afflicted horses, lined on one side with
apple trees and on the other with mesquite, Chris Cook
confided casually, "I'm just surprised this is all happening
to us."

Checking retention as a way to monitor pest activity

Staff Writer
A few paces into the squat rows of two-month-old Bt cotton
plants, County Entomologist Rex Friesen bent and pulled up a
healthy young specimen by the roots.

Broad, three-pointed leaves, faintly speckled with pale
green spots (perhaps made by a recent insecticide
application), sheltered delicate, furry buds: compact,
future cotton bolls.

This particular cotton crop at the Trey Miller field,
located adjacent to the Greenwood Cemetery northwest of
Pecos, is just entering its "first fruit" and starting to
look attractive to various types of pests, said Friesen.

Along with C.W. Roberts, Reeves County agricultural agent,
Friesen held the informal meeting June 18, to acquaint
growers with various early season insects - examples of
which he carried in his breast pocket within small, plastic
vials - and to demonstrate a simple mathematical formula for
monitoring fruit retention and crop health.

To figure fruit retention, and, conversely, pest activity,
find the lowest node scars on the plant, where the first
leaves have dropped away. Count this spot as zero. Moving up
the plant, count the number of nodes on the plant. Cotton
plants grow in a spiral, each node should appear at every
3/8 turn. An optimal specimen will have a space of one to
one and a half inches between nodes.

Then, counting from the first unfurled leaf that is at
least the size of a quarter at the top of the plant, count
the number of squares in first or second position. (Third
position squares are not counted because they rarely produce

Friesen noted that 80 percent of all cotton crops are
produced by first position bolls.

To get a percentage of fruit retention, divide the total
number of squares present on the plant by the total number
of fruit sights. By keeping a journal for a few weeks, you
can get a fairly good idea of how your cotton crop is doing,
said Friesen.

"This is a good way of having a flag to say, `Heads up,
something's going on!'" Friesen told the two growers at the
Pecos meeting. Early square retention should be at about 90
percent, if it falls below 75 percent immediate action is
needed in treating pests.

But just seeing bugs is not cause to spray. Several samples
of insects were shown to the growers. Each looking
identical. Only two were harmful insects and one was

"Be careful. You might be treating for beneficials, or not
treating when you need to be."

Another, similar meeting was held in Coyanosa later in the
afternoon following an Integrated Pest Management lunch.

C.W.'s Quips

By C.W. Roberts
Reeves/Loving agriculture extension agent

Home grown tomatoes

Here in Reeves/Loving counties, tomatoes are the most
popular vegetable grown by homeowners. Tomatoes are easy to
grow and can be very rewarding.

If you are having problems with your plants not producing
well, there could be a couple of reasons why. Tomatoes are
full sun plants. If they are not getting enough sunlight,
the amount of tomatoes produced will be very low.

With our temperatures rising to well above 100 degrees,
tomatoes will stop producing. Tomatoes produce in the
temperature range of 72 degrees at night to 92 degrees
daytime. Choosing varieties for higher temperatures like
Heatwave and Merced will help with this problem.

Most hybrid tomatoes are high nitrogen feeders. Sidedress
your plants with nitrogen every two weeks to help increase
the production.

Watering on a regular basis is extremely important. Not
only does it help in the production of more tomatoes, but
produces a better quality vegetable. A condition called
"Blossom End Rot" can occur if inconsistent watering occurs.
This problem causes the bottom of the tomato to appear
rotten and brown.

Blossom End Rot can also occur if there is a calcium
deficiency in the plant. We often see this if plants are
grown in containers with potting soil. Mulching your plants
can help to maintain a consistent moisture level and prevent
Blossom End Rot.

For further assistance, call Roberts at (915) 447-9041.


By Oscar S. Mestas
Since this is an Urban Forestry article, I thought it would
be a good idea to highlight a tree once in a while. One of
the goals of UF is to educate people on the importance of
proper tree selection for their particular site and
situation and, I would like to share a few of my choices for
the Pecos area.

Let's start with one of my favorites, and one that is very
common in this area, many of you know it as a "Wild China".

Western soapberry Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii.

Native to the Trans-Pecos area, the range of this tree
reaches West to Arizona, East to Louisiana, North into
Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and South into Mexico. The
soapberry is a medium sized tree reaching a mature height of
about 30' with a 20' crown spread. In a natural setting you
are most likely to find this tree growing in a group along
the arroyos and washes in the Trans Pecos. The reason for
this is that the soapberry has a tendency to form root
suckers. This is usually not a problem in urban situations.

The neat thing about the soapberry is that it gives us year
round interest. We get a nice display of creamy white
flowers late spring through early summer, followed by
translucent amber berries with a black seed inside. The
berries were once used as a soap substitute. When fall
arrives the soapberry grabs our attention with its subtle
yellow leaves sometimes with a hint of red and orange.

Several homes around Pecos are fortunate enough to have a
soapberry in their front or back yard. I have mostly seen
this tree in the older neighborhoods, where the flowers are
what attract my attention. Dr. Wayne Mackay currently with
the Texas A&M Experiment Station in Plano spotted a native
population growing out in the sandy soils near Horizon City.
The trees there are not very big, but this goes to show you
how hardy and drought tolerant they can be. The porcupine
damage on them probably doesn't help.

This tree is hard to find in the nursery but is definitely
worth planting if you do locate one.

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