Santa Fe gardener feeds family and others from his farm’s bounty
Joe Winter points to an area in his Santa Fe garden where sulcata tortoises like to roam.
“You can see their trails,” he said.
As he walks a fast pace through row after row of fruit trees, produce, herbs and mounds of dirt on 20 acres, Winter is in his element.
His citrus trees are almost ready, some still flowering with fragrant blooms.
“I’ve put in more than 250 fruit and nut trees in the eight years I’ve been here,” said Winter, who bought the place when it was a thick forest of Chinese tallow trees.
After chopping down all the tallows and bringing in more than 200 loads of dirt, he got busy planting his gardens and hasn’t stopped.
Winter feels the need to plant every day, he said.
“It’s an addiction,” he said.
Winter, 56, is as trim and fit as someone half his age. His high energy is a trait that serves him well, allowing him to put in an 80-hour work week with little effort.
His foundation repair business affords him the opportunity to devote half of his time to organic gardening, a passion that not only fulfills him, but provides nutritious food for others.
The main garden consists of symmetric rows containing a variety of lettuces, kale, cucumbers, spinach, broccoli, squash, beets, carrots and onions. Swiss chard, cabbage, herbs, bitter melon, yucca, garlic and so much more take up every inch of space. Sugar snap peas grow along the fence line.
About 80 seed trays toward the back of the main garden are starters for future plants.
And then there are the orchards — peach, plum, pear, pomegranate and apple trees. And there are 130 citrus trees — satsuma, grapefruit, Meyer lemons and navel oranges.
Across the way, more gardens are thriving in front of a two-story red barn where Winter keeps equipment, a few boats and a shelf loaded with elephant foot yams, which are akin to potatoes, but much larger.
“It’s a high density food used in Indian cuisine,” he said. “It gets rather large, and if you plant just one small ‘eye’ piece, it can grow up to 30 pounds. I’m trying to get people interested in different food sources.”
A large hayfield dominates the back end of the property and is also where the chickens reside — about 60 of them that free range during the day and go into their coop at night. They supply the Winter family with as many as three dozen eggs a day.
There are some young pecan trees growing in this area, but they won’t produce much until they’ve matured. A few cows and a donkey are meandering around, along with one steer that will go to market soon.
A drip irrigation system fed from his 500-foot deep water well keeps the gardens hydrated, and 20 pounds of solar panels provide an economical power source, he said.
“I do my own composting, but can’t create enough,” said Winter, who just brought in a yard of green sand that was mined from ancient sea beds, and some finely strained and sifted compost from a supplier.
Aside from selling at area farmers markets, Winter also donates food to His Ministries, a food pantry in Santa Fe, he said.
Winter’s children, ranging in ages 8 to 23, help out on the farm and his wife, Jody, takes care of the business end.
Four big farm dogs — Gunner, King, River and Willow — do their part by chasing away rabbits and other unwanted varmints that stray into the gardens.
Winter doesn’t have to walk very far to find something delicious to eat and feels blessed that he is able to enjoy the fruits of his labor, especially when it comes to kale, he said.
“I eat a kale salad every single day,” he said. “The goal in life isn’t to live the longest, but to have the most energy while you live.”