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Daily Newspaper and Travel Guide for Reeves County, Trans-Pecos, Big Bend of West Texas

Living Off the Land

Tuesday, February 24, 1998

Prude Ranch party honors elder Prude

Staff Writer
If little Orphan Annie, that Broadway creation, had it all to do over again, she could have done no better than to have made herself scarce when citified millionaire Daddy Warbucks poked his head through the orphanage door, and instead had fallen in with Fort Davis' own Johnny "Big Spurs" Prude - 94 this month - of the recently-recognized 100-year-old Prude Ranch.

At least that's how it should have happened had the curly-headed rascal been a Texan and the senior Prude been looking to add a permanent addition to his already sizable clan that, as a part of running a guest ranch, is constantly taking in the temporary kind.

Hundreds of friends, family, and former students (both the classroom and horseback variety) packed into the ranch's dining room from 1-6 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 21, to thank, embrace or just plain praise the senior Prude for all he has meant to them over the years. But those that wished a "Happy Birthday" to the lively, elder statesman of cowboy culture swiftly met with a minor reprimand. "My birthday isn't till next week," Prude told one well-wisher. "It was the land grant that invited you."

And he was right about that. Saturday's celebration just happened to coincide with Prude's birthday, which is not until Friday, Feb. 27. What was important, according to Prude, was that the Texas Department of Agriculture's Family Land Heritage Program had recognized the ranch as a valued part of Texas history.

But those whose lives had been positively affected by the man would not be swayed, and continued to express their gratitude and affection to the long-time cowboy and teacher.

"I will all my life remember the man that, whenever he spoke with anyone, would offer a smile," said Earl Van Zandt of Prude. Van Zandt and his wife Cleda were instructed by Prude during his teaching days in Rankin. "We really admire him," said Cleda.

Arlo Gill, whose daughter attended the Prude Ranch's summer camp, told Prude, "You spread more joy than anyone in the world."

Prude Ranch, as it is known today, is the product of generations of hard work and inspiration.

According to one 1977 interview with Ora Jane Pruett, affectionately known as "Grandmother Prude," the family settled where they did when her father P.H. Pruett, who put together what is now the Kokernot '06 ranch by selling milk and butter to soldiers at Fort Davis, stumbled upon the lush canyon. "He rode up Limpia canyon and at the place we call `picnic rocks' he ran into a Mexican man . . . (who) said my father could rent his house for $5 per month and he could turn his cattle on up the canyon on what is now Prude Ranch."

"Big Spurs" continued this narrative, saying that his parents, Ora Jane and Andrew Prude selected the land in the Limpia canyon for their home while on their wedding trip (they were married where Prude Ranch now sits). So in 1897 they settled into a three-room cabin that was soon to become one of the best known dude ranches in the country.

The three-room home was later moved to make room for a larger house - the "Big House" that is found there today, where Prude's son John Robert lives - creating an interesting situation. "The room where I was born," said Prude, "became my classroom until the third grade." But, he was to see plenty more classrooms in his long life.

Prude was called away from his position as school teacher in Rankin, Tx., to assume the responsibility of running the ranch soon after his father died. "I always remember July 1, 1945," said Prude thoughfully, "My mother said, `Johnny, you're in charge."

Still, his role in education was not nearly over. It just so happened that after settling back at the family ranch, the position of superintendent of schools opened up in Fort Davis. This became Prude's title until 1950 when he accepted an offer to teach at Sul Ross University. There he taught English, Psychology and "Mental Hygiene," until 1975.

The ranch business itself has endured many trying economic times. First at the end of World War One, with the collapse of the cattle market, then with the Great Depression of the '30s. It was at this point, Prude said, that "money became hard to get" and his parents had to decide whether to stay on with the cattle business or develop the increasingly lucrative guest business.

Though it was the guest business that pulled them through the hardship, the ranch is still a "working" ranch with 100 head of cattle and 100 horses, he said.

The most recent challenge came in the mid-eighties, when the oil industry crashed. Before the crash, John Robert Prude, sole owner of the ranch since 1975, said, "from Big Spring to Pecos, money was flowing like water. Then in '86 we lost all our business and had to diversify."

That's when, according to John Robert, the ranch adopted its adult and school youth programs - expanding an already steady boys and girls camp in June. "We took a little different angle on our sales and promotion," he said.

But the senior Prude never quit being active on the ranch, still riding often and wearing his large Mexican spurs, a gift from his son and source of his nickname, every day.

"If you're a good cowboy," said Prude, "you'll be able to do anything well, said Prude while reflicting over his life. "It's one thing to know how to ride a horse," he said, but "a good cowboy is hard to find."

"A cowboy has to know the cattle business. He has to know how to ride, but he also needs to know how to turn cattle."

Prude's wife since 1965, Evelyn, died just weeks before the party on Saturday, Jan. 24.

Riva Hicks, John Robert Prude's mother-in-law (better known, she said, as the `War Department,') who led guests on tours through the Big House, estimated the number of guests close to 500. "They had cake for 400 and ran out twice," she said.

Other entertainment for the afternoon included music, with guests such as Brad Whitfield, Glenn Mooreland and Washtub Jerry performing in the auditorium.

To qualify for the Heritage Program one must have owned and operated one's own property for over 100 years without leasing outside of the family. "They had a great application," said Family Land Heritage Program Coordinator Debbie Ellis recalling the Prude's request.

The ranch was awarded a historical marker from the Texas Highway Department last year, and Johnny, his son John Roberts, and other family members received the family land certificate, identifying the ranch as family-owned and operated for 100 years, from Rick Perry, Texas agriculture commissioner, on Thursday, Feb. 29, in Austin.

To date 3,117 Texas properties are in the program, which began in 1974, with about 80-100 new applications being received by the Department of Agriculture every year. Application forms are available at the office of the county judge.

"Plant lice" in Texas landscapes

C.W.'s Quips
More than 250 species of aphids, often called "plant lice," feed on agricultural and horticultural crops throughout the world, and several can be a problem in Texas landscapes.

Aphid infestations can build to severe levels very rapidly because these insects reproduce very quickly. Infestations can be widespread or localized to just a few plants, and they may be worse in some years than in others.

Aphids draw sap from plant tissue (phloem) using mouthparts adapted for piercing and sucking. Some aphids feed on foliage, while others feed on the twigs, limbs, branches, fruits, flowers, or roots of plants. Some species inject toxic salivary secretions into plants as they feed. If left unchecked, aphids can stunt plant growth, deform and discolor leaves and fruit, or cause galls to form on leaves, stems, and roots.

Many aphid species secrete a sticky substance called "honeydew," which is similar to sugar water. This energy-rich anal secretion falls on leaves and other objects below the infestation. A fungus called "sooty mold" colonizes on honeydew-covered surfaces, causing them to be covered with a black coating. As a result, sunlight is unable to reach the leaf surface, which restricts the photosynthesis that produces the plant sugars. Honeydew-covered surfaces, including car exteriors, decks and sidewalks, become sticky and blackened with sooty mold.

Certain aphids are important vector (spreaders) of plant diseases, particularly viruses. The cotton aphid is known to transmit more than 50 plant viruses, and the green peach aphid more than 100.

Most aphid populations are moderated by natural controls that include environmental stresses (such as high winds, heavy rains and extreme temperatures) and natural enemies (such as lady beetles, green lacewings, syrphid fly larvae, damsel bugs, braconid and chalcid wasps, and parasitic fungi). In some cases, doing nothing is the best course of action, because populations naturally build up and decline quickly, particularly when high numbers of natural enemies are present. However, any aphid may be considered a potential pest when conditions are favorable for reproduction and disease transmission.

When control is necessary, using biological, non-chemical, and least-toxic methods of aphid suppression is encouraged. Dislodging the aphids by spraying the host plants with water at high pressure may be an ideal way to control them on house plants in small plantings.

Insect growth regulators, microbial insecticides, and insecticidal soaps can help to control aphids while having the least impact on natural enemies (also known as biological control agents).

Most insecticides are applied to plants as a foliar spray or as a soil treatment. Some foliar sprays are "systemic insecticides." These products are taken up by the plant and make its tissue and fluids toxic to the feeding aphids. Non-systemic, contact insecticides must be applied to all infested plant surfaces for best results, because they must come into direct contact with the insects. Several applications at 7 to 10 day intervals, or as instructed by the product label, may be needed before an acceptable level of control is achieved.

In agriculture and nursery crop production, chemical control of certain aphid species is difficult because the aphids have become resistant to certain insecticides. Using some insecticides can even cause aphid populations to dramaticalLY increase after the application is made, possible because they destroy the aphid's natural enemies or because the aphids are resistant. Carefully monitor the results from any insecticides applied and stay informed as to which compounds perform well.

Wheres and why-fors of tree pruning

Staff Writer
So, Spring is just around the corner and you're anxious to get outside and prune those trees. Oscar Mestas, of the Texas Forest Service, has just one question for you. Why prune?

"This is the time of year everybody's thinking about pruning," said Mestas. "But you have to have a reason."

Mestas led eight interested Pecosites on Wednesday, Feb. 11, around the Pecos County Golf Course while explaining and demonstrating the fine (and the coarser) points of proper tree pruning. Beginning with the elementals, Mestas said that trees have been doing fine without human "care" for a long, long time and, contrary to popular belief, are not in need of pruning.

In urban areas, people may prune their trees with a clear conscience for any of these four reasons: 1. Safety. Is a limb dangerously low, where innocent pedestrians may knock their heads? If so, trim it. 2. The structural integrity of the tree. Is the tree growing in a way that may cause it damage later on? Fix it. 3. Aesthetics. How ugly is your tree? Ashamed to be seen in public together? Beautify it with careful trimming. 4. Disease/insect control. Fight to protect your leafy friends from tiny predators.

Even after you decide what you are pruning for, Mestas said, you must know your tree. "A tree is designed over tens of thousands of years by nature," he told the group, "Know what form the tree should have first, and keep it in its natural shape as much as possible." For example, a honey locust is an upright tree, and a mulberry is upright and broad-spreading.

Also, Mestas stressed that there is never a good reason to top a tree.

"People have complained to me, `My tree's too big.' But, what do they mean? It's not that the tree is too big, but it's too big for the area it was planted in." Mestas said that the answer here is also knowing your trees. Don't plant a tree that may grow to as large as 40-60 feet, like an oak for instance, in a small or confined space.

The group's first stop was in front of a young desert willow. While most see this tree as little more than a shrub, said Mestas, the desert willow may grow large enough to possess a trunk with a 49-inch circumference.

"Walk around your tree first," he said, "and look at the whole tree." The process goes: look first to cut away dead wood, then damaged wood, and lastly, diseased wood. But, not everyone may have an eye to spot many types of tree diseases. One rule of thumb, Mestas said, when trimming oaks in particular, is to spray your tools with disinfectant before making any cuts to the tree. Bleach water, alcohol or disinfectant spray may be used.

On the young willow, Mestas found crossing branches that were causing wounding. These he removed, cutting at an angle to prevent water from settling, which may lead to rot. He also removed two of three competing branches, but left several lower young branches. "This encourages diameter growth on the stem and helps shade the bark and allows the bark to mature," said Mestas.

Three tools recommended were a small pair of hand loppers for twigs "the size of your pinky" and smaller, larger hand loppers and a pruning saw. Mestas said it was better to spend more up front for good tools that may last the average person for a lifetime. "Mine last about five years," he said, "but I do a lot of pruning and demonstrations."

When it comes to the point you are thinking of buying a pole saw, or catch yourself with loppers in hand teetering on the top of a step ladder trying to prune your 30 foot tree, it may be time to call the professionals. "There is no license required for arborists, so be careful in selecting one." Ask for references and experience, Mestas suggested. "And expect to pay a good price for bucket work."

Pruning directly after planting is alright, Mestas said, while the tree is a little stressed already. After that, plan on pruning every two years until the tree is about ten years old. Then, generally, every five to seven years.

"You want to keep a crown-stem ratio of about two-third crown and one-third stem. That means if you have a 21 foot tree from the ground up you have a seven foot stem." Limbs are the same way, he said. Optimally being two-third branch and one-third limb.

Approaching the second example of the day, a pine, Mestas said there was not a lot wrong with the tree and that he usually left pines alone, unless he found damaged branches - these he would remove. "But don't cut off the tip [of a branch] unless you can find a bud behind it."

At a Mulberry he said was in "very poor condition," Mestas followed the general formula he had laid down. He rid the tree of all dead and dying wood, stepped back to look for any corrections or evidence of disease, and approached to make a few more cuts.

Bad pruning, he said, is "indiscriminately trimming without rhyme or reason."

Fruitless mulberries can tolerate a tremendous amount of abuse. "You can top these trees year after year after year . . . rip out of the ground with a back hoe and put down again, and still these trees may live to 25 years of age before they get rot and die." But, Mestas said, with proper care the tree may live to see 100.

One thing the forester stressed repeatedly is cutting branches off at "the collar" - just away from the main trunk. "A good cut you'll be able to look back at next year and it should look like a donut."

Larger limbs must be removed in three steps. First, cut one-third of the way through the branch from the bottom up several inches from the collar. Second, finish the cut from the top down, and lastly cut the nub off at the collar. The first two preparatory cuts help to keep the bark from peeling and further injuring the tree.

One woman present at the meeting asked about painting wounds with tar. "Never in my 20 years have I painted a wound," Mestas responded. Asphalt and tar may cause more problems for the tree by cracking and holding in moisture. This creates a greater chance for fungal growth. Unless you are pruning an oak and oak-wilt is known to be in the area, as has been reported in Ector County, do not worry about spraying, was Mestas' advice.

He told the group that it is recommended to prune before "bud-break" because after the leaves begin to grow the tree will be utilizing most of its energy to grow the new growths and it would put stress on the tree to recover from any pruning cuts.

Farmer leads state-wide organization

Austin, TX - Balmorhea farm grower, Larry Turnbough, has been elected to serve as president of the Texas Pest Management Association (TPMA). The farm grower organization coordinates the Texas integrated pest management (IPM) effort, and is headquartered in Austin.

Turnbough has been involved in farming his entire life, having been raised in rural West Texas. He and his father, R.V. Turnbough, farm over 2,000 acres of crop land in partnership. Their farming operation currently farms 1,200 acres of cotton, 1,000 acres wheat and oats, with minor acreage devoted to alfalfa seed production and grain sorghum. The operation also consists of a 120 head cow/calf operation.

TPMA Executive Director, Mike Wallace, says he looks forward to working with Turnbough. "Larry comes on board at a time when our organizational responsibilities to farm growers has become greatly expanded," Wallace said.

The association is currently moving towards electronic delivery of pest management information to its member growers. Included in that effort is expansion of TPMA programs on the Internet. At the same time, a new division of TPMA, texagnet, has been firmly established to address the Internet communication needs of Texas agriculture.

"TPMA is at a point where we need good, solid leadership to the association."

In addition to serving as TPMA president, Turnbough serves as president of the Trans Pecos Cotton Growers Association, is a board member on the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation, and is a producer delegate to the National Cotton Council. He also is a member of the Pecos/Reeves County Farm Bureau, serves as a member on the local water irrigation district board of directors of Texas Cotton Growers.

"I give a lot of credit to my father, who runs the farming operation while I am representing agriculture at the various levels," Turnbough said. "He helped me grow up in agriculture, and in 1975 I became a full, active partner in the farming operation."

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