Using Pistachios as a Reference for Border Patrol

NM Border Patrol: Where are you staying?
Me: Across the street from the World’s Largest Pistachio.

the world's largest pistachio

And I really was. Once you leave the (ahem) city proper of Alamogordo, NM, there are no lights and few landmarks. So that enormous, bright green nut was my beacon to know it’s time to slow down and look for the turnoff to my campground.

Add a coupon for a free gift (a tiny bag of pistachios that I graciously sent to my brother who would eat them constantly if not for the need to interject french fries), and I was off to learn how pistachios grow. Join me as we explore McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch, home to the largest nut, and Heart of the Desert, where I took the tour.

Bigamy in Nut Production

Turns out, there are male and female trees. I don’t know if such a thing exists in the rest of horticulture/agriculture. Do you?

The male tree is taller (duh) and is planted southwest of the female trees so the winds can blow the pollen from the male’s protrusion onto the sticky blossom of the female (you can’t make this stuff up). One male tree can pollinate 10 female trees. Slut.

Nut Maturity

The maturation season is April through September.

But is a particular tree, itself, mature? Not until age five does it begin to produce fruit, and then only a mere half-pound per tree. By full maturity at age 15-20, it can produce 45 pounds per tree. Take THAT you whippersnappers.

A Desert Crop

I had no idea there was such a thing. Although if I thought more about Israel then it probably would have come to mind sooner or later. The things they make grow in the desert; it’s like they’re the chosen people or something….

Pistachios are a desert crop. 98% of the U.S. yield grows in a California valley. I can’t spell it, and you don’t care, so we won’t worry about its name. The only other place these “happy nuts” (as they’re called in Chinese) will grow in America is New Mexico. For context, they also grow in Iran, Afghanistan, and Turkey–so not only do those countries have oil, but they also have the happy nut. Gluttons.

The trees need very little water: only 10 hours a week in the summer! In the winter they get watered every three months! And they like it when the ground gets cold–they need 800-1000 hours of temps below 45 degrees, but not freezing. I do not share these same requirements.

Getting the Nuts Off the Tree

You shake it. Done and done.

But only for 8 seconds. More than that and you get the nuts that aren’t any good. Good nuts fall off right away. Huh, thinking about the phrase “he’s a good nut.” The bad nuts are blanks–they were never pollinated and it’s just a shell and no meat. Clearly no one wants that.

There’s an outer hull in addition to the one that we break our fingernails on. It dissolves away.

Then, depending on how they’re being sold, machines take off the traditional shell for us. They’re put into a spinning bin with a gabillion pointy things, and those grab onto the opening in the nut and centrifugal force handles the rest.

pistachio shells and nuts

I can’t tell you the self-control it took not to reach into that bin and start eating. But since they haven’t been baked for the requisite 16 minutes with flavors ranging from this spice to that spicier spice, it wasn’t worth getting in trouble.

While the harvest is done in September, they have work all year, because if you keep the nuts at 48 degrees, they’ll last for a year. They have it timed perfectly; they have one month’s stock remaining from the prior year by the time the new harvest is complete.

Things to Know

  • You can keep pistachios at home for one year in the fridge and TWO in the freezer.
  • The pistachio is the only nut that opens itself.
  • This is what I look like with a hairnet on. I hope not to repeat this experience.




Returning to Border Patrol at the top of the story. I was well over an hour’s drive away from Mexico.
Why is Border Patrol there?
Same experience in Big Bend Country in Texas–there was a stop nearly two hours away from the border.

12 Responses


Thank you for the pistachios. They were really good!

Did you share? 🙂


Your Comments/”yum”. I can devour those by the bagfull. Sounds like fun going through the plant.


I was laughing out loud. Thank you for learning couched in good humor. One question…if it’s the male tree pollinating ten females, is “slut” the right terminology? I thought slut was a female negative. Actually did some research;slut refers to women, but there’s no sufficiently comparable for men (cad, dastard), so the consensus was that men can also be sluts.

Funny and informative post. Thanks!

Raye- I spent a lot of time on the word slut. Our mysoginist (sp?) society doesn’t have a word for male sluts. Perhaps we should make one up…

I’m glad you answered, sort of, the question of the border patrol wanting to know where you were staying. Hmmmmmmmmmm.

The San Joaquin Valley in California is pronounced San Wah KEEN. It is the state’s top agricultural producing region, sometimes called “the nation’s salad bowl” for the great array of fruits and vegetables grown in its fertile soil. You can drive for miles and miles and miles seeing fields and fields and fields.

It was fun learning about pistachios from you. Actually, learning anything from you is fun. And I’ve learned a lot.

Karen – you know a lot, woman! so impressed that you knew the valley and all of that about it!


Look at what you’ve learned about potential career choices: eliminate any opportunities that require hair net wearage.

Also, I know that holly trees require a male plant for the female plant to produce berries. There must be others, and will report back after checking in with my botanist pals.

Jeannine – every time you have a funny response. Thanks!
Look at what you’ve learned about potential career choices: eliminate any opportunities that require hair net wearage.

I lived in San Francisco for 20 years, so I learned a little – but don’t press me too much – wide but not deep.


This is great! You taught me something here and made me laugh. We were happy to have you in New Mexico 🙂

Kelly – laughing and learning are two of the best things in life!

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