First big strawberry harvest of the year.
16-foot strawberry bed.
They didn't last long.
It is done.
Covering them with pots just wasn't enough.

When I moved from the old house, I told myself that I was done with apple trees. In five years of trying to grow apples, I had harvested perhaps eight or less. If a disease or insect didn't get them, some varmint did. I even tried bagging the fruit individually with panty hose and spraying with Spinosad, but to no avail.

All that changeed this fall when I ate what I could only describe as the best Honeycrisp apple I've ever eaten. In general, I think the Honeycrisp apple is one of the finest pieces of fruit there is, period. After that perfect apple, I immediately logged on to Ison's and ordered a tree, which arrived on Friday.

Boy #1 was so excited to get planting, he even picked out the trees' locations. I love that the boys have been so involved in establishhing our new orchard. After lunch we got out the shovels and got to work. We also planted an Anna apple tree, and a Navel orange tree that I picked up from Plants for All Seasons. I couldn't find a definitive answer as to whether the Honeycrisp is self-fertile or not (probably not), so I figured I needed to plant another apple as a pollinator. Anna might bloom too early to pollinate Honeycrisp, but it's my favorite of the apples that are reported to grow well in Houston. I might not have any better luck here than I did at the old house, but its worth taking the gamble for the chance to taste a homegrown Honeycrisp.

Boys hard at work
Watering it in
Pruned way back

My grafts are growing! I came home from Calgary to find that almost all of my grafts had healed and were pushing new growth. Luckily they didn't get nipped during the recent cold snap. I lost 2 out of the 14-15 cleft grafts, which I think is a pretty good success rate (at least for me). Now all I have to do is keep them from freezing this winter. They're all in 3-gallon pots, so I can easily just move them into the garage if we get a hard freeze. So the results of my experiment seem to be pretty conclusive: You can dig up trifoliate and successfully cleft graft in the fall.

In running news, on Saturday I ran my last 20-miler before the marathon on December 8th. I ran it really fast, ticking off my last mile in under 8 minutes. I think I'm ready for the big race. I just have to keep from going nuts during the tapering phase over the next few weeks.

8 degrees out there.

I've been freezing my tail off in Calgary all week, and won't be home until Wednesday afternoon. How I miss my warm, humid home!

Picture21 miles in under 3 hours.
Nothing big to report from the orchard, other than almost all of my grafts are still green and looking like they'll make it. I had a great 21 mile long run Saturday morning, and was much faster than I expected to be. Today my calves are just a little sore, and I'm actually very surprised at how good I feel. I can't seem to cram enough calories in my stomach though. I signed up to run the BCS Marathon on December 8th, and I'm getting pretty excited about it. I'm getting shipped out of the country for the next wee and a half, so I'm hoping that I'll be able to keep up my training on the road. It sure is nice to have the automatic drip irrigation system set up for trips like this. No worrying about things drying out! Fat chance of that with all the rain we've had.

PictureGetting ready to throw stuff in the campfire.
This weekend we rented a little pop up camper and took off for the lake for a Bell Family Camp Out. In spite of some pretty chilly temperatures and a good-sized rainstorm, a good time was had by all. My parents, my brother and his family, my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc all came out for some good food and fun. The kids had a great time, and can't wait to do it again.

As soon as I got home and unloaded the truck, I checked on all my grafts. It looks as though all but one are going to make it! Sadly, the Valentine Pummelo hybrid scion was brown and dead, but I think I know where I can get some more. I'm very happy with my apparent success rate so far, and can't wait until I once again have a yard full of fruiting trees.





Another week has come and gone. One thing I've found is that as I clear out rose bushes and other non-fruiting shrubbery to make room for fruit trees, is that I really hate bundling up brush and hauling it out to the front. Especially the rose bushes with their wicked thorns. I found myself wishing I could just throw it all in pile an burn it, but then I had a better idea. After doing some serious yard chores with Boy #1 this afternoon, he and I went to the grocery store and picked up a chimenea. Of course, we also picked up the essential graham crackers, marshmallows, and Hershey bars. Boy #1 picked out a nice green one, and I threw it in the back of the truck and hauled it home. I really am amazed it didn't break on the way. I had tried to secure it pretty well, but it still rolled around quite a bit.

After dinner, I stuffed it full of dried up, thorny rose bush sticks and leaves, a small log, and struck a match....Foom! In no time we had a nice little fire crackling away. They boys had a marvelous time roasting marshmallows, gobbling up chocolate, and endangering themselves and others with roasting sticks turned red-hot pokers. Based on their behavior for the rest of the evening, I think it's safe to say they had a little too much sugar, but just the right amount of fun. The chimenea is great for burning up brush a small handful at a time, and it will take quite a few fires to take care of my pile. That's ok. As much as the boys loved it, Dr. Wife and I liked it too. Right now as I type on the laptop, I'm sitting next to it, warming my feet on the smouldering coals. Now, instead of a big pile of brush, I've got fuel for a winter of smores by the fire.

As far as training goes, I'm feeling a little beat up, but pretty good overall. My left knee has been bothering me since last week. I think I hurt it playing soccer with the kids after running really hard at the 10 for Texas race. It hurt bad enough on Wednesday that I decided to play it safe and take the day off from running. Since then I've been icing it frequently and stretching. By Friday it was feeling much better, not 100%, but better. In spite of my knee, I did another 20-mile long run on Saturday morning, and to my surprise I still had gas in the tank at the end of the run. I even kept going another quarter mile just because I felt good. I've always had some nagging doubts about tackling the marathon distance, but after this weekend's run, I know I can do it. My last mile was even under 9 minutes! I don't know if I'll be able to run a sub-4 hour marathon, but there's no doubt in my mind that I can finish.

Not much to report in the orchard. Boy #1 and I were really busy this afternoon. First we planted a new Republic of Texas orange tree, and ran an irrigation line to it. If I could only plant one citrus tree, it would probably be the Republic of Texas orange. It's cold hard, it grows fast, it's very productive, and the fruit is absolutely delicious. After that, we finished running the second tier of wire along the new grapevine trellis, and ran some 1/2-inch irrigation line along that. Then we transplanted some more strawberries into the strawberry bed, hooked up some more newly grafted citrus trees to the irrigation line along the hosue, and sprayed all the citrus trees with neem oil. A pretty productive weekend, all things considered. All that really remains is to buy and install the t-posts for the blackberries, and to get to work on the kid's new play fort. Oh well, there are only so many hours in a day, and I feel very happy that we've been making the most of them lately.

Roasting marshmallows
Doesn't get much happier than this!
Boy #1 working hard to keep the strawberries watered. I'm so proud of him.
PictureTrifoliate (Poncirus trifoliata) Rootstocks
Every year I look forward to the publication of the budwood availability list by the Texas A&M Citrus Center in Weslaco, Texas, and this year did not disappoint. Hardly any budwood was available last year due to the efforts to control the spread of citrus greening disease in Texas, and the Center has made great efforts to protect their collection. This year, many old favorites were once again available, in addition to some new varieties I hadn't heard of before, such as the Pearl Tangelo. I decided to jump the gun this fall instead of waiting for next spring, and immediately called Mark VanNess, the budwood program coordinator. With his help, I placed an order for budwood of the 15-150 mandarin, Chandler pummelo, Clementine mandarin, Indio mandarinquat, Minneola Tangelo, Ray Ruby grapefruit, Tarocco blood orange, Wekiwa tangelo, and the Xie Shan satsuma.

Mark and his crew cut and shipped my order really fast, and it arrived on Monday afternoon. Unfortunately, I forgot to tell Mark that I had moved, and he shipped my scions to the old address! Luckily, the new owners of the old Bell House let us know, and Dr. Wife was able to pick it up for me. All week the scions sat in the fridge waiting for me, while I had to work. Finally, Friday afternoon came, and I was able to take a brief detour on my way home to carefully dig up some wild trifoliate rootstocks. As soon as the boys were tucked away in bed, I pulled out the scions and rushed to the garage to get to work grafting. Since the bark of wild trifoliate never seems to slip well for me, I decided to cleft graft the scions using the technique I learned from John Panzarella, along with some tips I picked up on the Citrus Growers Forum. If you want to learn the basics of grafting, John Panzarella's class is well worth the trip to Lake Jackson.

After an hour or so of careful and deliberate citrus surgery, I had grafted eight new citrus trees. Each was potted into a 3-gallon plastic pot, fitted with a little paper cup shading the scion, and hooked up to the drip irrigation system running along the east and south sides of the house. I don't know how the trifoliate rootstock will respond to being dug up at this time of year (i.e., not yet dormant), how that might affect the healing of the graft union, if my technique and skill were adequate enough for the job. There is a definite possibility that all of the grafts will fail, but I figure that nothing ventured, nothing gained. Besides, even if they all fail, I can place another budwood order in the spring and try again. I'm not that worried about the trifoliate surviving. I've been pretty rough with it before, and it's never died on me (yet). If it does work, then I've got a jump start on re-building my orchard come springtime.

On another note, Saturday morning I ran the 10 for Texas race, a very popular 10-mile road race in The Woodlands. I say it is popular because when I tried to register for the race back in early August, it had already sold out. I sent an email to the race coordinator asking to be notified if there were any cancellations. Lucky for me, I got a response a couple of weeks ago from some folks who were looking to sell their race bibs. I bought one for me, and a few others for some colleagues at work. The race was exceptionally well organized, and I really wished I could have stayed for the after party. As I typically do, I started out too fast, and then fought to keep up the pace for the remainder of the run. It was pretty darn hot and humid for an October morning, and I had to strip down at mile 2 to keep from overheating. Since my bib number was pinned to my shirt, and my shirt was wadded up in my hands for the majority of the run, that means I probably won't be getting any race pictures.

I ran hard, and was able to keep up a quick pace for the whole race, finally clocking in at 1 hour, 19 min, 17 sec, which is pretty fast for me. Overall, I finished 134th out of 2,750 runners. There's just something about being in a race surrounded by other runners that really pushes me to run faster. I had a great time, but I couldn't stay for too much of the after party because I had to get to Boy #1's soccer game. I'll definitely run this one again next year, and I'll also try to enter Boy #1 into the kid's 1 for Texas race.

Getting ready to graft!
Indio Mandarinquat grafted onto trifoliate
Improvised 'cup on a stick' to shade the scions and keep them from overheating.
Newly grafted trees.
10 miles - 1 hour, 19 min, 17 sec (fast for me)
Finished 134th out of 2,750

The Bell House - Growing Fruit Trees in Northwest Houston