Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Chicken Fried Cthulhu

Okay, here's the thing. Some really cool folks I know have put together a Kickstarter for a proposed anthology to be released at the upcoming World Fantasy Convention in San Antonio. The title? Chicken Fried Cthulhu, which is just as gonzo crazy awesome as it sounds. They've got some top-notch talent lined up already, primed to push the boundaries way beyond what H.P. Lovecraft ever dreamed possible.

Skelos Press doesn't have deep enough pockets to fund this independently, so that's where Kickstarter comes in. They need backers. I've already signed up, and I'm asking you to consider doing so as well. Let's help them across the finish line and make this crazy project come to fruition!

Now Playing: David Gilmour Rattle That Lock
Chicken Ranch Central

Monday, February 27, 2017

Office build-along, pt. 10

Okay, we've run into some problems. And by "we" I mean "me." Take a look at the photo of the attached end cabinet below. The right side of the cabinet is about 1/2 an inch from laying flush against the wall. That looks like a pretty insignificant amount, but it's not. Turns out my walls--at least in that corner--are not squared. The upright shelf support is one or two degrees off 90, which means the cabinet attached to it does not line up flush with the next upright shelf support to go in. It also means that the shelves won't fit into the routered dado grooves. They go in about half way and then wedge in there. You'd think you could simply force the cabinet and uprights into position, the deviation being so small, but you'd be wrong.

There are several possible solutions, but the one I went with was to disassemble everything, pull that offending upright away from the wall, then reattach it using shims to make up the difference. How'd it work? Good enough for the pieces to fit the way the should. Mostly. It's not pretty, but that will be covered up by trim when I'm finished.

The process of disassembling the pieces also brought to my attention another problem that would've been far, far more difficult to deal with if I didn't discover it until later. I hadn't laid down a vapor barrier. When one has wood coming into contact with concrete, moisture can migrate up through said concrete and accumulate in the wood, leading to the potential for rot, mold and other unpleasant things. A moisture/vapor barrier prevents this. Now the laminate flooring had a very cheap, thin cushion that is of foamlike plastic origin. I'm pretty sure that did double-duty as a vapor barrier. But it's so bargain basement I'm ripping it out to replace it with one of higher quality. It also didn't reach all the way to the wall, which I'm rectifying now. I'm laying the new vapor barrier down and installing the bookshelves over it. No matter how much I vacuum and sweep, dirt and debris turns out in spades for the black vapor barrier.

I'm also facing another problem. The 2x12 uprights have been stored outside for months as I cut, sand, stain and varnish them. They're sheltered on the back patio, but still exposed to wide temperature swings as well as humidity. What started out as 10 rail-straight boards are now 10 boards that are developing slight warps. Nothing really obvious, but I'm finding little deviations when I move them into position. I need some way to keep them consistently vertical and plum. Also, the back wall doesn't have a convenient joist to attach all the uprights to. The existing studs are not positioned where the uprights can be directly attached. I could just wedge everything in there and depend on gravity to keep it stable, but that's just asking for trouble. How to anchor the uprights and ensure proper positioning?

I'm going to try something I considered for the previous bookshelf build at the old house, but discarded because there were convenient joists for attachment. I set my grandfather's old Rockwell table saw to make a 45 degree cut. Have I mentioned how much I use this table saw and other tools inherited from Grandpa Fritz? Because I do use them. A lot. Above is the dial setting, and below is what the blade actually looks like.

Then I ran a straight 2x4 through, twice at 45 degrees and once at 90 degrees to split the board into four triangular strips. I mis-measured a little, so the triangles aren't all equal in size, but they're still close enough for my needs. I'll cut each of these into lengths to fit between the very tops of the upright 2x12 shelf supports. I'll screw the uprights to the triangle strips, then screw the strips into the wall studs. Plus, it should solve another issue that's a carryover from the old house, but I'm not quite there yet.

Where I am at is the shelf-cutting phase. After calculating how much shelf space I actually needed, I bit the bullet and bought four 4x8 sheets of 23/32" thick radiata pine plywood. That's just a hair thinner than the 3/4" router cuts I made for the shelving, so should fit even with a couple coats of varnish. At the old house, I bought plywood that was the same thickness as the cuts, and none of them would fit, so I had to sand down all the edges. Ugh. The pine plywood is not as nice as oak or Baltic birch or even spruce plywood. It's only sanded on one side, but it was the most affordable plywood available. The shelves will be covered with books, so I can't afford to be too picky.

I use a T square, ruler and measuring tape to mark the cuts. Each shelf is approximately 30" wide and 11" deep.

Measure twice and cut once, as the saying goes. Unfortunately, sometimes that's not even enough. Working late at night I sometimes get a little punchy and the numbers swim around in my head, screwing things up (as you'll soon see). But the shelf measurements were pretty straightforward. The plywood sheets were too big to run through the table saw with any accuracy, so instead I used Grandpa Fritz's circle saw to split the sheets up into 30" sections.

On a table saw, 30" sections of plywood are much more manageable. I set the rip fence to give me an 11" wide cut, and ran those sections through, over and over and over, assembly-line style. I have to pause here a moment to extol the virtues of wearing eye protection whilst using power tools. With saws and sanders, there's a lot of sawdust thrown up, and even occasional splinters. These will invariably fly into your face. One piece of gritty sawdust in the eye is terribly uncomfortable. I'm too old to feel the invulnerability of youth anymore, and I have no desire to go blind in one or both eyes, so I wear safety goggles religiously now. That wasn't always the case, but now it is. I recommend hard plastic goggles that are open to the sides, allowing plenty of air flow. Those that form a seal around the face quickly fog up if you're doing any kind of exertion, despite the fact they have rubber vents. Those things are useless if you can't see out of them. The open plastic ones seem less advanced, but they're more effective in my book.

And here they are, 25 nearly-identical shelves. I also did the narrow end shelves as well. The table saw's a great time-saver. I can't begin to imagine how long it'd take using only hand saws.

And fitting one into a random shelf slot proves to be a success! Not only did it fit, sliding in with little effort, it was level! I can assure you this wasn't a given, despite my efforts.

Now things get tricky. The corner cabinet is essentially diamond-shaped. Because of the way it's built, it can't actually sit flush against the back corner, because it won't line up with the 2x12 uprights. Trust me on this. There's slightly less than a 1/4 inch discrepancy here, so to make up the difference, I glued shims along the back to make up the difference. I used Loctite II glue, which is pretty darn strong, and clamped the shims down for and hour to ensure the bond set.

To cut the shelves, which look a whole lot like Superman's "S" shield, I first cut a template out using poster board. This ensures consistency in each shelf--no small consideration when working with an odd shape.

Using the template as a guide, I first cut out 5 squares on the table saw (one's slightly different, but we'll get to that). Then, because one corner has to come off at a 45 degree angle and I don't have a jig for the table saw that can accommodate that, I clamp the shelf to a convenient plywood surface and use the circle saw to hand-cut along the pencil line. It's a short cut, and the circle saw inherently doesn't let you deviate too much, so this freehand approach went pretty successfully.

Here's where things go FUBAR. Remember I mentioned that one square was a little different? That's because it's the bottom, base shelf, which will attach directly onto the corner cabinet's top. I did something stupid early on that I didn't realize until now. Back at the old house, I simply cut the base shelves to fit and laid them on top of the cabinets when the time came. I think I used paneling nails to secure them in place, I can't exactly remember. Well, this time around, I routered dado grooves for the base shelves. Big mistake. If you look back to my earlier installments of this build-along, you'll remember I had difficulty lining the routered cuts up consistently. For the upper shelves, this didn't make much difference, but for the base shelf, it does. One of the grooves lined up slightly below the top of the cabinet, and the opposite groove floated a little above. This meant there was no way the shelf could physically fit as-is.

So how did your resident genius think to remedy this situation? Why, by using the tool that got him into this mess in the first place! This is otherwise known as throwing good money after bad. I pencil-marked the area that needed to be stripped to make the board fit into the routered slot, then freehanded the cut. It wasn't pretty, but it was late and I was tired. Not the best of decision-making conditions. Then, because I'm a can-do person, I repeated the action on the other side. Except... one shelf support was lower, and one higher, remember? I cut both of these on the top, which meant the shelf still didn't fit! Argh!

So I went back and routered the underside to make it fit. And yes, it did finally fit. Except... remember how this is the base shelf? It is cut larger than the others, so that 2" protrudes forward over the cabinet. A lip, as it were, rather than coming out flush. And now I had three raggedy-ass router cuts extending all the way out to the edge of the shelf. The front edge will be covered by trim, but those ugly cuts will be painfully visible where only smooth shelf should be. Is there any wonder why I've never been invited to join MENSA?

So help me, in my addled state I still thought I could fix it. In my defense, my plywood supply was running low and I wasn't sure I could cut a new shelf and not have to go buy another sheet to finish out my other needs. So, in order to save me from having to cut a new shelf, how could I fix those wayward cuts? Wood putty! Honestly, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Never mind the fact that I've never gotten wood putty to take stain enough to blend in with the surrounding wood. So, yeah. I measured and puttied and scraped and sculpted. This is the best I could come up with. Guess what? It did not get any prettier once dried.

In the harsh light of day, I finally admitted defeat and accepted this was one sow's ear that I could not make into a silk purse. I did some measuring and calculating and came up with the realization I could cut a new shelf and have enough wood to finish the job if I cannibalized this messed-up shelf and cut smaller end shelves out of it. So that's what I did. Below is the newly-cut square shelf ready to be turned into Superman's "S" shield.

Why did I use the jig saw this time rather than the circle saw? Honestly, I have no answer. I think maybe the freehand router work had me a bit spooked, and I wanted a hard guide to ensure a straight cut. Because of the size of the cut and the physical shape of the circle saw, that would've been challenging with the circle saw, whereas the smaller jig saw was much easier to line up and get the guide properly anchored.

And here's the corner cabinet, of which cutting the shelves for it has consumed parts of two days now. I'm not a terribly efficient wood worker, you'll notice. This is without the base shelf...

And this is with the new-cut base shelf! Perfect fit! You'll notice I learned from my previous mistake and did not attempt to make the shelf compatible with the misbegotten routered dado slots. Instead, I went back to what I did more than a decade ago and cut the shelf to rest atop the cabinet. The shelf itself and additional trim pieces will hide the now-vestigial slots, and we shall never speak of them again. *sigh*

Now Playing: Martin Denny Eight Classic Albums
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, February 24, 2017

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

Night Ranger was one of the most inconsistent bands of the 80s. One minute they put out a song that was sublime--the distilled essence of what a well-crafted pop/rock song should be--and the next they were wailing away on a shoddy mish-mash of cliches and drivel. I never could quite figure them out. Apart from that, as I've said before, 7 Wishes is easily their best album and contains some of their best songs. Driving home tonight I heard "Goodbye" for the first time in maybe a decade, and was struck by just how good a sentimental song it is. All the pieces fit.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Hula Girls.

Now Playing:
Chicken Ranch Central

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Office build-along, pt. 9

Progress on my office bookshelves has slowed, but not stopped. I'm keeping at it. Part of the problem is the season. Despite the relative lack of winter weather, at the stage I'm in it is often too cold or too wet or too windy to work outdoors, and the staining and varnishing produces too many fumes to safely breath whilst working in the garage. So progress is slow.

That said, today I'm going to talk about a major milestone and genuine headache for woodworkers in general: Polyurethane. When I built my bookshelves at the old house, I didn't use polyurethane. Instead, I applied sanding sealer, which builds up quickly after just a couple coats to form a smooth, shiny surface. The downside to sanding sealer is that it is soft and scratches easily. It's not terribly durable. I didn't know that then--my main concern was getting a polished, smooth finish on my shelves. Polyurethane, on the other hand, is harder, more durable and comes in a wider variety of finishes. I used polyurethane on my workbench for its durable properties, so I thought I should stick with it for the bookshelves.

For the record, I went with a satin finish. I though full gloss coat would look cheap, but I'd put too much effort into this to settle for a dull matte finish. Satin was a comfortable compromise.

The thing is, polyurethane (and spar urethane for outside projects) comes with its own set of challenges. Go online and the most common complaint focuses on bubbles. Tiny bubbles like to form in polyurathane, and if they dry that way, the surface is marred and uneven. Smooth and glassy is what we're going for here, remember? In fact, people are so paranoid about bubbles forming that the can carries a warning not to shake it to mix contents, because that will induce bubble-forming. Well, I'm here to tell you that you shouldn't shake a can of polyurethane to mix it, but not out of fear of bubbles. It separates after sitting a long time into an oily liquid and thicker, resinous goo that will not willingly mix together no matter how much you shake a can. They can only be mixed by stirring, and stirring, and stirring. Shaking, and even stirring, will create largish bubbles, but these aren't stable and pop easily. No, the bubbles that bedevil woodworkers are those that form when actually applying the varnish to the wood. Unlike stain, polyurethane is something of a prima donna when it comes to application and requires a decent-quality brush. Cheap bristle brushes and foam brushes apply it unevenly and are very frustrating to try and use. I know, because I tried. The polyurethane should be applied slowly in long, straight strokes. That show part is key. The slower applied, the fewer tiny bubbles form, but at some point you get diminishing returns. You have to figure what trade-off you're comfortable with. For me, I apply to the entire board/section at a moderate speed. The polyurethane begins curing almost immediately, so usually by the time I've finished the initial coat on a board, it's gone from liquid to tacky. At this point I give it another brush-over with more vigorous back-and-forth strokes, and this seems sufficient to eliminate most remaining bubbles. At least, that's what seems to work for me. Some people can be borderline superstitious with polyurethane, so they might give completely different advice.

Another thing I can't recommend highly enough is to have back lighting. That is, a strong light source opposite you that can reflect off the wet, freshly-varnished surface. If a fixed light's not available, a flashlight will do. That reflection is the most effective means of locating areas that the brush missed. The last thing you want is to spend 20 minutes on a shelf only to discover later that there's a big, bare spot along the left edge. There are always bare spots. The bare spots kill the reflection and show up easily, showing exactly where another few brush strokes are needed.

Another thing I can't stress enough: Less is more. Apply the polyurethane in thin coats. Resist the temptation to glop it on. If memory serves, sanding sealer was very forgiving on this count. Not polyurethane. Thickly applied, it doesn't cure properly and remains soft, which defeats the purpose of using polyurethane. With this, you apply a thin coat, and once it dries, sand lightly with a fine grit sandpaper (I use 400) and then apply another thin coat. The idea is to just remove the surface imperfections, bubbles, etc. with the sanding. You don't want to sand hard enough to remove the coating and get down to the actual wood. Repeat this process until the buildup is sufficiently smooth. To be honest, this is a serious time sink, because polyurethane doesn't contain the filler additives of sanding sealer, and therefore doesn't build up nearly as quickly as sanding sealer. Whereas two coats of sanding sealer was more than enough to give me a smooth, glossy surface on the old bookshelves, the polyurethane demands three or more coats to match that level of finish. It's not a fast process, so that extra work adds up. The temptation to cut corners and say "Good enough" is very strong, and I'll admit I've done so on the undersides of shelves, where one coat is sufficient to seal the wood but not enough to give it that smooth texture. I justify this by saying, "Who looks at the undersides of shelves, anyway?"

Despite all that, the 2"x12" upright shelf supports are all finished. Stained, coated and sanded, ready for installation. So here I'm installing the end board on the far wall. Firstly, I need to use a stud finder to locate where anchor spots may be lurking behind the sheetrock. Fortunately, there are horizontal framing boards near the top of the wall that come down 2.5" below the ceiling.

I mark the bottom edge of the framing boards, just to be on the safe side. Relying on my memory is a good way to make a lot of avoidable mistakes.

Next, I repeat the process for the lower part of the wall.

On the upright shelf support, I mark where the framing boards would be, then mark the spot for a pilot hole about an inch from the edge of the board.

I use a large drill bit--I can't recall the exact size, but it's diameter is slightly larger than the screws I'm using--to make a shallow, pseudo-pocket hole. I say pseudo, because true pocket holes are normally drilled as shallow angles. This one's right at 90 degrees.

Then I take a smaller bit--again, not sure the size but it's slightly smaller than the thread width of my screws--to drill the pilot hold directly in the middle of the pocket hole. Drilling a pilot hole serves two purposes: 1) it eliminates the chance of the wood splitting while drilling in a screw, and 2) it makes the drilling of said screw much easier.

This is what the pocket/pilot combination looks like on the unstained end of the upright, the part that will be covered by the base cabinet.

For comparison's sake, this is what the pocket/pilot looks like on the stained and finished end. Once all is said and done, I'll fill the shallow pocket hole with wood putty and stain it to match the surrounding wood. It should be mostly invisible, if I manage to use the proper stain color.

I set the upright against the wall where it meets the floor, and push it up into position. It's looking more and more likely that I'll end up replacing both the baseboards and crown molding in my office. I'd hoped to avoid that because of the expense, but I'm not seeing any way around it as this project progresses.

Now I drill 3" wood screws through the pilot hole to anchor the upright to the wall. Those are long screws and not super-easy to work with, but necessary when going through 2" of pine and another 1/2" of sheetrock. You've got to find solid wood to anchor the shelf.

The top didn't quite want to fit into position. I'd tested it before, and it was tight then. Storage outside must've caused some swelling in the wood from the absorption of moisture from the air. It's been humid lately. So I pull out one of my newer purchases, a rubber mallet. A few solid whacks and the upright is neatly in place. What's really nice is that the rubber doesn't damage the wood or leave any marks on the finish. I expect I'll be repeating this in the near future.

With the upright firmly in place, I can take the next step and attach the end cabinet. The process is essentially the same--drill pilot holes through both the cabinet and upright, then insert screw. I didn't bother with the pocket holes this time, because a shelf will be covering the hollow where the screws reside.

And there you have it! One end of my built-in bookshelf has taken shape, with more to come!

Now Playing: João Gilberto The Legendary João Gilberto
Chicken Ranch Central

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Gary Cartwright (1934-2017)

Well, hell. Legendary Texas writer and hellraiser Gary Cartwright died today following a fall in his home. An Arlington native, he attended the University of Texas briefly before transferring and graduating from TCU. He went into newspapers, but didn't stay there. A decades-long contributor to Texas Monthly, he wrote all sorts of fantastic magazine articles and books, but specialized in true crime. His Cullen Davis trial work is the stuff of legend.

More personally, he talked with me quite a bit when I was working on Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch. Truth be told, he tried to discourage me from the project for a time, telling me that Larry King had already written all there was to know about that topic, and that nobody could ever top King. I respectfully disagreed. Thinking my Chicken Ranch research amounted to tilting at windmills didn't stop Cartwright from sharing some great stories with me, however.

Growing up between Dallas and Fort Worth, Cartwright was no stranger to brothels. The lower end of Fort Worth had more brothels than anyone could shake a stick at, with a handful of prostitutes working each of the old flophouse hotels that dominated that part of the city. The big thing to do for boys in high school in Arlington was to drive over to Fort Worth and pay the going rate of three dollars to spend a few quick minutes with one of the flophouse whores.

“It seems like nothing now, but at the time three dollars was fairly dear. At La Grange the price was five dollars, and I remember thinking, ‘Oh, my God, this must really be a classy joint!’” Cartwright said. “This one girl came over and started talking to me. Her name was Patsy, and she was from Highland Park in Dallas. Highland Park was kind of the ritzy, silk stocking area of Dallas, so I was impressed. Here was this hooker from Highland Park! That added a little cachet to the situation.

“She was skinny, blond, not particularly attractive but not unattractive. The other girls in the room were about the same—no real knockouts but no dogs, either. Eventually, we went to one of the rooms, and the whole thing lasted three minutes, four minutes, then it was over,” he said. “I went back and sat in the waiting room. The socializing in the living room section was probably more memorable than the actual sex, which, as I said, lasted almost no time.”
Cartwright's literary archive is curated by the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University.

Now Playing: Carlos Lyra Bossa Nova
Chicken Ranch Central

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Thrill of an early spring, redux

Spring is breaking in Central Texas, and I'm scrambling to keep up with the various plants breaking bud hither and yon. This is not a new experience for me. Consider what I wrote here almost one year ago:

We haven't had much of a winter this year. That's both good and bad. Good, because I absolutely hate the cold. The reason I tolerate the brutality of August in Texas is so that I might wear shorts outdoors in January and February. On the other hand, it's not that great for my fruit trees, which need a certain amount of chill hours annually to produce good crops. That's not a big deal yet, because we've only lived at the new house about 18 months and the trees I planted last year are still too young (for the most part) to bear fruit. Last year we recorded almost 1,000 chill hours, which is a significant amount for this part of Texas, which is more than enough for any of the fruit trees I have growing. This year, even with the mild winter, I'm at 600 chill hours--a decent amount for most of my plants.
This year, I'm sad to say, we're not even at a meagre 300 chill hours--just 293 at last reading--with little hope of gaining any more at this point. That is discouraging, to put it mildly. We had two big freezes this year, and one dropped down to 22F doing significant damage to some of my plants, despite the fact that I'd covered them and/or added heat lights. Last year we never had any hard freezes, but it stayed chilly for long stretches. Without sufficient chill, fruit trees won't produce. Most of mine are still too young to worry about that, but if this trend persists through the coming years, it will prove problematic.

What's not problematic are my passion vines. That big flower bud above is from my potted passiflora vitifolia, aka the crimson passion flower. It's already bloomed once in February and has set a bunch more buds. Out in the yard, my passiflora incarnata, aka native maypops, are popping up all over the place after freezing back during the winter. So some plants are happy with the warming trend. Others have a chance to get an early start on the growing season. Below, you'll see the haul I got in from the T.V. Munson vineyard at Grayson College. For the uninitiated, Munson was a horticulturalist who set up shop in Texas back in the 19th century and bred hundreds of varieties of grapes. He's also credited with saving the French wine industry. Many of the grape varieties he bred used wild stock and are particularly well-suited to growing in Texas, where other domesticated grapes struggle due to climate, disease pressure, etc. Sadly, almost all of Munson's varieties are not available commercially, but the good folks at Grayson sent me cuttings of Elvicand, Ben Hur, Valhallah and Wapanuka. I treated the cuttings with rooting hormone and currently have them warming in moist sphagnum moss to encourage the formation of rooting calluses. In about a month I'll plant them in pots and if all goes well, should have a bunch of vigorous (and rare) grape vines growing by the end of spring.

I also put some effort into propagating the Ison muscadine growing in my back yard. Muscadine grape vines do not easily root from cuttings, so one has to air layer the vines. This involves wounding part of a vine near a bud node, treating the area with rooting hormone (not strictly necessary, but I always do so), and then enclosing the wounded area in a growth medium. In the past I did my air layering using starter pots and tying the vine down... actually, it was pretty labor intensive are my failure rate was high. I saw online this alternative method, which involves cutting the bottom out of a liter bottle and just running the vine straight through, then filling with soil. It certainly is a lot simpler. Time will tell if it is more successful.

Last year, a great deal of my time was spent grafting apple trees. I didn't graft that many this year, but I still did some work in that area. Out front, I have two young Blanco crab apple trees planted. Or rather, did. One abruptly died last fall, and I'm still unclear why it died. To hedge my bets, this year I took some of the pruned branches and grafted them onto the two dwarf apple trees I so vigorously grafted onto last year. You can tell the Blanco crabs aren't domesticated because they've got some serious spurs on the branches.

A few razor cuts later, and the graft is completed. I use cheap electrical tape had have good results. I wrap tightly from the bottom up, then counter-wrap from the top down with a second piece of tape, that way, if the tape starts to unravel (and it does) the top layer has to unravel a lot before the more important bottom layer can come loose. In the end, I did seven Blanco crab grafts. I also found a branch on my young Arkansas Black apple tree had broken, but was still attached to the tree. I pruned it off and used the good sections of the broken branch to make two more grafts on the dwarf trees. I lost the first Arkansas Black I planted two years ago to drought, so insurance is always good.

This is the simple cleft graft process I use. It's the simplest form of grafting, but I've had excellent success with it. The base of the scion wood is cut into a narrow V, and inserted in a narrow wedge, or cleft, of the tree. Out of the dozens of grafts I made last year, almost 100 percent took. One Hall apple graft started to grow, but abruptly died. Then later, I accidentally broke off a King David graft that was growing vigorously, with no hope of saving it. So, that's a pretty good success rate.

This is what the cleft graft should look like a year from now, when the wound is scarred over and the graft is growing as a solid part of the tree.

The graft union doesn't always grow so neatly. Here's one that's bursting forth through the electrical tape from last year. The tape's not really strong enough to strangle the limb, but it is restrictive. After a year, once the union has properly healed, the tape should be removed.

And this is what it looks like when the tape is peeled away.

I also had two apple salvage jobs left over from last year. I ordered four crab apple trees to go along with the two Blanco crabs out front. Two were Hewe's Virginia crab, and two were Wickon's crab. Alas, the Wickson grafts were DOA, leaving me with only rootstock, and my beagles broke one of the Hewe's, leaving me with just one of the preferred types I'd ordered. Fortunately, the surviving Hewe's put out several branches and I was able to graft parts of them onto the two surviving root stocks. Because these are growing in pots, I was able to get cute and use wax to seal the ends and prevent water loss that way. Not necessary, but always an option.

So, what else is new at the Blaschke homestead for 2017? I'm glad you asked. Whilst I have a couple of paw paw trees, a che and several banana cultivars still in pots waiting on me to prepare their planting areas appropriately, I've managed to put several other new fruiting plants in the ground. The scrubby bush below, in the tomato cage is not new, though. This is a two-year-old goji bush. It struggled the first year in the ground but came on strong last season. I planted another type nearby last year, and it struggled as well. I'm hoping it catches up to its older sibling this year.


This one is new. It's a "Sweet Scarlet" goumi, otherwise known as elaeagnus multiflora. A relative of Russian olive, this one's not supposed to be invasive. It's also a nitrogen-fixer. I've planted two. It just now occurred to me that I also planted a new pineapple guava (feijoa) last month, the named "Mammoth" cultivar. No photos of that one, though.

I also finally got around to planting my latest jujube tree--the hard-to-find "Honey Jar" cultivar. Theoretically, it's my last jujube. I have a li, Shangxi li and Black Sea already in the ground, and the li produced several fruit last year. I'd kinda like to get Tiger Tooth and Sherwood types, but this one will be enough for the forseeable future. It's kind of hard to see in the photo because of all the branches. That's what's left of the out-of-control Lady Banks rose bush the previous owners planted and then never trimmed back. The darn thing had a trunk six inches thick, I kid you not. There's a lot more of it outside the frame. I'm going to be mulching this one a long time.

Next up is a Sumbar pomegranate. It, and the Austin pomegranate about 10 feet away are already leafing out. They're both sweet types, so I need to get some more tart types to balance them out. The common "Wonderful" variety doesn't grow well in the Central Texas climate. Fortunately, I've got some cuttings heading my way of the somewhat obscure Kajacik Anor cultivar. I sampled this one at the A&M pomegranate tasting earlier this year, and it was my favorite of the lot. Hopefully I'll be able to root a few cuttings.

Remember those hard freezes I mentioned earlier? They hit my bananas hard, but fortunately the fruit that had already set survived, as did the plants. Not so lucky were my mandarins. Two years ago I got the new Orange Frost and Arctic Frost satsumas, cold-hardy types that had been developed in San Antonio and actually growing in the SA Botanical Gardens for decades, surviving repeated hard freezes. Unfortunately for me, those were mature trees and mine were anything but. Even covered with a frost blanket, these took a serious beating. The forecast was for 28F, which they'd weathered a few weeks earlier without any trouble. But dropping down to 22F and staying there for the better part of a day killed all the leaves and most of the branches. Fortunately, the lower branches survived and are now leafing out. These types are grown on their own roots, so I don't have to worry about the rootstock taking over. The next time we have a hard freeze coming, I'm going to wrap them with hot Christmas lights, like I did my bananas.

The panache tiger fig is another new addition this year. These are the nifty-looking yellow-and-green striped figs you sometimes see in the fresh produce section. It started leafing out before I even got it in the ground. I had great success with the unidentified open-eye fig at the old house, but that open eye attracted all sorts of flies and wasps. I ended up getting stung several times, so I'm all about the closed eye fig these days. I hope to add a couple more types, but deciding on the best option for my needs is not that easy.

My other fig, a Marseilles Black grown from a cutting I traded for years ago at the old house. It's been in a pot ever since, and not terribly happy about that fact. It's been in the ground for a year now, and while it leafed out all summer, producing a few small figs, it had very little growth. I'm assuming it spent last summer investing all its energy into growing roots. Regardless, the 22F freeze that hammered my mandarins killed this one back as well. It didn't die back all the way to the ground, though, and already I see new growth breaking out. It'll be interesting to see how much it grows this season. I'd like my figs to grow large enough to act as a privacy screen (along with the rest of my fruit trees).

This coming year I hope to get a few kumquats to plant along the driveway, a replacement for my dead Blanco crab, a weeping mulberry (or two) and a dwarf key lime to grow in a container. There are some dwarf papayas that would look quite nice in a container as well. Oh, and I also have some Texas (remote) Pinion Pine tree seedlings on order. So I should keep busy for the next six months or so.

Now Playing: Jimmy Buffett Buffett Hotel
Chicken Ranch Central