Monday, October 26, 2020

Minimal Cacao Cold Damage

You've probably heard that cacao can't really survive cold very well. While that's probably true to some extent, the numbers I keep seeing seem to be more of an overall guideline for yearly temperatures.  The range typically says 50-90 degrees.  Lower than 50 is said to damage the trees while above 90 is said to prevent growth.

We went out of town and left several cacao trees on the patio thinking it wouldn't get very cold while we were gone.  I was surprised to see the weather app say it got to 45 one evening and there was no way I was going to get back to it.  Fortunately the plants were fine.  One new leaf on one of the trees did have some damage but all of the rest of the trees and leaves seemed to have no adverse effects.  I come to the conclusion that I need a reliable gauge to see when I need to worry.  If the trees really can do just fine in 40 degree weather (just without new growth coming in) then that is something I would really like to know.

After doing some research, it seems like cacao trees can indeed survive much colder temperatures.  I wouldn't make it a habit but even where it grows naturally, southern Mexico, it can drop even into the thirties occasionally.  This is by far not the normal temperature but it just shows that even temperatures below 40 won't necessarily kill your cacao tree.  I, of course, want the trees to grow well so I think I'll just keep my trees inside.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Cacao Tree Survival

In a presentation by Ben Rasmussen over at Potomic Chocolate, he gave a nice overview of what they do there and what got him into chocolate.  It's a story you will probably hear from most every craft chocolate maker if you talk to them long enough.  Craft chocolate is a passionate business and you don't stay in it simply for the money.

One of the things he brought out was his tree.  You could see it in the background of the video and it was a nice looking tree.  At one point though it had lost all of its leaves and was merely a twig sticking out of the ground.  Someone said that it wasn't necessarily lost though and to just keep it watered.  It may well grow back, and it did.

That's the same thing I have done with some of my trees.  They've had a rough beginning to some of them and, as you can see on this little guy, if you keep them watered they can indeed grow back.  He's even better looking now but this picture really shows how resilient a cacao tree can be.  Of course not all of the trees had this outcome.  Some of them really did die, shrivel up, fall over, and sink into a swamp.  We won't talk about those any further though.  This little guy is the bright spot in the whole tree growing process.  Of course he doesn't come close to Claude (my wife decided the largest and most healthy of the trees needed a name) who is now nearly as tall as I am.  Some day though, with proper care, he will be just as big.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Lacewing Eggs

Little hanging things with what seem to be eggs on the end.  It reminded me of a spider nest I saw once on a show in a rainforest.  These however are lacewing eggs.  They are not some mysterious spider that can eat your face.  The spider really wasn't a face eater either but the irrational fears people have are just that, irrational.

Lacewings are actually beneficial bugs and I'm so going to leave these guys alone so they can take care of other bugs that I really don't want on the porch.

Speaking of the porch, it will soon be the temporary home of a dozen cacao trees in pots until I can find a more permanent solution to where they will live.

Many of them are now doing much better than expected.  They've been hanging out in very low light and a few of them lost most if not all of their leaves.  This isn't necessarily a problem though.  Apparently cacao trees can do this and still come back months later and be just fine.  They can adapt much more than some people give them credit for.  The big tree has been wrapped up with plastic wrap and is ready for the move.  In a few days we will know the results and keep at it.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Dallas Chocolate Festival


The Dallas Chocolate Festival is here again.  This is the 11th annual event and also marks the second year of growth for my largest cacao tree, currently topping five feet high.

The festivities start tomorrow and, although it's too late to get the chocolate box, it's sure to be an interesting event for anyone who wants to know more about chocolate.

Speaking of the tree, the office move is coming next week and the tree move is imminent.  Time to get the cling wrap ready and my trusty moving assistant (my wife) so that our plants don't get too stressed on the way over.  My boss generously offered the back of his truck as a means of transportation not thinking of how delicate moving a plant can be.  It would get too banged up back there for it to survive the trip.  Some of the other plants might be needing new homes soon since I'm not sure where I will be able to put them all.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Moving Cacao Tree

Moving this guy will be a small feat.

First thing to do is to wrap the pot, dirt and all in plastic wrap so the soil doesn't move too much during transport.

Next I will need to figure out some kind of support for the trunk and leaves.  One suggestion was to wrap it loosely in paper or plastic but I think I will end up having someone hold the tree steady during transport.

To transport it I will put it on it's side and angled up a little so that it will be able to fit in the car.  It's now 4'3" tall from the dirt up, pot included it's right at 5' even.  Just think about trying to get a person in a car without bending their hips or legs.

Of course the plant will need to be upright as soon as possible so that it will be ok.

When I got the vanilla orchids they were mailed to me.  They came wrapped in paper with other paper wadded up and put between the leaves.  If I tried that it would be a lot of work for just the one tree for transport.  Also no guarantee that it would not shift around while moving.  The little yellow pot is going to be simple in comparison as well as the dozen other pots in the back of the office.  They will need to be moved to the apartment though probably.  Not nearly as much space in the new place.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Cacao Tree Sizing

When sizing a tree you don't actually care quite as much about the height of the tree as compared to the caliper, or diameter of the trunk of the tree.

So whereas the height of this tree is now just at four feet high, the caliper of the tree is up to a half an inch. Compare to the little shoot it started out as, this is quite an accomplishment.  Each time a tree adds to the leaves it has to put in more tubing and thus trunk to supply nutrients to the foliage. The plan is to keep the tree to just under seven feet tall, but the trunk needs to get to at least 2 inches so it can support the fruit. I'm hoping for at least 3 inches though before I allow fruit to form just to make sure the tree is healthy.

Currently it is in it's second year of growth and will probably take at least 2 more years before it starts flowering, maybe a year and a half since it was started in the fall.  I expect the first harvest to possibly be in 2023 or 2024 which would be just in time for the total solar eclipse over Dallas in October 2024.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Cacao Tree Up to 42 Inches

That little growth spurt has now over doubled in size bringing the tree to about 3 1/2 feet tall.  It's now a decent sized office plant and will be finding its way to the floor soon in a slightly larger pot.

Of course it'll still be a few years before it will try to flower and produce but I'm hopeful.  Some of the other plants are hanging in there but none of them are doing quite as well as this one.  It's former pot buddy is still growing slowly and is putting out another leaf but it will be some time before it needs repotting.

The little forest of sprouts is still looking good.  There are a few empty pots that I'm sure these can be transplanted into in the coming week.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

New Cacao Growth Spurt

The cacao tree has been putting out new leaves for some time but it has decided with this last bunch of leaves to get some added height as well.

You can clearly see the leaf cluster at the base of the previous growth, usually 2 leaves at a time.  This group is actually 4 leaves which so far is pretty uncommon.  I'm not sure what the change or difference is this time around but I'm happy to see the progress.To the tip of the trunk is now just over 38 inches.  Previously I have been measuring from top of dirt to the highest leaf arch but this is a much more accurate measurement since the leaves can move so much.  That top is an extra 4.5 inch addition to the tree.

One possible difference might be the extra sun the tree has been getting through the newly acquired window of the office I've been moved to.  The only other thing I can thing of is the relationship to the air conditioning vent blowing on it.

Still going to wait until the office moves to repot it though.  I don't want to have to stress the tree out more than I need to and a smaller pot will be easier to move.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Sprouting Patio Garden

 We were so happy looking at the pictures our friends posted of their gardens that we dug into the seed box and planted a few of our own.

Several of our friends seem to have gotten the gardening bug and thus have peppers, herbs, tomatoes, etc. growing in abundance.  Some unfortunately have gotten lost along the way but for the most part it seems to be a nice gardening year.

One friend offered us seeds to plant but we already have so many it would have been a waste of seeds.  Others need them more than we do so we just planted what we had.
 The pictures shown are some beans, since they grow so fast and we got a pretty late start on the growing season.  We also planted some herbs, carrots, and radishes.  The smaller radishes should grow quicker and be a nice addition to salads.

Depending on what actually grows we might also plant some lettuce or other herbs, space allowing.

If I had more room I'd like to grow beets but they require more space and depth than I can give them at the moment.
 These planter boxes are also not quite what I wanted but the'll have to do for the moment.  What I was looking for was what I would describe as saddle bag pots for the railing of the patio. I've also looked for a bracket that might fit on top of the railing for pot support with no success.  If anyone knows where I could get such things, feel free to leave it on the comments and I'll go look.

In the mean time these boxes are sitting on the ground and I'm just hoping the rabbits don't come and eat what we've planted.
As you can see there are only a few carrot sprouts but these seeds are over 6 years old.  I was actually surprised how well these seeds are doing.  It's only been a few days since we planted them and already we're getting exciting results.

So if you're wondering if you should toss those seeds just try them first and if they don't sprout then you've only lost a little time.  There's still plenty of time in the growing year to plant more seeds.  Just keep them watered and the weeds out and you should be doing just fine.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Cup of Green Onion

Growing your own food sounds like a daunting task.  Sometimes it can be easier than you think.  Here is a classic example of a plant that is super easy to grow even indoors with a little bit of light at the right time.  Sure it'd do better in the dirt but a cup of water can give you that bit of extra green onion. These were the trimmings of the green onions after using the tops for enchiladas. 

There are plenty of other plants that can be grown indoors if you have a nice sunny window.  Often these are sold with grow lights for countertop growing. Among these are basil, oregano, thyme, mint, and of course garlic (onion family and all).

Some plants really do just taste better grown at home.  Back when I had a small garden we planted carrots.  Of course I didn't think too far ahead and should have tilled down further, the carrots only got as long as they could push their roots because under the nice soil there was super hard clay.  One of the carrots actually turned to the side to keep growing.  They were super flavorful though.  That kind of taste you just can't get at a grocery store.  Possibly at a farmer's market but even then they often go for varieties that are more large harvest than flavor.

We still keep thinking we'll get some more rosemary since it just keeps growing once you get it established.  It's one of those strange plants that no one wants more of because all you have to do is wait and you'll have plenty, but if you have to buy it at the store is ridiculously overpriced.  You don't really even have to do much to it and you have enough for the whole neighborhood.  In that way green onion is much like rosemary.  You just cut the tops off when you need them and the plants just keep growing.  For those that might remember we had green onion in our front yard for nearly a decade that just kept going even in the freezing winter days (this is Texas that's all you get).

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Fresh Farm Eggs

Having fresh yard eggs today almost seems a luxury.  I don't have any chickens but I know a guy...  Which sounds shady until you realize we're talking chicken eggs.  And they didn't fall off of the back of a truck anywhere.  Come on, they'd be cracked.

I've had the privilege of getting eggs from him three times now and they really are so much better than store bought eggs.  And, although you can keep them on the counter, putting them in the fridge won't hurt anything either.  We kinda like our counter space and they fit on top of the egg tray nicely.

One way to tell how fresh an egg really is, is when you crack it open.  The rounder the yolk the fresher the egg.  This roundness unfortunately can change from egg to egg so it isn't an exact science but if you've got a nice domed yolk coming out you know it's fresh.  On the other hand if it's looking a little flatter than it's siblings (these are eggs after all) then it doesn't necessarily mean it's old or not going to be as good.  It can also be a bit genetic and just happens to be a little flatter  yolk.  This may merely be a thinner membrane on the yolk which is then stretching and flattening out.

The way I've always been told to check to see if an egg is good or not is to float test it.  If you toss it in water and it bobs to the top then it is producing gas and may not be any good anymore.  This is actually not a test though of "can I eat this" but merely a tool to help estimate how old the egg is.  As far as I can find, there is no real test to see if an egg is safe to eat.  I've found ranges anywhere from 5 weeks to 3 months or longer.  The same for how long you can leave eggs out at room temperature, I've heard 2 weeks to a few months.  The way one person put it was, paraphrasing here, if it can take 2 weeks for the hen to finish laying eggs before she even sits on them and they hatch just fine in 90 degree weather, I'm sure they can last much longer on the counter inside. Which makes sense that a viable egg is edible before incubating.

The reality though, at least in our household, is that these eggs won't last that long to worry about.  They will get eaten in less than anyone's recommended time table no matter where we leave them.  Just don't leave them in the car.  They'd probably start cooking at that point.  It's getting warmer out there.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Fruiting Mulberry

We have a fruiting mulberry tree right next to he apartment. Free Food! Ok, so you have to wash the berries really well and fight the squirrels for them, but they're really tasty.  Kinda like a smaller not so tart blackberry (yes, with seeds).  The berries are also really close to the ground so it's easy pickings.  The question really is can I get enough of them at any given time to do anything with them?  Who knows but it'll be interesting to see. They of course aren't ripe at the moment so I'm not messing with them yet.  And if the squirrels get to them first then I'll have nothing, which is quite likely.

The only other edible I've seen recently is some wild garlic, or perhaps wild onion.  I didn't dig it up but it was obviously in the onion family and when i picked a tip off of one of the greens could smell the oniony aroma.  Ok, so probably wild onion.  What I would hope for is that it's walking onion.  the little onions that form on the flower head are really good in recipes.  And all you have to do is toss them in.  Well, after you wash them of course.

One thing I want to go get is some bay from fort worth.  Fresh bay is so much better than the stuff you can get in the grocery stores.  We had 40 or so leaves from the last time we went but bay really does go so fast.  It wasn't long before I was picking it up at the store again...

If you have any favorite things to wild harvest let me know.  It's interesting to see what people go out and get.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Vanilla Loves Humidity

I was reading up on how much cacao trees were selling for since I talked with my boss about what to do with the trees that are growing in the office and I said I sold one and gave others away to people who wanted them.  He asked how much I sold one for (about $25).  I remember looking it up before and seeing ranges anywhere from $45 to nearly $200 for larger trees.  When I looked again the range has dropped a little but still sits in the $30 to $140 range.  Some of the places are currently out of trees and some close for winter.  Any way you look at it though I'm sitting on a couple thousand dollars worth of trees in various stages of growth.

To the topic of this thread though, in among all this cacao growing I have several vanilla orchid vines.  We've had a humidifier for a while now and with summer coming up it isn't needed at home so I took it up to work to humidify the orchids.  They totally love the extra humidity!  Which is what got me on to talking about cacao in the first place.  I was reading that someone insisted cacao wanted a humid environment.  I have not found this to be the case at all.  Some trees really do love the humidity.  The typical office ficus is one such tree and will actually grow roots on its branches to soak up the extra moisture.  These vanilla orchids too love humidity and in only a week the roots along the vines have exploded with new growth.  Leaves are poking up in new locations too, taking advantage of the extra moisture.  It doesn't hurt that I've clumped the vines in a central location just over where the humidifier is pointing.  Occasionally I can see whisps of vapor coming through although I have kept it turned down so it doesn't waste water. Dripping off of the leaves to the floor doesn't help anything.

The vanilla as well has greatly increased and I could probably make cuttings and have 3-4 times as many plants as I started with.  Not worth nearly thousands but a couple hundred or so.  The real value in a vanilla orchid though is of course the vanilla beans.  A well cared for vanilla bean can be worth many times over the cost of the vine which can easily produce 50 beans a year on a healthy vine. Say you have 20 vines and you're looking at $10,000 in beans rather than paying that at the grocery store.  I already have people wanting beans for commercial bakeries when they start producing.  Vanilla is one of those products that has more demand than supply and all you can do it try to grow more.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Fake Chocolate (Chocoverse Book 3)

Not that I would ever give anyone real fake chocolate...
Ok, that sounded odd but you know what I mean.  This is the final book in the Chocoverse Trillogy!  Which makes this another in the great sci-fi trillogies (wiki pages to follow shortly). If you head on over to her Youtube channel you can also see a video of her discussing how actual craft chocolate makers from all over have influenced her in her writing, not only her sci-fi work but also the cookbook she co-authored,  and appreciation of fine chocolate in general.

The Chocoverse trilogy ends April 14. Bo's going home!  Welcome to the Chocoverse: Funny Space Opera with a little sweet romance . . . and a lot of chocolate.

Bienvenido a El Chocoverse. Divertida ópera espacial con un poco de romance. . . y mucho chocolate. El libro 3 ya casi está aquí. Free Chocolate. Pure Chocolate. Fake Chocolate. ¡Para salvar la Tierra, salva el chocolate!
Chocoverse page on Amazon:


Friday, March 13, 2020

Free Chocolate Binging the Chocoverse

Ok, this was on my mind since everyone's been huddled in their homes.  It's the perfect excuse to go read those books you've been meaning to get to.  Of course I would suggest the chocoverse series.  Free Chocolate and Pure Chocolate are available now and Fake Chocolate will be coming out in just over a month.  Of course if you go to Netgalley you can get book three as well as other advanced copies and all they request is that you review them for others to know how you liked them.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Corgi in Chocolate Trailer

This last weekend we ran the film end of the book trailer for Fake Chocolate.  For anyone who doesn't already know, this is book three of the Chocoverse series, written by my amazing wife, Amber Royer.  The first two books were published by Angry Robot Books out of London, England.  The third book is being Indie published to complete the trilogy so the fans that are out there won't be left disappointed with being left unfinished.  Fake Chocolate will release on April 14 with a party at Four Corners Brewery in Dallas, Texas.

Emma was probably the biggest diva of the group.  She only had about two hours of filming but she was determined to be the spotlight as long as she was there.  It didn't hurt that she was the most adorable ball of fur ever.  We went out to River Legacy in Arlington for the footage with Emma. and of course she found the water as soon as she got near the grassy areas.  The real conflict for her came when she had to decide between the ball and going up to new people to say hi.  Unfortunately for those folks the ball won out.  She really likes to chase them.

For those who haven't read the first two books yet, Emma was playing the part of Botas, the corgi Frank gets in the first book and the thing that helps you realize that maybe he's not such a bad guy after all.  Because how bad can a person be if he takes the time to make sure innocent pets don't get caught up in the mess us humans get ourselves into.  Botas also plays a role throughout the series in various ways.  Want to know more?  You can order the books from any convenient bookstore or if you can't wait then come to the launch party, there will be plenty of copies on hand.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Cacao Tree March 2020

Moved the big guy up front so the smaller plants could get a little more light.  He's still producing pretty big leaves though.  The one right in the middle is nearly done growing and will pop up soon but every time he makes a new leaf I'm amazed at how much bigger it is than last time.  You can easily tell the progressive size of the leaves as well.  The leaves near the bottom of the trunk are the original leaves as seen in it's earliest pictures.  Eventually they'll turn brown and fall off but hasn't happened yet.

It's already looking like it needs a bigger pot but I'm going to hold off a little until it makes a few more leaves.  Probably May or June before I repot.

The vanilla on the other hand seems to have stopped growing quite as fast.  Still a little growth here and there but it's slowed dramatically.  The other cacao trees have slowed as well.  probably more a note on how I need to water more regularly and in easy to use quantities.  They definitely do like the more light areas in the office.  Some places need bulbs to be replaced and the plants near those areas are less happy with their location. Still have hope though.  Put one outside today with the nice weather.  Hopefully a little bit brighter day will kick it into growth mode.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Kwao Krua kao Root (Pueraria Mirifica)

This root has been slow to take to the soil but has finally started sending out roots.  Patience was needed since it was received four months ago.

No upward shoots so far though but we'll see how things go from here.

Unfortunately the tiger jaws plant has died.  Still not sure what exactly happened to it.  Just dried out from the bottom up.  My first guess is that it was in the wrong potting medium.

The redesign of is nearly done.  Soon it will be more of a maintenance sort of situation.  Adding content from events, new publications, and the like.  More on the redesign and features in an upcoming post.  In the mean time you can still go check it out and see how things are coming.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Tiger Jaws Plant

At first I thought this was a kind of haworthia but it's merely similar to them and the aloe.  It's a version faucaria.  Still this little guy is supposed to be pretty easy to take care of.  Probably needs to be repotted in a better soil though.  The current soil is not well draining.  Probably just mix this in with 1/4 sand and see how it looks.

They don't need a lot of water in general.  Much like aloe it should be able to go weeks without watering.  Probably going to play it by sight and see when it seems to need a bit of water.  Overwatering will make it grow too fast and make weak stems.  You can probably already tell that this particular plant has already been watered too much.  That middle stem is a giveaway.  They're usually low growing and clump.

I'm also going to have to make sure he gets plenty of sun when I can manage it.  They're desert plants and are used to sunny conditions.  Again it will keep it from getting too leggy.