Archive for Friday, December 17, 2010

Patience and green thumb aid former Lawrence Mayor Bob Schumm in cultivating 55-year-old grapefruit trees

Lawrence resident and restaurant owner Bob Schumm, examines one of his two 55-year-old grapefruit trees growing in his garage on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2010.

Lawrence resident and restaurant owner Bob Schumm, examines one of his two 55-year-old grapefruit trees growing in his garage on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2010.

December 17, 2010

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A grapefruit grows on a 55-year-old tree owned by Lawrence restaurant owner Bob Schumm. Schumm describes the taste of his grapefruits, which are about the size of a tennis ball, as very tart and sweet.

A grapefruit grows on a 55-year-old tree owned by Lawrence restaurant owner Bob Schumm. Schumm describes the taste of his grapefruits, which are about the size of a tennis ball, as very tart and sweet.

Bob Schumm talks about his 55-year-old grapefruit trees

Lawrence restaurant owner Bob Schumm talks about his two grapefruit plants that he has growing in his garage that came from seeds he planted when he was nine years old. Enlarge video

Two grapefruit trees are thriving inside Bob Schumm’s garage, each gulping 5 gallons of water a week and basking in the glow of six fluorescent grow lights overhead, where the fragrant leaves rub against the ceiling.

Now that one of the trees is in production — yielding one fruit last year and eight so far this year — the two-time former Lawrence mayor figures he may be onto something.

“It’s really a new cash crop for Kansas,” Schumm said the other day, plucking another piece of citrus from its shelter under dense leaves. The smirk on his face just might be from the fruit’s taste — both exceedingly sweet and intensely tart — but the former board member for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce is on a roll.

“You just have to start early in life, if you’re ever going to cash in on it. It’s economic development — it’s got eco devo written all over it. It just takes a lot of patience. This cash crop takes a lot of patience.”

Patience indeed.

The trees are the fruits of a full 55 years of labor, ever since Schumm — then a 9-year-old Cub Scout — plucked a couple seeds from a store-bought grapefruit, buried them inside a dirt-filled coffee cup and stirred in a little water.

The brew would produce sprouts, ones that would grow into trees so cherished that he dutifully hauls them outside in the spring and lugs them back inside each fall.

That they’ve lasted this long, and through Lawrence’s harsh winters, is a minor miracle, said Jennifer Smith, horticulture agent with K-State Research and Extension in Douglas County. Such trees struggle to handle even a gust of cold air blowing into a garage, much less enduring in-and-out manipulations as potted plants.

Smith even cops to being “a little jealous” about Schumm’s green thumb.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “Most people would have given up a long time ago.”

Schumm admits that he never expected to squeeze any fruit from the trees, at least not until he learned about some citrus fertilizer a couple years ago that might have made a difference. A few applications ended up packing the trees with plenty of nourishment, leading to a single, tennis ball-sized grapefruit last year.

Then, in February, one of the trees burst out with hundreds of blooms.

“They have an extraordinary fragrance,” Schumm said. “My garage smelled like a cheap perfume factory.”

Now he’s harvesting the bounty: eight fruits, each packed with flavors he rates as perhaps five times that of a typical grapefruit. Each also is filled with more than a dozen seeds — ones he’s dropping into a compost pile instead of stowing in another soiled coffee cup.

“If I’d have known they were going to last this long,” he said, “I don’t know if I ever would have started them.”

Comments

pace 4 years, 5 months ago

I envy him too. My aunt had a small orange tree in her sun room. My uncle had given it to her When we were visiting her a few weeks after his funeral, we woke up to the most amazing fragrance, filling the house. it was the first time it bloomed. We all cried about it during breakfast.

weeslicket 4 years, 5 months ago

how about a redhook grapefruit ale. right now!

George_Braziller 4 years, 5 months ago

I have an orange tree that I've hauled in and out of the house for 27 years. Started it from a seed that came from an orange I ate over Thanksgiving weekend in 1983. I'll have to try the citrus fertilizer. I've never been able to get mine to bloom.

christy kennedy 4 years, 5 months ago

Wow. Most kids start seeds in a cup for a project at some point but I'll bet there are only a few still in pots a half century later! Bob, my dad has an avocado forest, a dozen or so trees, some of which are a few decades old, that he hauls out in the summer and in for winter. No fruit, but he loves his trees.

BigPrune 4 years, 5 months ago

Gosh, all the letters to the editor, now this fluff piece? So, when is $18 Million Library Bob going to announce he's running for city commission again?

2002 4 years, 5 months ago

It wasn't always that way. In the early 1980's the smokey joe wheel was one of the best sandwiches in town. The last time I was there was in about 2000 when it appeared that they hadn't cleaned anything since the early 80's. With that said, a glass of fresh grapefruit juice would have been nice.

George_Braziller 4 years, 5 months ago

I agree. I usually give a restaurant three tries before I write it off my list. That place was so bad it received the "three strikes" status the first time I went.

weeslicket 4 years, 5 months ago

i ate only once at the old mass street deli.
i don't remember what i ordered, but i got a bread sandwich.

BruceWayne 4 years, 5 months ago

I grew some "grapefruit" plants in my garage one time. The cop that lived next door gave me 48 hours to get rid of it or we were goin' downtown!

Ken Lassman 4 years, 5 months ago

What a delightful find, JW! Sometimes it's the little stories in our lives which turn out to be the most extraordinary! Kudos to a pursuit that took decades to unfold, Bob! A lot of inspiration for the rest of us. Thanks again, JW for this gem of a story.

irvan moore 4 years, 5 months ago

i have a lemon tree, got 5 lemons last year, none this year, hope for next year.

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 5 months ago

He really should be using a combination of metal halide and high pressure sodium lights. Then he'd get a lot better crops.

A little bird told me so.

BruceWayne 4 years, 5 months ago

not sure what Dolph and the LJW gain by endorsing Bob.

rtwngr 4 years, 5 months ago

phhhhhhht Those are herbal plants, officer. cough wheeze

bopro 4 years, 5 months ago

Good work Bob that is something to be proud of they must feel like family to you after such a long time.

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