Houston Carl Robb says he knows of only one other Houston resident who grows grapes. This is the fourth year for his vine

Houston Carl Robb says he knows of only one other Houston resident who grows grapes. This is the fourth year for his vine

Greenhouse gardener grows great grapes

Carl Robb is growing rare fruit for Houston—juicy clusters of red table grapes.

Twisting through a tall trellis in his greenhouse just off Buck Flats Road, Carl Robb is growing rare fruit for Houston—juicy clusters of red table grapes.

“Just a gardener’s challenge,” says Robb, standing in the leafy, 33 C heat of his largest backyard greenhouse.

When Robb arrived in Houston in 1972, he rode in on a motorbike. That led to a conversation with Bill Merkley who invited Robb on his first Morice Lake fishing trip.

“I immediately fell in love with the whole country,” he says.

By 1996, when Robb bought a five-acre lot off Buck Flats, the long-time Canfor millwright was ready to settle in, put his construction skills to home use, and see if he couldn’t grow some tastier food than what he could find at the grocery store.

“Gardening is a hobby to me,” he said. “It’s just fun, trial and error.”

But walking through Robb’s largest, 24-foot long greenhouse, it’s hard to believe it’s just a hobby.

Alongside his peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, and a flowering squash plant that grew a 34-pounder one year, Robb grows lots of tasty fruits and vegetables that go well beyond garden-variety.

A hot pepper, smuggled from India by a friend and fellow millwright, was already sporting some dangerous-looking fruit.

Several cantaloupe and honeydew melons, still maturing on the vines, hang in red and white onion bags along the south side of the greenhouse.

“I found that if they are in the ground you have problems with rot, but if you trellis them up they grow great,” said Robb.

A ceiling-style fan swirls the air at the peak of Robb’s greenhouse, and intake and exhaust fans at either end keep a breeze blowing through.

“You want to keep dry air and humid ground,” he said, adding that greenhouse growers need that balance to keeps plants growing well but fungus at bay.

Stepping outside, Robb says that for unwanted bugs and fungi, he avoids using any pesticides.

“I really question all the stuff they’re putting into the food chain,” he says. “An apple is sprayed 20 times by the time it gets to the shelf, the last time with wax.”

Just south of Robb’s property is Westgarde Lake—a small irrigation lake that waters his five garden beds but also gives mosquitoes a great home.

But mosquitoes don’t bug anyone in his garden, Robb says, smiling and pointing to some of the 35 swallow’s houses that crown nearly every fencepost around the yard.

“We can sit anywhere here right till dark in the evening and never see one,” he says.

Robb said the idea of inviting swallows to live by your house to eat the mosquitoes was inspired by his Grade 6 teacher, Arthur Peake.

“He was a real environmentalist-type guy,” said Robb, “far ahead of his time in his thinking.”

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the 1962 book that detailed the devastating effects of DDT pesticides on birds, was prescribed reading in Peake’s Grade 6 class, he said.

Robb has since followed Peake’s example, avoiding “stop-gap” chemical solutions in his garden, and filling his kitchen table with foods that taste better for growing naturally.

But not all Robb’s field-to-table food is as easy to harvest as the stuff he grows in the mounded rows of his garden beds—peas, turnips, beets, beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, currants, cheddar cauliflower, Swiss chard, and potatoes.

He’s also an avid fisherman, with a smokehouse covered in bear-claw scratches, and a hunter of moose, bear and deer.

Robb says he’s seen up to 28 deer in his yard at one time, and has tall fences all around his gardens to keep them out.

But sometimes, like one lucky morning in the fall of 2010, it’s not so bad when they come close to home.

Robb says he was inside brewing a coffee that day when he saw some white-tailed deer walk right through his front yard.

When they went over to his neighbours’ yard, Robb knew it would start their dog barking. He grabbed his crossbow and waited, sipping coffee by his back window.

“Sure enough, we heard little Micky next door going ‘rowr, rowr, rowr,'” he said, laughing.

“And then here comes the doe, and here comes the buck, and it was just ‘twack,’ right out the window.”

 

Just Posted

Jill Mackenzie carefully replaces books on the shelves at the Houston Public Library. (Angelique Houlihan photo)
District approves annual library grant

Craft kits featured for summer reading club

The tradition of Houston Christian School grads giving Bibles to incoming kindergarten students will take place this year, but outdoors and in a modified fashion. (File photo)
Houston Christian School grad day is June 24

Grads themselves have set tone for the day, says teacher

Scott Richmond will be starting as the new vice principal for HSS and TSE. (Submitted/Houston Today)
Houston gets a new vice principal

Scott Richmond takes over from Dwayne Anderson who moved to Smithers

A Pacific Salmon Foundation grant of $3,000 is going towards the tree plantations. (Cindy Verbeek photo/Houston Today)
550 trees planted in Houston through A Rocha

Houston Christian School students and volunteers help with the tree planting

Currently the Houston station has 16 paramedics, two ambulances and one community paramedic vehicle. (File photo)
Retirement of longtime paramedics worries Houston community

“No loss of service,” assures BC Emergency Health Services

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Fort St. John man arrested after allegedly inviting sexual touching from children

Two children reported the incident to a trusted adult right away

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

Most Read