If there is anything you ever want to know about citrus, ask Ricky Becnel.

The public will have the opportunity to do just that on July 20.

The Texas AgriLife Extension Orange and Jasper County will host the Saxon Becnel and Sons Citrus Nursery Tour from 9-11 a.m. at their Orange location.

Becnel will explain their growing process from start to finish. Participants will get to witness the “budding” method that makes their trees better quality and able to withstand temperatures down to 18-20 degrees.

Becnel said a tree started from a seed you find in an orange would probably die at 32 degrees. “Hands down, we have the best trees in the state,” he said.

The Becnels have grown citrus trees for five generations and are starting on the sixth.

They started their Orange nursery about four years ago and have already been through one major hurricane and a hard freeze. For a less experienced company, it could have been a catastrophe’, but after growing citrus for 150 years, it was barely a bump in the road.

They plant seeds for the root stock in the winter. The building is kept at 90 degrees. It takes about six months for the under root to reach a foot to 15 inches tall.

They are then planted in five gallon buckets and about six weeks later they will bud the rootstock.

In the budding process, an upside down “T” slit is made in the root stock about 6-8 inches from the ground and a “chip” from the type of citrus tree you would like to produce is inserted in the slit and taped up to protect the chip while it begins to grow. “It keeps the weather out and it keeps the sap from the tree, in,” said Becnel. “After about two weeks we would take a razor blade and take the tape off.” When the chip is green and healthy they will take the root stock plant and fold it down and around, essentially choking the plant.

It does two things, it allows the sun to shine on the chip and it allows all the plants energy to go into the chip instead of the root stock plant. “So we’re choking it and tricking it.”

When the bud gets about as tall as a hand, the root stock is then cut totally off, leaving the new plant on the “zero temperature” root stock, making it a much sturdier, healthier plant. They wait to prune the root stock until after the bud takes, because it’s less shock to the plant. Plants could be ready to sell within a year after grafting.

Next week they will begin budding 162,000 plants. In the fall they will bud an additional 102, 000. Each man can bud 3-4,000 trees a day.

The Becnels grow 25 varieties of citrus from large grapefruit to small kumquats. “We’ve got blood oranges and sweet oranges, kumquats.” He showed a variety of lemons, limes tangelos, mandarin oranges. “We try to choose the best.”

There is one that is not grown for the fruit, but for the leaves. “It’s a very unusual leaf, it’s double barbed. All the Asian and Philippine people, they will dry it and crisp it and they use it like a spice in their chicken and so forth.”

He said Nancy Vincent, vice president at Orange Savings Bank had a red navel orange. “We had it pathology tested and we will use Miss Nancy’s red navel now…we’re tickled.”

A sophisticated watering system feeds water from the Sabine River into an open pond. A 25 hp motor distributes the water through the entire nursery. They have a state of the art filtration system with a computer they can use to meter in chlorine to kill algae, acid to correct ph and they can use it to liquid feed. “It’s really a nice set-up,” said Becnel.

The tour at 4995 Farm Road 105 is open to all the public.

Two (2) CEU’s in IPM will be offered to Pesticide Applicators. To pre-register and for additional information contact the Orange Extension office at (409) 882-7010.

About Penny LeLeux

Penny has worked at The Record Newspapers since 2006. A member of the editorial staff, she has "done everything but print it." Most frequently she writes entertainment reviews and human interest stories, with a little paranormal thrown in from time to time.She has been a lifelong member of the Orangefield community.