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Saturday, October 24, 2015


two halves don't make a wholeGrandpa Mike’s term for “muskmelon,” (“cantaloupe” to melon lovers). English was not Grandpa’s mother tongue so I’m not sure if his native Hungarian made “musk” into “mush,” but I do know the fruit he brought home from “the A &P” always had a mushy texture. Grandpa Mike not only was a fancier of melons, but a bargain hunter as well, and the casaba, honeydew, or cantaloupe he purchased were always just a half dozen hours away from the compost heap. If the stem end of the melon lacked a mold blossom, the fruit was not likely to end up in Grandpa’s shopping cart. Come to think of it, perhaps Grandpa Mike actually meant “mush”melon: that was pretty much the melon’s condition when he lifted it from the shopping bag.

The experienced Pacific Northwest gardener knows melon cultivation is a fruitless (excuse the pun) enterprise; our short growing seasons aren’t melon friendly.To set fruit, melon vines require warm nights, considerable sunshine and soil heat. A  greenhouse environment might uncork a few melons but no such luck in the northwest garden proper. A season or two ago in a sunlight friendly section of the garden I set out a half dozen cantaloupe plants in green plastic mulch. The result? Plenty of healthy vines and a sizeable bouquet of pale yellow, star-like blossoms, but even with an abundance of honeybee pollinators, not a single flower set fruit. Imagine my surprise then this summer to find a softball-sized cantaloupe squatting beneath our garden wagon, a twofold surprise: first, that one grew to maturity here; second, that I harvested a melon at all… because I never planted a single seed.

The south side of our house is an excellent place for heat-loving vegetables and to take advantage of the southern exposure, I’ve placed four whisky barrel halves for planters. I’ve grown corn, okra, tomatoes and eggplant successfully (the okra? I might be stretching things a bit, but I did harvest enough pods to make one meal of Shreveport gumbo). Eggplant grows very well in my sunshiny south location, and each summer I’ve reserved a pair of eggplants for each of the first two barrels; however, if I didn’t amend the soil from my compost heap each spring, this post would never have been written. Soon after I transplanted my eggplant pair in the first barrel, I noticed some alien plant making itself at home between the eggplants. Its signature pair of oval-shaped primary leaves signaled some variety of squash: zucchini maybe, or pumpkin. My curiosity piqued, I decided not to yank the “weed,” but give it a chance to reveal its identity. Besides, the eggplant didn’t seem to mind the company. 

A month went by before I saw the first telltale blossom, pale yellow, star-like. Too pale for a cucumber blossom; too small for squash or pumpkin…some sort of melon certainly, but I wasn’t sure if the vine was watermelon or a “mushie.” The vine made itself at home, twining around the eggplants, threading  itself among the collards (none of which I planted either), trailing down the barrel staves and creeping onto the driveway--at which point I frequently had to redirect its forward progress.

As the summer moved forward—the vine was flowering heavily now—I checked the blossoms. Both male and female bloomed along the vine, but as in my former attempts, nothing set; the flowers withered, dropped off. The eggplant set and we had our first eggplant casserole of the season but not so much as a nubbin of a melon anywhere. Sometime late in August I stopped checking. A couple weeks later I yanked out the vine and to my surprise, bumping along at the end of it was the softball-sized melon. Though it was not even large enough to be a “personal melon”—as the produce folks in the grocery stores call them--I stripped it from the vine, and set it aside by its eggplant buddies. A week or so later, more out of curiosity than anticipation, I took the thing to the kitchen and sliced it in half.

Excepting its doll house size, the inside of this little cutie was melon perfect: the seed mass full of mature seeds, the flesh soft, salmon colored, and sweetly flavored. Half the melon satisfied my fruit requirement for each breakfast. I savored one half per meal, one spoonful at a time. Six mouthfuls each—I counted them.bite size melon (2)

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