The great green hope

This year, we went way out on a horticultural limb.

Last year, we planted tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and cucumbers in the hoophouse. The cucumbers did pretty well, but succumbed to mildew fairly early in the season. We got a few tomatoes, but the heat got so intense that a lot of the flowers fell off. The eggplants and peppers did fine, but grew very, very slowly.

So, this year, we thought about what kind of crop might grow in a place that gets really hot. And, in a fit of the completely unrealistic optimism that characterizes most gardeners in May, we planted melons. Two kinds of watermelons, two kinds of cantaloupes.

Both kinds of watermelon and one kind of cantaloupe failed early. They didn’t die altogether, but they grew just a few leaves, and those leaves turned an anaemic green-yellow almost immediately. I haven’t had the heart to pull them up, so they’re still in the hoophouse, failing to thrive.

Once kind of cantaloupe, though, is actually growing. Don’t ask me which kind, I couldn’t tell you. I bought the seedlings from Country Garden, a garden store in Hyannis, on a whim. Somewhere, under the tangle of cantaloupe leaves, there is a stake with the variety on it, and I hope to find it in the fall.

This particular cantaloupe has sprouted long vines with healthy leaves, and has overtaken almost all the ground left open by a Herculean diva cucumber and a volunteer tomato. And a few weeks ago it started to get flowers. A lot of flowers. Almost all of them female.

Every other day or so I’d go out and look for little mini cantaloupes, with no luck. Until last week, when I found one melon the size of a marble. Unfortunately, it was a sad yellow color, and dropped off within a day or two.

Still, we started to get more male flowers, and a couple of the melons looked like they might actually set properly. We checked again this morning, and found, if not leaps-and-bounds progress, some growth.

And then, as we were walking away from the hoophouse, Kevin pointed to the end wall. “Look at that!” he said. And there, sandwiched between the plastic wall and a windowbox, was a bona-fide, baseball-size melon. Because it was behind the box, we never saw it from the inside.

I went back in and pulled it out from where it was wedged. We will now pet it and feed it and watch it and nurture it in the hopes we can coax it into becoming an actual, genuine cantaloupe.

Keep your fingers crossed.

21 people are having a conversation about “The great green hope

  1. Bill Stewart says:

    Hello Tamar,
    When I saw your pigs smiling in an article in the Washington Post (July 18th, 2012), I thought to write. As a scientist, I’m still not sure what I think about animal communication, but as a scientist, I’m interested. For the past several years my wife and I have talked with Mary Long ( about our kitties and horses. The results have been so interesting that we keep in touch (so to speak) 3 to 4 times yearly (fortunately, it’s not terribly expensive).
    All the best,
    Bill Stewart

    • Bill, thanks for stopping in! I certainly think that some people understand animals better than others, and have better rapport. I’m sure that anyone who bills herself as an “animal communicator” probably knows her way around them, and may be useful in solving behavior problems. As soon as she tells you that your horses are saying, “We enjoy these sessions and would like to have Mary come more often,” you know to pull the plug.

  2. This is my first summer with the hoop house. Everything in there is an experiment. It is open on both end with a north south orientation. The constant south breeze coming off Buzzards Bay keeps it from getting too hot. This is the first year that I thought I would try melons. They really haven’t done anything. grow die turn yellow get flowers. Nothing. The tomatillo, however is huge with lots of flowers and fruit. Eggplant better than the ones in the garden. I’ve gotten little one already.The carrots ,bok choi ,and kale never even sprouted.
    I am glad to see that you have had some success with your melon. You’ll have to post when it’s ripe. I’ll get the salt.

  3. I grew melons once…well, I tried to grow melons once. Mine never even looked as good as yours. As a horticulturist, not as a chauvinist, I must say: nice melons!

  4. Trish — Tomatillos. Now there’s a thought.

    If I actually produce a ripe melon, I will shout it from the rooftops!

    SA — That’s what Kevin says …

    • Yes.. I had no idea you could grow them here.. I orderd two ( very expensive!) plants last year. and they took off. This year I tried starting them from seed. I’m kind of hit or miss on seed starting. All the seeds took.and the plants are now in the garden or hoop house. All are covered with little lanters. I may be persuaded to trade 😉

  5. Tamar,

    Okra is a native of Africa, so heat is a bonus. The bush variety is a manageable size–not too tall; the red variety is gorgeous–red stalk, red leaf veins, red streaked pods. And if you and Kevin are not okra fans, the pigs will love it.

    • Okra. Hmmm. I’m okay with okra, but I can’t imagine what I’d do with a hoophouse full of it. And I’m not yet at the point where I will sacrifice valuable garden space for a feed crop. (But talk to me next year.) Any other hot-weather crop suggestions?

  6. Guard that melon jealously. We got six full size cantaloupes this year, but before they were harvest we lost three to some critter (no crittercam here). We were lucky enough to harvest two this past weekend and they were superb. Waiting for the last one to ripen. We’ll see whether we split the harvest 50-50 or if the critters eat the majority. p.s. we bought seedlings from Jack Stacy at Matt’s Organic Garden in Dennisport. He’s seedlings are always very healthy & prolific.

    • Saw a great tip in ‘Mother Earth News’ about protecting melons by putting them in pantyhose! I never had any melons to protect so I cant vouch for the tip, but it seems like it would work!

      • Dianne — I’m sorry about your melons, and if you would like to borrow the VarmintCam to get to the bottom of MelonGate, I am happy to lend it.

        SA — You give the weirdest gardening advice of all time. But I like that idea. Would it work for winter squash, do you suppose?

        • haha, you know I’m quite happy to have that distinction as I am sure you have come across many odd characters in your career. I am afraid it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Ever tried leaving ‘the Phantom of the Opera’ CD playing in your garden to scare away rabbits and raccoons? (Wouldn’t work for you as it would scare the animals you’re trying to protect) Growing radishes and carrots in rubbermaid tubs?
          But yes, I would think it could be an excellent means of protection for winter squash! Although, I haven’t ever tried it. Nor do I have any pantyhose at my disposal. Or melon survivers to try it on for that matter.

  7. My experience with growing melons has been pretty dismal, but last year I planted Blacktail Mountain Watermelons, and got a huge vine all over my garden with no melons. In September I was cleaning up a weedy part of the garden and there it was: a 14 pound watermelon completely covered by weeds that was a nice as you could want. It tasted good, too.

    This year we are back to nothing. The plants were dead by June.

    • I hope you don’t take it the wrong way if I tell you you’re my kind of gardener. The kind who doesn’t always succeed, but then finds a watermelon in the weeds. I love that.

      • There should be a club for us gardeners who are constantly in the weeds. Think of it, there are clubs for people who cultivate orchids and other rare plants, but nothing for those of us who muddle through and then take pictures of the sole survivor and share it with everyone.

        And before you ask, yes, I emailed everyone in the family a picture of the watermelon last year. Got quite a few puzzled responses, too. Is there anything more heartwarming than to proudly send your brother a picture of a miracle watermelon and get back, “why are you sending me a picture of a melon?”

  8. We had smoked bluefish pate at the Straight Wharf long ago and it was memorable. Wonder if you could make that and freeze it with any success.
    My tomatoes are in bad shape this summer. Too much heat? Looks like hornworms are eating them but I can’t find the worms. The cherries and paste tomatoes are doing fine but there won’t be many Big Boys.

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