Tuesday, June 12, 2007

O Solanaceae! O Cucurbitae!

Each day I visit my garden, "the octagon"--which is almost every day--I am pleasantly surprised by everything I see. There are bees, bumblebees, and wasps buzzing from flower to flower, ladybugs munching on aphids, spiders, birds, and all sorts of fun-to-watch flora. The air is rich with lemon thyme, the astringent scent of marigolds, and sweet basil. But what thrills me the most, what makes the dirty fingernails and devotion of time worthwhile, is the exponentially growing harvest. The difference from day to day seems impossible: how can melon plants grow six inches overnight and tomato plants put on eight more golf-balled sized fruit? I'm a keen observer. It isn't that I'm missing fruit the first time around.

It is "sexy-time" in the garden and my plants are copulating like the folks upstairs in a frat house. Covered with purple pendulous fruit, my eggplants are a very good reminder of the birds and the bees. The chili de arbol plant sparkles with Christmas-light peppers, and my Chili Ancho hangs heavy with dark green, shadowy fruit.

My sweet peppers, Golden Marconis, are growing too, but since I started them directly from seed in the ground this spring, they're a little behind the seedlings I put in during April. They're sturdy plants and promise a good, but perhaps late crop. However, there is nothing late about my tomatoes. Matt's Wild Cherry is living up to its name, sprawling everywhere like the wild vine that it is, loaded with shiny green dimes. I can tell some of the cherry tomatoes are close to ripening for they've lost the baby fuzz, and are looking decidedly pubescent. Momotaro looks close too (no, that isn't first blush in the picture--that is my glaring orange shirt reflecting off the fruit).

Missouri Love Apple has lots and lots of baby-fist-sized fruit.

And my curly Black Krim appears to be utterly unstoppable.

I've grown tomatoes before, and although not at all jaded, I know the routine and can anticipate the product. I can taste the tomato-basil salads, the sauces, the homemade tomato paste, and all the other delights I'll be able to make come harvest season. What is new to me however, is growing melons.

I became interested in melons last year when I bought my fellow gardening friend RWW a book on melons, a book so good I had to later buy it for myself too. Some of you may have heard of this book, Melons for the Passionate Grower, by Amy Goldman. If you haven't yet, find this book and read it--it will make you a passionate grower of melons. Ms. Goldman has searched out hard to find heirlooms, and this book, along with help from Seed Savers, Baker Creek Seeds and other companies and organizations, is moving a community towards saving melon varieties the way others have already begun saving heirloom tomato varieties. She is one of my many heroes, a group that is exceptionally diverse, but held together by a commonality of inspired dedication. Someday, when I'm in New York in late summer, I hope to visit her stand at the Union Square Greenmarket and sample the melons she's helped save from extinction. In the meantime, I'm growing my own, four varieties I've read plenty about, but have never tasted. Now, as we hit mid-June, they've just begun their female flowering, and are starting to set tiny, incredibly cute fruit.

For curiosity's sake, because I can't get over the pictures of its beautiful fruit, gold and red striped, and promised fragrance (even if the fruit isn't as sweet as others), I'm growing Tigger. This baby is less furry in childhood than its melon-cousins in the garden.

Then, there is Collective Farm Woman, another visitor in my garden from the island of Krim. If it lives up to the expectations that Black Krim has set in my standards of delicious fruit, I may have to make a pilgrimage to the Ukraine.

I've read odes to Charentais before, and am looking forward to experiencing them myself, but in my garden, it has not yet produced female flowers. Boule D'Or, another poem-inspiring melon has though, and I am already in love.


Wendy said...

A very impressive garden. I've just started growing food this year. There's so much to learn!

Susan said...

That Ancho is so perfect it looks like plastic. Glad the Krim is beyond her leaf scare. Lovely, lovely garden. Those orange reflections are unexpected, artsy touches. Who would know they weren't natural?

Genie said...

I love the orange reflections! Your tomatoes look amazing -- I'm so impressed at how many you have and how beautiful they are. They're going to be some good eatin'...

Lucy said...

Lovely ode to your garden.

About the only thing growing here at the moment is my sorrel - thought it was dead, but it's sprung back to life.

You've inspired me to read a) that melon book and b) the catalogue of seeds that's waiting downstairs for spring and summer fruit and veg.

Beautiful photos. As usual.

Sarah said...

Goodness. Those melon photos are pretty sexy.

I would love to see a bigger picture of your garden though, everything tumbling together.

Christina said...

Wendy: It's quite addictive, I'm warning you. If you're anything like me, you'll want to spend every free hour there, even if you have nothing that needs to be done.

Susan: Thank you! I probably write about it too much, but it is just so exciting for me.

Genie: Thanks! Yes, they will be good eating, made better by the fact that I watched the plants grow from tiny little seedlings to trees covered with fruit. That is an experience I know you know and appreciate.

Christina said...

Lucy: Thank you! What is your favorite way to use sorrel? Every time I've experimented with it, I've ended up with an olive green mess. I need your advice.

Sarah: Yeah. Today I stopped by on my way home from school and could recognize noticeable swelling since yesterday's photo session. The garden overall is a pretty sexy place. I do plan to post some pictures of everything all together. The garden's overall beauty is hard to capture though because it is at my friends' house, in an almost plant-free yard, and it is just an octagon of growing goods in the middle of a lawn.

Unknown said...

Oh, wow! What an inspiring garden!

Wendy said...

Just read your profile. Parallel lives, indeed!

Christa said...

You've inspired me to want to try some heirloom melons. I'm growing a watermelon plant that's blooming like crazy at the moment. Can't wait to see those first teeny tiny fruits.

Susan in Italy said...

Such a huge breadth of vegetables you have! You will LOVE the Charantais melon. I grew them when I last had a community garden spot.

Shaun said...

Christina - How glorious your garden grows. I hope you'll give me a tour this summer when I'm there (hint, hint). My parents grow mostly herbs in their garden and ther are a couple of new fruit trees out the back (I have NO IDEA what happened to the other ones). The rosemary never dies, it seems. I look forward to the day Eric and I have our own plot of land. What I would give to grow quince, mulberry and passionfruit...as for the veggies, most importantly I want to grow rocket/arugula and fennel. But I know there are millions of possibilities. I don't know how one finally decides what to commit to growing.

Christina said...

Jill: Thank you!

Wendy: Yup--a small world for like-minded folks.

Christa: What type of watermelon are you growing? You've got to post pictures as they start to fruit. They're like pets, they're so cute.

Susan in Italy: Do you have any Charentais-growing hints? Did you reduce water at any point or try anything else? I'm trying to learn as much as I can right now.

Shaun: Thank you! I chose what to grow based on what space I had, what conditions it offered, and what would feed me the most. As I try to become less and less gas-dependent, it becomes more and more important to feed myself with what I grow. The food that I'm growing will provide a big chunk of my summer meals, and I'll can what tomatoes I have leftover from summer eating to use in the winter.