While working in my vegetable garden this summer, the thought suddenly struck me that one of the greatest forms of wealth is the ability to produce one’s own food. But, as always, things are a bit challenging out here in the old Oklahoma Dust-Bowl. My drip irrigation seems to like springing leaks this year and my local hardware store quit carrying the right-sized “cheap-o” hose repair kits. It doesn’t really matter, though, because we’ve had a lot of rain this year . But it has rained to the point where it became obvious I need to allow one of my three vegetable beds to grow over in grass and return to being a lawn.
One corner of this garden is next to our house and our tornado shelter (known out here as a “ ‘fraidy-hole”). It is just too low and water accumulates around/under the foundation of my house. To avert a home-owners’ disaster, we need to get rid of most of this vegetable bed, plus raise the area with fill-dirt. The bad news is – that at the lowest spot, I have established strawberry plants that are starting to bear fruit. We will have to either move them (and then they have a low-chance of surviving transplantation considering our fierce climate), or we let the lawn take over the strawberries (and the strawberries become part of the lawn), or we just have to kill them. This last option makes my husband sad because he gets sentimental about trees and plants in the yard – they become like children to him. So, guess who has to figure out a good way to transplant the strawberries!?!
Seedless watermelons have taught me the most this year – more than anything else planted because of the science behind them. I decided to try these because my husband likes watermelon but hates the seeds from them. Readers who remember genetics from their biology classes will recall most plants have two sets of matching chromosomes (in other words, diploid chromosomes). The type of seedless watermelon I planted will have 3 sets of chromosomes (triploid --if the stupid vines will ever produce anything!!). This extra-set of chromosomes makes the seeds infertile, resulting in the lack of formation of hard seeds. Instead, little, soft, white, seed-sized bodies are produced in the melon that are referred to as “aborted ovules”.
But, the seedless watermelons cannot pollinate themselves – they need some other watermelon-like plant to produce the pollen. I read technical journal papers on this to figure out what to do, and most of the time, Israeli green muskmelon seeds are included with seedless watermelon seed packets as “the pollinator”. Sure enough, my packet of seeds also contained Israeli green muskmelon seeds. So, one has to be prepared for the possibility of of 3 different types of melons to appear in your garden. One type of melon is the actual Israeli green muskmelon which is diploid, one is the desired triploid seedless watermelon, and one is a diploid, seeded watermelon with a reduced number of seeds compared to regular watermelons.
But the vines for the muskmelons and seedless watermelons look identical, and I couldn’t tell if both types of vines germinated from the seed packet. So, after fretting and panicking just a bit over this, I found more journal articles on the subject. One article from the University of Indiana said any diploid, normal watermelon could pollinate the seedless watermelons. But in their controlled trials, the Israeli green muskmelon produced more fruit per acre than their “control diploid watermelon” called “Crimson Sweet” variety (and this name sounded familiar to me, too). Looking in my organizer holding seeds (new ones I bought and ones I saved from previous years), I had saved seeds from “Crimson Sweet” melons I grew two years ago. So I tried planting those, and they germinated, much to my relief.
Things were going well until one vine which sprouted from something from the seedless watermelon seed packet just took off growing. It was covered in flowers, and grew so much and so fast that it entwined itself into the fence. Within a week three little melons with light- and dark-green stripes appeared on the vine and we were so excited. But one melon got lodged between an overlap of fencing material and died from strangulation by fence during a period of excessive growth. Another started rotting on the bottom of the fruit, so it was removed from the vine in order that molds/fungi from it wouldn’t contaminate anything else. Which left one melon on the vine, but we have no idea what kind it is.
A post-mortem dissection of the melon that was rotting showed a small amount of seed structures in just two linear zones of the melon. So we thought maybe this was a diploid product resulting from the cross of the Israeli pollinator with the seedless watermelon flowers. The fruit inside wasn’t colored yet, but it smelled heavily like a watermelon. My husband tasted the juice from the fruit because I’m allergic to watermelon (here I go to all this trouble to grow watermelons, and I’m allergic to them!) and said it tasted great just like a watermelon.
After the two self-destructive melons were removed off this vine, the third melon took off growing, and it is now the size of a tether-ball or small soccer ball. But it changes external coloration to where it is distinctly dark-green stripes alternating with a lighter shade of dark-green stripes, or it just looks solid dark-green. This is confusing because the desired result is supposed to light- and dark-green alternating stripes. The Israeli green muskmelon is supposed to be all dark-green and there are days after this fruit has grown a bit where its rind looks all dark-green. So what is getting produced on this vine?
We won’t know until the watermelon is ripe and we cut the thing open. Meanwhile, none of the other vines have put on fruit. Maybe that’s best because I probably couldn’t stand the suspense of not knowing the identity of any other potential melons!
Regular readers will know that last year, I had problems growing bushy plants like chickpeas and lima beans because it is too dry here, even with the drip irrigation. This year, the lima beans got moved to the low part of the garden next to the house and ‘fraidy-hole. This is the spot that we learned (the hard way) which has to go away, and become buried beneath new Bermuda grass (which is gradually creeping into the bed even though the beans are planted there). But only a third of the lima bean seeds planted came up.
Post-mortem excavation of the seeds showed that they had germinated, but each embryonic plant tied itself into a little knot that self-strangulated as the stem grew. Apparently, the beans from these seeds are directionally-challenged and they can’t figure which way is up! I’ve known some people who were like this, but never plant seeds!
To replace these lima bean seeds which didn’t thrive by finding the sunlight, I got a bag of inexpensive lima beans of the same variety from the grocery store. All of those germinated and started growing, but they are 3-4 weeks behind the other plants. They knew which way was up! I’m not wasting my money on commercially-produced lima bean seeds anymore that don’t know which way is up. I’m saving that bag of cheap beans to plant for next year.
A hard, sad lesson which I finally learned is that I can only grow carrots if they are adjacent to my garden fences. That is because when I weeded the garden in years past, I accidentally knelt on or sat on the sprouted carrot tops. Apparently, a few bent leaves on each plant are just enough to kill carrots. Who knew? If the carrots are next to the fence, I don’t sit on them and then the fence supports their delicate, feathery, little leaves.
But this year, instead of growing in the rows by the fences in which the seeds were planted, the carrots only grew in the corners. They’re really cute when they are at 90-degree lines with each other. But get more than 10 inches away from the corner where the drip irrigation also takes a 90-degree turn, and – whoops – no carrots germinated. I’m not sure why it happened this way, but at least I have uncrushed, healthy carrots that look marvelous.
Despite the challenges, it is always rewarding each year to harvest and eat what we’ve grown. The vegetables taste so much better, and we are able to grow them organically here because there are very few garden pests. So, overall, we have a much healthier product on our table than what can be purchased at grocery stores.
But anyone who says gardening is not a science doesn’t know what they are talking about!