Posts Tagged With: watermelons

Good, Bad And Ugly

THE GOOD (sorta, in a glass-half-full kind of way):

I had even less than my usual amount of luck growing watermelons this year. I think I put in three or four successive plantings, but between the freakishly chilly spring and the nibbling of unidentified vandals who were probably either gophers or birds, only one little sprout survived to maturity. Once the weather finally warmed up it spread out beautifully, though, and produced many tiny melon babies. But pretty soon I noticed that something was eating the tiny melonlets off the vines before they even reached golf-ball size. And then whatever-it-was started eating the leaves off the vines too. And lo, I wrote off any hope of watermelons this year but felt duly thankful that nothing else in the garden was being nibbled on. Yay for the Sacrificial Watermelon Plant!

Eventually the poor thing succumbed completely, and died.

But today! Look what I found hiding in the weeds at the edge of the garden!

Two survivors! The little one hadn’t had a chance to ripen properly before the vine died and it wasn’t very sweet. But the giant one is PERFECT! Yummy and sweet and juicy, and so big we’ll be eating it for three or four days. It’s like finding a really cool prize in a box of Cracker Jacks when all you were expecting was a cheesy temporary tattoo. Or something.


Today was so awesomely warm and sunny that I decided to take a chance and let the chickens out. Ever since I’d brought the ten new chicks home I’d been keeping the whole flock locked up in the coop together. This was partly so they could all get to know each other, partly so the chicks would learn exactly where “home” is and where to roost at night, and partly to protect the chicks from the dogs. That last one became an immediate concern as soon as Gericault laid eyes on them and heard their tiny peeping voices. He’d never seen or heard baby chicks before, and he was OBSSESSED with them. He’d sit outside the coop and just listen to them peep for hours, every muscle in his doggy body taut with excitement.

That was three weeks ago. The chicks have grown into handsome young pullets (although they still peep like babies), and the fascination seemed to have worn off of them for Gericault.

So. Today, warm and sunny. I opened up the coop, called Gericault in with me and the chickens and reminded him sternly that they were NOT TO BE EATEN. He was the very picture of dutiful obedience.

When an hour or so had passed with no incidents, I decided it was probably safe, and drove my little car over to the apple-orchard-that-was to fill my trunk with firewood. It kills me that the guy that owns the place takes truckloads of good applewood to the dump every week. Yarg.

When I got back home I did a head count, and all the chickens and all ten pullets were accounted for. I patted Gericault, told him he was a good dog, fixed myself some lunch and then went out to unload the wood from my car.

When I came back in Gericault was under my desk. With a dead pullet.


I yelled at him and smacked him and tossed the unfortunate bird into the field next door where the ravens made a feast of it. Then I went into the henhouse where the pullets were huddled together in terror, and did another head count.

Only seven this time.

Gericault’s lucky he’s such a freaking GOOD DOG when he’s not EATING PETS AND LIVESTOCK, that’s all I have to say about that.

The two missing pullets did find their way back into the coop eventually, so I’ve only lost one. As soon as the rest of the flock came in for the night I locked them all back up. Clearly Gericault cannot be trusted to resist the siren call of those little peeps. When the pullets are clucking like the others we’ll try again.


And how. Yesterday this eyesore moved into the neighborhood:

I had hopes that maybe it was one of those modulars that start out looking like crap and then end up being total mansions when they’re all assembled. No such luck, though. This morning there was some guy up on the roof hammering a center roof seam dealie into place, and when I walked up through the pasture for a better look it was even uglier than I was expecting. One of those rusty old aluminum horrors that you usually see in low-rent trailer parks. I realize how snooty I sound, but I LIKED the view from my porch, and now it has that THING in it! I can only hope they will plant lots of trees, and then I won’t have to see it anymore. Except in the winter. Maybe they’ll plant evergreens.


Categories: Animals, Gardening, Life | Tags: , | 3 Comments

December Watermelons? Who Knew?

I’ve not had a lot of luck growing watermelons in my home garden. The climate’s all wrong for them: at this elevation we get hot, dry days and cool (often cold) dry nights for most of the growing season. Watermelons want moist heat around the clock to really thrive, which is why they tend to grow so well in the deep South.

Still, I do love watermelons, so I keep trying every year. And I have noticed that as my soil gets richer from one summer to the next, the watermelon seeds I plant have begun to at least concede the possibility that they may eventually become productive. I get vines, and sometimes even one or two edible melons.

I should mention that my food garden is fertilized only with horse manure. We have plenty of horses, so there’s no shortage. I’ve had people tell me with great conviction that horse manure is bad for a vegetable garden: it’s too strong, or it’s not strong enough, or it has the wrong nutrients in it, and so on. In response I can only point to the glowing, productive health of my vegetables (not counting the darn watermelons of course), and keep piling on the manure.

It’s true that timing is important when you’re using fresh manure. Where I live the ground doesn’t really freeze solid in the winter, so I do my soil prepping around January or February as the weather permits. First I rake off all the remains of last summer’s crops. Then, because Bermuda grass is the unending bane of my gardening experience, I go through the entire garden and dig out all the evil invading rhizomes that have crept into my soil from the surrounding areas since last spring. I can’t dig them out over the summer without uprooting my crops along with them. Yarg!

Once the garden is thoroughly tilled and weedfree, I bring in the horse manure. I like to spread a good four-to-six-inch-deep layer on top of the broken-up soil. Ideally at this point a nice helpful rain will come along to water it in, but if the weather’s not that accommodating I just turn on the garden sprinkler for a few hours.

A few days later, or whenever the soil is still moist but no longer wet, I till again, digging the manure deep into the ground. Then I let Mother Nature handle the work of composting, which she does admirably: by spring planting time there are literally millions of earthworms going about their business in my soil, and the manure is rotted enough to be safe for seedlings.

The earthworm thing didn’t happen right away. When we first moved to this property the “soil” was really just sand and decomposed granite; nothing grew very well in it other than mustard weed, wild buckwheat and sagebrush. For the first few years I had to buy bags of planting mix from the nursery just to create pockets of soil that veggies could struggle along in. More than once I was tempted to use chemical fertilizers to boost things along (I managed to resist). The horse manure I piled on every winter seemed to vanish without a trace by the following winter. (Actually it still vanishes, but since my garden soil gets blacker and richer every year I assume the manure is playing its part in the great circle of life.)

Then I discovered the magic of mulching with straw, and things started turning around in a big way.

Wow, I’m seriously digressing here, aren’t I? This post was supposed to be about watermelons. I’ll get into mulching and fertilizing more in another post.

So, watermelons. The one crop I can’t seem to succeed with. Occasionally I’ll get a melon or two, but if I don’t pick them THE INSTANT they ripen, they very quickly rot right back into the ground. Even the earthworms seem to be against me here: they’ll wiggle up through a solid layer of straw mulch to nibble happily on the rind of a ripe watermelon.

Then there was this spring: the strangest planting experience I’ve ever had. Half the crops I planted simply declined to sprout. My soil has become so rich now that I normally only have to wave a packet of lettuce seeds at the ground and pretty soon there’s lettuce everywhere, but this year…not so much. I planted my carrot bed twice and got no carrots. Ditto with the cantaloupe seeps and the watermelon seeds. I got a handful of beets, but not nearly as many as I’d planted. Only half the corn I planted grew. My early lettuce crop sprouted, but the later planting didn’t. It was Puzzling, to say the least. It’s like the seeds somehow knew what a horrifically dry year we were going to have, and wanted to save themselves for a better year or something. Even the bell peppers, usually one of my most productive and gratifying crops, did not much of anything this year. It was always to hot or too cold for them — by the time they finally set fruit, Fall was moving in. The tomatoes, potatoes, onions, garlic, herbs and broccoli did well, but even the tomatoes and potatoes didn’t really have a stellar year.

Watermelons. Right. Focus!!

When my watermelon seeds didn’t sprout, I planted more. When those didn’t sprout, I picked up a seedling at the nursery and planted that. It sat there and sulked for a few weeks, then decided to grow. To my pleased surprise, it actually produced some very nice melons, two of which I enjoyed over the summer, and a third that I found all ripe and ready when I returned from my road trip at the end of October.

I saw another watermelon developing when I picked that last one in October, but I pretty much wrote it off. I figured a frost would get it long before it ripened.

So last Sunday I was down in the garden picking an onion for supper. I like to let the onions stay in the ground until they’re needed, since we don’t have a root cellar to store them in. They stay nice and fresh out in the garden.

Anyway, it was snowing Sunday, and all the tender summer crops were dead and blackening and kind of sludging back into the earth the way they do, and sitting there in my watermelon patch amid the dead remains of old vines was a perfectly lovely looking watermelon! It looked as fresh and ripe as a summer day. Apparently the cold weather had sent the earthworms into hibernation before it had ripened enough to appeal to them.

Out of sheer curiousity I picked it and brought it up to the house along with my onion. I wasn’t expecting much, I just wanted to see what the inside of a watermelon looks like in December. I washed it off and sliced into it.

And it was good! Crisp and sweet and juicy and red, in spite of all the hard freezes that had killed off its mother vine. It was like, I don’t know, a pumpkin or a winter squash, impervious to ice. I didn’t know watermelons could do that!

So I’m thinking next summer I’m going to try setting each young watermelon on something that earthworms and soil microorganism can’t chew their way through, like maybe pieces of wood planks, and see if they’re a bit more durable that way. Who knows, I might actually start having some real success producing watermelons!

I hope so, ’cause I do loves me some watermelons.

Now if only we don’t have another bizarro spring like that last one….

Categories: food, Gardening, Life | Tags: | 4 Comments

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