Good times in the melon patch

Inspired by a surprising volunteer cantaloupe in last year's garden that produced three nice-sized fruits we decided to expand our garden efforts this year by starting a melon patch. We chronicled the actual process of starting the patch back in May on this blog.

Since then we planted watermelon, pumpkins and two types of cantaloupe. Oddly enough I don't like watermelon, pumpkin, or cantaloupe, with the exception of Diane's pumpkin cheesecake bars, but growing them has been a hoot.

I had hoped to get plant some daikon radishes with the idea that their penetrating roots would help break up our clay soil, but that didn't happen. Fortunately our plants did very well anyway.

Our seeds sprouted nicely and the plants took off as you can see in this photo:

We've had a lot of fun searching through the foliage looking for ripening fruit. The first things to fruit were the watermelons. We planted Sugar Babies - a smaller variety that produces round fruits that are dark green. They are supposed to get up to eight pounds, but ours probably topped out at about five or six. Not too bad for our first go at it. Here's a pair on their way to ripening.

When we sliced open our first melon I was stunned at the number of seeds inside. Another lesson was that we need to harvest a bit sooner - many of the seeds had actually started to germinate inside the melons, which I thought very unusual. I'd never seen this in any fruit or veggie, but perhaps it's more common than I realize.

Slicing into our first melon - the tomatoes are from our garden too. I don't know where the dirty dishes came from:

See what I mean about the seeds?

My wife reports that the fruit was quite sweet; seedless varieties would give us less to pick out, but some flavor is typically lost as a trade-off. These look a little "rindy" to me - as in there's more of the white part than I'm used to seeing, but maybe that's because I'm used to seeing storebought melons.

The cantaloupes were next to ripen. Unfortunately most of them seemed to ripen at the same time, which happened to coincide with our beach vacation. When we got back a lot of our cantaloupes were goners. Here are young versions of our two cantaloupe varieties:

I didn't really know how to tell when they were ripe, but my dad suggested that they were ripe when they fell off the vine. He is not a gardener so I don't know how he knew that but he was right. When they're ripe they literally fall off the vine right into your hand. The variety in the top photo, we'll call this one the non-lobed variety, ripened first and I hear they were quite tasty. Mr. O ate a bunch of them almost by himself. When we got back from vacation we had a couple of the lobed fruits that weren't rotten but we haven't had a chance to slice into them yet.

The landmark achievement in this year's summer garden is the production of real, honest-to-god pumpkins. After many years of unsuccessful efforts we have finally grown bona fide pumpkins. We don't have a ton and they aren't going to win any ribbons at the state fair, but just having orange pumpkins in the garden is a major success. Unfortunately when we got back from vacation I noticed that one of them was covered in squash bugs. With each new success comes new challenges.

Upon closer inspection I noticed that several fruits were hosting young squash bugs. To try and deal with these things I cut several fruits from the vine, gingerly carried them into our chicken coop and brushed the bugs off into the chicken's litter where they were immediately gobbled up. Unfortunately a lot of the bugs escaped either as I was cutting the fruits or as I was carrying them to the coop.

I had actually seen squash bug eggs and some adult mating action going on in other parts of the garden, but at that point I wasn't sure what these critters were and whether or not they were beneficial. Now I know and next year I'll hopefully be able to deal with these things before they get out of hand.

Despite the learning curve of understanding new crops and new pests our first-year melon patch has been a great success.