Cooking School: Melons on the roof? Yes!
In our home-farm-to-table quest, the crops in my garden have become a little more challenging and interesting this summer. Bored with the usual tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, my son, Stephen, perused the Internet. How about black beans, popcorn, goji berries and kiwis? No problem.
Moving on to melons — rattlesnakes, cannon balls, sugar queens, and moon and stars — the garden footprint was getting very large. Wait a minute, did we really have room for these? A single melon plant can grow into a sprawling patch 20 feet across. No problem.
With trellises and a little training of the vines, our plan was to grow the melons vertically to the top of the garden walls, where they could rest on the ledges and the adjacent greenhouse roof. With added space, our small garden suddenly gained great potential, not to mention that watermelons and cantaloupes growing on the roof would be fun and quite the conversation piece for the neighbors.
We realized this skyline garden would have other advantages, as well. Not only would it take up far less ground space, this melon patch would be almost weed free; no meandering vines on the ground where weeds could hide. With better air movement, the foliage would stay drier and be less likely to develop the dreaded powdery mildew. Compared to melons on the ground, those ripening on trellises and rooftops would be unblemished and have fewer bugs — perfect for our organic garden.
But how would we support heavy melons hanging off of vines? I was glad I saved those old pantyhose. A cut-off stocking leg, each end tied to the trellis, makes a cozy hammock to support hanging cantaloupes. A sling of garden netting could support the heavier watermelons.
We chose a sunny spot and made sure the trellises were anchored securely. Melons were planted in hills about a foot apart and with 2 seeds in each hill. As the vines began to grow, they were gently twisted and trained on the trellises. The rich soil was kept moist by watering only the ground roots, being careful not to wet the leaves.
In the heat of summer, pretty soon the melon patch was exploding. It must have been that truckload of local organic mushroom compost.
As the cantaloupes ripened — becoming creamy tan with a rich, aromatic fragrance — they were carefully harvested by cutting the cracked stems from the vine. Ripe watermelons with a creamy-colored resting spot or a dried tendril opposite the stem also were cut from the vine. From vine to table, these sweet juicy melons, delicious and amusing, became an unforgettable summer treat.
So what’s next? Jackpot, Cinderella and Lil Pumpke Mon. Seeds planted by early August will be Jack-o’-lanterns for Halloween and pumpkin pie by Thanksgiving. We even have some seeds for seminole pumpkins, the wild naturally climbing pumpkin/squash native to the Everglades. Rich, sweet and disease and insect resistant, this Seminole Indian favorite will be perfect for our garden.
Melons on the roof? Yes, and pumpkins, too!