'Serpent of Sicily', with bitter melon mixed in
I spend a lot of time musing about cucurbits.
I know, I know, you have bigger things on your mind. Maybe you are considering why Jon Huntsman appears to be the only Republican presidential candidate who believes in evolution. (Although, watching Rick Perry during the Republican debate this week, I was beginning to have some doubts myself. ) Maybe you are merely reeling because you spied Jeff Immelt in the audience for the President's "jobs" speech last night. Immelt is the CEO of GE, which, unlike you, earns BILLIONS in profit and, unlike you, pays ZERO in taxes. A real patriot. And you might be wondering, when President Obama used the word "unwavering" this week to assure the EPA of his support while unraveling its work on ozone, was he being sarcastic?
I could be stewing about the state of my nation or launching a seed business or moving to Sicily or embarking on an affair. But instead, I'm stupidly mesmerized by the big, big vines I see from my office window. Mainly, I am wondering why there is such a range among a group that is basically characterized by its candy-ass sensitivity to cold.
Yes, all cucurbits are impossible in spring. They'd rather meet their maker than put up with a rainy early June. But some of them move on from such fragility to attempt world domination. And some of them never outgrow their neurasthenic tendencies.
The biggest drama queens in the group are, of course, the watermelons. I've been gardening for 20 years and have yet to succeed with one. I was sure this was the year, because I've moved my garden from frigid Zone 4 in the country to balmy 5b in the city, but still no luck. Cutworms.
In any case, I was DETERMINED, after several rainy and cantaloupe-free seasons to have cantaloupes, so I hedged my bets by ordering an early variety named 'Halona.' Yes, it produced early, but from my yard at least, was relatively mushy and flavorless. I'd rather plant 'Charentais' melons and only succeed once out of every five years.
Now, we move on to the real heartbreak: cucumbers. My kids love them. I love pickles. Yet they are always dicey for me. They originated in India and frequently die of shock when expected to grow in upstate New York. I've actually had good luck with the yellow Indian varieties, which seem healthier and more profilic than the little cornichon-types I dream of pickling. But this year, I lost all my plants to cucumber wilt. Wikipedia tells me that cucumbers were known in Great Britain in the 14th century, but then died out and didn't reappear for another 200 years. Is anyone surprised? One rainy summer, and they quit England en masse.
I experiment with other Asian gourds, too: bitter melon, fuzzy melon, wax melon. So far no luck, though this year my bitter melon survived and produced pretty, tiny flowers. I'm on the look-out for fruit.
Summer squashes? The plants might get mildew, but they are reliable for me. This year, once again, I've planted a Seeds of Italy variety called 'Serpent of Sicily.' I love this plant: It has beautiful white flowers in a pentagon shape, beautiful leaves, and long skinny chartreuse gourds. Its firm skin means that it keeps a nice toothsome texture in a curry. I love the plant also because a few seeds stuck into the ground have yielded vines that are crawling 90 degrees along my fence and threatening to grow into Ballston Spa, once they've conquered Saratoga Springs.
Then we have the natives: the pumpkins and winter squashes. I pressed seeds of those into my neglected country garden when I was there in early July. Out there last weekend for the first time since, I checked on them. Everything is a-okay, with Butternuts, 'Jarrahdales', and 'Dill's Atlantic Giants' threatening to cover all 15 acres.
If only the economy was behaving like 'Jarrahdale' and 'Serpent of Sicily'–a little sulky and slow to get going, but now unstoppably robust…