Sunday, November 27, 2011

More Garden-talk with Grandpa Bill

Grandpa Bill kept the peppers coming through central Oklahoma's blistering-hot summer by erecting a little shade directly over each plant.

He had put a "cage" around each plant, just like he does each year, for support of the heavy branches. As the temperatures climbed and then stayed high, he put an upside-down saucer, the kind that go underneath potted plants, on top of each cage. Since his pepper plants continued to produce, the strategy seems to have been a good one. (If anyone is curious, he mostly grew Big Bertha bell peppers.)

As the weather gets weirder and weirder, it's good to have ideas already in mind, and I thought that one was worth sharing.

He also said that this was the first year he's grown cantaloupes in a long time. The weather should have been great for melons - all that heat and drought should have made them extra-sweet. He said, though, that the melons didn't taste like anything at all. We've had that problem before with melons at the Plant-a-Row-for-the-Hungry garden, and I am beginning to see that bland melons are a more widespread problem than just here in the Southeast. Luckily, we found Schoon's Hardshell, which has worked out well for us.

As the seed catalogues began to arrive, he also pointed out that, back in the old days, you just went to the store and bought whatever seeds were there, and they always worked out just fine. Now that there are so many varieties to choose from, gardeners are more likely to end up with at least some seeds that aren't ideally suited to their yards.

As the catalogues pour in - mostly from the Northeastern U.S. and the Northwestern U.S. - it's easy to see how lack-of-garden-success could become a problem for new gardeners. For instance, I am guessing that the "bland melon" problem and prevalence of far-away seed sources that contain many tantalizingly-described varieties are somehow related.

4 comments:

  1. I was having trouble with some of my heirloom tomato seeds I ordered from Seed Saver Exchange. It seems that our extreme heat made it hard for them to really "take hold" - especially Cherokee Purple last year. My research told me that seeds that were "grown out" in climate conditions very different from growing conditions in your garden could be a cause for the problem. I found an heirloom seed source in Virginia - Southern Exposure Seed Exchange that seems to specialize in seeds more suitable to the southern climate so I am trying that this year. I love the Seeds Savers Exchange product and catalog, blog, and general information. But - I may try a more localized seed source for those summer vegetables.

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  2. Barbara-

    I typically buy at least some of my seeds from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and I usually get some from a place in Iowa - Sand Hill Preservation. Iowa summers are also hot, and the folks at Sand Hill grow a lot of their own seeds; their seeds mostly work for me (some tomato varieties aren't resistant to all the diseases here, but many are).

    I do think the ability to get seeds from all over the country/world is both good and bad. It is possible to stumble over a real treasure, but it is also possible to end up with a whole garden full of totally inappropriate varieties. I am sorry that your experience so closely matches my own! That means you've lost some crops, too.

    Here's hoping we both make all excellent choices for our 2012 gardens!

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  3. My Grandfather who lived in western Oklahoma (with weather very similar to what we had all over Oklahoma this year) told me once that gourds will rob the favor of melons when they crossbreed and they can pollinate from over five miles away. This summer was very good for most wild gourds.

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  4. Hi Marc! Glad to learn that you survived the scorching summer in OKC.

    The Ag Extension agency out of Texas A&M says that melon flavor isn't affected by crossing in that first year (http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/archives/parsons/vegetables/cantalou.html?pagewanted=all). The flavor change would be in melons grown from the seeds resulting from that gourd-melon cross (next generation).

    However, I have grown a patch of mixed melons before, and even though flavor wasn't affected, I did think that the "midget" melon that I grew had an effect on the size of the other melons. After the midgets started to flower, all the rest of the melons also reached maturity at a smaller size. To find out whether the midgets were really the cause of the melon shrinkage, I'd have to repeat the mixed-melon patch, and I don't have space for that right now.

    If the midgets really did have an effect on the rest of the melons, though, that would support your grandfather's idea about gourds' affecting melon flavor in that very first generation of fruits.

    I think I'll need to do some research to sort this one out.

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