Kajari Melon

2016 was the year of heirloom vegetables. Way back in March I bought a pile of heirloom seed packets, including one for Kajari melon. Kajari is an Indian heirloom melon that I chose because it has a short time to maturity and because it looks cool.  I started some inside and planted them out too early, so they disintegrated in the cold. In June I replaced them with seeds sown directly in the ground. The vines took off, and by late August I had a single ripe melon. It did indeed look cool.

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At least from some angles it did. From other angles it was clearly rotting. I tried to let it ripen on the vine and left it too long. It was about the size of a tennis ball and tasted horrible.

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The vines kept growing and, among the three of them, they managed to produce one more fruit, about four times the size of the first. I picked it green to save it from an impending frost and left it on the kitchen table to ripen. After about a week of being poked and prodded by my housemates (it even spent a few days wrapped up in a ribbon) it turned a satisfying orange color.

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I undid the ribbon and sliced the melon in half. The flesh was firm but juicy and smelled great.

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Unfortunately a lot of the space inside was taken up by seeds. I scooped them out, washed and dried them, and stored them away for next year. At $4.50 per 15 seed packet at Baker Creek, I could start a racket.

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All told, I got a shy bowl’s worth of fruit. Was it good? Yes! It was sweet and juicy, with a slight vegetable aftertaste I’ve never noticed in a melon before. Like it was 6 parts melon but 1 part squash. I liked it – it felt earthy and satisfying.

But was it worth seven months of waiting? Maybe not.

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Rhode Island is a tough place to grow melons. It can technically be done, but it ain’t easy and it ain’t guaranteed. Our summers just aren’t quite long enough. I did enjoy this one melon, though, so I’ll probably give it another shot. I’ll try to time my spring transplants better so I don’t have to resow in the summer.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll even get three melons.

A girl can dream.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Garlic Forever

I harvested my garlic a month ago, and since then it’s been dangling from strings wherever I could find space in the basement.

It’s time to consolidate.

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I hung the whole plants, bulbs down, in three bundles spaced loosely enough to allow good airflow. Since the plants are good and dry now, I can cut the bulbs away. I just snipped through the stalks  with a pair of scissors about an inch above the bulbs.

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I also trimmed off the excess roots, mostly for aesthetics and to keep the bulbs from tangling with each other.

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Here they are nicely shorn.

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Last summer I harvested about half a dozen bubs. If I keep expanding at this rate I can go into production soon.

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I’m not going into production yet. (I’m not even sharing with my housemates!) But I do want my garlic looking its best. I gently peeled off the outer, dirty layer of papery skin.

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And that’s it! I tucked them an old mesh onion bag and hung them from a nail in a dark alcove of the cellar. Last year’s garlic lasted all winter like that, so I have high hopes. Around Halloween I’ll break up one or two and plant the cloves – I’m excited to get a multi-generational crop and finally become garlic self-sufficient.

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I’m using “self-sufficient” very loosely. There’s no way this is lasting a year.

Garlic Time

It’s garlic time!

Last fall I bought a whole pile of garlic from the farmer’s market. I stuck the cloves in the ground in November and hoped for the best.

Sure enough, almost all of them sprouted and grew. They stayed a little smaller than my neighbors’ – probably because I got carried away and planted them too close together.

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When I pulled them out, the heads were a little on the small side, too. In spite of that, they were all fully formed and healthy looking.

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I got about 20 heads in all. I brought them up to the house and gently brushed them clean with a paper towel.

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I bundled them together into three bunches that ought to give them ample air circulation.

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And I hung them in the basement from whatever spare nails I could find. It’s starting to look like a colonial storehouse down there. I’ll leave them to dry for a few weeks before I cut off the stalks and roots, brush off the excess dirt, and settle in for the long winter.

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Surprise Carrots

What do you get when you plant carrots in March and dig them up in February?

Carrots, apparently.

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I sowed my carrot seeds last spring with no method to the madness. I picked a carrot spot and just blanketed it in seeds. A thick patch came up, and every now and then, I’d pick the biggest one or two and eat them, making room for the smaller ones to grow.

It was a decent system, but it got away from me. November came, and it got dark and cold. And then my hoop house failed spectacularly. The carrots were still growing, but I wasn’t feeling it anymore.

Then the real cold came, and a few snowstorms. In the back of my mind, I knew those carrots were still down there, but I gave up on them. I didn’t know if they were frozen or mush, but I knew they were beyond help.

Turns out they weren’t!

The weather today was beautiful. I went down just to take stock, and I came back with something like ten pounds of carrots.

Some have split.

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Some have really split.

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Some are big.

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Some are small.

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And some are strange.

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But most are basically happy and healthy. I cut off the tops, rubbed off the dirt, and stuffed them in a bag in the crisper.

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We’re gonna have a heck of a roast one of these days.

Winter Is Probably Still Coming

The hoop house may have been a bust, but my cold hardy vegetables are none the wiser. The kale, chard, carrots, and beets are all growing happily.

A little too happily.

I haven’t done a big harvest in a while, and the kale has been getting away from me. My hope is that the hoop house will pull through this time and keep it alive into the winter, but I’m not putting any money on it.

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Instead, I’m freezing my leafy greens before New England gets a chance to. I’m not giving up entirely, so I left enough leaves that everybody should be able to keep growing, making for some strange shapes.

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I found myself with more loose leaves than I could ever carry in my arms. Luckily, I was lazy and never put away the containers from my poor doomed peppers and eggplants. I threw together some festive arrangements and headed home.

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Late season kale is a haven for little powdery bugs. I’d sprayed for it a few months ago, but the kale kept on living and the bugs eventually came back. I washed, leaf by leaf, until I was completely sick of kale. And then I washed for another hour or so.

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Meanwhile I boiled a big stockpot of water and, batch by batch, blanched my leaves for two minutes. This supposedly kills any microbes that might be hanging around. It also turns everything a healthy green.

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From the boiling water the leaves went straight into an ice water bath to halt the cooking process. From there they went into a colander and I went to the freezer to dig around for more ice.

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After the first batch of leaves, the water turned a distinctly orange color. Is this because kale is so high in iron? Er… yes. Let’s say that it is. Because I honestly have no better ideas.

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After draining the cooled leaves, I gave them a good squeeze to remove excess water and mould them into handy portions. No one wants a solid gallon of frozen chopped kale. I don’t care who they are or what they think they need.

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I let the leaf balls sit on their cookie sheets in the freezer over night. In the morning I had some very sturdy and very frozen balls of solid fresh leaf. I packed them away into freezer bags and stowed them in the freezer. In all, it was three or four hours’ work for an amount of vegetables that would cost me a few dollars at the store.

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No wonder people usually just buy food.