Sunday, July 31, 2011

Rich Sweetness 132: One tough cookie

You may be aware that Oklahoma is suffering a scorchingly dry summer, record-breaking in it's magnitude, miserable for the animals, humans and plants living through it. We've had temperatures consistently above 100 degrees - sometimes soaring up to 108 and 109 - for the past six weeks, with only two short bursts of rain. Farms and gardens across Oklahoma, along with much of the American South, are yielding perhaps 20 - 40% of their normal crops. Even my heat-loving okra are wilting, the sweet potato vines scorching. Nothing wants to grow.


My Rich Sweetness 132 melons, which apparently thrive on misery. Looking for a small melon, I found this heirloom variety from the former Soviet Union in the amazing Baker Creek Rare Seeds catalog last year. Intrigued by the funky striped appearance and the promising description of "very productive all season long," I planted four hills around a home-made watering olla in one of my crop circles in the six feet between my neighbor's driveway and my own, not sure what to expect but hoping for something tough, as that site gets one hundred percent sun, all day long, and is surrounded by concrete.

I thought I might have a winner when the vines began to explode out of the circle, despite the already-stifling drought. Like the rest of my garden, the crop circles are fed in spring with compost and then covered with newspapers and straw mulch after transplants are placed and seeds have sprouted. Still, despite the compost, mulch, and olla, I've had to water the garden every day, as we are getting no natural precipitation and are enduring 100+ daily temperatures. (Perhaps next year I'll try soaker hoses.) In late June, I began to see what appeared to be tiny watermelons dotting the vines, soon turning to a striped red and gold, like miniature Tiggers sitting patiently on the mulch.

When I could smell their rich melon aroma, I began to harvest them. Since then, the Rich Sweetness 132's have just kept coming. The flesh is white, with a milder taste than regular cantaloupe and less sweetness than a watermelon. Reactions vary - some people are bored by the mild flavor, some rave about the creamy taste and heady fragrance.

My favorite attribute (aside from the fact that the fruit are actually producing, and that they are unusually cool-looking) is the small size of the melons. Their single serving snack size means that I don't have to have a crowd at my house to eat one, nor do I have to stuff myself with cantaloupe and then wrap the rest up in plastic and put it in the fridge, consuming precious shelf space. Instead, I can easily eat one in a sitting, much like an apple or a peach.

After the performance of this melon this summer, I'm encouraging all my friends to save the seeds from the heirloom RS132s that I've been giving them. They are not the most flavorful melons in the whole wide world (to my taste - as I mentioned, some people love them), but I have a feeling we are going to need plants that can thrive in desert-like conditions. Rephrase: we ALREADY need food plants that thrive in desert-like conditions.

In fact, we've harvested so many of these cheerful little melons that I decided to haul a small load to my favorite local food seller, Matt Burch of the Urban Agrarian. I planned to give them to him for free as a fun attention-attracting eye-catcher for his market booth, but he insisted on trading me a dozen eggs and five medium sized tomatoes for fourteen melons, which we priced at $1 each.

I hope his customers love them; he had sold four already in the quarter hour I spent checking out his wares, which included eggs, a variety of meats, Earth Elements baked goods and jams, and watermelon, okra, garlic, tomatoes, zukes and cukes. Matt parks his Veggie Van out at Cheever's every Sunday, disregarding the ridiculous weather to deliver fresh food to the good people of Oklahoma City. Thanks Matt!


Eleanor @ Planned Resilience said...

I'm going to give those a try next year. Everything around here (Kansas City) is dying from the heat and lack of water, Except for some Gaucho/Black Mitla beans I got from Carrol Deppe. They are growing like crazy and don't seem to care about the lack of water or heat. I also have some sweet potatoes that I got from my local Ag Extension office. They are growing great too (they are outgrowing their bed), though I don't know how their tuber production is going.

SharleneT said...

We're suffering the same way, here, and my poor garden is trying its darndest to beat the heat. We're on a sandy soil so it doesn't hold much water. I've been watering early mornings, but it dries out so fast. Those melons are fantastic. Never heard of them, till now, and would very much like some seeds or a source for seeds. Thanks for sharing. Come visit when you can.

Anonymous said...

The heat scares me more than the cold!

I wonder if you could cross one of these with a more flavorful tiny melon? Sadly, most of the little ones are hybrids, I think...

Rena said...

Thank you for sharing this! I'm near OKC, and with these rising temps seemingly here to stay I've been looking for more tougher varieties to grow.

pooks said...

Excellent! I wanted to order these last year when I lived in Texas, but didn't have room for my garden. Now I'm back in Los Angeles, which has an even more limited water supply, so it will be great to have a productive fruit that doesn't require tons and tons of water. Thanks for the great review. Can't wait to get my seeds now that I see they are as advertised in the Baker Creek catalog. :)